An Open Letter to the Community

Dear neighbors, allies, friends, and family,

We write to you today with hearts full and hopes high—a sentiment that may feel out of place in a time when our national conversation is filled with the rhetoric of prejudice and racism. In the last year we’ve witnessed ongoing police brutality against Black and Brown men and women. We’ve watched white supremacists walk the streets of Charlottesville, spewing hate. We’ve seen families and communities fractured by painful immigration policies.

And yet, we remain optimistic.

In the midst of strife, we’ve also witnessed survival and strength, kindness and generosity, love and grace. Women marched; people stood with immigrants and refugees against inhumane bans; communities came together to rebuild after disaster, time and time again.

In the face of adversity, we look forward with faith.

Byrd Barr Place was founded as the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) in 1964, during the peak of the civil rights movement. For more than 50 years we have been a force for positive change and a pillar of Seattle’s Black community, and in that time we have gone from CAMP to Centerstone, and now from Centerstone we are opening our next chapter and unveiling our new name: Byrd Barr Place. Yet the heart of our work remains the same. We believe in the idea of helping neighbors help themselves—that if families have access to basic human needs and the tools to succeed, they are stronger. And strong people make for strong communities

We are continuing our fight to create a more equitable world for all people, no matter race or zip code.

Throughout our history, we have seen the resiliency and courage of Seattle’s Black community. Teachers boycotted to demand de-segregation. Students hosted sit-ins. The Black Panthers seeded a movement for Black power. Anti-poverty programs came and went. Gang and drug wars and rising prison rates destroyed families. We lived it with you. And we, like you, rose from those experiences with a conviction to end inequity and build opportunities within the Central Area and throughout King County.

Today, our community is impacted by rapid gentrification and displacement. Families who have called the Central Area home for decades find themselves unable to pay sky-rocketing property taxes, effectively pushing them out of Seattle. A lack of affordable housing options forces low-income families further from education and employment opportunities. Immigrant and refugee communities are left to navigate an adopted city without access to culturally-relevant resources. All these things exacerbate an already expansive racial wealth gap.

And these are the very issues Byrd Barr Place is committed to addressing, every day, by providing Seattle residents with rental assistance, energy assistance, personal finance education, and healthy food through our food bank. We’re also working in partnership with Africatown, Black Community Impact Alliance, and Capitol Hill Housing to construct the Liberty Bank Building, which broke ground last year and will provide affordable housing in the Central Area. And we’re gathering data to influence policy and shed light on issues critical to creating opportunity and prosperity within the Black community.

This newest chapter of our history is an opportunity for us to re-root ourselves in community. Our new name honors Roberta Byrd Barr, a leader, educator and journalist, who once wrote for Trumpet, CAMP’s newspaper. Roberta woke up Seattle to the realities of poverty and the experiences of people of color through her moderated news program Face to Face.

When we first heard Roberta’s story, we were moved. We had to tell others. When we shared it with our friends and families, people often asked, “Wait, who’s Roberta Byrd Barr?” And then we told them how Roberta led marches to demand de-segregation in schools; that she helped save the Douglass-Truth Library; that she was the first Black woman to run a Seattle high school.

And they were moved, too. They understood immediately that this woman embodied everything we value and she committed her life to providing the next generation a better, more equitable future.

With our new name, we will deepen our commitment to the values that have always defined us—values of compassion, resilience, and equity. We will continue to offer support with basic human needs, so everyone has a strong foundation to break the cycle of poverty.

We hope you will join us on this journey. Only when we stand together against intolerance and injustice can we realize a more equitable world, for this generation and every generation that follows.

Andrea Caupain Sanderson, Byrd Barr Place CEO
Kevin Dawson Jr., Byrd Barr Place Board of Directors, President

Chelsea Hawkins