If the idea of closing South End streets in order to open neighbors to the spirit of communal solidarity strikes you as odd, the smart money says you find yourself in good company. However, there would be at least one lone contrarian in Skyway’s Alesia Cannady.
On Monday, September 7th, the foster provider and daycare owner is organizing the Love Train Play Street as part of Seattle Department of Transportation’s Play Streets program. The program, derived from a similar one birthed in New York City in the 1910’s, shuts down neighborhood streets for a couple of hours, allowing kids free rein to dance and play without worry of traffic as a hazard.
All the Department requires from a community member is their filing a request and then waiting for an approval.
Cannady’s Love Train themed event will be the first Play Street to take place in the South End during the program’s brief existence – most have been concentrated in Seattle’s North End and Central District.
This is a status the 17-year West Hill resident is proud of as she sees her Play Street being the first of many to crop up in the South Seattle area to provide a vehicle for community healing and rejuvenation in difficult times. We spoke with her about the importance of a galvanized South End and why the answer to a majority of the community’s problems boils down to one simple word: love.
Emerald: Why did you decide to host a Play Street? You’ll be the first person to do so in the South Seattle area.
Alesia Cannady: I decided to host a Play Street because I have a huge backyard and all my kids are gone besides my granddaughter. When I heard about Play Streets I saw that a lot of them were only going on in North Seattle and the CD. I knew that Skyway needed one. It needs as much love as those other places. We have had a couple incidents like the young man (Lemaun Lancaster) who was killed at the (Skyway) Ezell’s last month. I invited his aunt to come. I’m not sure what the young man’s situation was, but I know we need to love our children. All of us in the community need to love our community’s children.
Emerald: Why did you decide to go with the theme “Love Train” for your Play Street?
Cannady: I got it from the O’Jay’s song. If you listen to the lyrics they say, “Everybody get on board.” We want everyone to ride on the love train.
Emerald: Even though Skyway is an official a part of Unincorporated King County you still had to go through the Seattle Department of Transportation to get your street closed. The City of Seattle has a reputation for being completely hands off with the area, though it has a Seattle address. What was that process like?
Cannady: I told them, you all are doing this in the CD and up North. Why not here? The guy I spoke with at SDOT told me to go ahead and put in my application. I did, but I wasn’t getting any response back, so I started calling and leaving message after message. It was getting really close and I finally got a hold of someone and told them I really needed the permit to close down the street. I was told all my paperwork was in order and I was able to get everything to close down the street the next day. This was all done in truth and faith.
Emerald: Providing a place for kids to play while their parents and grandparents relax is nothing new to you as you run Angel of Hope Play Place, a daycare you say serves as a respite for foster parents in the community. What are some of the unique challenges that subset of our community faces?
Cannady: I originally took in my sister’s children from CPS (Child Protective Services) after she was found to be unfit. It was supposed to be for a couple of months. It ended up being seventeen years. One of the girls had been sexually molested and the other was born with some medical issues. I didn’t get to travel or do too much of anything. It was very important that I had a respite and that’s where this comes in. Finding time for yourself is a challenge.
Emerald: Organizing a community event, while running a daycare and raising your granddaughter has to be tough. What rejuvenates you?
Cannady: Often times we go through life and we know that we’re here to do something. We just don’t know exactly what it is. I know what I’m here to do. That’s what keeps me rejuvenated. When I was young I had a lot going on in my life. I lost a child. Things like that made me want to be a positive force in life. I had to learn to put myself aside and do for others. I had to learn to stand for other women. All areas of my life are about being a source of encouragement for people, and standing for women. When you encourage someone, you encourage yourself.
Emerald: Being a part of Unincorporated King County and not having access to the same level of services as Seattle proper and Renton – the two cities that sandwich it – Skyway is known for having strong bounds amongst community members. How would you say you’ve experienced that in the area?
Cannady: I have to say that I didn’t start experiencing the community bonds until I started in the Kinship Care group at RAYS Cynthia A. Green Family Center (in Skyway). I happened to stop up there and I started meeting women who were like me, raising their grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. As a group we bonded together. The women there are so strong, exceptional and so determined. There’s a song we sing that goes, “ain’t no stopping now.” That says it all.
I want to also say that my neighbors on Skyway’s 75th Avenue South are so caring and loving. I talked about the Play Street to them and people just blasted it out everywhere, to everyone. My neighbors and the people here are so wonderful. I’m just so very humbled.
Emerald: You have hopscotch, hula hooping, line dancing, and a DJ amongst other things at your Play Street. It’s for the kids but the adults are certain to join in. What are you most looking forward to?
Cannady: I’m looking forward to seeing adults and children having fun together; the children seeing their parents smile. I looking forward to the adults doing things they haven’t done in years, playing like they did when they were young. I want them to be unplugged. I’m looking for smiles, laughter, and community.
Emerald: Do you think Play Streets will catch on in the South Seattle area like they have elsewhere in the city?
Cannady: I’m hoping it catches on more. I’m doing some event every second Saturday of the month. If people like it and want to see how it’s done, I will help them get it done for their community. We can have a lot of these clusters, more people can jump on the love train. All that we’ve faced as a community – it’s all about love. It’s so simple. All the negative pulls stuff out of your spirit. It’s the fun and the laughter, that fuels you, you have to put something back into you and community when so much of that has been taken out of your spirit.
“Love Train Play Street” will go from Noon to 4pm on Monday, 9/7 on 75th Avenue South in Skyway between Renton Avenue South and S122nd St. All community members are welcome to attend.
Featured Image courtesy of Alesia Cannady/Seattle Department of Transportation