Seattle Foundation Blog

How to Belong in Seattle

Our 'We Belong Here' staff and other experts share insights on connection


June 24, 2019

Frank Nam loves telling the story of stone soup. At a recent event, he shared the old tale: how a town turns away a hungry traveler, not believing they have enough to share. And how the traveler instead gets the town excited about a soup with only a stone and convinces each person to bring a small addition. In the end, it all adds up to a big meal for everyone to share.

As project manager of We Belong Here, Frank focuses on this abundance. We Belong Here, part of Seattle Foundation’s Civic Commons initiative, works to strengthen the region by strengthening relationships. "Our hypothesis is that we have taken belonging for granted," Frank says. "We've stopped doing the things that created and nurtured a sense of connection."

The importance of belonging

panelists talking  Frank Nam, Rebekah Bastian and Michaela Ayers speaking about belonging.

Frank talked about his learnings at the event, titled "Cultivating Belonging in Seattle." The Evergrey, Makers Workspaces, and Voyager’s Table presented the panel and dinner to explore connection in a rapidly changing city.

The panel also included thought leaders Rebekah Bastian, the VP of Community and Culture at Zillow Group and Michaela Ayers, the founder of Nourish Events. Monica Guzman from The Evergrey moderated the conversation.

Belonging is a hot topic right now. The panelists see people getting more anxious about growing inequities.Seattle's expansion is often disrupting people's communities. "People are looking for simple concepts. Inclusion can be difficult to understand, but everyone understands belonging," said Michaela.

What gets in the way?

Guests sharing food  Guests sharing food from Voyager’s Table

What gets in the way of this belonging? What excludes people? Michaela shared how she sees implicit racial bias, the subconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our behavior, creating exclusion.

"It's not about shaming and blaming," Michaela says, "We can learn and confront these biases to create connection." Becca built off this idea, talking about how she sees people forced to assimilate to narrowly defined norms or be excluded.

How do we create this belonging?

Guests discussing at tables  Tables discussing their own experiences of belonging

Frank has learned that there’s more to belonging than helping those traditionally left behind assimilate. Instead, he believes we can put the onus on those in seats of power. He cites initiatives like Seattle Foundation’s Vibrant Democracy Initiative that help shift this power.

All thought leaders had ideas to overcome defensiveness and disconnection. Their tactics ranged from telling stories to even just breathing deeply when they’re in hard conversations.

The guests had a chance to put these ideas into practice. After the panel, they shared connections and food from Chef Justin Khanna from Voyager’s Table. The conversations were rich, with each member of each table sharing when they’ve felt the most belonging in their own lives.

The belonging conversation continues through We Belong Here and other gatherings. Like stone soup, “We have enough to share,” Frank says. “We can fix a scarcity mindset with belonging.”

Learn More

Read about We Belong Here.  

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Civic leadershipaffordable housingsocial equalityRacial equity

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