Oh Hello Othello: Arts Festival Celebrates South End Diversity

by Reagan Jackson

Community members do the "wooble" during the festivities. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson
Community members do the “wooble” during the festivities. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson

All of the South End seemed to be in attendance for the 8th annual Othello Park International Music & Arts Festival held on Sunday, August 16. This year’s theme was fun in many languages.  To honor the rich linguistic diversity of the neighborhood there was a banner saying Hello in 40 different languages. Even Mayor Ed Murray stopped by the say “Dia Dhuit,”  (hello in Irish the language of his grandparents) and to commend the City Parks Department on their upcoming renovation which will include improvements to the park bathrooms.

Though people came and went, at its height the offerings of local food trucks, music, art and a bouncy house drew in a crowd of close to 500. There were performances by a variety of different acts including the Northwest Tap Connection, Clave Cubana, Mak Fai Washington Kungfu Dancers, the Women’s Steel Pan Project and many more, representing an array of cultural traditions from Tonga to Somalia.

The grass was dotted with tents hosting booth with activities for children and community resources including a booth staffed by John Hale, the Executive Director of Compassionate Seattle.

“We’re here because we are committed to helping improve the civic health index in neighborhoods,” explained Hale. “Seattle has been judged by its own surveys to be really low in knowing our neighbors and being neighborly. So what we’re about is honoring beloved community by being open to each other.”

Just one day after a candle light vigil was held in Skyway for Lemaun Lancaster Jr., the 21 year old college student shot and killed in the parking lot of Ezell’s Chicken, it was refreshing to see the “beloved community” gathered not in mourning or protest, but simply to enjoy one another. Watching children of every ethnicity dance, play, and mob the ice cream truck brought the nostalgia of summer’s past. It was a day to relax, do the wobble, and simply enjoy being neighborly.

For Hale and his wife, the Festival was an opportunity to get to know people in the South End and to deepen a mission to spread compassion in tangible ways. “The experience of compassion is not just getting together with people that look like you and celebrate compassion,” said Hale explaining a recent revelation in his personal understanding. Hale describes his organization as a sprout from the Dali Lama’s Seeds of Compassion visit to Seattle in 2008.

“After the Dali Lama was here with Seeds of Compassion there was no after plan. So what we did is that those of us who organized the fifth day, the inter-spiritual day we spent time had to figure out what is it that is calling us.” The answer materialized in the for the Compassionate Action Network whose mission is to build a global network for self-organizing groups to connect and collaborate to promote their goal of inspiring compassion in the world.

Compassionate Seattle is just a small part of a greater movement.

“The paradigm shift was that a compassionate city is an uncomfortable city, a city that will not rest if there are children without food, if there are families without shelter, if there are youth without school and training for jobs, etc. So we’ve been dedicating ourselves to being focused on those needs in the community,” said Hale.

During the festival Compassionate Seattle hosted a pop up art display with their partners Mt. Baker Community Art Lofts as well as a blessing table, where they invited participants to write their well wishes on scrolls which were then given to passersby as a way for neighbors to impart blessings to one another.

Tonga dancers perform. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson
Tongan dancers perform. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson

“What we’re working hard to do is to honor the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and invite people to reflect in their lives where is there a space that is really sacred, that is safe that is welcoming, where people can actually put down their guards, but they can also talk about the tough issues in their lives respectfully without being victimized.”

Compassionate Seattle is currently creating a map of these sacred spaces and invited Othello residents to contribute their suggestions by submitting them on a card. If you would like to add a special place to the map or simply find out more check out: www.compassionateseattlehome.org .

The event culminated in a parade led by two Chinese dragons. During a time when racial tensions around the country seem to be at an all-time high, Othello Park found the perfect alchemy of entertainment to bring joy to a diverse community of neighbors on a sunny summer day.

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