Africatown celebrates the opening of the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation

by Lauryn Bray


The dedication ceremony of the Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) on September 16 marked the end of a week of events celebrating the opening of the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation. Under the legacy of William Grose, the ACLT is transforming the disused Fire Station 6 into a technology center dedicated to helping shape Seattle’s next generation of technology developers, creative professionals and future entrepreneurs.

“We are designing the William Grose Center to have public partnerships that help us navigate the waters of entrepreneurship, creative industry and STEM,” said Evan Poncelet, chief information officer at the ACLT.

ACLT, an organization aiming to acquire land to empower and preserve the black diaspora community, has been developing projects for years focused on revitalizing the Central District as a majority black neighborhood. The Benu Community Home, Liberty Bank Building and Africatown Plaza are all examples of ACLT’s commitment to supporting Black residents of the Central District by creating free, affordable housing in the face of rising rents and high property taxes. Today, the William Grose Center demonstrates ACLT’s commitment to investing in the creative capital of Seattle’s Central District.

The week-long celebration consisted of four ceremonies: three open houses and a ribbon cutting. “When we were hosting the launch events, we wanted to make sure that each stakeholder had a specific day where they could come in and engage with the team they had built relationships with for the William Grose Center,” TraeAnna explained. Holiday, an Emmy. Award-winning artist, activist and community organizer at the ACLT. “Monday was conceptually the business/entrepreneurship day where Black Dot Underground, who have hosted Mastermind Mondays and many other black business events, had their launch. … On Wednesday we asked the STEM team to bring in their stakeholders so they could see the center, do the tours and also see some of the work from some of the programs we ran this summer. …Thursday was creative economy day, where we brought in partners from the creative economy – some of the partners we’ve worked with, with All is Well Studios and Fuji Films and some of the interns who have already completed their internship at All is Well presenting their work. And Friday was about cutting the ribbon, the whole community was celebrating,” Holiday said.

“We wanted everyone to have a day where their specific needs could be discussed and addressed in terms of what the center offers in terms of programming, opportunities and partnerships,” Poncelet said.

Nicholas C. Penland, William Grose’s great-grandson, cuts the ribbon at the William Grose Center in Africatown. (Photo: Susan Fried)

The center is named after William Grose, Seattle’s second black resident and one of its wealthiest. Owning a hotel, restaurant, and barbershop, Grose wore many hats throughout his life, but he is best remembered for transforming the Central District into a neighborhood for the city’s black middle class. In 1882 Grose purchased 12 acres of land at East Madison Street from Henry Yesler. As Grose sold lots of homes to other wealthy black families, these 12 acres would become the basis of Seattle’s Central District.

The center’s goal is to not only use technology and other means of creativity to demonstrate to young people in the Central District and surrounding areas that there are many paths to professionalism in Seattle, but also to demonstrate to businesses that are looking to diversify their work environments that there are black creatives, black tech developers, and black entrepreneurs available for hire right here in Seattle.

“One of the things that we modeled the William Grose Center on is the fact that we have very specific sectors of economic drivers throughout the city of Seattle that don’t particularly allow our young black academics to participate. So we understand the technology is there, but the technology pushed us out. Rather than being inclusive and taking us through the tech boom and really digging into Seattle talent, they’re bringing in a lot of talent, which actually adds to the gentrification,” Holiday explained.

Although the William Grose Center has just officially opened, the ACLT has been hosting programs since the beginning of the summer. He hosted a Digital Storython where he invited Brit Moorer, Peabody Award-winning storyteller and former KING 5 reporter, to develop a program and give a presentation on how to tell a story. “We brought in experts from the press and storytelling and paired them with youth teams. So on Friday they got a lot of information about how to tell stories, how to build a narrative, how it’s done professionally, and the different types of formats that stories take in a big newsroom. … On Saturday, we had divided the students into five teams, and they went out and interviewed black business owners in the central district. They came back and we showed them how to make the changes on their phones. So it was very easy for young people to participate because a lot of young people now have phones,” Holiday said.

The Technology Room at the William Grose Center, with computers along the walls and large tables in the center of the room
The Technology Room at the William Grose Center in Africatown. (Photo: Alex Garlande)

In addition to the Digital Storython, there was a coding summer course taught by a group of underrepresented minority computer science students at the University of Washington. A Vision for Electronic Literacy and Access (AVELA) developed a Python programming program and taught computer coding to a group of children aged 8-17. “They were learning the basics of Python programming, up to artificial programming. intelligences to play pong and Tetris and tank battle simulators. [It was about] bringing them from scratch to the forefront of conversations on relevant IT hot topics, giving them that cumulative interest for the rest of their lives,” Poncelet explained. “[The course] this fall is going to learn how to program our new microcontroller so kids can learn the basics of computer hardware and electronics, and then that’s going to turn into another course, which is going to make a heart rate monitor so people can actually develop practical applications of their basic understanding of computers and electronics.

Another program this summer was the FutureFounders VR Fellowship Build a Block program, which was a partnership with Simulated Immersive eXperimental Realities (SIXR) where they taught 11 young people how to do an architectural visualization of the William Grose Center using Unreal Engine 5.

Africatown Community Land Trust Board Treasurer Michaeljohn Green speaks to the William Grose Center community in front of a screen displaying his presentation as onlookers cheer and take photos
Africatown Community Land Trust Board Treasurer Michaeljohn Green speaks to the community at the William Grose Center.

Getting involved with the William Grose Center is easy. Whether you’re someone looking for resources to develop your creative abilities or you’re a creative professional, entrepreneur or technology developer looking to talk to young people about how they can do what you do, the Center William Grose welcomes you.

When asked how a child can get involved with the centre, TraeAnna Holiday explained: “They can search for the William Grose Center depending on the pipeline they want to join. They can submit a form which is sent to the team so that we can integrate them into the programming. But also, the doors are going to be open, so if a kid comes from Washington Middle School and just wants to check in and see – “Man, what’s going on here?” — there will be a receptionist/receptionist at the front door. They can come in and take a tour, see what’s going on, see how to get engaged. Maybe they’re into technology or business, or they’re creative – they’ll be given that spiel at the door.

The opening of the William Grose Center signifies the end of a long and arduous bureaucratic process. After 10 years of advocating for community ownership and two years of renovations, the community can now redirect its energy towards the development of future projects.

In the 10 years the city spent trying to figure out what to do with Fire Station 6 as organizers advocated for the building to be used by the community, ACLT President and CEO Wyking Garrett , said: “Move faster and invest more in effective solutions to address these issues, because the time that passes is not made up; that is lost. There is an opportunity cost, so it’s wonderful that “It’s opening now. We’re excited about that, but it’s not just this project. [There are] many solutions that exist to change the material conditions of our community, that if the urgency is met and the need is met, we can see greater change and impact happen.

Wyking Garrett, President and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust, speaks to community members at the William Grose Center, standing in front of a screen displaying his presentation and gesturing towards his presentation while speaking into a microphone
Wyking Garrett, President and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust, speaks to community members at the William Grose Center in Africatown. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Photo showing Lauryn Bray holding an iPhone to take a mirror selfie.

Lauryn Bray is a development writer and editor at the South Seattle Emerald. She holds a degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is originally from Sacramento, Calif., and has lived in King County since June 2022.

📸 Featured Image: The William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation in Africatown. (Photo: Alex Garlande)

Before you move on to the next story …
Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!

Comments are closed.