Local businesses and organizations give any community its special feel and flavor, but this is especially true in Seattle, where the city’s unique geography emphasizes neighborhoods and a sense of place. Within these local gems are businesses owned by, or organizations serving, underrepresented groups that may not have achieved the visibility needed for healthy growth.

Six of these underrepresented local businesses and organizations recently were awarded a total of $300,000 in marketing and advertising services as winners of the first Seattle Times Community Connect grant. Each of the winners will receive $50,000 in Seattle Times print or digital advertising, plus research and marketing consultation at no cost.

“We were inspired by these businesses and the impact they are making in their communities. We’re honored to partner with them to support their growth goals, and make an impact in the communities they serve,” says Gary Smith, Seattle Times vice president of advertising.

Meet six inspiring recipients who are positively impacting our region.

Boon Boona Coffee

Boon Boona Coffee is an exclusive African roaster based in Renton and now Capitol Hill, too. Here visitors can experience the coffee ceremony traditional to East Africa and try specialty African blends “roasted to produce the most flavorful cup of coffee,” according to CEO and Founder Efrem Fesaha. The spaces “invite community to engage with pop-ups of food/beverage, poetry, live music and even health education.” He’s most excited about their sourcing methods from Africa and relationships established with producers, plus engagement with the local community.

Boon Boona allows customers to interact with food vendors they wouldn’t traditionally see, offering fare from Congo or Kenya, for example. Guests might also get to experience music from a local middle school quartet or enjoy a book-reading session by members of King County Library. “We want to offer opportunities to share the beauty of our community with our community,” says Fesaha.

Last spring the business opened its newest cafe on 12th and James, and they’re now launching barrel-aged coffees for the holiday season. Their coffee can be found at many local bakeries and cafes around town — including Beach Bakery, Melo Cafe and Dahlia Bakery — as well as at Central Co-op and almost all QFCs.

Causey’s Learning Center

Causey’s Learning Center is a preschool located in Seattle’s Central District that caters to children from 30 months to age 5. “Our staff members are dedicated to [helping] children learn not only academically, but also the social and emotional skills needed for lifelong learning,” says Program Supervisor Raina Malone.

One of the first Black-owned child care centers in Seattle, Causey’s was started in 1964 by Jeannette L Causey, who wanted to help all children succeed academically. Causey’s plans to carry on as the child care facility to which parents entrust their children. “We want to continue to have generations of families come back year to year because of the wonderful work we do.”

“Causey’s is looking forward to acquiring a bigger building to house more students in the future,” says Malone. “Additionally, we would like to open a free food and clothing pantry for the community.”

Centro Cultural Mexicano

Centro Cultural Mexicano is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization operating an inclusive space where the Latino community, and other communities, connect for increased civic and social participation. Here they also access services and educational opportunities for stability and empowerment. “We utilize art and culture as powerful tools of engagement; all of our services and programs are bilingual, including rent assistance, vaccination outreach and access, small business supports and more,” says Executive Director Angie Hinojos. “We are unique in that we utilize art and cultural events to successfully engage communities, so that we can provide them with the services and programs that are most needed.”

Outreach events typically include live Mexican music, traditional dance, regional foods and gifts like filled piñatas. “Our community might come to participate in various cultural celebrations, but they will leave knowing that they have a trusted place where they can access any service that they need,” says Hinojos. “The arts bring people together; our culture has a depth and beauty that reminds us of our past and keeps us grounded as we move into the future.”

The nonprofit’s leadership and staff are representative of the communities they serve, and Hinojos wants everyone to feel as though this is their home. “We are committed to developing leaders from within our community and to occupy a place at decision-making tables to ensure representation and increased equity in our systems and institutions,” Hinojos says.


What’s next? “We will continue to respond to the needs of the community with compassion, innovation and forward-thinking solutions,” she says.

M. Antoinette Walker Counseling PLLC

M. Antoinette Walker Counseling PLLC is a woman- and POC-owned business run by an experienced counselor and neurotherapist of that same name. The Madison Valley-based private practice aims to achieve wholeness through brain health, serving the community in the areas of anxiety, depression, trauma and substance use disorders. The practice serves individuals and groups ages 18 and older by focusing on the entire person through psychotherapy and neurotherapy.

Walker says, “I am excited to serve my community, connect with other business owners and contribute breaking the stigma of mental health generally and specifically in communities of color. M. Antoinette Walker Counseling PLLC provides a unique mix of therapy services like mental health, substance use and neurofeedback.”

Walker, who has lived in the Seattle area most of her life, is particularly fond of the Central District, where she grew up riding bikes up and down the hills of Madison Valley and across the lake side of Seward Park. 

Her hope is that after interacting with the practice, the community will feel empowered by the education they receive about mental health and substance use disorders. “In addition,” she says, “it is my hope that the community gains clarity on how neurofeedback and other modalities can help decrease and/or eliminate the negative impact daily stress has on their brain, body and emotions.”

Next, M. Antoinette Walker Counseling PLLC will develop a learning platform for the public. “I am seeking local businesses,” she concludes, “including coffee shops and cafes that want to partner to have table talks about mental health and substance use in our community.”

Onyx Fine Arts Collective

Onyx Fine Arts Collective is a nonprofit, “all-volunteer” organization that has operated for 16 years. President Earnest D. Thomas, explains that it aims “to showcase publicly the artwork of artists of African descent in Seattle, King County and the greater Pacific Northwest.” For nearly six years Onyx has operated nonprofit Gallery Onyx in Belltown and currently in the Pacific Place Shopping Center. “In addition to being a venue to showcase art, the gallery also serves as a venue for artists to gain experience and knowledge of the business side of visual art,” he says. “Gallery Onyx is also a cultural showplace for all to witness, including visitors to our great city.”

Thomas believes that visual art provides food for the soul. “Gallery Onyx changes exhibits on a bimonthly basis, which always adds excitement as we never know the level of creativity our artists will show … kind of like Christmas every two months,” he explains. They began with seven artists 16 years ago, and now have nearly 450 on their mailing list. 

The Collective and Gallery fill a void for artists interested in joining an environment that encourages them to create, showcase and sell their art in a collective way. “The community benefits because it is able to experience a collection of artwork which is representative of our society in total,” Thomas says. “The hope is that the art will serve as a vessel through which communication takes place from soul to soul, where all people feel included in the best that humanity can offer.”

Thomas hopes Onyx continues to encourage the artist community, to secure a larger venue and to solidify itself as a cultural “must-see” in the Pacific Northwest. Currently they’re producing another book, called “Truth B Told II,” featuring artists and their artwork. 

Skillspire LLC

Skillspire LLC’s mission is to advance the futures of underrepresented talent: women, minorities, refugees, immigrants and veterans. “We envision a technology sector that better reflects the population it serves by training and supporting diverse, historically underrepresented communities in their journeys to enter technical careers,” explains Founder and CEO Yasmin Ali.

Skillspire wants to level the opportunity of every individual regardless of their race, religion, background, country of origin, disability or gender identity to pursue a dream job in the technology sector. What started as a simple coding boot camp has since expanded into a “dynamic, multilayered community engagement, professional development and training center that is changing lives,” says Ali. They train people in web development, data analytics, software engineering and cybersecurity — and also help graduates with job searches, pertinent mentorships and placement support for high-paying jobs.

As a community activist with a technology background, Ali frequently meets tech-trained individuals who are hardworking, dedicated and bright. Yet, for various reasons, they aren’t aware of the pathways to secure work in our tech ecosystem, and many end up in low-paying roles (in warehouses, at the airport, offering rideshares). 

Ali’s passionate about connecting these promising underrepresented communities, and especially women within these communities, with high-paying, rewarding technology jobs. She says, “Skillspire is unique in this aspect because we partner with community-based organizations to source diverse talent and incorporate culturally sensitive mentorship and professional training to help students navigate networks and promote themselves in ways they often have not been exposed to.”

Their focus and outreach are reflected in their students, who represent local Latinx, African American, immigrant and refugee populations. “My biggest hope is to secure the support of technology companies and those with hiring power across sectors to lift these communities,” Ali says, “As they prepare their post-pandemic recovery plans and as they seek to fulfill their DEI promises, companies should consider creating apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training for members of these underrepresented communities.”

When looking ahead, Ali reflects on the pandemic disproportionately impacting those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. “As we move into a post-pandemic economy,” she says. “Skillspire will be hard at work launching expanded and revamped training programs and creating diverse pathways into the technology sector ensuring underrepresented communities are not left behind.”

Meet the rest of the 2021 Community Connect grant applicants

The Seattle Times Community Connect grant program seeks to increase visibility for underrepresented communities in our region. We are committed to supporting businesses that reflect the diversity of the regional community we serve.