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Seattle’s Roots Family Picnic Is Commemorating 50 Years Of Black Seattle Heritage

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Seattle’s Roots Family Picnic Is Commemorating 50 Years Of Black Seattle Heritage

By Aaron Allen,

Relatives of Old Timers Seattle (ROOTS) will celebrate 50 years of Black heritage, relevance and family values as they’ll host their annual Roots Family Picnic this Sunday, September 4 at Jimi Hendrix Park in Seattle Central’s District.

The Event will be filled with food, entertainment, children’s events, there will be ceremony honoring our local Black leadership like our new Washington State Sheriff’s Department chief Patti Cole-Tindall, who in turn will present the Community Service Award to retired Deputy Chief Fabienne Brooks for her tireless work in law enforcement. 

The beginning of the Roots Family Picnic stems from 1972 when Arline and Letcher Yarbrough invited friends, neighbors and family over for a BBQ to celebrate family and Black family roots and history as descendants of some of the first Black families in Seattle. A tradition that continues to be celebrated today.

According to William Lowe, a Seattle native and member of the Breakfast Club, the ROOTS Family Picnic is a Seattle tradition of Black families and their descendants coming together to break bread, rekindle friendships, and build upon a true sense of community.

“In the early 1970’s, a dinner invitation went out from Arline and Letcher Yarbrough to eight couples who had been close friends thirty and forty years before, seeing each other frequently and sharing many interests,” says Lowe. “The more recent years found them scattered and out of touch, but the response to the invitation was excellent.  All who were still living in the Seattle area accepted; eager to see old friends again.  The result of that gathering was the foundation for the ROOTS Family Picnic. “

Holding on to family tradition is something most cultures adhere to but to the African American community family it is relished due to the systemic impact slavery had on Black families, as African families were continuously separated after their arrival in America.

“Being a part of this community all my life we’ve seen it go from Black to what exists today,” says Seattle native Paul Mitchell, retired Macy’s buyer, who is also a member of the Breakfast Group. “Whereas the CD used to be upwards to 90 percent Black now it is what? 20 percent, 10 percent, if that. It is important that we keep this going in that we can all get together and reminisce and exchange and get the young people involved.”

After decades of celebrations put on by ROOTS, older generations began passing and new generations began taking up the mantle. 20 years ago, the Breakfast Club was asked to take on the leadership role and since then have held the helm of this distinguished event.

“We work with young kids, particularly young Black males, and we work hard to get them involved in community,” continued Mitchell. “We need more positive events that our young Black people can see, especially from our elders and we try to set examples and so we work to expose them to some of the better things in life like this event.”

Lowe agrees and says that organizers must begin the process of passing on the torch so that the tradition of the Roots Family Picnic will be around for future generations to cherish.

“Unfortunately, after all these years just about all of the original members of the ROOTS have left this earth,” says Lowe. “So, we are looking at 50 years later they had a little bit of age on them at that time and so we are looking at second and third generations, and where we find ourselves still carrying this on.”

As the elder population within Seattle continues to keep tradition and family values alive both Lowe and Mitchell look to expand the picnics influence to include all of Africa’s diaspora and want to include the African community to become a part of this celebration as they too are a part of the bigger picture within the community.

“We need to include all the Africans from Africa in this,” says Mitchell. “The have a tendency to stay apart from our events so we are trying to let them know that they are a part of our Black community and heritage We want them to know that we are all the same and we welcome them, that anything we do we want them to be a part of it.”

        Tradition, family values, cultural pride and achievement, togetherness is what this celebration is about. The ROOTS Family Picnic event

“We want our young men and women to have success,” says Mitchell. We want our younger generations to become more involved in the planning and tradition of this event. This event is for them to learn from us and to commune and soak up this history.”

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