The Martin Luther King Jr. Day March through the city on Monday was heavy with support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but events last weekend drove home the important housing, educational, and economic crises threatening African Americans in Seattle.
At a panel for the Rise Up! Restore the Dream MLK workshops at Garfield High School on Monday, Dr. Thad Spratlen, professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Washington, provided hard numbers on economic inequality. Census data for 2010 reveals that the median household income for African Americans in Seattle is only 45 percent of the median for whites, averaging $30,116 versus $66,380, which heavily impacts the ability of African Americans to access housing and buy things the same way as white consumers. Coupled with a 16 percent unemployment rate (almost double the 8.5 percent rate for whites), this paints a bleak picture of the way African Americans are struggling to survive in a city with a tremendous amount of wealth and economic inequality.
Mayor Ed Murray attended an African and African American Diaspora event at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on Saturday, where leaders of the black communities gave him specific calls to action on issues affecting youth, education, housing, arts, digital access, and community development. Community organizer Karen Toering asked that internet and computer access be placed high on the list of priorities. Producer and director Lola Peters received a standing ovation when she asked Murray to pay attention to all of the people telling him how they can strengthen their own community, giving power to their voices instead of the voices that often speak for them.
And Murray listened. He was quiet throughout the event, taking notes and speaking for only 10 minutes at the end. Most of us can manage that on a regular basis, but it was pretty cool that a new mayor didn't come with the bluster of his own agenda and legitimately came to hear what everyone had to say.