This week is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Seattle Black Panther Party Chapter. Here are some stories we've recorded with people who participated in, or benefited from, the Seattle Black Panther Party.
Fifty years ago today, on the same day that Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, DeCharlene Williams opened her beauty salon in Seattle's Central District neighborhood. In the first story, DeCharlene talks about how hard it was to start a business as a young, black woman. In the second story, Marie Kidhe talks about the importance of her regular childhood visits to DeCharlene's salon.
At the end of 2017, the Red Apple grocery, at 23rd and Jackson, closed forever. This week, it was demolished to make way for market rate apartments.
Listen to community members talk about what the Red Apple meant to them.
I grew up getting my hair done at DeCharlene's. She gave me my first curl. Me and my mom, yes, when I was ten. So I spent many, many Saturdays in that shop on Madison. It was hot! Because she didn't have no AC, and it was pressing irons and dryers and roller sets and my god it was hot. My brother hated it. He had to come. It was an all day process. My mom would pack two lunches for us, because it was my mom getting her hair done and then me getting my hair done. She had a TV up in the corner. She would watch soaps and game shows all day. We always went on a Saturday, of course, cause my mom worked during the week and I went to school, and it would literally be an all day function. We would get there at like 9 and be there for 5 or 6 hours. But I loved it, because I've always been into hair and fashion, and she would have these extraordinary dresses from all these different places, and they'd be boutique glamour dresses, and if I was good sometimes I'd get a dress that fit me, as I got older. And then she had this plethora of hats. So for me, it was just wow. I'd come to this place and it was just fancy. And you know she has always been a beautiful blonde, and so you'd come in to see what blonde look was she rocking this weekend, and she'd be selling tickets for some community event that was going on, so sometimes she'd need to stop so she could go to the front desk and sell a ticket, for maybe it was Ebony Fair, cause she used to help them when they would come into town.
My mom and her would talk about everything. A lot of times...back then grown folks business really applied back then, like I would have to go sit on the other side with my brother, and there was the TV and the dryer, so I couldn't always ear hustle the way that I had hoped to. She had stations, it would be divided by a rack of clothes and dryers, so sometimes you couldn't hear everything they were talking about, which in hindsight I think was kind of a good thing. It kept us in our place as children and allowed us to be children, and not be in such a race to grow up so fast. But it would be everything...bills, who is with what man, church on Sunday, those types of things. I loved it. I felt like, as a young girl, it was my opportunity to see beauty.
My dad, when he moved here, this was the only place he could afford. And he, I remember him telling me this, he moved into the apartments he moved into, because he wanted me to learn Spanish. And so I grew up speaking Spanish, cause all my friends were Mexican. So for my dad it was really important that I be versed in the culture that was around us, and that we could afford a place, and that we were close to my auntie's house.
Growing up here, most of my friends in the apartments, most of the people live in the apartments, were all Latinx folks. And I was the only Indian kid. And so I was really immersed in what it meant to be part of that community in our community. We used to have block parties now and then, so we would hang piñatas from the very top floor of the apartment building and all the kids, all the rug rats would come and bust these piñatas open, and the whole block would be covered in candy litter. We used to have bautizos or quinceñaras, or we'd have barbecues every weekend. I remember waking up on the weekends, and it was always very lively, and there was always music playing from inside people's houses, or in their cars. The CD used to feel very cozy and very homely. Our little block between Jackson and between Yesler, it was like its own little world. We used to joke about how this is where ALL the brown folks were, and as kids we didn't really know why, but we knew this is where we're all at. You felt safe and you felt comfortable. People wouldn't even lock their doors.
The moms would leave their doors open, we'd be running in and out, if you're hungry you'd just go to someone's house and be like, "Yo, can I get some food?" All the moms used to feed all the kids. But it was really funny, cause my dad would try to cook, and he was not a good cook. And he would make dishes for all the different moms, because they took care of me, and none of the moms liked the food. Everyone was too embarrassed to tell him, so everyone had Tupperware with dad's food and just didn't know what to do with it.
He really appreciated our community, even though he didn't speak a lick of Spanish, and Bengali was his first language and his English was very broken. But he always felt very loved and accepted by the people that lived in the apartments around us, and he used to always talk about how, how vibrant walking down the street felt for him. He was like, "Even though I'm not in India, I feel like when I walk here I'm still able to have some sense of home. I may not understand a lot of the culture here, but I know the people here, I trust them. I know if anything were to happen to me, they would step in and take care of you." And they did. The day my dad died, the whole apartments were all in my house, taking care of me and helping me talk to police and firefighters. He loved living here.
This week it has been exactly one year since we got the keys to the Shelf Life space. We have interviewed 65 community members. That simultaneously feels like a lot of people and not very many people at all. That’s more than one person per week. But there are so many more stories to record and share. Visit our Latest Stories page regularly, as we are always posting new ones.
As fall descends on Seattle, we are prioritizing and organizing for the next chapter of Shelf Life. Before the end of the year, we will have to give up our space at the Promenade. This means that, for the next few months, we will not be scheduling interviews or hosting public hours at the story booth. In what remains of 2017, we will prioritize the following activities:
1) Transcribing and editing the stories we have already recorded.
2) Editing and producing the SHELF LIFE PODCAST AND RADIO SERIES!!! With a grant from 4Culture Heritage, we will create 15 thematic episodes that will air on community radio stations and Low Power FM stations around the region.
3) Making arrangements with Central Area churches and senior centers to conduct interviews in those spaces in 2018.
In the new year, we will start conducting interviews again, so if you have friends and family who have roots in the neighborhood, there's still plenty of time to interview them! We will also begin the design and development process for a large-scale interactive story platform (walking tour app, story map, etc). This will include a series of community forums to get input as to the best way to return the stories to the community.
There are lots of other updates, such as Shelf Life’s participation in the upcoming Al Smith exhibit at MOHAI and a promising collaboration between NAAM and Kaji, to incorporate Shelf Life stories into an interactive audio app for use at NAAM. Stay tuned here to learn more about exciting developments at Shelf Life!