Rahwa Ogbe Keshi Habte, Seattle community organizer, dies at 42
Rahwa Ogbe Keshi Habte was an organizer, chef, artist, entrepreneur, and beloved leader in Seattle.
She died on August 28, 2020 at the age of 42.
Habte and her family came to the U.S. when she was five, as refugees from Eritrea. She attended Evergreen High School near White Center and Washington State University, where she was active in a number of student groups.
Habte was also an organizer with OneAmerica, fighting for immigrant rights and gender justice and later also worked with the City of Seattle in the Department of Neighborhoods and helped develop the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
She was a fan of Octavia Butler novels, a lover of music, and powerful leader speaking out about gentrification in Seattle and leading the way for racial justice for Black lives well before the current movement.
Habte and her sister Asmeret bought a restaurant in the Central District in 2006. It became Hidmo Eritrean Cuisine but it was more than a place to get good food -- it became a community haven.
Gabriel Teodros, a hip-hop artist and friend of Habte explains in the song “The World Is A Hidmo,” the story behind the creation of the restaurant:
“Rahwa, Asmeret and me stayed up all night envisioning what we could do with that place. It could be a hub for organizers, an all ages venue for up & coming hip-hop artists, and so much more. Hidmo became the first place that every community I came from lived under one roof. It was a community center, cleverly disguised as an Eritrean restaurant in the Central District.”
Habte herself explained in an interview with Seattle Voices that "Hidmo means home," as in the traditional huts used in the countryside back in Eritrea.
She also brought Ladies First, an initiative to prioritize female artists to take the mic, by hosting it at the restaurant once a month.
Habte was awarded a Red Winged Leadership Grand Prize winner for her work with Hidmo. The Seattle University award recognizes innovators in Seattle who bring together business savviness, social responsibility, and leadership.
Hidmo closed in 2010 but the spirit of movement carried on and lives in Cypher Cafe at Washington Hall.
Habte was vocal about her activism and open about her her personal struggles. On social media, she often spoke about her experiences with addiction and mental health.
Asmeret shared that among all her sister’s achievements, being transparent about her struggles was one of the things she is most proud of.
“Anyone can win awards but to talk about that as an immigrant woman, as an Eritrean woman, I’ve never seen that," she said. "She lived in dignity and fought a battle.”
Habte went on to become a recovery coach and peer counselor. She tested positive for Covid-19 in April this year but she passed away from complications with substance abuse and mental health.
Despite her personal challenges, Habte provided free meals for the Seattle community through the spring, cooking food and making sure people were nourished -- physically and spiritually.