Holding Space: Mariam Bayo

My dad immigrated from Gambia to New York, where he met my mom. The way my mom used to tell me, it seemed like it was love at first sight. My mom’s from the U.S., but she did convert to Islam, which is I think why when I meet people and they see my hijab, they sometimes ask me where I’m from. But I’ve lived in Rainier Beach all my life — except for 2 years when we lived in Skyway.

My mother passed away when I was nine. I guess life comes with trials and tribulations, but I think living in the same neighborhood forever gave me a sort of balance & stability to cope, you know? I still haven’t healed from that, but I think that it made me stronger. It made me build tough skin. It also made me realize the importance of living a happy life and serving my purpose. I always tried to find things that I wanted to do, whether that was hanging out with friends or joining youth programs. At some point I started going to the Union Gospel Mission —  even though I’m not Christian. I just always wanted to be involved with different collectives.

High school was interesting. I think that’s where you learn a lot about yourself through other people. I was always into community work, but at the time there weren’t many ways to get involved like that at Rainier Beach.

it’s important to be aware, because if you’re not aware, you’re just sleep

My junior year was the most active I had been in the community. I was co-leading different protests and things like that. Every year I went to the MLK rally in the CD. I like to be aware. I feel like it’s important to be aware, because if you’re not aware, you’re just sleep. I think in life, you’re gonna run into all types of systemic oppression, and when you do, it’s your responsibility to do your own research and make the decision of whether or not you want to work to dismantle those systems.

At some point, I needed a job, and started asking around with the people I knew. Ms. Danielle  — who was working in my school building at the time  — told me to reach out to Gregory Davis, so I got his phone number and I called him. He told me about a Youth Engagement Worker position that was available, and set up an interview. Two weeks after that, I got my hire letter.

In the beginning, we didn’t even have an office space, we were meeting at Neighbor Care once a week, and we were getting paid once a month. So, you know, the evolution is real, but you know I was always grateful and appreciative. I cared more about the work than the money — especially since I’d never been paid to do community work.

Working at RBAC has been cool because I’ve been able to see that there really are Black and brown people who are doing similar work to dismantle the systems that are oppressing the BIPOC community. And at RBAC, we unapologetically uphold the importance of having a predominantly Black workspace — particularly Black youth from Rainier Beach. I feel like we should be comfortable stating that we are able to take up space. Black folx aren’t able to take up a lot of space in any other places, so the fact that RBAC is able to hire almost entirely Black staff should be congratulated.

We gotta stop pretending that displacement just started 50 years ago.

Once upon a time, South Seattle was predominantly filled with Black and brown people, and I think it’s just important to acknowledge that there were folx who were here even before that, like the Native Americans. We gotta stop pretending that displacement just started 50 years ago.

I think having more predominantly Black spaces that aren’t under threat of displacement would be a real threat to the current systems. It would show non-BIPOC folx that we’re still here, and that we’re still willing to serve and to fight for what we want. I think it’s important to be able to show how serious we are and how far we are willing to go to serve our community.

I think that would also build a sense of peace, and it would create an opportunity to focus more on the other systems that need to be dismantled. I’m really just hoping that my future kids or my siblings will be able to feel comfortable where they’re at. I don’t want them to worry, I want them to be happy.