Black Brilliance Research Open Letter to Community

Shaun Glaze
8 min readFeb 8, 2021

February 8, 2021

Dear Community,

We are researchers of the Black Brilliance Research (BBR) Project. This City of Seattle-funded participatory research project was one of the hard-fought gains that resulted from the Summer 2020 community-driven protests, where thousands of Seattlites filled the streets and put their bodies and lives on the line for Black lives in response to the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others. We, the undersigned, represent the majority of the organizations who have been carrying out this historic work.

Since last summer, tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations have been fighting City leaders to cut the budget of the Seattle Police Department (SPD). We have fought to have that money moved into participatory budgeting, which is a process that lets people in a city, rather than elected officials, decide how money is spent. We believe that SPD must be defunded, but also that this money must go towards investments in communities who have been targeted by SPD. As part of the push for this, we launched BBR. This community participatory research project is directly tied to our desire to build the world that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Charleena Lyles, John T. Williams, Iosia Faletogo, Sean Fuhr and many others deserved. It is our hope and obligation to honor the relentless movement pressure that has created this possibility for change, equity, and Black-led solutions.

Particularly for those of you who have fought so hard to create the possibility of this Black-led research project, we want to start by confirming that the research is nearing completion. We have turned in a preliminary report to the Seattle City Council that was over a thousand pages long. We have continued to meet and speak with community members about what we are learning to refine our findings, and we are on track to submit the final report to Council this month and present the findings at a council briefing on February 26th. The final research report due to Seattle City Council at the end of this month will help inform the $30 million participatory budgeting process happening across the city this year.

We write this letter to be transparent and accountable to the community by providing an account of the genesis of this research, how it was carried out, and why we have chosen to part ways with KCEN. We know that because of the systems under which we survive, this work is under a magnifying glass. Nothing in this letter should be used to postpone or delay the participatory budgeting process that will be informed by the research, or to undermine the growing calls to divest from policing and build a city where Black people can not only survive but thrive.

We remain committed to completing the research and honoring the movement that made it possible!

The Research

Shaun Glaze, co-research lead, joined KCEN as a volunteer in June 2020 and pitched the creation of a research institute as a component of work that KCEN could collaborate to create. Shaun was a principal drafter of the Blueprint for Divestment/Investment presented to the Seattle City Council this summer by KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle, and Shaun facilitated the development of the budget and blueprint for the $3 million Black Brilliance Research Project. Research co-leads Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe reached out to about 200 people directly to build the research team. Research teams were composed of people recommended to them by people rooted in the community, including by KCEN leadership and board members. Outreach was then expanded to include more community members who typically go unheard in conversations about Black community, including our queer and trans siblings, our siblings with disabilities, those experiencing varying degrees of neurodiversity, and our siblings with lived experience with incarceration, homelessness, and sex work. The BBR research team was intentional to include community organizations most likely to be disproportionately harmed or killed by systemic racism and violence.

As far as we know, this is currently the largest Black-led participatory research project in the country. Ultimately nine organizations and over 100 people joined as researchers. For the first time in Seattle, Black and Brown people most impacted by police violence were not merely the subjects of city-funded research — we were crafting research questions and methodologies, and engaging our communities directly. As we fight for a city where policing as we know it is rendered obsolete we have been focused on answering three questions: (1) What creates true community safety? (2) What creates true community health? And (3) What do our communities need to thrive? We approached recruitment for researchers by explaining to people who have never been encouraged to be considered experts in their own lives that anyone can be a researcher — as long as you are curious, accountable to community, and interested in exploring what creates true community safety, health, and thriving.

Research leads have consistently brought the researchers together through phone calls and three-times-a-week Zoom meetings, and twice-a-week research-wide public office hours to discuss any emerging issues and share our progress. During the summer, we carried out daily teach-ins and nearly daily podcasts as we sought to launch the research. In the fall, we shifted to holding our regular weekly teach-ins, which continue every Monday at 3:30 PM. The preliminary results of the research were presented to Council this month — a 100-page report with over 900 pages of appendices, capturing the brilliance and insights of the multiple research orgs, researchers, and their communities.

King County Equity Now’s Relationship to the Research

At the beginning of the summer of 2020, at the height of the uprising, King County Equity Now (KCEN) first emerged as a coalition representing multiple Black-led organizations. Many groups and individuals were thrilled to sign on to this new Black-led formation, particularly in a moment when transformative demands that address historic violence against Black communities were catching fire. This made KCEN an ideal convener for the research, which seeks to capture a broad array of Black community voices. KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle, representing tens of thousands of individuals and organizations, helped lead the successful fight to have the city fund the research during the 2020 Budget Rebalancing. Freedom Project served as KCEN’s fiscal sponsor and Freedom Project contracted directly with the City of Seattle to complete the research. Freedom Project, as an organization that is both Black-led and led by people who have been directly impacted by policing and the criminal legal system, was uniquely well-placed to sign the contract with the City for a project meant to create a roadmap to a world where policing is obsolete.

As Fall 2020 began, KCEN chose to incorporate as a non-profit and began to move away from the coalition model. When KCEN represented a collective of Black community organizations, having KCEN facilitate the research made sense. However, once KCEN chose to incorporate, the community partnership dynamic changed, and this created obstacles and barriers to the research. At heart, this is what has led us away from having KCEN be charged with facilitating the research to the finish line.

We want to be clear that when we say KCEN we do not mean all the people who have been part of KCEN at any point since their inception. We do not mean the various individuals and coalition organizations who have been part of KCEN, or who have continued to boost KCEN, or who are the subject of KCEN’s important on-going advocacy campaigns. We are specifically referring to KCEN’s three-person senior leadership team and the board that would not hold the senior leadership accountable. We are dedicated to maintaining unity with our family at King County Equity Now with this project and beyond, as many of us have been doing since long before this current iteration of Black liberation work in Seattle. We know that our liberation is intertwined, and we will continue to build alongside all people invested in Black liberation. However, we do not have confidence in KCEN leadership’s current capacity and ability to bring this research project to the finish line in a way that meets the needs of our researchers and community and serves the best interests of the project’s vision and responsibility moving forward.

As researchers and community members, we are committed to being excellent stewards of this opportunity and of the public dollars we have been entrusted with, and we want to be clear about how this project will be completed. Many teams of researchers have been and will continue to finalize this work, and we will continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards of research ethics, community accountability, and transparency. Doing this work alongside KCEN while holding on to these commitments has become untenable because the environment created by KCEN senior leadership no longer facilitates doing the work in an accountable, well-stewarded way.

This environment has included the following actions by KCEN leadership: locking research leads out of their KCEN e-mail accounts without warning during a key moment for the research; locking research leads out of access to the relevant online research files; unilaterally making major decisions that impact researchers — including decisions about contract renewal and decisions about hosting major public events — without consulting researchers in advance; cutting off communication when requests for transparency and accountability were made; abusive communication from KCEN leadership; unacceptable delays in paying people for their work that has seriously impacted researchers’ mental health and our ability to economically sustain; and dismissing the lived experiences of some Black community members, including Black people who live in but were not born in Seattle and trans and queer people. We have repeatedly sought to address these concerns with KCEN leadership, and we wish that these attempts had been met with repair. However, at this point, we find it necessary to separate from KCEN in order to complete this research. We know that the research was never about one organization but was about the shared collective experience of disenfranchised communities so we cannot allow one organization’s growing pains to stop the momentum of a city-wide movement for transforming the lives of communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

We believe in transformation. We believe that people can grow and heal, and that we can learn together from conflict. We want nothing more than solidarity and unity towards our shared goals of Black thriving. We trust that KCEN leadership is dedicated to working out internal processes and addressing the issues that have arisen in a way that leaves us all whole and healed. We have experienced nothing but clarity, transparency, and reliability in communication with Freedom Project, and we trust in their capacity to steward this work to the finish line in a way that is considerate of all impacted and involved. We are confident that finalizing this contract with Freedom Project at the helm is the best decision to allow us to honor the trust the public has placed in this collaborative community-led research process.

In solidarity,

Shaun Glaze, Black Brilliance Research co-lead

LéTania Severe, Black Brilliance Research co-lead

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