Rebuilding the House: Shawna Hawk, Media Island, and an Opportunity for Redistribution of Hoarded Wealth, Power, and Resources


Tiny - Posted on 25 November 2018

Author: 
Lisa Ganser, Idriss Stelley Foundation and Olympia Copwatch

Shawna Hawk is a Black Power movement builder, a Mother, a Healer and a catalyst for social change. She is creating radical intersectional community in Olympia by transforming a space that has long been a stronghold of white cis male activism - Media Island International - into a space for Women of Color to do healing, activism, art and movement building, and to lift each other up with fierceness and love.

 

Olympia, which is both the state capitol and a college town, is a small city of approximately 50,000 people, with over 80% of the population identifying as white. Like any white-dominated city, no matter how “liberal” or “progressive” it thinks it is, Olympia is full of unchecked racism. Media Island International (mediaisland.org), founded in 1984, is a house and organization in downtown Olympia that hosts a meeting space, radio station, and library/archives. Their website says that Media Island is “a resource and networking center for culturally diverse people of all ages, groups and movements working for social, racial, economic, and ecological justice, sustainability and peace” (the term “racial” in that statement was only recently added by Shawna). However, despite their intention of being inclusive, their board and other long-term leadership have been almost exclusively middle-aged white straight cis-men, which has kept the energy in the building and their reputation in the community somewhat stagnant. Shawna Hawk is changing all that.

 

[image description:  Shawna Hawk smiling and standing in the sun outside a freshly painted house of blueish-green with brown trim.  Signs on the big house say Media Island, Black Lives Matter and KOWA 106.5 fm]

 

Shawna is a Black Woman who experienced Poverty and spent time in the foster system, and who raised three kids as a single working Mother. When her twin daughters came to Olympia to look into The Evergreen State College’s film program, Shawna followed. She had already met all of her academic goals, but she decided to get another Bachelor’s degree, post-Masters Degree, on top of two AAs and a couple other BAs, as what Shawna calls a re-fresh, a “trajectory change.” She had always been goal-driven by academics in an effort to fuel her career, but had become disillusioned.

 

“When I saw that my Masters Degree didn’t get me beyond any of the white women that were hoarding all the power and the jobs, with lesser degrees and experience, that’s when my bubble got burst,” Shawna says. “You know, you jump through all the hoops and you see that the privilege is what wins. Not your paper. I had to just be happy with myself and be happy that, ‘Damn, I did that! I raised three kids. I did my job.’ I look back now and I’m like ‘how the hell did I do that?!’”

 

At Evergreen, Shawna pursued the things that called to her heart and her sense of Justice. She hosted the show Vibrational Rising at KAOS, the community radio station on campus, and was bringing groundbreaking Black artists and academics to speak and perform. At one point, about five years ago, she accompanied a guest hip hop artist to the house where he was staying, which turned out to be Media Island. She went inside and looked around. She saw that Media Island had a radio station and a social justice library. She saw that the space didn’t look very cared for, but the books looked diverse. She saw a poster with young Black girls on it. She became interested.

 

[image description:  smiling Shawna Hawk at the back of Media Island, in front of a mural in progress by Marin Kelp. The mural features the Divine Feminine, Goddesses of African descent.]

 

Not long after this introduction, Shawna was voted in as the KOWA 106.5 FM Station Manager at Media Island. Later, she was voted on to the Board of Directors, where she was the only Woman, the only Person of Color, and the only Black person. Her leadership and involvement at Media Island have blossomed over the past four years, creating the Women of Color in Leadership Movement, hosting monthly POC-only healing spaces, brunches and retreats, offering Men’s Healing Space for addressing toxic masculinity and continuing her radio show Vibrational Rising as Lady Hawk. Shawna’s work and leadership, and even her impact on the physical space of the building, is obvious. She is bringing the organization alive. But this feels threatening to white men who cling to their positions of power and stronghold over the organization. Media Island is in a unique position to actually DO what its mission has been saying for all these years. There is an opportunity to literally dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy in this one microcosm, and to femmifest, rather than manifest, the hand-me-down privilege fest.

 

“The house that is Media Island International was donated by one white man of privilege to another white man of privilege. So that white man got a chance to bring on his team, to do his own thing. No one was dictating to him how he had to do that. He made that decision on his own,” says Shawna Hawk.

 

Shawna says that white people often bring an energy that’s like “Mine!” especially as Shawna becomes more established and transforms the space at Media Island. They see what she’s done, and they want it. White men tend to hide behind self-righteousness, while white Women refuse to take direction from a Black Woman, revealing hatred and jealousy with historic roots.

 

“Me as an African American Woman, our people were being snatched from our homes in Africa, and brought here. Too often times being evicted from places, whether it be violently or sneakily through foreclosures or paperwork. Having our homes stolen, burnt, torched. Being a part of Media Island, and having it be in a house, where a dominant white male owns a piece of property…” Shawna explains. “Often you hear stories about all-Black towns being destroyed by neighboring white communities who were jealous of what had been built. Not because they had so much, but because they worked so hard for it! So you have Black communities with people who know how to build houses because they had to build all the houses when they were in slavery. Then you (whites) get all mad because they (Blacks) had the skills to build their own house, a better house than y’alls, cuz y’all didn’t know how to do it.”

 

[image description:  Shawna is out front of Media Island working in the raised food and herb garden beds, she is wearing yellow work gloves.]

 

White people of Olympia can support Shawna, and the work of Women of Color, by being consistent, by showing up when they say they’re going to, and by following through.

 

“We need the constant support of the majority class,” says Shawna, “and for people to put their walk and their action where their talk is. It seems like there’s some eye-opening thing happening where white folks are realizing that yes, racism exists in Olympia. Cuz for many, the focus was on the environment. You can’t do Environmental Justice without doing Racial Justice! I know not to take beautiful clear skies and crisp drinking water and think that I can be unaware... I’m on my guard no matter where I am. People are gonna be people no matter where you go.”

 

The fact that white people in Olympia and the United States are finally getting the message that RACISM EXISTS is something that Shawna finds hopeful. Shawna sees and feels a sense of urgency for white people to go deep with The Work, to drop that inherent sense of entitlement, and turn over power, unhoard the resources. She loves it when volunteers make themselves available to do projects, like working on the garden, painting, being a part of the change.

 

[image description:  Shawna is up on a ladder painting the exterior of the house that is Media Island.]

 

“Each time a person walks in and says ‘I like the feel of it in here, oh my god you’ve done such a good job’ - that feeds me! We’re repainting it right now and that feeds me, I don’t even have words for it right now. I get excited about things around the house, and I talk to the current founder who’s shared that he’s on his way out, and he’s like ‘I really don’t care.’ I guess I must care too much because I’m working here as many hours as I can, you know?”

 

History keeps repeating itself, and the men who are sad to lose their clubhouse are lashing out at Shawna and her leadership. However, there is an opportunity to interrupt that cycle at Media Island in Olympia, WA. This can serve as an example of Reparations, of transformative racial justice, at this one house, with this one organization and this one Black Woman. The white men at Media Island are not “letting Shawna” do this work, she IS doing it. Shawna is in Leadership and Media Island is moving out of the old regime to make way for new energy, for that of Divine Feminine, as a Trans-inclusive Women and Community space where especially Women of Color and survivors feel safe, and the divine masculine is held in balance with its counterparts. This is part of a bigger transition that the world is going through, and the pushback is growing pains.

 

To fuel her passion, Shawna stays grounded in the African spiritual practices of Ifa, the study of nature, meditation, dance, music, song, drumming and especially Ancestor worship and engagement with her Spirit Guides.

 

“African Americans who came over with the slave trade, we had to keep our practices hidden, we had everything stripped away. So we had to be really creative with our spiritual practice and rituals,” Shawna explains. “Wherever I go they go with me, wherever I go I look for my Ancestors and Spirit Guides in the trees, in the energy of the space.”  

 

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Lisa Ganser is a white, Disabled, genderqueer artist and activist living in Olympia, WA on stolen Squaxin, Chehalis and Nisqually land.  They are a sidewalk chalker, a copwatcher, a Poverty Scholar and the Daughter of a Momma named Sam.

 

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