Most of my work is building things. However, during my work with Africatown, I took a step back and worked around the question: "who gets to design?" More narrowly, "how do participatory methods hold up in the face of institutional racism?" Africatown is a group of grassroots organizations in Seattle whose goal is to increase Black representation against the effects of gentrification, racism, and displacement. In particular, I documented their work in the Central Area neighborhood, a once majority Black district where most longtime residents have been pushed out.
I worked primarily with Sara Zewde, a designer who took the lead on creating a public art installation called the Midtown Activation. Notably, it was the residents of the neighborhood who designed and planned much of the conceptual work behind the installation. These participatory design sessions were called design ciphers. Through both observing, interviewing, and participating in the ciphers, and through interacting with community around the site throughout the process, as an outside observer, I began to notice the invisible racialized barriers that community members faced as they designed for themselves. I documented my account as an outside, non-Black observer, working with Black and non-Black community members and designers.
I would like to thank all the community members who shared their stories with me, and to Africatown for their tireless work.