Everyone who comes into The Market at Byrd Barr Place is familiar with Leon Forde and his infectious smile and energy. His care for the community is evident in each conversation he has and he puts his whole heart into everything he does.
In this interview, Leon tells us a little bit about his upbringing, his special connection with Byrd Barr Place, and his vision for the future of the organization.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Both my parents immigrated to the United States from Guyana. I was born in New York City and raised by a large extended West Indian family. Family was central to my life growing up, there was definitely an old school West Indian mindset where the entire family raises children together. When I was five years old, my parents and I moved to Seattle where I attended elementary school. For a few years my family then moved to Florida where I attended middle school before returning to Seattle and finishing my high school education at Kent Meridian High School.
I am a huge sports fan, it’s one of my main hobbies. I love playing basketball and watching football. I’m a big Seahawks fan and a Lebron James fan. I love staying active. I’ve been married for 14 years and I have a beautiful five-year-old daughter. I always say that if I’m not doing it for Byrd Barr Place, I’m doing it for my family.
Q: We hear you have a special connection with Byrd Barr Place, can you share how you got here?
I do have a special connection with Byrd Barr Place, my cousin Andrea Caupain Sanderson is the current CEO and has been a part of the organization for almost 20 years. I’ve been coming to Byrd Barr Place events for as long as I can remember. My brother would DJ at various events, and I’d be outside cooking up some BBQ. I got here through those gatherings, music, food and just having a good time. It’s a family affair.
Q: What’s your role at Byrd Barr Place?
For the past five months, I have been working as The Market coordinator. My job is to order the food, make reports and ensure that everything coming into The Market is documented.
I lead on making sure that home deliveries go out on time and manage the everyday flow of The Market. I also do more general work like invoices and locking up the building at night. Basically, I take care of anything and everything operations-wise that needs doing.
Q: Tell us your favorite thing about the new Market.
I love that when people come into The Market they can hold their heads high. It’s new, it’s clean, it’s like you’re at a regular grocery store. There is no shame in needing help and people really feel that when they come in here. I always keep in mind that you never know what someone is going through, I make sure to treat everyone with dignity and respect and love to get people smiling. I love to chop it up with the clients, and people know that when they see me I’m going to be joking with them and lifting their spirits. It makes my job easy, I love it!
Q: How do you feel food justice and access plays into Byrd Barr Place’s vision for an equitable future for Black Washingtonians?
I think Byrd Barr Place plays a special role during these times and especially in the Central District. There is a lot of Black history in the Central District. The Black Panthers used to meet here for rallies before heading downtown. This area means a lot to Black Seattle, and I feel that it is our duty to not let it go. The housing rates have gotten so expensive and have pushed many Black families out of what was a historically Black neighborhood. Byrd Barr Place being a staple of the Black community in this neighborhood is so important. Don’t get me wrong, we will help anyone, but let’s not forget why we are in this space, and why we are here.
Q: In bittersweet news, Andrea will be leaving Byrd Barr Place by the end of June, can you share a little bit about her and how you feel about her departure?
Andrea is simply great. She’s a calming presence and incredibly smart. I know her upbringing and can speak to the fact that she’s a genuinely strong person. She’s never going to quit or give up. She understands people deeply; she can read people and understand their motivations. She’s a very easy leader to follow and we are definitely going to miss her.
However, she has left us in a great spot. She has put a plan and vision in place and now it’s up to us to make sure that it’s executed. Right now it’s all about carrying the baton she has passed to us. We can look at the example that she has set – if she can do it, we can do it too. I think we’ll be alright, she won’t be too far away.