by Kelsey Hamlin
Last Monday, for the third time this year, Alesia Cannady put on her beloved Skyway “Love Train,” a community block party and gathering.
From two streets away, the music played faintly, but once arriving at Cannady’s house it was bumping. There was an ice cream truck parked at the end of the street and orange traffic cones marked play stations. There were jump ropes, frisbees and chalk. Community businesses and churches tabled along the sides.
One was a table full of various shoes and school supplies, gathered together by Pastor Herman Akin’s Restoration House Ministries Northwest. Little kids skip around with shoes in their hands.
Just when you thought you saw it all, Cannady said there’s a jump house in the backyard. Peeking beyond the fence, you found hamburgers, hotdogs and corn on the cob sizzling on a grill. Anybody who showed up was welcome to eat their fill, along with an assortment of chips and sodas.
At one moment, Cannady took the mic. The soft cadences of inspirational Gospel music switched on in the background as she spoke.
“Can we get close? Because we love each other and that’s what it’s all about,” she requested of the crowd. “Look what’s happening in the world today, you guys. We can be a power of one. All it takes is to stand up. This is what the love train is.”
Cannady first began throwing these community gatherings three years ago. She just wanted to do something different and announced a block party. But her neighbor caught wind of it and passed it on. Then everybody started chipping in, making it what it is today.
“It’s all about community loving on friends and family,” Cannady smiled. “There’s so much negative stuff about Skyway and I want to show them what we see here.”
Many Skyway, Rainier Beach, and South End residents feel media only comes around to tokenize cultural events or to report on crime. But these communities and their inhabitants are more than that.
“We should bring them together because there’s so much that tears us apart,” Cannady said. “It really helps to believe in what you’re doing.”
The power of getting together is monumental to the organizer. She likes when the parents and kids start dancing out in the street because it’s important to her for parents and their children to do enjoyable things together.
“That’s what I remember about my mom and our family,” Cannady reminisced.
Through her experience raising her grandchildren, Cannady realized there’s no place for grandmas like her to come together for community and fun. So not only does Cannady’s home serve as a community hot spot three times a year, but also a place for grandmothers raising children to reconvene.
“I think about 9/11 and how all of us came together,” Pastor R.J. Rivers expressed at Love Train. “It took a tragedy to do that. But we’re here today.”
He felt Love Train is what the South End needs to bring the community together.
Sitting along the driveway of Cannady’s place was Ayanna Brown. When she’s not driving a bus, Brown is running the Alajawan Brown Foundation, created in memory of her son who died in 2012. Alajawan was riding the bus when he was caught in between a shootout between rival gangs.
To Brown, the Love Train allows people to talk who might not have otherwise ever met.
“We need to make sure Skyway’s not forgotten,” she said. “Any time there’s a shooting it makes the headlines but stuff like this doesn’t.”
Alajawan was the youngest of Brown’s children, and the spitting image of his mother. People can donate to the Alajawan Brown Scholarship at AlajawansHands.com to help youth participate in sports, camps, and other life-enhancing events they might otherwise miss because of financial restrictions.
“Take nothing for granted,” Brown said. “Don’t assume the people you love know that you love them. It could always be the last time. Don’t miss those opportunities.”
Before Alajawan got on the bus, his mother texted him “I love you.” One hour and 23 minutes later he was gone. Brown says she misses even the annoying things her son did, like leaving crumbs everywhere and never screwing on the lid to a peanut butter jar because that was always his food of choice.
Both Brown and Cannady go out of their way to make sure the community they live in is well-supported and deeply connected. This is the Skyway they know.
Kelsey Hamlin is a freelance reporter with various Seattle publications. Nearly finished with her University of Washington undergraduate career, she’ll graduate with interdisciplinary Honors, a B.A. in journalism and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Hamlin served as President and VP for the UW’s Society of Professional Journalists over the past two years. She is currently looking for more work! Please find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see more of her articles on her website.
featured photo by Kelsey Hamlin