South Seattle Gem: Phyllis Porter

gem porter and kiki
Phyllis (r) with her daughter Kiavany. Photo Credit: Phyllis Porter

Who: Phyllis Porter

Nickname:  PJ and The one who wears many hats.

Her Myriad Occupations:  Community Advocate and Leader for Rainier Valley Greenways.  Vigil Organizer and planner for Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. Outreach Coordinator for Bike Works. Recreational cyclist. Board member of the Rainier Riders Cycling Club, Second Cycle, and Pronto Bike Share.  Committee Member: Seattle Safe Routes to School, Southeast District Council, and Vision Zero Rainier Valley.  Adjunct Associate Professor.  Featured in the Green Lane Project 2015 and on KUOW.

How and why did you begin community advocacy work in the South End?

I taught for ten years and enjoyed it tremendously, yet always felt as though something was missing from my life.  My daughter was soon going away to college and she told me to make sure I became active in something I liked, before she headed off to school. I promised her that I would.  A year later I told a friend about that conversation and he asked me to attend a Greenways meeting with him. I said okay, at the time not knowing what a Greenways was.  I attended the weekly meetings even though it took me awhile to understand what a green way actually was. Since then I have become very active in bringing safe streets to people of all ages and abilities in our area. I am very passionate and loyal to what I do. If I organize, plan or lead, I will give it my all. I’m naturally a happy person, who loves everyone and is devoted to what I choose to do. I think that comes across in my advocacy work.

Tell us a little bit about yourself? What are you doing when not advocating for safer streets in our area?

I was raised by my parents in a middle class neighborhood in Memphis  with my four siblings. I’ve loved Seattle ever since the day we moved here. I am a mother of two, a son and a daughter.  My favorite past times are riding my Kestrel with friends, working out in the gym, exploring Seattle,checking out coffee shops (not a coffee drinker- great place to write in my journal), listening to music and bringing stories to life by either the stroke of fingers on a keyboard or a pen to paper.

Things you love most about South Seattle?

I work throughout the South End of Seattle and love seeing, the variety of faces, ethnicities, cultures and restaurants housed here. Its beauty is nestled within the soul and heart of the community.

From Columbia City to Rainier Beach there is a glow that people of the South End share with one another. That glow permeates the community and is visible in the pride South Enders have in our area and ourselves. I admire the fact that we talk not only of the disparities associated with this area, but also rejoice in the spirit of brotherly love and sisterhood we share here with one another. There’s often a dialogue found amongst residents about how our community brings so much to so many and how we’re able to embrace anyone who moves into our community. I love that South Seattle’s a place where families of different backgrounds and socio-economic status can live on the same street, greet each other as they walk by, grieve together when local neighbors become victims of the street or share in the joy of a new baby being brought home from the hospital for the first time.

The biggest love I have for South Seattle is being part of a community that responds so selflessly in times of tragedy. I once witnessed the community working together, unified in freeing a family of three pinned between a car and a counter. I saw residents and bystanders run and scream for help and aid in saving that family.Those are the stories that don’t get out about us here.

You’re a member of the Rainier Riders. Where are your favorite riding areas in the South End?

One of my favorite spots to ride is Seward Park. I like riding from Seward Park down to Madison Park or up the hill to Both Ways Café on Genesee.

What is something you’ve discovered riding around the south end that few people know?

I’ve discovered that you don’t have to take a plane, or ship to travel internationally, just meet with some members of the community, and they can take you on a safari,  to a island paradise and on other adventures right here in South Seattle. There are many lands far and near that reside in our community.

Recently, I met with the Ethiopian community elders at the Ethiopian Community Center- I felt like The Horn of Africa was right here in the South End. As we shared lunch, they listened to me talk about safety on Rainier Avenue, and I took  the opportunity to learn a little bit more about their lives. I talked with “DEDE”, she told me about her homeland of Ethiopia, She shared stories with me, and for a short time, I found myself in her village, eating injera and talking with her parents and sibling, as I  visualized her story.  I have also visited with the Filipino Community in our area and various other organizations in Southeast Seattle, all with their own stories to share of their homeland. Through these stories, I’ve discovered orators, artists, musicians, poets, all sharing in the enrichment and beauty of the community of South Seattle.

You’ve been a staunch advocate for improving street safety in South Seattle. How do we go about doing that?

I would say, that If you feel passionate about change, and are open to different possibilities, I’d suggest you get involved with a community group. My interest is safety, transportation and passage.   Rainier Valley Greenways, which I’m a part of, is a group of South End advocates who are working as part of a citywide grassroots movement to attract neighborhood residents and businesses eager to transform Seattle into a city where everyone can walk and bike safely. We’re currently campaigning for a safer Rainier Avenue. We meet monthly, every 3rd Tuesday of the month at 6:30-8:30pm in Columbia City at Bike Works, 3715 S. Hudson Street.  Our March meeting will actually be held tonight (the 24th).

What do you hope that people will be able to say about South Seattle in five years that they might not be able to now?

  1. I would like to say that the area is truly a celebration of who we are. I want the streets of South Seattle to be painted with a mural symbolizing our heritage, and culture. We already know that 98118 is known as the largest multicultural area in the country, but I want it to be more than a number. I want it to be visible to anyone who walks our streets. Let’s celebrate who we are with art; exhibitions,  statutes, portraits, painting , and a historical collections of flags to represent each native country of those living on American soil in South Seattle. Let’s trumpet that we celebrate everyone and welcome everyone!
  2. I would like to say that Rainier Avenue is no longer recognized as the most dangerous street in Seattle, and that the city’s ideas in terms of re-channelization:  bike lanes, slower speed limits, and dignified timing signals, has transformed the avenue into a  great place for people of all ages and abilities to get around in South Seattle.

Featured photo Jawara O’Connor

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