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Apply to be part of a six-person cohort of community oral historians in training

Brenetta Ward, member of the first SBSHI cohort, gets ready to interview Drego Little.

Wa Na Wari’s Seattle Black Spatial Histories Institute (SBSHI), which trains community members in the techniques and best practices of oral history and Black memory work, is accepting applications for its next six-person cohort of community oral historians.

Those interested can find out more about the Institute and apply at The deadline to apply is Friday, March 10, 2023, at 11:59 p.m.

The Institute runs from June, 2023, to June, 2025. Over two years, cohort members will work with historians, archivists, geographers, librarians, artists and others to learn and explore the ethics, techniques, best practices, tensions and dilemmas of oral history and Black memory work. Cohort members will acquire skills in archival research methods, audio recording techniques, oral history interviewing techniques, transcription, story editing, audio editing and public art proposal and activation processes.

To increase accessibility to the program, Wa Na Wari provides cohort members with a stipend totaling $10,000 over the course of the two years. SBSHI encourages people to apply who have a deep curiosity about local history, especially Black history; who have a deep connection to Seattle’s Central Area and/or to Black Seattle; and who have a strong commitment to community accountability, among other things. Previous experience in oral history is not required but the SBSHI website does outline certain requirements and expectations, including availability on certain dates, ability to do interviews in person and ability to make a significant time commitment.

Wa Na Wari launched SBSHI in June, 2021, in partnership with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Friends of Waterfront Seattle, UW Bothell geographers and the Shelf Life Community Story Project, with support from 4Culture. In July 2022, the Digital Public Library of America announced that it would provide funding for SBSHI at $100,000 for two years, as part of funding from the Mellon Foundation to advance racial justice in American archives. The second Institute is a partnership between Wa Na Wari, the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and The Seattle Public Library, with support from 4Culture.

The first cohort completed their training in June of 2022, and they are now working on creative activations of the stories they recorded, which they will share with the public at an exhibit at Wa Na Wari in November, 2023.

“The SBSHI exceeded my expectations,” said Sierra Parsons, a member of the first SBSHI cohort. “We were connected with a national network of Black oral historians who grounded us in the art and ethics of oral history and who inspired us to think about the endless possibilities of activation once the stories were recorded. Working with narrators was surreal. I experienced inviting folks into the comfort and sometimes discomfort of their own memories, harnessing the power of silence to further extend the invitation, and holding the complexities of a non-linear answer to an open-ended question. I listen differently now.”

“As a longtime Central Seattle resident and community advocate, I thought I had a deep knowledge of our community history,” said Brenetta Ward, another member of the first cohort, who is pictured in the photo above. “But I learned so much more about the amazing Black people who helped make Seattle the vibrant, diverse seaport city it is today. The professional oral history techniques I gained will help me document my own family history too.”


Wa Na Wari is a center for Black art and stories, sited in a fifth-generation Black-owned home, in Seattle’s historically redlined Central District. Known as the “house that fights displacement with art,” and described as a “container for Black joy,” Wa Na Wari creates space for Black ownership, possibility and belonging through art, historic preservation, and connection.

SBSHI is one way, among many, that Wa Na Wari seeks to build collective power towards a future of Black ownership and belonging by rooting our work in a legacy of Black resilience, creativity and self-determination. Training community members in the techniques and best practices of Black memory work is an important step towards shifting power around whose stories are told, how they’re told, and what place those stories hold in the shaping of Black futures. The SBSHI is co-directed by Zola Mumford and Jill Freidberg. Find out more at


The Seattle Public Library believes that the power of knowledge improves people's lives. We promote literacy and a love of reading as we bring people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community.



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