Black residents got pushed out of the Central District. Now a ‘Seattle Soul’ restaurant welcomes them back.

Black residents got pushed out of the Central District. Now a ‘Seattle Soul’ restaurant welcomes them back.

On the floor of the Central District’s newest restaurant, Communion, are the words “I. At the At home.”

An ode to the famous protest signs of the civil rights movement that read “I. At the A man. “” I At the At home, ”the cook and co-owner Kristi Brown wants blacks and coloreds to feel when they enter the room.

“‘I At the Home is … saying when you walk in here – especially blacks and coloreds – that you are in a place where you will be recognized for who you are, ”Brown said. “And that’s really, really important.”

In recent years it has not been taken for granted that blacks will feel at home in the rapidly developing Central District, but Brown’s space flatly rejects the trend. Communion anchors a lower corner of the nearly two-year-old Liberty Bank building of affordable housing on the 24th and Union, celebrating what Brown calls “Seattle Soul,” or the amalgamation of Seattle’s many cultures, foods and people.

Brown said even welcoming a few white neighbors for business shows the need to create places where blacks and blacks feel at home.

Whites will say, “Welcome to my neighborhood,” said Brown. “It’s just such a deep oxymoron. We were in this neighborhood. You’re welcome in the neighborhood. How long have you been here? “Brown said it was disheartening to hear that blacks are moving into the Liberty Bank Building after years of evictions, only to be greeted by white neighbors who question their right to be there. It is like being a “foreigner in your own country,” said Brown.

“Why are you shocked that a black person would walk around the neighborhood?” Said Brown. “Didn’t you realize the blacks lived here before you came?”

Due to redlining and restrictive housing ties, the African American community in Seattle was concentrated in the Central District for decades. Today the area is only 15% black, compared to 75% in 1970.

If you think opening a restaurant at the height of a one-off pandemic would be daunting, if not terrifying, then you don’t know Kristi Brown. I’ve known Brown for almost 20 years and she is a force of nature. The owner of That Brown Girl Cooks! Brown is a Seattle food veteran known for her black-eyed pea hummus.

Due to the pandemic, the opening of communion was delayed by several months and the restaurant and bar finally opened to the public on December 5th. There is no indoor food due to COVID-19 restrictions, but customers can order food to sit or sit outside.

Brown and her son, co-owner Damon Bomar, worked for four years to bring communion to life. Even when it was difficult, Brown said, belief in the “divine order” of things drove them. This is not the “divine order” of cute platitudes or Hallmark cards, Brown said, but one that is honest and clarifying. “Every door that was closed was opened,” Brown said.

Brown and Bomar were undeterred, even though 624 restaurants and bars in Seattle alone have been closed since the pandemic began.

But their higher purpose is to honor those who came before and those who will come next. Just a few doors down from where communion is, the Thompson Institution was, as viewed from the central ward, and across the street was Ms. Helen’s Soul Food, a popular source of food and community. Brown is very aware of the struggle of her predecessors and the old communion continues.

“If we don’t see someone who looks like us,” Brown said, “doing something we want to do remotely, then we’ll just have a whole bunch of restless, uninspired youth starting another generation.” of the same. ”

She said she wanted little girls to look in the window and say, “Wow, how did she get in here?” When I’m in a place like this someone can say, “Oh, you know what? I remember the time when she was pushing hummus on the corner. If she can, that means maybe I can, you know? ‘”

For the real newbies to the Central District, Brown recommends starting with curiosity. Ask questions, make no assumptions, learn the history of the place you are moving to. She says that as we have begun to incorporate Native American land recognitions more and more into our practices, we should incorporate that value into all of the communities we join.

Meanwhile, Brown’s doors are open to everyone – especially those who have been evicted or are returning to the Central District.

Naomi Ishisaka:
[email protected]; on Twitter: @naomiishisaka. Naomi Ishisaka is the Seattle Times Assistant Editor-in-Chief for Diversity, Inclusion and People Development. Her column on race, culture, justice and social justice appears weekly on Mondays.