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Reimagine Seattle: Chelsey Richardson

The challenges of the past two years have changed the way we live, the way we work, and the way we show up for each other. They have also given us a rare chance to collectively reimagine our future. Through the Reimagine Seattle Storytelling Project we invite community members to reflect on their current experiences in Seattle, how they have been impacted by recent events, and their hopes for the future of our city.

by Chelsey Richardson

Dear Seattle,

It is difficult to write to you as if I am not saying goodbye. I am trying to conceptualize a future with you, but one cannot see tomorrow without first examining today. You are named after a Chief who was known as a warrior. A name that we still mispronounce. In a letter he wrote to colonizers, he said that he did not understand what it meant to sell land. He saw the rivers and lakes as his brothers. But he himself owned eight enslaved African people, which means he, in fact, understood what it meant to treat rivers and lakes like brothers but did not extend the same to fellow humans. As a descendant of enslaved African people, I will forever hold this against you.

 You, City and your officials, have always hated Black people. Policy has always been colored by your disdain for us. And, before you open your mouth to argue with me about this truth, ask yourself if you have done more than befriend a Black person by putting a Black Lives Matter sign on your lawn. Ask yourself if you have done more than work to rename your county after Dr. King, a forward thinking anti-war and anti-capitalist activist only to cover up the former name of William R. King, who was a slave holder.  

There is a sadness in my heart, because I know I am supposed to find a way to be thankful and imagine you as a something that isn’t dead and never really served me anyway.

As a person who was born right at the edges of Renton’s Longacres Racetrack, I am happy that I knew you. That, as a child, I lived on Lucile Street for two short years in a little yellow house. I am thankful to have known the luscious green vines that grew up Cleveland High School’s brick walls. If it wasn’t for that little yellow house and the bars on its windows, woven like beautiful musical notes, I would have only half known what it felt like to live in a house.

I have already said my goodbye to Chubby and Tubby, where we bought five-dollar Christmas trees; eaten my last sponge cake and soft serve at Borracchini’s; lifted my final Silver Fork; and waved away Red Apple on 23rd and Jackson.

It is with a heavy mind and mouth full of mud that I garble out my concerns for your earth. Heavy like the sediment in one of your main arteries known as the Duwamish.

I know that it takes effort to change. I’m not one for begging or even bargaining. I’m the kind of person who leaves instead. But I do wish that you would take my concerns and throw them under your wings. Not so you could fly away and make excuses for your faults, but so you could hold them up and nurture them.

A real conversation about our values is needed. Black Lives Matter signs on plush lawns will not do. They will not be a quick fix to the real systemic issues we have struggled with. Attacks on the poor and unhoused would not be acceptable to people who value humanity. What would be acceptable is a stop to homeless encampment sweeps. A stop to rising rent. A true rent cap will do. Listening to activists who know how to envision communities that are fruitful and self-sustaining would work. Dialogue matched with true effort could change you and us into a place that feels loving. Love could grow here if you and I could begin to accept the truth. I want to believe, and am willing to try, but I can’t try by myself.

Signed with a heavy mind and a mouth full of mud,

Chelsey Richardson

close-up image of Chelsey Richardson's face. she is a Black woman wearing a white t-shirt. she is looking directly at the camera and has a serious expression on her face.
Chelsey Richardson’s writing is the electrical current that flows between words and the spiritual world.  She grounds her work in the notion that her role as an artist is to tell the bittersweet truth. She is a mother, teacher, and poet. She was nominated by the CD Forum as a Seattle Poet Populist candidate in 2008. In 2019-2020 she was awarded the role of “Master Poet” by The Center for Washington Cultural Traditions. She released her debut poetry book, All Water has Perfect Memory, on February 27, 2021. You may have seen or heard her work in Poetry on the Bus, Intersections, South Seattle Emerald, The Carter Center, or Atlanta Forum on Human Rights. She has also performed with with The Griot Party, founded by Logic Amen, and Alchemy Poetry Series, created by Ebo Barton and Ben Yisreal. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington and Master’s in Teaching English Education. She currently works as an educator in the Federal Way School District.

Submissions for the Reimagine Seattle Storytelling Project were commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained in each submission do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas, of the City of Seattle.