It is with great sadness that I share the news that longtime Seattle activist, artist, chef, and entrepreneur Rahwa Habte died on August 28th at the age of 42.
Rahwa was a leader in the movement for media justice in Seattle and in the MediaJustice Network (formerly known as the Media Action Grassroots Network). As co-founder of Hidmo, a renowned cultural event space and restaurant serving activist communities in Seattle, Rahwa participated in our Media Justice Leadership Institute and at the Allied Media Conference delegation in 2011.
Rahwa was a powerhouse. After coming to the U.S. when she was five as a refugee from Eritrea, Rahwa attended Evergreen High School and was active in student groups as a teenager.
When I met Rahwa, it was at Hidmo Eritrean Cuisine, the restaurant she and her sister Asmeret bought in Seattle’s Central District, in 2006. Hidmo means home, and that’s exactly what it was for hundreds of musicians, hip hop artists, poets, techies and activists. I remember performing spoken word at Ladies First, where female and genderqueer artists were featured at Hidmo once a month. The brilliant hip hop artist and activist, Gabriel Teodros, even released a song there, The World Is A Hidmo, about the story behind the restaurant and event space. Hidmo closed in 2010 but its spirit lives on.
Rahwa was also an organizer with OneAmerica, fighting for immigrant rights and gender justice. In 2013, she worked with the City of Seattle and helped develop the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
Rahwa wrote publicly and bravely about her struggles with substance abuse and used her experiences to become a recovery coach and peer counselor, helping others, as was her way. She provided free and delicious meals for those who needed it, and also fed the community with her infectious laugh and bright spirit.
Rahwa fought on the frontlines for Seattle’s most vulnerable and exploited communities using art, music, food and her genius around start-up business development.
Longtime media activist and Seattle Times journalist, Naomi Ishisaka, has this to say of her very good friend, “Rahwa was truly one of a kind. She was a person who you had to experience to truly appreciate her brilliance, humor and warmth. Her ability to create spaces and connections that transcended barriers was unlike anyone else. Whether cultivating the hip hop scene, making space for women and QTPOC artists, advocating for raising the minimum wage or immigrant rights, Rahwa was always on the side of the people and justice. While most people know her for her groundbreaking work creating Hidmo, I knew her as my best friend, and the person whose analysis, wit and integrity I turned to most. Her loss is a grievous one for us all.”