In the 1980s, I came to Seattle every summer as a child. My mother’s church had its sister church on 16th and Fir in the Central District. My next experience of the Central District was when I moved to Seattle in 1990. I lived in a six-bedroom house where I was renting a room with my one-year-old son for $300 a month.
In 2008, my mother became homebound, and doctor’s orders were that she no longer live alone. We made the decision to rent a house together. That year the economy crashed in the US. Car lots in Seattle were closing down faster than the current cranes climb the skies.
In Seattle, landowners were having a hard time renting houses, so costs plummeted. My mother and I scored a five-bedroom house in Greenwood. It was so good during those years. Life was affordable, doable, and hopeful. In 2012, I noticed a shift. My landlord raised my rent $100. I was shocked at first.
That year I also had an art exhibit at EMP. The theme was gentrification in the CD. At the time, I understood what it meant theoretically, but looking back, I had no idea about the impact that was to come. In 2015, I severed my Achilles tendon, I lost my job, my mother went into a nursing home, and I had to figure out what I was going to do. I survived for about five months until my landlord raised the rent $150, after consistently raising it $100 for several years.
My daughter grew up here, was born here, all her friends and family are here. I started looking at housing outside of Washington. Then I got a phone call. My name had come up on the waitlist for artist housing. I had forgotten that I had even signed up—after all, it had been six-and-a-half years since I placed my name on that list, and I had done it as a bucket list kind of thing. I was so lucky and blessed to have been offered that opportunity.
Last year, I was on 16th and Fir working on an art project. It took me about an hour before I realized we were where a corner store owned by an African family had been when I was a child. I used to take breaks from my church across the street and run in to buy candy. It took me another two hours to realize that in the entire time we had been working, not once did I see an African American person walk by. Then I noticed in the same building, right next door, a young white couple was moving in. They looked at me as if I didn't belong there. I was shocked.
Then my dearest friends began leaving Seattle. I started counting how many of my friends left or were about to leave and became very sad. It's funny—you don't realize how important your community is until it's gone. Sometimes it's hard to stay here because so much has shifted. Being able to drive from the north end of downtown Seattle to the south end in 10 minutes, eating a meal for under $10, and knowing where you're at without strange buildings popping up out of nowhere are all things of the past. Some would say this about the Central District.
Now I work for the HCAACD (Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District), and the only reason I am there is because artist housing saved my family from being gentrified right out of Seattle. The best part about being at the HCAACD is that I get to advocate for African/African American artists, and that means helping to preserve African/African American legacy, place, and vitality.