Proving to be every bit the party that its title intimated, the Rainier Beach Back 2 School Bash – put on by Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition– commandeered the plaza of the Rainier Beach Community Center this past Saturday.
Replete with a DJ Booth (DJ Uncle Guy) that blasted out a diverse mixture of hits that inspired an impromptu group dance to Pharrell Williams’ song Happy, sequined frolicking lion-dragons of Vovinam that enthralled the hundreds of children and adults in attendance with a lively performance that spilled out all over the plaza, and dozens of pop up tents with animated host- which included Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle City Light, Bikeworks and Got Green amongst others – it appeared that the Champs-Elysees had been transported to the corner of Rainier and Henderson for a few hours.
However, the Bash – in its eleventh year- wasn’t all fun and games. As it also functioned as a school supply giveaway for area youth, who were required to visit several resource tables stationed at the event – which provided everything from information on public safety to higher education- in order to receive a back to school package which included notebooks, backpacks, calculators, and other necessary, and increasingly costly, school items.
“This was so fun and exciting! I was so glad for all the opportunities to speak to people at the (resource) tables, and get a ton of information that you don’t normally get.” Said Chris Smith, a young attendee who brought along his mother and younger sister and left with a new backpack and a stack of free books courtesy of the Bash.
Usually held in Beer Sheva Park, the event was forced to relocate to the plaza due to the construction currently taking place at the park. The new locale actually appeared to boost community attendance as close to a record number packed the square just outside the community center, including many who found out about the Bash through happenstance.
“I was just driving, on my way home, and I saw all this activity at the plaza. I didn’t know what exactly was going on but it looked public. So, I made a U-turn and picked up two of my grandchildren from their place and said: Let’s go check this out!” Commented Patricia Newman, a 19 year resident of the Rainier Beach area who was attending for the first time.
With the huge crowds displaying the rich cultural diversity that the southend of Seattle has become identified with, Gregory Davis -who heads up the coalition- was ecstatic that the turnout flew in the face of what he feels is an unfair perception that brands the community as fragmented.
“I’m overjoyed at the number of people here! This is our eleventh year, so we knew that we’d get interest from the community and that’s what we’re trying to do – to be a community building environment. We’re excited about it, as a community we want to be able to support people with resources and information as they go back to school.” Davis said.
As hundreds flocked to the event right up until its waning hours, community solidarity seemed a theme latched onto by most attendees. “Rainier Beach really gets a bad rap. Yes, there are a few people who engage in activities that give everyone else a bad name, but everyone here, and there are a lot of us, are here to show support for this community we live in and that we aren’t going anywhere.” Said September Jewel an event volunteer.
In an area that has seemingly made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent months, event participants hoped that besides school supplies and community socializing, the Bash would also provide a glaring counterpoint to the negative portrayal that the Rainier Beach area has received in much of the media .
“This is really what the truth is, what you’re seeing here.” Asserted Davis. “The diversity, the people cooperating with each other. This is what we’re about. Look, naturally we’re not responsible for the press that gets out there about us, but if people came here and saw this they would know what the real truth is in terms of what’s happening in South Seattle.”