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caption: At Hack the CD this weekend, the focus was on problems facing Seattle's Central District. 
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At Hack the CD this weekend, the focus was on problems facing Seattle's Central District.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Jamala Henderson

Hack The Central District: Connecting Seattle’s ‘African-American Diaspora’

Damon Bomar wants to create an app that would help people find local odd jobs.

“For me personally it would work because I have a job, but at the same time I need a little more money on the side,” Bomar said. He presented his idea at the second Hack the CD conference in Seattle.

Bomar doesn't have the skills to build the app on his own. When he met David Harris, founder of the Hack the CD, he asked for help. Harris told him, "Just show up."

Hack the CD is modeled on hackathons, events where strangers, often tech types, come together to solve a nagging problem. Hack the CD aims to solve problems in the Central District, Seattle’s historically black neighborhood.

“It’s good to see this in Seattle because you don't see it often,” Bomar said. “You don't see a lot of young brothers and sisters coming together to figure out, ‘How can we instill ourselves into this culture, this tech culture, into the community, so that we can grow with Seattle?’ If we're not being aggressive about growing with Seattle, Seattle will leave us.”

Residents in the Central District have been talking about the issues of gentrification and how that's pricing people of color out of the neighborhood. Some refer to it as Seattle’s African-American diaspora.

It’s an issue on the minds of many in the Seattle’s black communities. Harris wants to tackle that problem by creating a space where people could innovate tangible solutions.

Those gathered at HACK the CD this weekend included a range of people, from middle and high school students to older folks looking to make their small business viable in today's technological world.

JesDarnel Henton and her mother, Helen Coleman, were there cooking up lunch and dinner for everyone.

The two ran Ms. Helen's Soul Food restaurant in the Central District for years before closed because of damage from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

They've been working on a business plan to bring Coleman’s legendary soul food cooking back to the CD.

They hope to set up shop in the new building that's under construction at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street.

But Henton said they need help marketing the new restaurant with today's technology.

“My mom and I are old school,” Henton said. “It’s word of mouth. We're known coast to coast, border to border by our generation. But for your generation to take up the torch and get to the next and to the next and to the next, we are looking for you guys to come and side with us and you know give us that boost on social media, get our webpage up and running, 'cause I have no knowledge of that.

“I am a cook, that's what I do,” she said.

Henton wants the younger generation to support businesses like hers.

That pitch resonated with Shelton Wright, a 16-year-old student at Raisbeck Aviation High School in South Seattle.

Shelton was at the conference with his own idea for an app, to give curious kids like himself a way to learn about the human body.

Shelton said that in middle school, he was interested in health and science.

But his teachers couldn't always provide him with the answers he was looking for.

“I just raised my hand all the time, questions after questions after questions,” he said. “Sometimes the teacher didn't even know. And I was so disappointed that he didn't know. And I would ask other teachers and they wouldn't know either.

“And then I would just give up on it. I don't want that for kids anymore. I want to let them know that, you don't have to give up on this question, on this thought, on this dream just because of what you're exposed to or what people don't know or what your family doesn't know.”

Brave souls like Shelton presented their final projects Sunday afternoon.

Anyone could vote on those projects. The winners will be presented at UmojaFest African-American heritage festival this coming weekend.

Meantime, Harris said Hack the CD is working to secure a permanent physical space in the Central District, so the idea-building and collaboration can continue.