by Lauryn Bray
Under bright skies and flowing music, food stands, and an emcee introducing a steady flow of performances, nearly 2,000 people filled the plaza and grounds of the Rainier Beach Community Center at Rainier and Henderson on Saturday.
After 20 years, the family-friendly Back2School Bash, where backpacks and school supplies are distributed, has grown to become a ritual for the Rainier Beach community, like a harvest festival in the city that signifies abundance, creativity, and a fresh start to a brand-new school year.
The annual event, occurring at the end of every August, is centered around preparing children for the new school year by providing them with the necessary supplies to succeed in the classroom.
Gregory Davis, managing strategist at Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC), says the Back2School Bash was born from a community development training that took place 20 years ago between five organizations in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.
“[One of the] requirements of going into that training was to then survey people in the neighborhood. When we surveyed, we asked young people if they felt connected to their school and they generally said, ‘No.’ We talked to residents and we asked if they felt connected to their communities, and they generally said, ‘No.’ So, as a group, we came up with some strategies to [address this],” explained Davis.
“One of the strategies that we determined that we would do is to provide education supplies to students and resources to parents. And we called it the Back2School Bash,” said Davis. “So you can see now, 20 years later, that’s still what this neighborhood is about in terms of trying to inspire our young people to value their education, but also to support parents with the resources they need to support their families.”
Long lines of families waited patiently as they registered and then lined up for backpacks and supplies available to elementary, middle, and high school students. A total of 1,500 people registered for the backpack giveaway at this year’s Back2School Bash, which also hosted 55 vendors. The vendors, which surrounded the plaza with awnings, all offered different resources for families. Community Health Plan of Washington was there offering to register people with health insurance. Neighborhood House, an organization that helps connect families in need with social services, was passing out resources to assist parents with talking to their children about substance abuse. Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands was passing out vegetables while also spreading the word about its upcoming Farm Fest on Sept. 16. Rainier Valley Food Bank was also there informing families about the services it provides for families, like food, diapers, and baby formula, as well as housing and financial support.
Representatives from Bellwether Housing were there to spread awareness about their new affordable housing building in Rainier Beach that is set to lease up next month. The new building will provide 182 new apartments for individuals and families. Bellwether Housing accepts Section 8 vouchers and all other forms of government assistance. It also provides services for residents including but not limited to: DSHS services, rental assistance, financial planning, and mental health and addiction-treatment services.
As vendors connected parents with resources, children who were done waiting in line for their backpacks partook in the event’s festivities. Face painting and balloon animals were provided by Glitterbuggie Entertainment, while kids also had the choice to get their hair done either at the Father and Sons Together (FAST) Barbershop Chat, Chew, and Play, or at the Liberated Village and King County Best Starts for Kids hair salon. After getting their hair braided, girls were also welcomed to get their nails painted next door.
“We added the beauticians, the nail [technicians], and the braiders this year because somebody said last year, ‘You got barbers but you don’t have braiders?’” said Danielle Jackson, who has been organizing the Back2School Bash since 2014. This is her last year. “At the end of any event, I do a survey for feedback from the community, and I just add on whatever they’re asking [for] the next year.”
While RBAC’s Back2School Bash aims to prepare children for the school year both educationally and aesthetically, Davis wants people to know that the goal to lift up the voice of the Rainier Beach community is the sole intention that birthed the event’s entire legacy.
“We’re still holding true to that original, foundational charge that we’ve gotten from the community,” said Davis, “to inspire people towards their education, and to give residents a voice about what happens in their communities. That’s what this represents: that response to the hopes and dreams of the young people.”
Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.
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