A series of burglaries at a Columbia City nonprofit, which supports youth, women and immigrants of African descent, has left the community unsettled; volunteers turned out Sunday to help restore a sense of safety at the center.
About 100 volunteers turned out Sunday to help restore a sense of safety and security to the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation in Seattle’s Columbia City after it was hit by a series of burglaries that destroyed the center’s computer network and left the community shaken by racist graffiti in the hallways.
A somber crowd packed a conference room at the center as the group’s leaders talked to the news media about the need to replace at least $10,000 worth of computer and electronic equipment that was damaged or stolen in a series of break-ins last week.
The not-for-profit center provides academic programs for youth of African descent, and support services for women and immigrants. Those programs, aimed at increasing academic opportunities and boosting achievement among African-American students in Seattle Public Schools, have been halted until the center can install a security system and rebuild its computer network.
“The network is vital to our programs. That has to be restored,’’ said board President K. Wyking Garrett, noting that spring-break programs are only two weeks away.
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Africatown Vice President Malakhi Kaine, who oversees the center’s technology program and its facilities and operations, said the group is still assessing the damage.
Police arrested a suspect on investigation of burglary last week, describing him as an East African man who volunteered at the center.
They also said they are investigating the graffiti as a bias crime, although Kaine said the group never requested that.
Kaine said the suspect was a University of Washington employee who provided outreach to students interested in health-related fields. He said he had no further information about the volunteer, or what his alleged motivations might have been.
After the first burglary, on March 20, police told Africatown they would increase patrols and surveillance at the center, Kaine said. There were two subsequent break-ins, and the community is unsettled and concerned about its continued safety, leaders said.
After Sunday’s gathering, people mingled in the hallways that still bore the racist graffiti and volunteered for work groups that will help the center recover and expand its reach in Seattle.
Yalonda Sinde, who is coordinating the volunteers, said she was overwhelmed by the turnout. The center has already received help from the YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish counties and Comcast.
A fundraising page also has been established.
Sheree Seretse, whose two children come to the center to study, signed up for the arts and culture group Sunday.
“I feel some sense of alarm,’’ she said. “This is our community.”
Shaniqua Knight, 22, a sailor assigned to the Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, said she’d never heard of the group before news of the burglaries. She was concerned enough to travel to Seattle with three shipmates to see how they could help.
“It was very disheartening for sure, especially for me because I serve my country,’’ she said. “It just makes me feel sad.”