by Marcus Harrison Green
A love train will be chugging at full steam down the streets of Skyway this weekend, courtesy of a long-time resident looking to galvanize the community.
Alesia Cannady, who has lived in the Skyway neighborhood for more than 20 years, will be hosting her second annual Love Train Play Street at her “Angel of Hope Engagement Center” for residents of the area.
Cannady gained permission from King County to close down one block along 75th Avenue between 122nd and Renton Avenue South, so community members in the neighborhood can treat themselves to country line dancing, groove to Motown-era soul classics spun by a DJ, challenge each other in double dutch, be on the business end of a water cannon and, most importantly, in an area devoid of a centralized gathering hub, spend five hours in the company of neighbors they may barely know.
“We have to take back our streets and that starts by getting to know each other,” says Cannady, who shares that last year’s Play Street saw neighbors, including a Vietnamese couple that won the line dancing competition, finally become acquainted with people they lived next to for decades.
That’s why this year’s theme is “Unity in the Community”, which Cannady has already turned into a hashtag to be used on the day, along with t-shirts to be handed out on Saturday.
The 63-year-old Cannady came up with the idea last year, upon hearing about Seattle’s inaugural Play Streets program, which closes neighborhood streets to traffic for a few hours to allow for games and physical activity on the street.
“I looked at the map and saw that out of 70 Play Streets, there weren’t any in the South End and I said our kids deserve to have one here,” she shares.
Getting a permit to close down her street was a bit tricky, however. Even though Skyway has a Seattle address, it is actually a part of unincorporated King County, falling outside the city limits. As the county had no Play Street program of its own, it appeared Cannady was out of luck.
With what she describes as a stubborn resolve, Cannady applied to SDOT for a permit anyway.
And, in what can either be described as a rare case of County and City cooperation, or, more than likely, a fortunate mix up, Cannady received permission to close down her block on 75th Avenue from SDOT complete with cones and tape to rope off the spot, even though they have no jurisdiction in Skyway.
Cannady laughs now about the incident, as a representative from SDOT actually called her after reading a piece in the Emerald detailing the first Love Train to tell her they should have never provided permission to close down the street for it. This year, she took her request for a street closure directly to King County, receiving a permit not long after explaining the idea of a Play Street.
As a result, Saturday’s event will be the only official Play Street taking place in Unincorporated King County this summer.
The distinction isn’t one that Cannady necessarily relishes, as she wishes Play Streets proliferated places like South Park, but she’s glad that Skyway has its own to build upon. The essentialness of which can’t be understated in an area outsiders frequently assume the worst of.
“If Skyway was a person, it would be talked about like: ‘Oh this person is bad, this person did this, this person did that.’ But you know what? That isn’t who that person is. I get so tired hearing bad things about Skyway. That stuff is everywhere. There is too much good here,” she says.
For Cannady, the actual Skyway is seen every day at her Angel of Hope Play Place, where youth join their parents and grandparents in gliding down water slides, jumping around in bouncy houses, and alternating pushing each other on swings. Rambunctiousness is encouraged whether 8 or 85. A bit different from a traditional daycare in that, instead of being a drop off for exhausted parents, it’s a space for intergenerational engagement.
“It touches my heart to see children and parents playing together. It teaches young respect for the old, and vice versa,” she says.
No one who attends the center is charged anything. When asked why not, Alesia says, “God doesn’t charge us. He gives everything to us for free, so why charge for it? Love don’t cost anything, so why charge for it?”
Cannady founded Angel of Hope after finding herself raising her two-year-old granddaughter Aaliyah. First coming into her life at six weeks old, the challenge of raising YaYa (Alesia’s nickname for her) showed her the value of having a supportive environment readily accessible.
The Play Street is simply an outgrowth of that idea for Cannady. It is also a seed for her future vision of a Skyway as an expanded version of the Play Place, that functions as a community center, serving the entirety of Skyway, and the West Hill area it belongs to, with resources, after school activities, classes, job training skills, and help with basic needs.
With adoration for Skyway in her heart, Cannady sees Saturday’s community party as fertile soil for her idea to sprout.
Before going to busy herself with securing food trucks from Ezell’s, t-shirts emblazoned with “#UnityInTheCommunity”, hula hoops, and “Sparky the Fire Dog” from local Fire District #20, in hopes of putting together a community extravaganza that would make P.T. Barnum drool, she reflects on the idea of a large-scale, wrap-around service community center growing out of a community block party.
“I know what some people might think, but you know what? Love Grows.”
Featured image by Matt Mills McKnight
Climb aboard the love train Saturday, July 16th from 1-6pm in Skyway starting at the intersection of Renton Avenue South and 75th Avenue South. Everyone is welcome!