All posts by Editor

Editor in Chief of the South Seattle Emerald

Cancer Finally Meets Its Match in Southend Advocate

by Marcus Harrison Green

Ms B
Bridgette Hempstead (right) receives recognition for her work on breast cancer awareness at a recent gala. Photo Credit: Andrew Jones

“It was like a horrible darkness had completely engulfed me, but I couldn’t believe that life was over even though it seemed to be. It had obviously changed drastically,  but I couldn’t allow myself to believe that it was over.”

Bridgette Hempstead grimly recounts the day -19 years ago -she was diagnosed with breast cancer as vividly as if the doctor were standing in her office at Skyway’s Cynthia A. Green Family Center and had just delivered the horrid news mere seconds ago.

At the time she faced what appeared to be certain death with limited knowledge of the disease that now contaminated her body and what resources, if any, were at her disposal to fight it.

Had it not been for her pesky intuition, which led her to insist her doctor perform a mammogram, Hempstead’s cancer would actually have remained undetected  for years, continuing to devour her body’s healthy cells unabated.

“My doctor initially gave me a litany of excuses as to why I didn’t need one as a woman in my mid- thirties. However the main reason she kept coming back to was that because I was African American it was unnecessary for me to worry about breast cancer,” Hempstead says, shuddering as she contemplates the alternate pathway her life could have taken. “I’m just so glad that I followed my intuition and didn’t wait an additional ten years to have one performed like she suggested.”

While it is true that on average African American women are diagnosed less frequently than their Caucasian counterparts, breast cancer stubbornly remains the most common form of cancer  they are stricken with. Just as obstinate is the mortality rate amongst African American women with the disease, which is 41% higher than that of white women.

Reciting these facts typically forces Hempstead into a rage spiral as she feels that the misconceptions about breast cancer and African American women that persists in the medical field mightily contribute to discrepancies in the initial diagnoses and level of care received between white and black women.

“I really think that the media deserves a lot of blame for the unfounded perceptions people have about breast cancer. It wasn’t just my doctor, but, as silly as it sounds now, I even believed that I couldn’t get breast cancer as it only effected white women. It’s unfortunate to see how little that thinking has changed when you talk to many medical professionals,” says Hempstead.


With the confirmation of her cancer detonating this false assumption, Hempstead was sent into a state of shock. Fortunately that disposition lasted only a few days as having two toddlers at home meant limited time for paralysis. So after accepting her plight, the southender decided to do what anyone who has spent a sliver of time in the presence of the woman whose grandchildren affectionately call her Daboo knows is as characteristic of her as unabashed narcissism is of Kanye West – she got going.

“Giving up wasn’t an option for me. I’m a person who believes that everything happens for a reason and I said: Okay you’ve been handed this, but you know what? If I’m going down I’m going down fighting,” says Hempstead, who scoured her native South Seattle area from pillar to post only two days after her cancer was confirmed in a fruitless search of support groups.

“I was facing something that I couldn’t imagine going through by myself, and I knew that there had to be others out there in the southend who were dealing with something similar. I just thought that it was a grave injustice that all the resources for cancer victims seemed to be on the other side of the I-90, which included the best doctors, medical staff, counselors, and pretty much everything that communities of color rarely have equal access to, which honestly is the main reason that black woman have such a high death rate from breast cancer.”

The facts would seem to square with Hempstead’s assessment, as the Susan G Komen Foundation- the United State’s largest breast cancer organization- cites a lack of access to adequate health care, and infrequent doctor visits as factors that contribute to poor prognoses and late stage detection in African American women.

Already facing a daunting battle for her life coupled with radiation treatments that, as she puts it, left her feeling like she had been in a 30 round brass knuckle boxing match with Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson taking turns pummeling her into the ground, Hempstead, completely disgusted with what she felt was an inequitable health care system elected to wage another to combat what she felt was an inattentiveness to the needs of women of color in the southend suffering from breast cancer.

Starting off as an informal meetup only two weeks after her diagnoses, she formed Cierra Sisters to function not only as a support group where women in the community could bond around their shared experience, but one that would also eventually provide them with access to top oncologists, and the entire South Seattle community with educational resources that accurately relayed the risks of breast cancer to women of color. The Cierra, in Cierra Sisters, not so coincidentally means knowledge in Swahili.

“People said I was crazy, that I was literally crazy because this community would never be interested in what I was attempting to do, either because of pride in not wanting to admit that they were struggling with cancer or out of indifference. If I had a dollar for every time people told me my little organization would fail Bill Gates would be looking up at me on the Fortune 500.” laughs Hempstead.


During Cierra Sisters’ early years, when Hempstead served in the capacity of “all of the above”, it appeared that the naysayers had been prophetic as the organization was plagued with biblical streaks of bad luck.

“I think about those early days and it was God that really got me through. There were times that everything I was doing seemed so thankless.” recalls Hempstead, referring to situations such as those that saw local groups partner with the adolescent organization for fundraisers, under the auspice that they were raising money for “breast cancer,” only for Cierra Sisters to be completely cut out of any donations collected during the festivities. This after exhausting their meager budget on marketing for the event-most of which came directly out of her own pocket.

Hempstead even received an ornery letter from a foundation, after applying for funding, that stated her, “grant writer was beyond lousy and must only know English as a second language,” which also contained the unsolicited advice that it would be better for Cierra Sisters to cease as a “going concern.”

However, Hempstead- ever drained- maintained optimism that what she was endeavoring would eventually meet success. “I had to ask myself, who was I doing this for? Was it just for me or was it for those women who needed the support. Had it just been for me I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, because it wouldn’t have been worth all the aggravation,” she sighs.

After withstanding a cascade of negativity and setbacks throughout its formative years, the organization could presently not be flying higher, as meetings that once consisted of only Hempstead and a few infrequent stragglers whose primary reason for attending was to partake of the free food offered, are packed with women who have formed an unbreakable kinship with one another, viewing Cierra Sisters as essential “emotional” therapy that coincides with whatever other treatment they might be undergoing.

“Cierra Sisters is my life line to hope, and an example of how humans should support each other. It is very important to have a support system during  time of pain and suffering, but they go beyond that. They’re family to me,” Says Shayla Richardson, a member of Cierra Sisters.

The organization that at one time was told it was flirting with fantasy to ever think it could appeal to African American women has now expanded into a network that spans the country. Its founder has received both national and international honors for her work on breast cancer awareness and is heavily sought for her expertise in developing methods to bring greater focus to the disease in communities of color.


Ms B Africa
Hempstead poses for a photo with her Cierra Sisters.

Hempstead- who recently returned from a speaking engagement in Africa-  is still incredulous that the group that early on barely had enough money to print educational flyers to distribute to the neighborhoods of Othello, Rainier Beach and Skyway, now routinely conducts  informational health workshops in the southend along with their partner organizations, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Swedish Medical Center.

There latest workshop, Families Coming Together: What Sisters Need To Know For our Families Today, precedes national mammography day and will take place this Saturday, October 11th at New Holly Gathering Hall.

“Bridgette just does everything for members of the Cierra Sisters. I’ve seen her accompany survivors to their weekly doctor’s visits, and provide counsel to all who call. She sits on health boards, she flies to other countries to speak out on breast cancer’s effects on black woman.” says Arthur Walker, who has been volunteering with the group since 2005.

Even as she could not be prouder at her organizations ascendance, Hempstead- who despite a couple of scares has been cancer free for the past 7 years- admits that her work can often be emotionally taxing, especially when a Cierra Sister succumbs to the disease.

“Dying prematurely is never fair, for either the person or their friends and family. Last year we had two deaths a month in our group. It was extremely tough to continually have to say goodbye to people you had become so close to,” shares Hempstead.

“Bridgette sat with women as they’ve passed on, flown bodies to other states to waiting families, comforting them once she arrived, and building a bond that last to this day,” adds Walker.


As the organization settles in on 15 years of existence as a non-profit, this month- which just so happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month- may be its most monumental, as not only has it received unprecedented media attention from several media outlets, including KUOW,  KIRO, KOMO and KING 5 news (she will be appearing later today on New Day Northwest), but Cierra Sisters was also named the Seattle Seahawks (yes those Seahawks) charity of the month, with the team bestowing a minimum donation of $20,000 to the southend nonprofit .

However, the biggest honor – at least for any person who self-identifies as a “12th man”- that comes with the distinction is that Hempstead will be singing the national anthem during this Sunday’s game at Century Link Field against the Dallas Cowboys.

“From where we were to where we are…” she  says,wistfully reflecting on the journey that has brought her to where she is today. And even as her dream has finally been actualized, she seems to just be gathering steam.

“In going what I’ve gone through, you learn to look at every day, every single one as if it is a gift. And gifts are things you don’t easily discard. You appreciate them to the fullest. It took me facing death to learn how to live life. I feel mine has just begun!”

Rainier Beach Roams For Jobs

by Gregory Davis


Rainier Beach residents listen to a presentation on how to bring additional jobs to the community.

On September 25th a gathering occurred in Rainier Beach where the talk was about how to create jobs in the neighborhood.  The event was held at the Somali Community Center right off of Renton Avenue South and Henderson Street and hosted by Rainier Beach Moving Forward. Not sure when the last time something like this occurred and I’ve been doing work in RB since 1999.  By all indication the ideas offered up were cutting edge, realistic and in progress.  All told the ideas promised to create over 1,000 local jobs with most of those occurring in the next 18-24 months.  Mind you these ideas were generated by folks doing work in the Rainier Beach neighborhood… better go tell somebody….!

Job creation strategies identified in Rainier Beach for Rainier Beach:

  1. Hold meetings like this on a regular base where report outs of job activity in the neighborhood get made…Authors note: I project that this practice would be good for no less than 10 jobs per year.
  2. For any project that is meant for the people “in an actual sense” talk to those people. Engage the community directly….Author’s note: I project 20 jobs per year from this practice
  3. Have an organization that assists businesses with technical assistance that can help businesses expand….Author’s note: I project 10 jobs per year here
  4. Bring new businesses into the area, that satisfies the desires for goods and services the people in Rainier Beach have….Author’s note: 5 jobs per year
  5. Allow growth to be organic, not predetermined by a public entity, than figure out the roles of the stakeholders (public, private and nonprofits) e.g., government should create the conditions to make it easier for investors to come in and entrepreneurs to thrive…..shall I say…5 jobs
  6. Entrepreneurial Live Work, home based businesses…the investor for this idea projects 36 jobs
  7. The neighborhood must reach a level of subsistence…where subsistence and sustainability cross you will get fully supported systems that will support each other…..I say 5 jobs
  8. Utilize the product innovators in the Rainier Valley and ignite a “maker movement”  where ideation energy and ideation scale are matched…the presenter of this idea says 18 maker shops and 500 jobs
  9. Don’t bring projects to the community unless you are going to hire local people…the coalition organizing around this idea and very close to winning says 500 jobs in 5 years
  10. Retention programs….10 jobs??


That is over 1,000 jobs from ideas from the neighborhood!

Now before you get ahead of yourself and start critiquing these ideas to no end and possibly out of existence, lets first understand these are ideas from people who are actually putting in energy and investments as we speak .  These are not pie in the sky notions. However to bring “reason” to the proceedings  the job creators where asked what are good job creation success measures , here is what they said:

Success measures for job creation in the Rainier Beach neighborhood:

  1. Number of businesses retained…semi-annual reporting
  2. That any physical development is active, bustling, well used, well-loved and financially feasible….15 years after it starts
  3. Race and Social Justice principles are used by the business…annual review
  4. Dollars businesses invested in themselves…annual reporting
  5. Dollars being leveraged and translated into increased profitability and productivity…annual report
  6. The number of jobs in the businesses and number of new jobs…annual report
  7. The increase in the number of small businesses able to produce financial statements and performance reports…annual report
  8. Number of new business attracted to the neighborhood… annual report
  9. Number of live work unites…annual report
  10. Number of maker spaces online and jobs as a result…annual report
  11. Number of jobs through public work projects…annual report

FYI – The organizers of this event Rainier Beach Moving Forward, in coordinating this event, along with Southeast Effective Development (SEED) listened to the neighborhood who said they need to take these events to the people in the neighborhood….thus it being held at the Somali Community Center. So they called this gathering the “roaming RB Town Hall the first in a series.  RBMF is seeking communities of color and immigrant refugee communities to host future “roaming” town halls. Some keen thinking is going on in Rainier Beach. Rainier Beach is a cool place. Stay tuned ! Go to to read who the idea/job generators are.

Written by Gregory Davis, Chair Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition and member of RBMF Steering Committee.

Emerald in the Rough: Arm Yourself

By Cindi Laws

Special to the South Seattle Emerald

It’s rough out here. But people aren’t protecting themselves with their best weapon. Not only are people the world-over dying to have access to this weapon, people in this country are dying because the weapon isn’t being used.

The weapon? The Vote.

It’s getting a lot of attention lately. Not enough attention, in my opinion, because it is indeed a matter of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Or at least a matter of life and death.

48 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, last year the US Supreme Court severely weakened this landmark legislation. Since that time, red state after southern state enacted limitations and barriers to prevent people from voting. Those most affected are, of course, the poor and people of color. It is an outrage that the same country ostensibly led by those fighting for democracy planet-side watch gleefully while hundreds of thousands of African Americans are culled from voter lists. Presidential aspirants claim allegiance to the myth of voter fraud in celebration of such discriminatory actions.

But the real tragedy, the appalling, horrifying, head-slapping, the what-the-HELL-are-you-thinking Act of Idiocy, is that tens of millions of American Citizens let this happen because they don’t vote. They don’t even register to vote. And when that happens, shit happens.

Ferguson, Missouri. You’ve watched the video. Heard the heartbreak. And while political and partisan divisions are rife throughout the country, the greatest division is that which comes between the voting population and those who are elected. Those who cast their vote hire the police chief, the city prosecutor, judges. Ferguson is 67% African American, yet the mayor and five of six city councilmembers are not. In Ferguson, only 6% of African Americans actually cast ballots in that last election for mayor and councilmembers. Six is the age a first-grader learns that they have rights in this country. It should not be the percentage of people who cast ballots.

As the Federal Department of Justice investigation of Seattle police actions under different mayors and police chiefs indicate, shit happens here in Seattle too. In 2013, voters city-wide had enough of Mayor Mike McGinn’s obstructionism in regards to the DOJ’s decree and demand for police reform. They tossed him out of office. But voters in the Rainier Valley overwhelmingly supported McGinn’s re-election. Say wha….??

These past few years, there has been great “discomfort” in the Rainier Valley with many of the actions of City leaders, whether it is in zoning and other land decisions, transit and transportation issues, proposals to increase rents in public housing, and more. People are posting and protesting. People are screaming or stalking out of meetings in silent disgust. People are fomenting and frothing about this action or that apparent inaction. But what people are NOT doing is voting.

According to the Washington Redistricting Commission, each legislative district holds 137,235 residents (that’s the state’s population of 6.7 million divided as evenly as possible into 49 legislative districts. But here’s a problem: only 58% (80,710) of our people in the 37th LD are registered to vote. In comparison, a whopping 74% of those in the 36th LD, which includes Queen Anne, Magnolia and Ballard are registered to vote. Any guesses why they get attention from city leaders?

It gets worse. Fewer than 25,000 people in our district voted in the August primary. 30% of registered voters. But the math works out so that just 17.7% of the people who live here cast ballots.

But wait. There’s more. Census figures show that 25% of the entire population in the Southest Seattle area is African American. Yet fewer than 5% of our registered voters are African American. And those who cast ballots? Do the math. We are far, far worse off than Ferguson. Similar patterns are spread across many of our racial groups.

But the good people of Ferguson have armed themselves. They are gathering the most important weapons in this country. Since Michael Brown was murdered on August 9, voter registration booths have sprung up throughout the city and surrounding neighborhoods, registering nearly 3,500 people in a town of 21,000.

Southeast Seattle: arm yourselves. Use your weapon.

Register to vote online before midnight October 6, 2014 at

Or, register to vote at the counter up until Monday, October 27 in person at King County Elections, 919 Southwest Grady Way in Renton, and.

Don’t yell. VOTE. It scares the Hell out of those who want to take away your rights.

Cindi Laws is a resident of the Rainier View neighborhood and a long-time activist. 

Seahawks’ Game Day Prediction

by Clint Elsemore

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Fresh off the bye week and still feeling good emerging with an overtime win against Denver, our Seahawks now prepare for another primetime game on Monday night against the seemingly lowly Washington football team.

Washington features a strong running game behind Alfred Morris, and an inexperienced quarterback in Kirk Cousins who has had extreme highs and lows in the three games he has played this year.   Washington is coming off a blowout loss to their division rivals in New York with Cousins throwing 4 interceptions and losing a fumble.  They are dealing with key injuries along their offensive line, and in their defensive backfield making this seem like quite a mismatch on paper.  As a Seahawk fan I still do see cause for concern.  The primary reason is the Seahawks propensity to start slowly and struggle on the road.  They lost both of their preseason contests on the road, and lost their only road game to the Chargers in week 2, meaning their last road win occurred in 2013.  Offensively Washington has the ability to run the ball consistently if the game remains close, and has quality receivers in Garcon and Jackson on the outside.  They also expect to get back possibly both of their extremely athletic tight ends in Reed and Paul adding to their skill position weapons.

On defense Washington does a good job stopping opposing running games and can bring 3 quality rushers to get after the quarterback in Kerrigan, Orakpo, and Hatcher.  They struggle mightily in coverage however with inexperience at cornerback, safety, and linebacker.  This has led to them getting beat for big plays down the field and struggling to cover opposing tight ends in the passing game.

The time off will serve the rested and relatively healthy Seahawks well as they face a challenging road opponent.  This team gets up for primetime though, and I expect the offense to score early and often.  Building a two score lead in the first half makes Washington one dimensional and forces Cousins to take chances in the 2nd half down the field.  I expect the LOB to emerge with two picks and the line to sack Cousins at least 3 times.  On offense Russell and the wide receivers have big days passing for over 300 yards and accounting for three scores.  Marshawn is partially held in check on the ground, but has another strong game through the air reaching 100 total yards and still crossing the goal line one time.

Final game prediction: Seahawks 34 Washington Football Team 17

Sunday Stew: Democracy

by Matt Sedillo

Carival of Democracy Richard Habal
Democracy by Richard Habal

If a tree falls in the forest

And no one is there to hear it

Does it make a sound

If a ballot falls in a box

And no one knows

What they are voting for

Does it really count

What happens to a dream deferred

To justice deterred

To life

When it becomes impossible to live it

I don’t want to know

Because I want more than a vote

I want to be a participant


I want to live in a free country

A democracy

Where hate speech

Doesn’t pass for freedom


No one has to turn to crime

To feed their children

If you were to put

A measure on a ballot

I would vote for democracy

I want the same things as anyone

And i want them for everyone

I want to live in a free country

A democracy

Not with over two million

Locked in cages

Or millions more

Pushed into the street

Where as Ferguson shows

You cant even surrender

To police

One nation

Under ghetto birds

And terror copters

Locking down children

At the border

Cutting off


From their water

While cutting lunch programs

To drop bombs on Iraq

I dont want to live like that

I want to live in a free country

A democracy

What happens to a dream deferred

To justice deterred

To life

When it becomes impossible

To live it

If you don’t know who you are

You can never know your power

You dont know who you are

But you will soon find out

Let your voice be heard

And may it finally count

This Weekend In South Seattle: Birthday Time for the Collaboratory and “Bazaar” Backstreets

Events this weekend in the South Seattle area


Friday, October 3rd

Movies: Opening of Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck showtimes 12:30pm, 2:45pm, 7:15pm, 9:30pm @The Ark Lodge 4816 Rainier Avenue South. More Info:

Community: VFW Meat Raffle from 4 to 7pm @ Skyway VFW Hall 7421 S. 126th St Seattle, WA 98178. More Info: email

Community: Hillman City Collaboratory First Anniversary Party and Fundraiser beginning at 6:30pm @ The Collaboratory: 5623 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle, WA. More Info:

Music:  The Georgetown Orbits (Reggae) show begins at 8:30pm@ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:


Saturday, October 4th

Community: Tortilla Making Classes  begins at 11:00am @ El Centro De La Raza: 2524 16th Avenue South Seattle 98144. More Info:

Community: Detective Cookie’s Urban Chess Club with Pro Chess Instructor H.R.Pitre. From 12:00pm – 2:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center: 8825 Rainier Ave South Seattle. Ages 7 and Older. More Info: 206-650-3621 (Detective Cookie)

Music:  Kristin Chambers (Soul) show begins at 9:00pm@ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:



Sunday, October 5th

Music: Backstreet Bazaar Community Hang begins at 6:00pm @ The Collaboratory: 5623 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle, WA.  More Info:

Music: Roosevelt High School Jazz Band show begins at 6:30pm @ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:

If you have an event to post, please email



Humor Sauce: Fall Into Fall

by Mike Primavera

I’m glad summer is dead. I know that sounds harsh, but you should be too. From summer’s rotting corpse comes fall, my favorite season of all. Here are some reasons to rejoice with me:

Pumpkin spice my life

Lattes, candles, even Oreo jumped on the bandwagon. And why not? People like to trash talk pumpkin spice because it’s so “in your face” this time of year, but guess why? Because it’s delicious! I love pumpkin spice. Can’t get enough of it. They’ve been pumpkin spicing everything this year but I want more. Pumpkin spice deodorant. Pumpkin spice iPhones. I want pumpkin spice Xzibit to pumpkin spice my ride so I can drive it all the way to eggnog season.

It’s finally cooling off

Seattle isn’t built for the heat. Not enough places have air conditioning. Give me my flannel, jeans, and boots: official uniform of the Pacific Northwest. Most importantly of all: no more flip-flops. I don’t care to wear them personally, but moreover I don’t care to see other people’s toes. Especially dudes. No one wants to see you bro out with your toes out, Chad. Make those little piggies wee-wee-wee all the way home.

Return of the rain

After a very dry summer we should all welcome the rain back with open arms. Sure, it rains a lot in Seattle and makes everyone collectively drive 30 mph on the freeway, but without the rain the hipsters would never get wet. They obviously aren’t showering. Let the rain do its job. As the great Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park, “Nature finds a way.”


The only time littering is okay is when the trees do it. Oranges, reds, and browns turn this city into an autumnal kaleidoscope of beauty. Summer just can’t compete with that. So go put on your long pants, jump in a pile of leaves, and save your Grinching for winter. Summer is dead and it’s not coming back; well, until next year.

I know the grey can get people down and us Seattleites have to enjoy every bit of sunshine we get, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate the fall for what it is. Pumpkin spice everything, covered feet, cleanish hipsters, and above all else, it showcases this beautiful part of the country we are all lucky enough to live in. Happy fall, everyone.

City Fruit: Combating Southend Food Insecurity An Apple at a Time

by Marcus Harrison Green

Volunteer Dave Beeman picks plums to add to City Fruit's harvest.
Volunteer Dave Beeman picks plums to add to City Fruit’s harvest.

If an apple falls from a tree in the city and there is no one around to pick it up and eat it, should you squeeze out even a granular amount of compassion for the pathetic plight of the neglected fruit? To this riff on the age old philosophical thought experiment that has plagued anyone with the mixed blessing of having attained a liberal arts degree, those associated with South Seattle’s City Fruit would answer an emphatic, “Yes,” though probably with considerably coarser language.

Located in Beacon Hill’s El Centro De La Raza, the urban fruit harvesting non-profit has spent the past six years ensuring that all unused fruit grown from trees in the greater Seattle area – which just so happens to be the United State’s largest urban orchard- is given a shot at landing in the bellies of the community’s food insecure.

With 1 in 5 children in the King County area currently going hungry at night- the ratio is slightly greater in South Seattle neighborhoods- City Fruit’s mission could not seem more relevant, as with inequality presently serving as verbal cheese- instantaneously transforming the drab into intriguing as long as it’s strewn with liberal amounts of the stuff- food disparities within communities conspicuously often only rates a minor mention in the discourse, something that the organization’s Executive Director, Catherine (Kate) Morrison, knows all too well.

“There’s the calorie dense things that people eat that aren’t necessarily good for you, so we fight food insecurity because we’re providing food for people who need it. We also fill the gap for those food desert areas, all while doing it in a culturally sensitive and community focused way,” she says.

Morrison is speaking to the fact that even in areas that are not technically food deserts- meaning that there is at least one convenience store or small grocer located within a reasonable proximity- many families, in making a paycheck stretch to the bounds of breaking, are forced to purchase cheap, high calorie foods that often have less nutritious content than the material they’re packaged in.

For some South Seattle families who struggle to feed a family of four, the joke about living off of Top Ramen noodles, Kool-Aid and processed macaroni and cheese is a lived reality. It’s one of the many reasons that City Fruit’s popularity in the area has taken off like a lit firework.

“Every single time someone hears about us and what we do, people automatically light up,” says Brian Mickelson, City Fruit’s Development Manager.

Though tackling food insecurity is at the forefront of its mission, the organization – founded in 2008 by Beacon Hill resident Gail Savina- may actually serve as the motherload to bleeding heart do-gooders everywhere, as it crosses off just about every “must have” on their fantasy Christmas list:

Community Beautification? The organization works with local tree owners to salvage fallen fruit that has piled up around their residences, many times creating both an “eyesore” and an impediment for pedestrians.

Local Residents Benefited?  As they serve the South Seattle haunts of Seward Park, Rainier Beach, Mount Baker, Columbia City and Beacon Hill (with possible expansion into Skyway) the majority of the fruit they harvest is distributed to daycares, schools, lunch programs and food banks within those neighborhoods.

Environment? Fret not Sierra Club card carriers and proud Prius lessees (or should I say all Seattleites…), in a world where eating local means living in New York while choosing an apple from Washington over a comparable one from Argentina, all of the fruit they harvest is distributed within the state of Washington. Even that which is not suitable for donation ends up in the restaurants of Chef Extraordinaire, Tom Douglas.

Employs Locals? While the organization utilizes volunteers, the majority of their fruit harvesters are actually paid staff who come directly from the neighborhoods City Fruit serves.

But okay, says the still unconvinced cynic, with the free fruit they’re giving away these maniacal fruit loving fanatics must of course be undercutting the local area Farmer’s Markets? No, actually. The organization goes out of its way not to distribute at local markets – not only to make sure to not impinge on local growers, but to also guarantee that the fruit they harvest remains in the confines of the 206 area code.

“We always want to make sure that our food is either in a food bank the same day or the next day and not sitting in anyone’s car, although I do have 60 lbs of Apples in mine.  But those are cooking Apples,” jokes Morrison, as she readies for the organization’s 4th annual Hard Cider Taste to be held November 6th at the Palace Ballroom.

“We’re something that citizen philanthropists can get behind full bore, because they have this stuff in their backyard,” says Mickelson. “They see all that’s going to waste, and the more fruit they can grow, the more efficient and targeted we can be. There’s a ton of room for collaboration with the community.”

It’s this hope for collaboration with the citizens of South Seattle that the still ripening non-profit hopes will allow them to reach their audacious goal: ensuring no one in the south end community lacks access to nutritious food, regardless of income.

Says Morrison, “My background is in public health, so for me access to healthy food is the foundation of a healthy community. It’s just that simple.”

Seattle’s Universal Pre-K Smackdown

by Sandra Vanderven

Preschool FightThe Seattle Channel hosted a debate last Wednesday between the sponsors of dueling initiatives on Seattle’s ballot in support of access to and quality of pre-kindergarten education.  Both plans start with the worthy goal of improving pre-k.  The choice we face is how to achieve that goal.  We shouldn’t be having to choose between them, because they each address different aspects of early childhood education, and taken together the plans would be complimentary.  Unfortunately, the City opted to put them onto the ballot in competition with one another. The City Council’s (really, Tim Burgess’s) plan privileges educator attainment of official credentials and a mandated curriculum.  The union backed plan seeks to leverage the wealth of experience among practicing professionals.

The situation right now is that the cost of preschool is so high that many families who need it can’t afford it.  At the same time, there isn’t enough money to pay the teachers adequately, so every year, 38% of the workers leave the profession.  Until the new minimum wage kicks in for smaller businesses, the turnover will be even greater, as people will leave to flip burgers instead when it becomes more lucrative.

Burgess’ plan seeks to raise money through a levy to pay for a new department of Early Childhood Education.  This new department will mostly pull people from work they are already doing for the city in that field, causing work disruption and delay, and likely requiring a new layer of management (watch for that, because expenses will go way up).  It will mandate methods used in the classroom for 3 and 4 year olds, and will serve about 200 kids in two years, and 2,000 in four years.  This ballot measure requires preschool teachers to get college degrees.

The union-backed plan doesn’t directly add enrollment capacity.  What it does do is provide access to preschool to more families by lowering tuition costs to no more than 10% of a given household’s income.  The means of paying for this has not yet been determined.  It will also create better conditions for the estimated 30,000 kids already being served from birth to age 5.  One way to do this is to raise the minimum wage sooner for pre-k teachers, so they can afford to stay in the profession, providing a consistent presence for the kids.  Another is by offering a variety of training opportunities accessible through an affordable training academy. In this way, the union backed plan honors the experience of the people who work with kids, and provides them with opportunities to grow professionally in a way that is tailored to meet each teacher’s needs and goals.

At last Wednesday’s early education smackdown, I sat next to former Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell.  He supports Tim Burgess’s initiative, which on the ballot will be labeled 1B.  From chatting with him, I got that he explains away the merits of the union backed initiative (1A) with an attitude that naysayers are gonna naysay.  I didn’t talk to him long enough to get a sense of whether he’s always a democratic establishment guy, but he sure wears their perfume.  The hallmark is a subscription to a smarty pants attitude, as evinced by his statement, “There’s always going to be some group or another ready to oppose a good plan.”  Never mind what the supporters of 1A think, or why.

This debate boils down to people’s a priori beliefs.  Some feel strongly that to support kids we need to support teachers and families.  Others think the answers lie with testing.  The catchword in education for at least the last decade or so has been “outcomes.”  This is an important and productive development.  But making all education conform to standard outcomes would be a mistake.  Here’s why.

Since I am totally objective, you know it is true when I tell you that the best teacher to ever walk the planet happened to work at my high school.  His name was Jerry Elarth.  Elarth was a feral thinker.  Because it was 1984 and no one had put a stop to it yet, he taught a class called Science Fiction and World Philosophy.  I learned more in that class about what it means to be human, and how to continue learning beyond school, than in any other.  What would have happened if that teacher had been hammered by our current obsession with outcomes?  Who could write the test questions that might evaluate what I got out of that class?  Even I couldn’t do that, and if I could, a different set of questions would have to be devised for every student he taught, because we all had a unique experience.

I love science, and I have a healthy regard for all things science-y.  This is how I have come to know that the enemy of science is hubris.  If you are convinced that we are always asking the right questions, then by all means, support Tim Burgess, who positions himself as having science on his side, like a member of a religious sect claiming that God is actually in his corner and no one else’s.  Check this out—if a nurse visits the home of a new, at-risk mom once every two weeks from before birth to age two offering guidance in nurturing, the child’s prospects rocket in all regards.  Significantly more of them graduate from high school, they go to jail in far fewer numbers, get in trouble at school way less, and have higher I.Q.s.  That’s science too, bub!

This all boils down to beliefs.  Do we Seattleites believe that there’s value in supporting teachers in their creative quests to guide students toward richer lives, or do we continue to find ways to standardize education?  Let your beliefs guide you when choosing between the two early education plans.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

This Weekend In South Seattle: Oktoberfest, West Hill Cleans Up, and Othello “Mulches” Ahead

Events this weekend in the South Seattle area


Friday, September 26th

Community: VFW Meat Raffle from 4 to 7pm @ Skyway VFW Hall 7421 S. 126th St Seattle, WA 98178. More Info: email

Music:  Arabona(Funk and Jazz) begins at 8:30pm@ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:


Saturday, September 27th

Community: West Hill Community Association/ West Hill Action Mob Fall Clean Up from 8:30am to 12:00pm @ The Skyway Fire Station:12417 76th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98178 More

Community: Othello Neighborhood Street Mulching Work Party  from 9:00 am – 12:00pm @ 6725 45th Avenue  South Seattle,  WA 98118  More Info:

Children: Story Circle: Animal Legends and Lore w/Susy Irwin and the Wild Puppets starts at 10:00am @ Seward Park Audubon Theater: 5902 Lake Washington Blvd S Seattle 98118. More Info:

Environment : National Public Lands Day begins at 10:00am@ The Amy Yee Tennis Center: 2000 Martin Luther King Jr Way S Seattle 98144  More Info:

Community: Detective Cookie’s Urban Chess Club with Pro Chess Instructor H.R.Pitre. From 12:00pm – 2:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center: 8825 Rainier Ave South Seattle. Ages 7 and Older. More Info: 206-650-3621 (Detective Cookie)

Community: Free Car Seat Inspections begins at 12:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center 8825 Rainier Avenue S Seattle, WA 98118

Community: Oktoberfest from 6:30pm to 9:00pm @ Lakewood Seward Park Community Club: 4916 S Angeline Street Seattle, 98118 More Info:


Sunday, September 28th

Music: Stringtet CD Release Party begins at 8:00pm @ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:

If you have an event to post, please email