Black History Month Series

The Pursuit of Black Excellence Never Ends

With February’s end, I fear the end of our pursuit of the knowledge, characters and milestones within our culture. During February we embrace the opportunity to bask in our history, posting the stories of our leaders and sharing the legacies of our ancestors across countless platforms. Whether that be through social media like twitter tributes or Facebook statuses; or even through hosting events, parades, music or school curriculums we celebrate ourselves in February, the shortest and coldest month of the year. February is the month where we aren’t only allowed but also expected to bask in our glow, flaunt our successes, relive our trials and reflect on our progress and now sadly, February is coming to an end but will the celebration of culture end with that? Absolutely not and when I look back on this February I don’t see a coming end, instead I see a chain of events that are building up as a rising climax, that work to ignite a fire and passion for self discovery in my black history. There is no end to this celebration.

I want to ask each of you to think about, “How did I spend BHM?” Where you able to use this time to celebrate Black culture and accomplishment? If so then, like myself, you were able to connect with the legacies of past generations, develop your understanding of the reoccurring struggle that Blackness is forced to combat with in this country and bask in the pride of our people’s resilience. The experience of doing so on a daily basis as apart of the Sawari Black History Month Series was invaluable. I began this month with a commitment to researching Black civil rights leaders, entertainers, inventors, entrepreneurs, educators, athletes and activists who made strides for our community in American History ranging from the slavery era, through the segregation, the civil rights era, and today’s mass incarceration era. I researched topics that I was comfortable with, like the legacy of inventor and entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker who developed the Walker System that catered to the specific needs of natural textured hair. Her system made her America’s first self-made millionaire. I also researched topics that I was less familiar with, like the historic oppression of Blacks within the military. This topic forced me to think about the reasoning behind Black’s emancipation and our critical role in the Civil War. It also forced me to be critique the ways in which military culture continue to oppress Blacks and other marginalized groups, especially Black women in relation to hair regulations. In addition to using the daily series to think about those topics that excited and challenged me I also used this period of time to reflect on my relationship to those victims of state violence. On my birthday article, February 6th, I reflected on the death of Trayvon Marin, born one day before me on February 5th, and Sandra Bland, born the day after me on February 7th. Both of these victims lives related to mine in a way that forced me to think about how we are all threatened by an unjust criminal justice system. We must continue to #SayHerName and #NeverForget that #BlackLivesMatter.

In relation to my birthday, I made a commitment to discover and support more local Black owned businesses in the Seattle area. On my birthday my father and I visited Plum Bistro, a vegan restaurant in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Both of us were incredibly pleased with the food. What drew me to this restaurant was the story of it’s founder, Making Howell, whose vegan dishes can be found at one of her many Seattle locations including: Plum Pantry, Plum Burgers and Sugar Plum. Howell, a Black woman raised vegan, inspired to open her own vegan restaurant because she wanted to create a welcoming and inviting diner, unlike the hole-in-the-wall places she was forced to eat at for vegan options, “Plum Bistro is a place where you can come to the neighborhood everyone wants to be in and have a satisfying meal. There are small vegan shops, sandwich shops, but not another Plum Bistro–type place in this region,” Howell tells the Stranger. She opened the restaurant against the advice of business consultants in an area where there was no data she was told she wouldn’t be able to handle multiple locations and that her business would fail within a year. I’m proud to say that walking into Plum Bistro was an inviting and refreshing experience. The decor was beautiful and the food was incredible, even the water we were served had a touch of pizzazz with cucumber and orange slivers floating in the glass. Many Blacks aren’t raised vegan so the thought of consuming a meal of that category can seem daunting, but my Father and I didn’t miss any flavor or taste when it came to the vegan food at Plum Bistro. We started our meal with their yam chips appetizer. I had the Macho Burrito that was stuffed with soy chorizo, beans, rice, avocado and orange pico de gallo while my father had the Plum Ruben sandwich that had tofustrami, vegan cheese and pickled cabbage with thousand island dressing. After our meals we shared a
clementine tart for desert, even though we were way too full we couldn’t help but clean the plate. My father had never eaten vegan and was very pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed trying a new taste in Seattle and supporting a Black owned restaurant that has an amazing story. In addition to Plum Bistro I went to another Black owned business, Kanjin Yoga, where I took a 45min beginner yoga class. I’d been wanting to try yoga as a fitness and mind renewing activity for weeks and finding this studio in Seattle on Rainer Ave gave me the push I needed to try. 

Mid February I spent Valentines day mentoring youth in King County’s juvenile detention center as apart of the Pongo Poetry Project. I’ve expressed my abolitionist stance on prisons as a part of my work for the Millions for Prisoners march. I’ve also participated in protests and written on my stance against the New Youth Jail being built-in Seattle. My work with Pongo allows me to connect one-on-one with youth in detention and provide them with tools, an outlet and a product of their reflection. Students are given the opportunity to heal through their writing and as a mentor the experience is rewarding. Black and Brown youth are grossly over-represented in the detention center and there are not enough rehabilitative activists for youth in detention, increasing recidivism. In addition to this, the $74 million decrease in state funding for public education is a direct illustration of the states intent to re-enforce to public-school-to-prison pipeline. The state is following a national trend, grooming Black and Brown children to be prisoners. My work with Pongo is a small part of my commitment, an attempt to fight against this trend.

I used the last week of Black History month to reflect on my own family history. I focused on the lives of my grandparents and found some striking similarities between their talents and my own. On my mother’s side, my grandfather established his salon, “Eugene of Detroit Hair Designers” after moving from Detroit to Atlanta to pursue his dreams. His choice to move across the country is reflective of mine and his passion for hair continues to flow through me as I opened my own hair studio in the Seattle area, AmaniSalon. Similarly, after reflecting on the life of my grandmommy, my mother’s mother, I saw that she instilled in me a passion for reading that continues to flow through me today. Although my father didn’t have a relationship with his father I was able to reflect on the life of his mother who was the first African American secretary hired in Michigan State’s capitol. She had incredible clerical skills and note taking abilities that allowed her to record sermons for famous ministers like Bishop C.L. Morton. Learning about the lives of my grandparents and seeing the accomplishments that they were able to attain enriched my understanding of myself, my passions and goals. 

This past weekend I support Black  art in spoken word poetry by supporting the Poets in Autumn (PIA) tour. The tour featured 4 Black poets: Ezekiel Azonwu, Janette…Ikz, Preston Perry, Jackie Hill Perry and guest poet Chris Webb. Each of them were incredibly enlightening, the spoken word ended with praise and worship led by Janette on acoustic guitar. The spoken word focused on how a relationship with God is the foundation to overcome any situation. This event was the perfect way for me to enter into renewing my spiritual relationship. During the Sawari Black History Series I took a sabbath each Sunday, rest and catch up on article topics. This past Sunday, the last Sunday of February, I made the decision to be baptized. I did so with the support of my Father and younger sister standing by along with members of the church. It felt like the perfect moment to do so, with all the transitions happening in my life and my successful completion of the Black History series on my site. This was the first series I’d embarked on and this research writing was important for me to contribute to this month of celebration. Thank you to all those that participated in this series of reflection with me. 

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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