SCBHC members. (Left:) DanVonique Bletson-Reed, Clarence Shaw (Center:) Marilyn Quincy (Right:) (Monet Bletson, John Agypong)
Last month we had the opportunity to sit down with DanVonique Bletson-Reed, Monet Bletson, and Clarence Shaw from the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee to get to know more about their organization and how we can all get involved in the work they are doing.
Q: Will you tell us the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee Origin Story?
DanVonique: It started in 1993, at that time, and even still today, Black people in Snohomish County were kind of scattered throughout. According to Ms. Marilyn Quincy who is the matriarch of the group and one of the original members, there was a gentleman who passed away and a few of the ladies in attendance at the repast were talking, laughing, and sharing stories. They said, “We should get together more often and not only get together when someone dies… we need to celebrate life.” So, that is the original thought behind it, to have some sort of family reunion style gathering where we, Black people could all come together. A joyous occasion, where we bake sweet potato pies, have potato sack races, share music, tell stories, laugh, and fellowship. They felt that should be an annual event. That is how the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee came to be.
Q: What was the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee’s First Event?
DanVonique: 1993 was also the Centennial or 100th anniversary of the City of Everett. Those organizing the Centennial Celebration, including the mayor reached out to a few groups within the city, the Black Community being one, and wanted us to be a part of the celebration. That is when the original thought for a community gathering that was talked about at the memorial service earlier that year resurfaced. From there Ms. Marilyn Quincy and a few other community members formed a committee and embarked on planning the first Nubian Jam.
Q: For those who haven’t heard of it or had the chance to attend, can you please tell us what Nubian Jam is?
DanVonique: It’s a cultural celebration, an opportunity for Black people to fellowship, celebrates our culture and heritage, highlight our youth giving them a platform to express themselves, and honor our elders and their legacy. The first Nubian Jam took place in July of 1993. The first year it was held the first Saturday in July, but then because the weather is so unpredictable here in Washington and it rains so much, they decided to move it closer to the end of the month. It now takes place on the last Saturday in July. This year, due to COVID, was the first time in 27 years we were not able to have Nubian Jam. Next year we will be better prepared and have decided to have a virtual celebration in the event COVID will not allow us to have our traditional gathering.
Q: For folks who may want to attend in the future, what can they expect?
DanVonique: We have a plethora of performances lined up throughout the day performing a variety of music from gospel to blues, to African, reggae and jazz, neo-soul, and even country. We have spoken word, poetry, comedy and one crowd favorite has been the Nubian Jam fashion show and talent showcase or open mic, which gives those who are not necessarily professionals, a platform to showcase their talents. We have activities for our youth to participate in. Including face painting, reptile man, scavenger hunts, potato sack, and relay races. We have partnered with other community organizations to give scholarships and in 2018 we had a special ceremony to honor our elders called, “Roots, Stems & Roses”. We have vendors with everything from a variety of foods beverages and desserts, African art, clothes and books, braiding and barber booths as well as information on health, wellness, and beauty. We have had car shows, representamen from the Buffalo soldiers, biker clubs, and basketball tournaments. We end the day with a local featured headliner band. Again, it is a collaborative event planned by volunteers and it has and will continue to take the support of the community to thrive. It is a family-friendly event that is free to all who desire to attend. We don’t charge people to come. We want people to come out, enjoy, and fellowship. Much like a family reunion for our community.
Q: Y’all coordinate another big event, the Greater Everett Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration, can you tell folks about that too?
DanVonique: It started back in 1983 when Governor Booth Gardner approached a few of the African-American pastors in the Everett area because he wanted something to commemorate the life and legacy of Reverend King. He asked the black pastors if they could facilitate something and so that is how this community celebration got started. Initially, this was not an activity sponsored by SCBHC but later came under its umbrella.
Originally the event rotated between different churches, First Baptist, which is not an African-American church, but was a part of the celebration. Second Baptist, which I believe is the oldest Black Church in Everett. Bailey AME, Bible Way Church of God in Christ were also part of the original MLK celebration.
The event has evolved over the years. We’ve taken it out of the church and partnered with different organizations and groups. We have had the celebration at Everett Community College a few times. After some time, we decided to bring the celebration back to the church. For many years we held it at Everett First United Methodist Church on Colby, then the name changed to Spirit of Grace, which was located where the Cocoon House is now. We’ve had it at Bethany Christian Assembly and First Presbyterian Church, we’ve had it at several different churches.
Q: What is the plan for the event this year?
DanVonique: This year, the MLK Celebration will be held at the Mill Creek Four Square Church, and it will be a virtual celebration due to COVID. It won’t be our traditional gathering or ceremony, but we are excited to honor Dr. King in a new and different way. We will have a keynote speaker, Mr. Nathaniel Miles Vice President for Strategic Initiative & State Government Affairs, Eli Lilly and Company. Our community youth will be on parade, and we will have musical contributions from five very talented community artists. This year will also be different and extra special because it will be a two-day event with a celebration Sunday and Monday. Monday will be a drive-by parade and ceremony. We have lots of community partners, Everett Community College, Snohomish County Health District, Homage Senior Services, The City of Everett, Snohomish County, Everett Public Schools, NAACP of Snohomish County, and the list goes on. It is a collaborative effort and we’re especially excited and proud of our efforts to come together to make this event happen.
Q: It’s amazing to hear how long the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee has been playing an active role in bringing folks together in our community. Can you share your current mission with us?
DanVonique: Our mission is to enrich the residents of Snohomish County through the knowledge and celebration of Black heritage. This is accomplished by educating the Snohomish County Community about the African-American culture, promoting racial harmony, and embracing cultural diversity and inclusion.
That’s who we are and we try to show this through the Nubian Jam and the Greater Everett Rev. Dr. MLK Celebration. We have some other activities that we are also planning, including a WinterFest, and Youth Initiative just to name a few. Our focus or goal is always to educate folks about who we are as Black people and our contributions which has helped to contribute to the richness of this county, state, country, and the world at large.
Mr. Shaw: Both of these signature events are family-oriented, multicultural events. Stakeholders, participants, and those helping out include a wide variety of cultures that help out with these events. Also, all are welcome to attend.
Q: Can you share who the Executive members of the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee are?
DanVonique: Myself, DanVonique Bletson-Reed, I serve as the President. You just heard from our Vice President, Mr. Clarence Shaw, who brings a wealth of experience to our committee and the community. We have our Secretary, Ms. Monet Bletson, and our treasure, Mr. John Agyapong. We also have Ms. MaryAnn Darby and Mr. Fredrick Bletson who have been faithful committee members as well.
Mr. Shaw: We also have a President Emeritus, Mrs. Quincy.
DanVonique: She (Mrs. Quincy) is our registered agent and the matriarch of the group.
Q: Are folks able to join Snohomish Black Heritage Committee if they are interested in the work you do?
DanVonique: Absolutely. We typically meet on the third Monday of every month from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm. For January our normal meeting date will fall on the MLK holiday, so we moved the meeting up a week. Due to COVID, this past year and until further notice all of our meetings will be virtual. We use Zoom as our primary platform to meet. We are looking to recruit new members and have several committees that might be a good match of talents and interests. Some of these include our Logistics Committee, Publicity Committee, the Sponsorship Committee, and Membership Committee. There is plenty of work to do and lots of room for everyone. There are no little “I’s” or big “You’s” … we are a team and believe that everyone though unique and different has something valuable to contribute. We are open to fresh ideas and if you are interested, please hop on the SCBHC train. If your Spirit is in alignment with what we do and who we are as an organization, we would love to have you!
Q: Just to clarify…is that message to everyone? Is the group open to non Black folks joining the committee?
DanVonique: Absolutely! We are open to new people & fresh ideas regardless of the color of your skin. Red, yellow, black, or white, we are all precious in His sight! if you want to be a part of what we’re doing and have something to contribute – join! Join us – we are open to that.
Q: So it’s clear people can support you by giving of their time. Is there anything people can do to support y’all financially?
Mr. Shaw: We are a 501(c)3. A good percentage of our revenue, the small income we do have, is from individual contributions. Be it known that those contributions are tax-deductible and welcome. We also accept in-kind donations. For example, we have multicultural stakeholders who offer us their facilities to host our meetings, different churches around the community. Those are ways that people can give, monetary gifts, in-kind gifts, and donating their talents to our organization.
Q: Is there anything else y’all want folks to know?
DanVonique: One thing I want to say is we try to stay true to who we are as far as what we offer the community. It’s like a rainbow, there are all these colors in a rainbow, and they are all different and beautiful in their own unique way. That is us, we’re not trying to be like any other group. We are who we are, we offer what we offer, we do what we do and that is what makes us beautiful! SCBHC is proud of the role we play in helping to educate the public, honor, celebrate black heritage. We want to continue to stay in our lane and grow a stronger presence in the community. We’ve been around for a long time and we just want to continue to go higher.
Education is liberation and knowledge is power, and everyone has something to contribute. We just want the world and our community to know that Blacks in this county have a voice and a rich heritage.
Mr. Shaw: We are a vibrant organization and a strong part of the coalition-building in this community. We have a long lineage, a strong heritage and we are skilled people and we want to let that shine!
Monet: We do partner with other organizations and a lot of us have different hats that we wear, but we are definitely trying to continue building community. The overall goal is to let folks know that we are here and to help everyone be aware of heritage.
Thank you all so much for the incredible work you are doing and for sharing your story with us. To keep up with the Snohomish Black Heritage Committee, follow BlackSnoCo on Instagram and Facebook. Interested in joining the committee? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll connect you with the Executive Team.