Tag: Black Brilliance Project

King County Equity Now Presents Preliminary Research Findings to City Council

By Paul Kiefer

Monday morning’s Seattle City Council briefing began with an hour-long presentation by researchers affiliated with King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) about the preliminary findings from their research on the public safety and community health priorities of Seattle residents. The presentation was KCEN’s first council appearance since the execution of a $3 million research contract between the council and Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor, in late November.

The contract itself provides only a broad description of its purpose: to fund “research processes that will promote public safety informed by community needs.” Nevertheless, the research project looms large in the council’s discussions about developing public safety alternatives because it will lay the groundwork for a public safety-focused participatory budgeting process in 2021 that will allocate $30 million to public safety investments chosen by Seattle residents; that process will play a significant role in shaping Seattle’s path away from police-centered public safety.

But the BBRP is largely separate from the project-development element of participatory budgeting. The research itself—which includes online surveys and focus groups—is delegated to “research teams” hired and managed by nonprofits that subcontract with Freedom Project Washington, including a team fielded by Freedom Project Washington itself. Each of these research teams has a distinct focus; PubliCola reviewed one survey, created by East African Community Services, that specifically targeted East African youth between 11-24.

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The core of the BBRP’s preliminary findings are five high-level priorities that KCEN hopes will inform the project proposals put to a vote during the participatory budgeting process: Expanding housing and small-business options (specifically “more Black-led residential and Black-led commercial spaces”); “culturally responsive and caring” mental health services; “childcare and out-of-school time supports… particularly for children facing systemic violence and trauma”; economic relief; and an alternative crisis response system.

These five priorities have remained consistent since KCEN first announced the launch of the BBRP in September. However, according to KCEN, the qualitative data gathered by researchers during this phase of the project will help sharpen more concrete budget and programming proposals at some point in the future.

Research teams have also been conducting “community needs surveys” as part of a parallel effort to address accessibility problems (like language barriers, cost of childcare or lack of internet) that could exclude marginalized residents from taking part in the participatory budgeting process. During Monday’s briefing, Glaze said that KCEN and their partners are distributing the community needs surveys through social media and the social and professional networks of researchers themselves, most of whom are Black and between 20-35 years old.

This could help explain why more than half of the participants in the survey have been Black, and why nearly 55% are younger than 35. KCEN’s efforts to reach older residents through community meetings and in-person interviews have been hindered by COVID-related restrictions on gatherings.

Because the contract between Freedom Project Washington and the council did not outline a budget for the project, the only guide to how contract dollars are spent is the Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-investment released by KCEN and the Decriminalize Seattle Coalition last summer. Though that initial budget is not set in stone, it included nearly $300,000 in spending on “internet connectivity supports” and computers to ensure widespread access to online surveys, focus groups and educational materials. KCEN was not immediately able to say how many internet hotspots and computers it has distributed or how much it has spent on that infrastructure.

Though the work plan KCEN submitted in November included a timeline for the current research project, it’s unclear exactly how this project will lead to a citywide participatory budgeting process in 2021. During Monday’s presentation, Glaze said KCEN doesn’t intend to control the participatory budgeting process. Instead, Glaze spoke about a still-to-be-formed “steering committee” that will work with multiple city departments to set the ground rules for the process, review community-generated proposals and shape them into a list of viable projects. KCEN has not said who will select the committee’s members or when the committee will begin its work.

When asked by Council President Lorena González about city departments that could partner with the steering committee to launch the participatory budgeting process, Glaze pointed to the Equitable Development Initiative, housed in the Office of Planning and Community Development, as a prime candidate, as well as the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Glaze said those offices could offer technical support to the process and award grants to the winning projects, though the steering committee would remain responsible for gathering project proposals from community members.

KCEN is scheduled to submit a full report, including preliminary recommendations for the structure of the participatory budgeting process, on December 21.

More Details Emerge About Black Brilliance Project’s Research Plan

By Paul Kiefer 

PubliCola has obtained a copy of King County Equity Now’s (KCEN) work plan for the public safety research project that’s intended to lay the groundwork for a participatory budgeting process next year. About $30 million of the $1.5 billion general fund budget is supposed to be allocated using participatory budgeting—a process that enables the public to vote on which projects and priorities they want to fund—next year.

The Seattle City Council finalized a $3 million contract with Freedom Project Washington, a nonprofit that offers programs inside and outside prisons to help with reentry and prevent re-incarceration, to fiscally sponsor KCEN’s research last week. With the contract finalized and the work plan submitted, Freedom Project Washington now has access to the first $250,000 of that total. Freedom Project Washington is allowed to subcontract with other groups to conduct parallel research. Currently, though, KCEN is the group’s only subcontractor.

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The work plan offers the most detailed glimpse yet into the workings of the Black Brilliance Research Project, which KCEN launched in mid-September. KCEN has hired more than 100 paid researchers—largely Black—who will work until at least next spring and present findings from their research to the council twice: once in December and again in the first quarter of 2021.

The work plan includes a step-by-step guide for the new researchers, for whom KCEN hopes the experience will be an “opportunity for personal and community growth.” The instructions give the researchers significant leeway in devising their own research areas, questions and methods.

Broadly, the researchers are responsible for studying the “community safety” and “community health” priorities of specific demographic groups; the work plan names “Afro-Latinx people who use wheelchairs” or “second-generation Somali youth” as examples of possible focus areas. The work plan also outlines possible methods for answering research questions: for instance, to study the effectiveness of community response teams as an alternative to 911 responders, the work plan suggests that researchers could measure changes in 911 use after the establishment of a community response team.

In September, KCEN launched an online survey, available in 15 languages, to determine what kind of barriers exist for potential research participants. Since September, 850 people have taken the survey: over half of the respondents have been Black, and a similar proportion have been younger than 34.  According to the survey’s findings, more than half of potential participants would need help paying for gas to attend research sessions, roughly half requested help paying for groceries, and more than a third requested access to high-speed internet, laptops or tablets.

Both the survey and the group’s tentative budget reflect an assumption that much of the research would take place at in-person community meetings and focus groups. According to the “Blueprint for Divestment/Community Reinvestment” released by KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle last summer, the group intended to spend more than $200,000 on transportation and childcare to help research participants attend in-person meetings (though those dollars could also be used to provide childcare for participants taking online surveys).

In a conversation with PubliCola, a KCEN spokesperson noted that they intend to spend a sizeable portion of the contract dollars to improve internet and computer access for potential research participants, which would become essential if the Black Brilliance Research Project shifts to an online-only model.

The work plan does not include a clear explanation of how the research findings will inform the structure of next year’s participatory budgeting process, but it does include a list of preliminary recommendations for changes to the city’s budget priorities, based on feedback from respondents to the project’s surveys and from interviews with Black residents. These priorities include reducing the size of the Seattle Police Department, more investment in community-based alternatives to policing, and less spending on “government responses to harm,” such as social workers employed by the city.

Black Brilliance Project Outlines Ambitious Public Safety Agenda That Includes $1 Billion Land Acquisition Fund

By Paul Kiefer

As the Seattle City Council wrapped up their 2021 budget deliberations, representatives from King County Equity Now’s (KCEN) Black Brilliance research Project held a press conference on Monday afternoon to announce an ambitious slate of potential city investments and social programming aimed at replacing police and improving community safety in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

The Black Brilliance Project, which KCEN announced in September, encompasses the preliminary research for next year’s proposed public safety-oriented participatory budgeting process. The project will be funded through a $3 million grant to the Freedom Project, which will subcontract with KCEN; the city has not yet finalized and published the contract.

The council is poised to adopt a 2021 city budget that allocates $30 million to participatory budgeting, and programs identified through that process, next year, including $18 million reallocated from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative.

Despite the lack of a finalized contract, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze said the organization has already fielded nine research teams to conduct interviews, surveys and community meetings to assemble a list of priorities for public safety spending. Based on the presentations on Monday, the research teams are using a broad definition of public safety—one that encompasses secure housing and land ownership, physical and psychiatric health care, and employment, in addition to emergency response services and crisis management.

Some of the concepts announced Monday include a proposal $2 million in “paid employment and mentorship opportunities” for Black youth, which could include positions for youth on advisory committees for city departments; a “Seattle Equitable Internet Initiative” to provide internet service to underserved communities across the county in partnership with the the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) and Allied Media, the creators of the Detroit Equitable Internet Initiative; and a $1 billion “anti-gentrification land acquisition fund to support the redevelopment of a Black cultural core in the Central District, including both housing and social services.

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Glaze said KCEN hasn’t identified a specific revenue stream for the $1 billion—an amount equivalent to two-thirds of the city’s general fund budget, and nearly one-third larger than the city’s budget for public safety.

The members of the Black Brilliance Project team also presented several more immediate public safety-related proposals, largely centered on emergency response teams and neighborhood-based community safety “hubs” in places like South Seattle and Aurora Avenue North. These hubs, Glaze explained, would require the cooperation of volunteers and nonprofits to provide food, COVID-19 testing, internet access and other essential services on a neighborhood scale. “While this doesn’t mean that every neighborhood would get its own hub,” they said, “it does mean that we are looking to build and fortify existing support networks.”

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