Aaron Yoon, Bike Works Stewardship Manager, February 2022
In the mid 90s I worked on a school tile art project as a young student at North City Elementary school in Shoreline. My creation at the time featured two hands shaking. One black, one white. I’m not sure if I should get any creativity points, but more importantly, this project was inspired by Edwin Pratt, one of Seattle’s prominent civil rights leaders in the 60s who moved with his family to a near all-white Shoreline in 1959.
Living in Cap Hill and the CD most of my life, I’ve seen the parks and dedications for Edwin Pratt. Although he has been in my mind here and there, I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally followed up with the leader and his legacy since that simple tile art I worked on.
This Black History Month, I wanted to reflect on Edwin’s work with a Sunday afternoon bicycle journey from my apartment in Columbia City back to the Central District, where Pratt was on the frontlines in the fight against redlining and housing discrimination in Seattle.
First stop – Pratt Park (20th & Yesler)
As Edwin Pratt was a champion in the fight for fair housing practices, I’m reminded that although practices such as redlining and the disgusting racial restrictive covenants in so many King County neighborhoods may have ended, it’s hard not to see the connection and impact so visible today as I ride.
The sun was out and I was in a reflective mode, so I thought I’d listen to some of my favorite local hip-hop on the way. As I ride up through Judkins Park and roll past the Franz bakery outlet, Draze’s “The Hood Ain’t the Same” (2014) is playing and I’m feeling it.
“The blocks went naked and the gentrification came,
Garfield, Franklin, rivalries ain’t even the same,
Mark my words, it’s gonna be white boys all on the team,
I don’t reminisce when I drive through this hood I feel pain,
I ain’t proud of these new developments I feel shame…
I guess Kent is the new South End, and the South End is the CD,
and CD is just a thing of the past…
Used to own our homes, now we’re all renters,
Got folks moving south like birds for the winter,
They asked momma to sell our home she said ‘no’,
But then we had to shake when the property taxes rose”
Next up – Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (14th & Yesler)
I’m enjoying the views dropping down west on Yesler as the Olympics are out and the iconic Smith Tower is straight ahead. As I pass by the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute I realize that I have yet to attend any event in the space. I’m definitely checking the schedule now and I’ll be back.
At the bottom of the hill at the corner 14th & Yesler I roll up at the Urban League’s headquarters located at the historic St. George building built in 1910. Edwin Pratt served as the Executive Director of the Urban League during the 1960’s and housing justice continues to be a core value in their mission today. The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS) has a vision for equity for all and working towards self-sufficiency in all aspects of life. The five areas of focus are advocacy & civic engagement, education, housing, public health, and workforce development.
As the Central District and housing are on my mind, ULMS promotes housing justice through Eviction Prevention, Homeownership services, Financial Empowerment classes, Homeless outreach, and the Urban League Village. I particularly enjoyed looking up the ULMS schedule and seeing such a rich variety of intriguing events such as a youth mental health workshop, job readiness training and BIPOC job fairs, and especially the Future Voters Talent Show. It’s cool to see the Homebuyer Education Classes & Credit Counseling Workshops being offered every month as it encourages me to take some classes too.
It’s rare to find organizations with such a deep and authentic history in Seattle. Thank you Urban League for your work.
Last Stop – 23rd & Union
I swing up 14th and I ride past the King County Youth Detention Center where 50% of the youth are Black, 25% Latinx, and 20% White. I’m like, “We spent a quarter billion dollars on this… damn.” I ride on.
I reach Union, take a right, and get some work in climbing up and over down to 23rd, perhaps the original Ground Zero of gentrification in Seattle. I play only one track on the way there.
Again, Draze speaks to me, this time through Irony On 23rd (2016):
“The greed, the lust, insatiable appetite,
The conscience ear, but the inability to sacrifice…
Are we so gone we can’t practice a little discretion?
There’s nothing to think about, this is not okay,
What the hell are these politicians thinking anyway,
We pay taxes too, 23rd’s all tore up,
Then our businesses fail, I guess the hood is for sale,
The enemy is faceless, and it’s the system that rapes us,
Empty bike lanes, guess the hood needed a facelift…
We was redlining, but now we blackballed out,
So they can sell green, had to paint the flag on the crosswalk for ourself…
How many brothers went to jail on this corner for moving dime bags?
In a week he doing what, a couple hundred grand?…
Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”
Discrimination then forced Blacks in, discrimination now forces Blacks out. The enemy may be faceless, but the victims, the stories, and the pain is real.
On my back to the South End I roll past Jimi Hendrix Park and the Northwest African American Museum. I see Black, Brown, and Asian youth playing touch football and I’m feeling more inspired. It’s time for a strong ride back and to turn up my tunes a notch.
For my final tracks, I put on my favorite local hip-hop album, “From Slaveships to Spaceships”, released on Juneteenth 2009 by South Seattle MC, Khingz. I bop my head to the beat and listen to the personal stories of perseverance I hear on Prodigal & the title track, From Slaveships to Spaceships. I’m feeling it and I’ll be ready to put in the work on Monday.
Thank you, Edwin Pratt, for your work, your legacy, and providing the inspiration to ride and reflect.