by Susan Fried
Andre’ Franklin currently works with the Teen and Young Adult Unit of Seattle Parks and Recreation but back when he was in middle school, in the mid 1990’s, he took advantage of an innovative program started by the Parks Department, the Teen Late Night Program.
Rainier Beach Community Center was the place he and his friends gravitated toward to find positive activities when few alternatives existed. “Definitely growing up it was the place to be. We would meet up and congregate there. It was a safe place for us to go to to keep us out of trouble,” he shares.
As a young teen it wasn’t always easy to find older people he could rely on but the Late Night Program provided an opportunity to be mentored by responsible adults.
“I grew up without a Dad so being able to be around the brothers that worked there gave me some positive role models,” Franklin says. He adds that his best memories of late night “were to be able to fellowship with my friends, in a safe environment but also having relationships with caring adults.”
On December 13, he and dozens of others commemorated those memories at the Rainier Community Center to celebrate 30 years of “saving lives” through the Seattle Parks and Recreation Teen Late Night Program.
Reco Bembry, one of the originators of the program said “it started with a vision and the vision was this, it was just to save lives, that’s it, whatever we could do to save lives.” That vision turned into a place for young people to go at night when they didn’t have anywhere else to go. A place they could play organized sports, learn job skills, access computers or just be with their friends and adults that cared about them.
Assistant Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz pointed out how crucial programs like the Teen Late Night Program were to the community. He emphasized the importance of the kids engaged in the program and how all its adult mentors helped the youth reach their potential. “All of you have a story and your story matters and that’s why all of these adults are here, trying to make sure you reach those dreams, that you take advantage of those opportunities for your future.”
He told the youth to “remember as you continue your legacy, as you continue to be successful in your life, it’s so important to have those adults in your life, your coaches, teachers, community center staff and the officers, they are there to support you.”
The event was a reunion of sorts bringing past Teen Late Night Program staff and attendees together as well as current staff like Andre and the young people they serve. The community also gathered to celebrate the program’s success. The evening included performances by the Diamonds Drill Team, drummers from Garfield High School and a DJ. There was a jobs fair, food and a bunch of activities including dominoes, ping pong, arts and crafts, volleyball, basketball and – probably the most fun for all the generations represented -dodge ball.
Andre’ Franklin has fond memories of the Teen Late Night Program and credits it with helping him become the person he is today. He has taken that experience and become a mentor himself. He currently manages several of the sites where the Late Night Program is held and is continuing the legacy of working with young people in underserved areas of the city.
“One thing to note is that even with gentrification, we’re still holding true to who we’re serving. We serve predominately African American kids and that was the target population in 1989 and the 90’s. And even with gentrification, you’re seeing people sending their kids and grand kids to the program, since they had such a good experience,” Franklin says.
“It’s not a perfect program but it’s definitely a safe haven for people to go to on Friday and Saturday nights, so they have something safe, something productive to do instead of just hanging out.”