Transforming the fire station into a technical “pipeline” in the Central District of Seattle

In a row of empty offices, TraeAnna Holiday envisions young people editing and recording videos. At a large meeting table, you see them talking through the films they are planning to make. In the computer lab, they will program, create virtual reality, and 3D print.

This week the Africatown Community Land Trust launched the William Gross Center for Cultural Innovation

Focusing on increasing the number of students of color entering technology and film careers, the center will offer computer science and filmmaking workshops starting this fall. After further 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 filmmaking programs.

“I want black creatives like me, who come from similar backgrounds, to not feel the need to leave Seattle in order to be creative.”

Located in a former city fire station that hasn’t been used for nearly a decade, Friday’s ribbon cutting came years after the idea was conceived. Following massive anti-racism protests in 2020, the city has moved the station to Africa Town, which is redeveloping the land with a focus on preserving the city’s black community. The city provided a 99 years no cost rent and $1 million for renovations.

Under the lease, some programs at the center “should focus on finding solutions for small businesses and small businesses that have been affected” by the pandemic. Africa Town must within 10 years fully operationalize the property, “extending the programs and functions of the community center to a level comparable to other community centers.”

“We are dealing with a social and economic case of Jim Crow segregation,” said K. Walking Jarrett, president and CEO of Africatown. “To help make Seattle a fair city that includes more of us and doesn’t continue to become increasingly exclusive.”

The group continues to raise funds for the center, Jarrett said, and has so far received support from KeyBank, Fuji Film, Seattle University, the Paul G. Allen College of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington and others.

The name of the center honors William Gross, a black businessman whose land purchases in the late 19th century helped establish the Central District as a center for black families. Later, racist vows Banning black families from buying homes in most neighborhoods outside the central district, isolating the city In styles that persist to this day.

The black population in the central region has almost decreased 75% to 15%The city has also seen A technological boom largely excluded black workers. Proponents hope the new center will begin to disentangle this trend.

Nick and Bill Penland, both descendants of Gross, sat near the front of an open house in the center Thursday evening. As a youth, Nick Penland said, “We probably don’t know what greatness lies within us.” “This is really inspiring.”

This project is one of several efforts underway in Africa Town, including Affordable housing development On 23rd Avenue and East Spring Street.

With the new center opening its doors, fall and winter rehearsals will focus on coding, computers, and electronics. The students will learn to build heart rate monitors and radios, said Evan Poncelet, director of information technology for Africa Town.

While the influx of high-paying tech jobs has contributed to the exodus in Seattle, Poncelet said the industry is also able to “build wealth for a generation.”

“If you can create programs that spark young people’s curiosity and invest in STEM fields, then those people can go back in and buy back the block,” Poncelet said.

This story includes material from the archives of the Seattle Times.

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