by Marcus Harrison Green
South Seattle received a makeover Saturday morning worthy of a feature in Cosmopolitan.
From litter pick up around Franklin High School, to side walk sweeps in Hillman City, to weed removal in Skyway, more than a thousand residents volunteered for community led beautification projects across the South End in celebration of Earth Day.
And while projects abounded through Seattle’s southern region, the day’s largest was the 8th annual Bridge-2-Beach Neighborhood Clean-Up, which saw more than 600 volunteers participate in more 30 cleanup efforts in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.
Prior to undertaking assignments such as mural painting, mulching, and gathering up stray trash along Rainer Beach’s main arterials, volunteers packed the Rainier Beach Community Center plaza at about 9:00am to listen to local dignitaries and elected officials talk about the day’s significance, along with a brief 5 minute stretching session to activate muscles for the tasks ahead.
The multi-racial and generational crowd in attendance were treated to a DJ blaring top 40 hits, along with signs and banners that reiterated the day’s theme of “Making Change Happen.” Most of the volunteers came from the immediate vicinity, a fact many highlighted throughout the day.
“Today is not about people from outside the community coming into to improve. Today is about people who live in this community and who wake up every day thinking how do I make it better,” 37th District State Senator Pramila Jayapal told volunteers in a speech earlier in the day.
In addition to primary sponsorship from the Rainier Chamber of Commerce, and the Rainier Beach Merchant’s Association, Bridge-2-Beach added Comcast as a key sponsor this year.
Besides cash, the cable giant provided nearly 300 of its employees as volunteers to assist locals with activities on the day, including planting nearly 130 trees in the Rainier Valley. Overall, the company had more than 3200 employees in the state of Washington participating in local cleanups as part of its national day of action.
“For them to have 300 folks give up their Saturday to be out here removing graffiti and planting trees today is a great thing. It’s a national effort but they certainly shine here in Seattle,” said Seattle Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who represents District 2.
For Reese Saul, who brought her two daughters Edith and Seneca with her to pick up trash in Beer Sheva park the message of the day was clear:
“People actually give a darn in the Valley!” the Seattle Farm Co-Op board member asserted while she directed her two children, enamored with swings and slides, to stray trash for them to add to her garbage bag.
Saul’s sentiment was on full display on a gorgeous sunny day where temperatures reached the high 70’s. It was impossible for anyone passing along the streets of Rainier Beach not to see packs of volunteers clad in green shirts and orange caution vests, armed with shovels, trash pickers, paint brushes, and bright yellow garbage bags.
“[The turnout today] shows it’s untrue that people in the South End don’t come out to things like this. If you give us the opportunity to come out then we will,” said Brittney Goldstein, who participated on Saturday and who works with 7th graders at Aki Kurose middle school.
The sight of so many volunteers collectively cleaning the area almost overwhelmed one local business owner.
“It’s inspirational to see so many people out here, and helping to decorate our place,” said Jimmy Visaya of King Donuts. Volunteers from City Year, Rainer Beach High School’s shop class, and the Young Queens of Rainier Beach (high-schoolers led by Monika Matthews) worked from morning, long into the late evening painting a mural depicting a jovial sprinkled donut donning a crown, appropriately enough, which will hang on the south side of the beloved shop.
The mural, conceived by the Rainer Beach Merchants Association, was designed by Rainier Beach High School freshman Janeesha Leadingfighter, whose grandmother has patronized King Donuts for years.
Saturday’s mural painting was a continuation of a larger refurberation project on the donut shop, which began at last year’s Bridge to Beach effort.
While the day served as a positive experience for most participants, others kept in mind the sobering realities facing some long-term residents of the area, wanting to make sure their efforts on the day in no way contributed to further displacement in the area.
“We’re making sure in beautifying the neighborhood and improving the neighborhood, we’re not adding to the gentrification strategies that are currently in trend, outside of that this is definitely positive,” said Andre McKinney, of the Atlantic Street Center, who spent most of the day laying down mulch in planting strips.
The clean ups also served as a catalyst for community camaraderie in other parts of the South End.
“I think that a lot of us live here because we really do want to know our neighbors and most of the small businesses are locally owned, who care a lot about our community, so [today’s cleanup] is not just neighbors getting to know each other. It’s the whole community,” said Shelley Morrison as she collected trash in the parking lot shared by Full Tilt, Flying Lion and Rumba Notes in Columbia City.
Returning to Rainier Beach, where the neighborhood cleanup wrapped up for most volunteers a little after noon at the Rainer Beach Community Plaza with food , music and dancing, the day prompted reflection in some who have called the South End home for years.
“I think this day is amazing,” said Guyanthony Parramore who has lived in Rainier Beach since 1982.
“We’re trying to overcome that stigma that we [in South Seattle] don’t stick together, that we don’t love each other… When you’re in a community that is as diverse and warm as this one, how can you not be a part it? It’s addicting. I’m looking forward to everyone in this community getting addicted to this movement. Let’s all of us come together and make Washington different than all this other states, this is a step forward, and this is a great start.”
Featured image by Derek Johnson