A local engineer has created a unique space for black people to come and grow called The Union. Its grand opening was Tuesday, which is also Juneteenth.
Arif Gursel said coming from a historically black college or university (HBCU) and then moving to Bellevue was a huge culture shock. He works in the tech industry and has for more than 20 years. Gursel said he wanted to create a space for black people to call their own.
“We’re running a co-working space as a primary space from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Gursel said of The Union. “Then from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., if you’re a professional and you want to come hang out, grab a drink, have a conversation with investors or business people, we also run an education program in the evenings.”
Gursel says his goal is to provide a safe space for black people to come and learn, grow, hang out and uplift others in the community.
Extended interview: Arif Gursel on The Union
While Gursel’s background is in technology, he said the space would be more than just for tech people. He said they also plan to provide space for artists to showcase their work and is working on a partnership with the Seattle Art Museum to participate in their First Thursdays Art Walk.
Gursel said it was important to him to open the space on Juneteenth, which is the day most black people honor and celebrate the freeing of the last US slaves back in 1865. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it took more than two years for slaves in the south to even know they were free because the South was rebelling and Lincoln had no way to enforce the proclamation.
Gursel said opening the space on Juneteenth symbolizes liberation.
“It symbolizes self-sufficiency, empowerment of self, looking to free and power yourself,” he said.
Gursel’s nonprofit, the Pan African Center for Empowerment, is intentional about its mission to serve black communities.
“Traditionally, communities of African descent have been underserved and we’re offering a service. I look at our impact just over the last couple of years of just taking people who didn’t know how to code and are now engineers at local companies,” Gursel explained.
“We’re impacting people socially, impacting them economically, impacting them culturally,” he continued.
Gursel said he wants the next generations to keep the history of Juneteenth alive, know and talk about the significance of this day, and why it matters.