Othello-UW Commons

May 24, 2019

Othello: a speech by Samia Ali

(as written by Brian Nakata from this article )

On January 16, 2019, Samia Ali, ’19, delivered a powerful speech during the opening celebration for the Othello-UW Commons, a multi-functional partnership space in Southeast Seattle’s Othello neighborhood. Ali’s speech details her experience growing up in the area for 11 years, from the vibrant people who live there to the spaces she holds sacred. This video uses parts of the speech’s original recording from that night and includes photographs from the Othello neighborhood based on the imagery Ali mentions.


Here is a full transcript of her speech:


I have to say I am in complete awe right now. I have lived in South Seattle my whole life, and I am incredibly honored to be speaking with you all today in this space. Othello is my home. In this space, we have a chance to reunite power with education, freedom with curiosity and, most importantly, a connection with a community.

The Othello community is a unique one. Its streets are filled with constant reminders of its diversity; from the signs that welcome you in different languages, to the massive murals that draw you in. Colorful spice shops and traditional clothing stores shine a rainbow across the road. The streets are never calm: from children’s laughter, to prayers from churches and mosques, to even the announcements at the transit station. It is so easy to walk around in this neighborhood and miss everything that lines the inner fabrics of each resident’s life. To look past every crack on the concrete, every roundabout, every home. But what lies within these small things in the area are the stories, the stories of many. The sidewalk may have cracks, but you can still catch a glimpse of the women in colorful, knee-length hijabs, power-walking as a pack, every morning like clockwork. On the corner of every roundabout, you can see neighbors sitting together in lawn chairs waiting for their kids to get off the bus, bringing each other tea and warm thoughts. When the neighborhood wasn’t washed by the rain, I could turn down the street from that same roundabout and catch the weekly farmers market at the neighborhood pea-patch. Though hardly anyone spoke the same language, the conversation couldn’t flow more smoothly: Gentle nods and the thumbs up of approval became universal symbols. This is the community, this is the space. It is more than just the buildings and infrastructure, it is about the people who live in them. The people who wake up early in the morning to kiss the sun, but do not rest their head until the day is done. There is way more than meets the eye — what looks like an empty driveway to one, was the block gathering spot; where kids from all the nearby homes would come together to share jokes, school tales and so much laughter. Everything in this neighborhood is intertwined.

I say this all so that you can get a glimpse of what I have been looking at for nearly two decades. Othello is not defined by any one single person — it is a collective. Othello is about Abdirizak, a Running Start student who spends his weekend tutoring East African students on how to use technology. Othello is about Delina, a first-generation student, who works graveyard shifts because she is determined to change her outcome. Othello is about the countless women I call “Auntie,” but aren’t really my Auntie; it is about the parents and the grandparents. Othello is about the hard workers and the go-getters. The ones who wake up earlier to power walk, or play or even plant a seed. Othello is about UW and the partnership; a partnership that has led to this space that will give so much more opportunities. And that is why I am in awe; I cannot wait for the stories that will be shared here, the colors that will gleam through the window, the sounds that will bang the walls. The only thing I wish I had right now was some uunsi [Somali incense] to really warm up the place.

Samia Ali is a sophomore at UW Seattle, majoring in physiology with a minor in bioethics. She is currently the co-president of the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students. She has been living in Southeast Seattle since she was a child and attended Dunlap Elementary School, Aki Kurose Middle School and University Prep. Like many UW undergraduate and graduate students, she calls South Seattle home and commutes to campus everyday.