“When you walk into a room, do you count the white people in a room?” One of the first questions my friend Kyle, a black man, posed to our friend Katie, a white woman. We all laughed at the truth behind his playful statement. Kyle’s point was obvious. The white population of Seattle exceeds that of its dwindling black population tenfold, so it was supremely satisfying for him to walk into the Seattle MoPOP’s Black History Month event, “Through The Eyes of Art,” to a packed venue of people of color. The theme of the evening was “The Tie between Sports and Activism,” and the art reflected this beautifully with a painting of the great Muhammad Ali, and, of course, the more recent athlete-to-activist Colin Kaepernick.
As soon as we reached the second floor of the museum, we were welcomed by an array of breathtaking visual art accompanied by the artists themselves. Everything was reasonably priced and, in true BHM fashion, directly supports a black artist in the local Seattle community and their families, who were all there to show their love—mothers, daughters and grandbabies in tow.
A short distance from the art is where we were seated, educated, entertained and inspired for the rest of the evening. The night started with The Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, with Jacqueine Cobbs on saxophone and Kimball Owens on keyboard, followed by Dumi Maraire, who gave an emotional speech about the impact that the Rotary Boys & Girls Club AAU Program has had on the community. The Servanthood Award was presented to Daryll Hennings and Dan Finkley for over 20 years of service and commitment to youth development with Rotary. “It was hard to reach [Daryll and Dan on the phone] because there are things to do, kids to be served,” Maraire explained. “They really didn’t want to talk about the kids they got into the NBA (people like Aaron Brooks of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dejounte Murray of the San Antonio Spurs, Marvin Williams of the Charlotte Bobcats and Peyton Siva of the Louisville Cardinals). They wanted to talk about the lives they’ve touched.”
Maraire then welcomed the sports panelists to the stage: Donald Watts, former University of Washington basketball player; Mario Bailey, former University of Washington wide receiver; and Joey Thomas, former Green Bay Packer and current Garfield High School football head coach in Seattle. The dialogue moved freely from topics like being seen as a “role model” as a young athlete and the blessing and the curse that can be, giving back to your community, the parallel between drafting players in sports and the “draft” of slave auctions, and sacrificing for future change. One thing they all seemed to agree on was that access to information and education is of the utmost importance—a real game-changer in life.
After a short break, young girls ranging from ages 5-15 with Northwest Tap danced their hearts out to the music of Digable Planets and visuals of dynamic black activists and artists like Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Marley and Maya Angelou projected in the background. It was light and exciting, a dance of pride and happiness. What followed the dance was heavier and evoked an emotional response from everyone in attendance: an interpretive dance piece set to Shasparay Lighteard’s spoken word piece, “Black Girl Magic.” The poem alone brings many to tears, but watching these young black queens communicate her words through their performance was deeply powerful.
The dancers were followed by poets Aaron Reader, Chelsey Richardson, Iese Ionatana and Matinn Miller. Nothing I can say will do these poets justice. They were phenomenal. Each and every performance exemplified beauty, struggle, power, passion and excellence. Yet despite all this talent, all this charisma, all this magnificence on display at an event designed to help foster stronger communities in the Puget Sound region, only a handful of people in attendance were not members of the black community.
This alone is telling of the lack of support communities of color receive in the greater Seattle area. “I’ve never seen this many black people in one room,” my friend Kyle commented at one point, saying later that the last time he seen that many black people in one room was at a black church. Thank you, MoPOP, for taking us to church and Happy Black History Month! While black excellence deserves to be celebrated every day, Black History Month is a great opportunity to share, applaud and learn from the black community, to honor the contributions that they have brought to this country and the rich history, experience and impact of Blackness on American culture.