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Seattle launches Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force to guide BIPOC investment

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. (Seattle Channel)

The city of Seattle announced the initial membership of the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force on Tuesday. The task force will spearhead a community-led process to provide recommendations on how best to invest $100 million in Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.

COVID, community safety, investing in BIPOC community top priorities in Seattle mayor’s budget

The investment for BIPOC communities will help “address the deep disparities caused by systemic racism and institutionalized oppression,” according to a release from the city.

“Today, Seattle takes a significant step to recognize and address the generational impacts of systemic racism in our country and city, and to build a more just and equitable city for the generations to come. History has placed us in a time of a worsening pandemic, an economic crisis, and a racial reckoning. Still, these unprecedented challenges also impose a moral obligation to act now to create healthy, just, and resilient communities for our Black and Indigenous neighbors and all communities of color,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

“Lasting change must originate from and be sustained by community,” Durkan continued. “I am grateful to the community leaders serving on this task force, who collectively have hundreds of years of experience working in, and making systemic change in our community. I am hopeful they can help unite and lead our city in charting the path for deep, sustained, and life-changing investments in our Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.”

The inaugural task force membership includes:

  • Pastor Carey Anderson, First AME Church
  • Sean Bagsby, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 46
  • Sophia Benalfew, Ethiopian Community in Seattle
  • Marlon Brown, Black Lives Matter Seattle and King County
  • Maggie Angel Cano, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition
  • Andrea Caupain, Byrd Barr Place
  • LaNesha DeBardelaben, Northwest African American Museum
  • Trish Millines Dziko, Technology Access Foundation
  • Mahnaz K. Eshetu, Refugee Women’s Alliance
  • Ollie Garrett, Tabor 100
  • Lynda Greene, Southeast Seattle Senior Center
  • Chris Lampkin, Service Employees International Union 1199NW
  • Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, Seattle Central College
  • Paulina Lopez, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition
  • Esther Lucero, Seattle Indian Health Board
  • Michelle Merriweather, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
  • Donna Moodie, Marjorie Restaurant
  • Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza
  • Carolyn Riley-Payne, Seattle King County NAACP
  • Rizwan Rizwi, Muslim Housing Services
  • Victoria Santos, Young Women Empowered
  • Steven Sawyer, POCAAN
  • Michael Tulee, United Indians of All Tribes
  • Ray Williams, Black Farmers Collective
  • Sharon Williams, CD Forum
  • Pastor Lawrence Willis, United Black Clergy
  • Maiko Winkler-Chin, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA)
  • Christina Wong, NW Harvest
  • Beto Yarce, Ventures
  • Ex officio – Debora Juarez, District 5, Seattle City Councilmember

The list of leaders will likely expand as some members have indicated they will consider adding more youth and other community leaders.

The task force will engage with the broader community to prioritize focus areas and making funding recommendations, staring in November by engaging with the community through listening sessions.

Task force members will make recommendations to Mayor Durkan in spring 2021; final recommendations will be submitted as part of the 2021 Supplemental Budget, which will be submitted to the City Council.

To support the task force and help guide decision making, the Equitable Development Community Indicators Report can be a useful tool to help measure how the city is doing overall, with data by race and ethnicity, and neighborhood, using 21 community indicators of equitable development.

“It starts with our young people, our kids and supporting and uplifting them so that they do not have the outcomes that we are trying to fix right now,” said task force member and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle President Michelle Merriweather when asked about her priorities.

“Making sure that they have access to mentorship and support, alternatives to incarceration, diversion programming, outreach. They have access to adequate WiFi and broadband so that they can do their work, especially right now,” she added.

The mayor’s task force is not without controversy. First, there’s concern from city council about where the $100 million is coming from.

“We have to recognize that it is absolutely but for the Jump Start payroll tax that they [mayor’s office] are having dollars available. If we didn’t have the Jump Start payroll tax, there would not be those dollars to pull from. And it’s important that we don’t get into robbing Peter to pay Paul or pitting communities against each other, and it’s especially important that we don’t pit BIPOC communities against each other,” Seattle City Council Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda said during an interview with Converge Media’s Omari Salisbury on Wednesday.

“We’re using a range of resources, and the hundred million dollars is coming out of the general fund. It’s a promise that I made in June, I made it before Jump Start was passed, knowing that we would have difficult choices to make,” Mayor Durkan explained in a recent interview with KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott.

“At this moment in time, I really believe that we in Seattle can again lead the nation by showing that we believe in equity and that we recognize the devastating impacts that systemic racism and inequality have had on our community, and that there are parts of our city that deserve to have the same level of investments over time. This $100 million is the beginning of that process for community to really engage and decide what are those resources it believes it needs to be healthy, vibrant, and resilient,” Durkan added.

The mayor hopes that King County Equity Now – the coalition group currently working with the city council on community led research to inform its participatory budgeting process – can work together with her task force.

“I think that group working together with the task force, this task force is going to be very self-directed. They will determine what they look at how they engage with community, they’re going to pull from all the brilliance in community. So I think far from being in competition, I think these are things that that can occur and make the space much better,” said Durkan.

Task force members agree.

“There’s no shortage of work and discussions that needs to be had to repair over 400 years of harm that has been done to the black and indigenous community. So I mean, it is all a part of the process, but not one is more important than the other, but hopefully, there’ll be some overlap and mutual agreement and discussion,” said Merriweather.

But it remains to be seen if that will be how things go down.

In a statement late Wednesday, King County Equity Now remained opposed to the mayor’s path. That statement reads:

We will continue to build and implement community budgeting power far beyond the current mayor’s hand-selected task force. Our Black Brilliance Research Project currently underway includes over 100+ Black community members and is laying the groundwork for widespread, equitable participation in a 2021 participatory budgeting (PB) process. The PB process allows hundreds of thousands of people to come together to directly and democratically determine investment priorities to generate true public health and safety for all Seattle residents.

We, and many others oppose this taskforce process that mimics real community involvement and input. Dozens of Black community leaders have been very outspoken about this and actively refused to participate. We invite task force members to join us in this visionary work. To move away from old normal tactics that have chronically and consistently failed our communities, and instead move towards a new budgeting process that includes everyone in our City.

Black Lives Matter Seattle King County issued a correction to Durkan’s task force announcement late Wednesday as well, specifically clarifying that they were not a member as the mayor’s office had indicated.

“Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County today issued a correction to the City of Seattle’s announcement of its $100M Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force. The City erroneously said BLMSKC is a member of the Task Force. BLMSKC was invited to join the Task Force, but declined the invitation,” the statement read.

A request for clarification from the mayor’s office had not been returned as of this writing.

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