Cinema Verite: The Real Stars Aren’t on the Screen, They’re in the Seats

by Devin Chicras

Fade in: Interior, Skyway VFW, late July. West Hill residents pour single file into the basement for a community meeting called to address the growing concern for public safety in the wake of a recent spike in gun violence – including one memorable incident where two groups exchanged dozens of rounds across the main street, injuring six.

One woman is overheard mentioning “it’s a good thing it’s still light outside, or I wouldn’t have came. Not safe to be out here at night”. Older gentleman over her right shoulder nods in agreement.

They’re not alone. While the level of violence was analogous to many other surrounding areas, many residents and businesses had seriously considered moving out of the area, the tension and anxiety was palpable and online discussion was exploding. On top of an already difficult situation, we had just lost our beloved Storefront Deputy, someone many looked up to and regarded as a change maker in our community with his compassionate community policing model. He had given us hope, and now many felt lost.

If you had watched the news coverage of the meeting you would have assumed that it was entirely about how devastated the community was about Deputy Barnes’ departure. What you didn’t see was that the majority of the event was actually dedicated to brainstorming solutions to crime, and specifically, gun violence among youths. What the cameras didn’t catch was the incredible energy, empathy and problem solving that our neighbors brought to the meeting. Some mentioned that they wanted to do something for their community, but they seemed to be waiting for some direction.

I was in the crowd that night. I didn’t have a grand solution to end the violence. As a board member of the nonprofit, volunteer-run West Hill Community Association (WHCA) I felt inclined to focus on the positive side of our neighborhood and shared a list of opportunities for folks to get involved and contribute to a safer, more vibrant neighborhood – from work parties, annual cleanups and ways to get connected to neighbors, to an upcoming event called Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

I (among others) made a similar speech at an earlier WHCA meeting immediately following the police captain’s update on the recent major shooting (and neighbors asking what they could do about it) but the camera also stopped rolling after they had gotten the footage they came for, lest they complicate their neat paradigm of Skyway as lawless, crime-ridden area – a stigma perpetuated by the media which has not only been embedded in the consciousness of those that do not dare visit Skyway for fear of their own safety, but also in that of our very own neighbors. It breeds mistrust and serves to further isolate an area that already suffers from a severe lack of resources due to its unincorporated status and creates major challenges in building unity and expanding communication within our richly diverse, wonderfully unique neighborhood.

Two days after that public safety meeting – just two days after hearing folks say they wouldn’t want to be caught on the streets after dark – the 14th season of Skyway Outdoor Cinema kicked off behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue South to an all time record crowd.

Myself and Mary Goebel served as the two lone volunteer organizers of WHCA’s Skyway Outdoor Cinema, and we’d worked all year, but still SOC2had much to do just before the opening day. The majority of expected funding had fallen through, and the timing couldn’t have been worse as by last season we had already doubled the crowds with a complete re-brand, expanded marketing efforts and a comprehensive overhaul of the whole event. Our ultimate goal was to continue making the event sustainable by securing sponsors and purchasing our own equipment, rather than renting.

To that end, we decided that we needed our own A/V equipment. While a grant from King County covered a bit less than half of an all-in-one unit we intended to buy, we were still about $4k short. So we turned to the community. We started an Indiegogo campaign, uploaded a silly but heartfelt video and put our fate in the hands of our neighbors. We didn’t have much money available to rent equipment, so the stakes were high. We received an incredible response, and in less than a month, we surpassed our goal by a total of 9%, thanks to some amazingly generous folks.

Similarly, calls for volunteers were met with responses from some of the kindest, most hard-working folks I’ve ever met.

As the emcee for the event, I needed some impromptu volunteers to help raffle off prizes after the film. The request had barely finished transferring from the mic to the speakers when a sea of tiny hands shot up. I quickly selected a group of children at random – not immediately realizing that some couldn’t have been much older than six or seven – to help hold the prizes up, spin the raffle drum, draw tickets and call out numbers over the microphone in front of hundreds of people. I have rarely seen the level of professionalism shown by these tiny humans displayed by fully grown adults. I’ve now repeated the same process over three nights with a completely different group of kids each time, with the same exact result.

We had no idea how many people would show up after seeing all of those negative news stories. We didn’t expect 300 attendees, from babies to seniors, to show up at a 7-Eleven in Skyway and stay until 11pm on a Friday night in August. And we certainly didn’t expect whole families to flock to Skyway of all places from Redmond, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way and beyond.

While there may be some people that are quick to write us off, we are a community of leaders and compassionate supporters, who are simply searching for an opportunity to get involved. Something special is happening here in Skyway, and I think it’s only getting started.


Skyway Outdoor Cinema is showing “Frozen” for its final event of the season is this Friday, 8/22 behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Ave. S. & 76th Ave. S. Preshow fun runs from 8-9pm, with a free prize wheel, silly photo booth featuring Olaf the snowman made out of balloons and a free ticket for the raffle after the film. Concessions range from 50-75¢, so bring all the change in your couch cushions. Don’t forget to bring your own chair, beanbag, blanket or picnic table. Princess costume optional.

History and Heritage: The Community Comes Out to Othello Park to Celebrate Heritage

Editor’s Note: History and Heritage is a new column focusing on South Seattle’s storied past.

by Virginia H. Wright, Director of the Rainier Valley Historical Society

Somali Dancers 2
Lion Dancers enthrall festival goers.

Purchased and constructed in 1977 by the Seattle Parks Department, Othello Park has not been around nearly as long as some of the other parks in Rainier Valley. But in one of our oral histories, we recorded a reminiscence from Karleen Pederson-Wolfe, from her ’50s childhood living next to the area that later became the park. The following was excerpted from an interview conducted on November 14, 2001.

“We had a nice little stream that came through.  Across the street was a pond where I used to collect polliwogs and just wade in the water with boots on.  I couldn’t wait for the winter when it was ice and I could go play on the ice. Othello Park was right here across the street and everyday my dad would take the cows out here and he’d stake them. He had a big iron stake. He’d put it out and they’d graze in Othello Park during the day.”

These days Othello Park doesn’t have any neighbors sending their cows over to graze, but last Sunday, August 17th, 2014, at the Othello Park International Music & Arts Festival, there was a camel, a pair of baby goats, and a few other animals on hand to encourage kids to come out for the event. A varied array of people from the surrounding areas flooded the park, where they were able to visit the booths selling merchandise and presenting information from local organizations, including Rainier Valley Historical Society. At our booth, we had a display of ’70s photographs by local photo-journalist Denis Law, which included photos from Jimi Hendrix’ funeral procession. Visitors to our booth were very interested in seeing the photos, and reading the corresponding articles on our display board which were reproduced from our archives of issues of the Beacon Hill News and South District Journal. The event provided us with an opportunity to talk to people about their experiences living in Rainier Valley and their memories of the park itself. People talked about how much it been improved over the past few years, with the overgrown hills of blackberries being replaced by comfortable grassy hillsides.

We also had the good fortune to be able to see demonstrations of local heritage and culture, from the lion dance put on by Vietnamese group Au-Lac Vovinam Lion Dancers, to a group of Oaxacan dancers in white dresses balancing candles on their heads, a demonstration of South Indian Bhangra, to a group of Somali dancers, and even a group of very talented young tap dancers.

The Othello Park Alliance puts on the festival, as part of the annual Rainier Valley Culture Fest weekend, which also includes the Heritage Parade down Rainier Avenue, which we participated in the previous day.

Rainier Valley Historical Society is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of our area, and we are also tasked with recording the activities and displays of culture in our current communities, as a way to show future generations what the Valley was like before their own time.

The Collaboratory: Rich Soil for Social Change

by Robin Boland


John Collab
Co-Founder John Helmiere speaking to Collaboratory members.

The Collaboratory ( ), quietly blooming on the corner of Rainier Ave S. and S. Orcas Street, is, even in its infancy, an enormous idea. South Seattle is indeed fertile ground for the seeds of change being sown by founders John Helmiere and Ben Hunter.

Open for only 6 months and already achieving its intended goals of building community and equipping change makers, the Collaboratory was originally envisioned as an “Incubator for Social Change”. Composed of co-work office spaces, the Mixing Chamber (a large, open, multi-purpose area), a learning kitchen, backyard community garden and drop-in center the Collaboratory is serving the community’s needs in a variety of ways. Perhaps the rarest aspect of the endeavor lies in its self-defining nature.

Non-profit organizations, start-ups and individuals join the Collaboratory as co-work partners, utilizing the essential office resources of a mailing address, conference room & office equipment. Additionally this space serves as a gallery for artists to display their available work. The Learning Kitchen, currently under construction, will offer cooking classes and other educational resources devoted to feeding a diverse community, focusing on healthy, local food fit for many palates. The backyard garden, which is open to all, hosts a community BBQ every Sunday.

The Mixing Chamber area, available both for one time or ongoing events, hosts a monthly featured artist’s exhibit as well as a variety of social justice organizations, neighborhood groups and community gatherings. Continuing use of the space or close proximity to the Collaboratory earns partners a special rate for use of this resource. Drop-in hours in the Mixing Chamber are from 10-2 on weekdays. This is a time when all are welcome and invited to have a hot meal (offered daily), peruse the free library, or obtain toiletries and household goods as needed. This is also an ideal time to meet with Collaboratory staff, discuss opportunities and get a feel for the environment of community connection.

Overall, the Collaboratory is the very embodiment of partnership. It is an environment built of our community’s experiences, goals and best intentions. One hopes that it continues to flourish, blossoming in the rich soil our area provides.

Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and often is referred to as “little bird” by her friends who have heights over 5 ft 7

Rainier Beach Counterpunch

by Gregory Davis

G. Davis PhotoRainier Beach is a neighborhood full of vitality that random isolated shootings of buildings and potshots by naysayers cannot detract from. For the record…crime is down in Rainier Beach and education is up.  Re crime – Since September 2013 dozens of us have been reviewing SPD, Metro and Sound Transit crime statistics and it has decreased by 30%. Re education – the students, parents, volunteers and educational leaders in our neighborhood are closing the achievement and social gap slowly but surely. We are proud of Keisha Scarlett Washington State 2014 Middle Level Principal of the Year (South Shore PK-8), Barbara Moore the recipient of the 2014 Thomas B. Foster Award for Excellence (South Lake High School) and Dwane Chappelle who is leading an inspiring International Baccalaureate Program not to mention the three times state boys basketball champs (Rainier Beach International High School). Let me take the time to also give a shout out RBIHS’s Cheer squad and PTSA ….they gets no love but I am giving it here….how about that Marvette and Rita?). Principals Anitra Pinchback Jones (Rainier View), Winifred Todd (Dunlap) and Farah Thaxton, (Emerson) are also quality educators. We would do well as a neighborhood in sending our children to learn in the environments these fine citizens have created.

Oh and contrary to public opinion we are organized in Rainier Beach. Focused work is occurring on a number of fronts that’s raising the quality of life in our neighborhood. Our organizing got us property from Seattle Parks and turned it into an urban farm (The Friends of Rainier Beach urban farm and Wetlands Project). A $2 million dollar capital campaign is underway with fundraising going according to schedule. Our organizing (A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth Community Taskforce) earned us a $1 million Byrne Justice Department grant to Rainier Beach to do hotspot research as a strategy to reduce crime, particularly among youth. This is why we know crime is down… and we are soon to let out cash money for ideas that are interventions to the crime that is occurring in the RB.

Our organizing (Rainier Beach Moving Forward) helped create a neighborhood driven plan, with the City’s help (believe it or not there are some folk who don’t like that) that has ideas for equitable development intended to create race and social justice in our neighborhood for example – A Food Innovation District – a geographic zone surrounding the Rainier Beach Light Rail Station that will leverage the agricultural industry the urban farm creates with education and business incubation opportunities.

Our organizing (Rainier Beach Community Center Advisory Council) got us a beautiful new community center and even though no local jobs came of it, we will turn that around by our organizing for a target local hiring ordinance (Target Local Hire Coalition). A report with recommendations for this should get to City Council by June or July. Did you know that of the $250 million in city construction contracts in 2012/13 only 7% of the workers on those projects lived in Seattle.

Our transit justice organizing (Sage, RB Coalition) forced Metro to look at its bus service cuts through a race and social justice lens. …we were able to engage youth in this initiative as well. They have provided the adults in RB with three great ideas to enhance transportation for our community, one of which is to reduce the distance to 1 mile in order for students to be eligible for a free orca card to go to school. Right now the distance is 2.5 miles which is causing hardships for hundreds of families. One student catching metro/light rail to go to school pays $30/week. For some families with three high-schoolers….ouch.

Sure, there is still work to be done, our immigrant refugee communities still strive to be included, the stop light at Rainier and Henderson is not long enough, we do need to pick up our litter, or CBO’s services can be more coordinated, but, did you know we do have a youth orchestra in Rainier Beach? Did you know the nationally renowned Northwest Tap Connection calls its home Rainier Beach? Did you know Rainier Beach has four distinct business districts not one? Did you know Rainier Beach has more public art installations than any other neighborhood comparable in size? Did you know we have been doing an Artwalk (SEED, Rainier Beach Merchants) for the last three years? Did you know principals, residents and city staff meet once a month to talk about public safety in Rainier Beach. Did you know the RB Mock Trial team killed it the other day at UW?

While I know I am leaving out other fantastic work I hope I am not boring you. On the likelihood that I am I will end by saying this…there are far more people who care about Rainier Beach and are acting to make it a quality place to live than there are those who doubt it or shoot at it. On the chance you are not bored go to This is the only site of its kind in Rainier Valley that brings you real time feeds from other neighborhood sites, not just links. Better yet, join us at our monthly Action Team Meetings (ATM’s) which occur the 4th Thursday of each month at the Rainier Beach Health and Dental Clinic operated by NeighborCare – 6:30 p.m. The topic this month (May 22) is A Place For Everyone – Transportation, Housing and Economic Development in Rainier Beach.  Also be on the lookout for training to be a citizen journalist through the SE Seattle FreedomNet Project were we will be conducting trainings to grow the pool of contributors to the Rainier Beach Newswire, if interested email us at

Counter punch with a right jab (take that with ya) , feint to the left, uppercut….

Two South Seattle Non-Profits Receive Community Awards

by Staff Writer

Two South Seattle area non-profits have received “People Helping People Awards” from Boeing Employee’s Credit Union (BECU).

CIty Fruit
City Fruit’s Terri Iverson receives their People Helping People Award.

Both City Fruit – which is located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood and harvests fruit from residential trees to donate to those who are food insecure – and the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition (RBCEC) received $5000 apiece as a part of BECU’s Community Benefit Award program.

The program asked BECU members to vote for their favorite area non-profits that they felt had made a profound impact within their communities.

City Fruit and the RBCEC received enough nominations to beat out over 500 other Puget Sound area non-profits to be recognized as 2 of only 16 total organizations that were honored for that distinction.

Votes were tallied over a three month period beginning on  May 1st and recipients were honored with a ceremony at the Museum of Flight.

“The People Helping People award from BECU will help City Fruit harvest additional fruit from residential properties and Seattle parks, and in turn, help feed more of our neighbors in need. On an average day, City Fruit harvests around 500 pounds of fruit – pears, plums, and apples – that will go on to feed more than 2,000 families throughout Seattle.” said Catherine Morrison, City Fruit’s Executive Director.

Sunday Stew: Opposites Attract

by Lee Baldinger

opposites attract

Men are hard, women are soft

And that’s not just in bed

Without women

Men become cold, brittle, cruel

Start lookin’ for another guy to duel

Hard needs soft

And soft don’t mean weak

In this dictionary

It’s just another word for unique

Roles can be reversed

But not our nature

Yin and yang

Tears and toys

Flowers and monster trucks

What’s going on?

There’s fifteen per cent more blood flow in a woman’s brain

Women’s brains have more gray matter

Where information processing is done

The male brain is white matter dominant

Meaning more physical action

The male brain possesses fewer neural pathways

To and from the brain’s emotion centers

In one year, a woman can give birth once

In one year, a man can produce enough sperm

To impregnate every single woman on earth

If we gave this science lesson as a test

Everyone would fail it

Even if it were an open book test

Everyone would fail it

Because men and women have different answers

Yin and yang

Tears and toys

Flowers and monster trucks

Is it any wonder the divorce rate is through the roof?

That in most relationships, someone becomes aloof?

But if we see each other as who we actually are

Maybe our behavior won’t seem so bizarre

And we can hit a higher percentage of our shots

Cause we ought to be together

We’ve got to be together

Hard needs soft

And soft don’t mean weak

In this dictionary

It’s just another word for unique

Woman Dies in Mt.Baker House Fire

Seattle Fire Department officials are stating that a woman died after a house fire early this morning in South Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood.

Officials say the woman was unconscious when firefighters rescued her from a second-floor bedroom. They attempted to perform CPR on her but could not revive her. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The fire erupted around 1 a.m. in the 3700 Block of Cascadia Avenue South.

Firefighters were forced to evacuate the home when flames became too dangerous as the blaze entirely destroyed the two-story home.

No one else appeared to be injured.

Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the  fire.

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