At a row of empty desks, TraeAnna Holiday envisions young people editing video and logging footage. At a big conference table, she sees them talking through films they’re planning to make. In a computer lab, they’ll code, create virtual reality and 3D print.
The Africatown Community Land Trust this week launched the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation
Focused on boosting the number of students of color entering technology and film jobs, the center will offer computer science and filmmaking workshops starting this fall. After more renovations, the space will also house programs to support Black entrepreneurs and business owners.
“The goal is to really open up that pipeline,” said Holiday, who is involved in the filmmaking programs.
“I want young Black creatives who look like me, who come from similar backgrounds, to not feel like they have to leave Seattle in order for them to be creative.”
Housed in a former city fire station that has been out of use for nearly a decade, Friday’s ribbon-cutting came years after the idea was conceived. In the wake of massive anti-racism protests in 2020, the city transferred the station to Africatown, which redevelops land with a focus on preserving the city’s Black community. The city provided a 99-year no-cost lease and $1 million for renovations.
Under the lease, some programming at the center “is to be focused on creating solutions for microenterprise and small businesses that have been impacted” by the pandemic. Africatown must within 10 years activate the entire property, “expanding the Community Center programs and functions to a level comparable to other community centers.”
“We’re solving for a Jim Crow apartheid state of socioeconomics,” said K. Wyking Garrett, president and CEO of Africatown. “To help make Seattle an equitable city that includes more of us and is not continuing to become increasingly exclusive.”
The group is continuing to fundraise for the center, and has so far received support from KeyBank, Fuji Film, Seattle University, the University of Washington Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and others, Garrett said.
The center’s name honors William Grose, a Black entrepreneur whose land purchase in the late 1800s helped establish the Central District as a hub for Black families. Later, racist covenants prevented Black families from buying homes in most neighborhoods outside the Central District, segregating the city in patterns that persist today.
The Black population in the Central District has fallen from nearly 75%, to 15%, as the city has witnessed a tech boom that has largely excluded Black workers. Supporters hope the new center can begin to unravel that trend.
Nick and Bill Penland, both descendants of Grose, sat near the front of an open house at the center Thursday evening. As young people, “we might not know what greatness lies within us,” Nick Penland said. “This is really inspiring.”
The project is one of several Africatown efforts underway, including an affordable housing development at 23rd Avenue and East Spring Street.
As the new center opens its doors, trainings this fall and winter will focus on coding, computer hardware and electronics. Students will learn to build heart rate monitors and radios, said Africatown IT Director Evan Poncelet.
While an influx of highly paid tech jobs has contributed to displacement in Seattle, Poncelet said the industry is also capable of “single-generation wealth building.”
“If you can create programs that get youth curious and invested in STEM,” Poncelet said, “then those same people can turn right back around and buy back the block.”
This story includes material from the Seattle Times archives.