37th District State Senate Showdown Set

Election 2014

Pramila Jayapal  and Louis Watanabe will face off against each other for the 37th District’s state senate seat in November’s general election.

After a highly contested primary race that featured six candidates vying to replace the retiring Adam Kline, Jayapal and Watanabe emerged as the top two vote-getters in Tuesday night’s primary election.

With a low voter turnout indicative of most non-presidential year primary elections – Jayapal received 51.25 percent of the vote, to Watanabe’s 17.2 percent.

While Jayapal’s finish within the top two came as no surprise- the human rights activists was deemed the front runner almost as soon as she announced her intention to run – Watanabe – an entrepreneur and business professor from Beacon Hill- had to endure an uphill climb to place second in the race, fending off four other challengers (3 Democrats and 1 Republican) for the position.

The candidate frequently attended crime prevention themed walks in the South Seattle area, and was spotted at several Night Out events leading up to tonight’s results.

“I’m grateful to all the voters in the 37th District who voted for me, and I hope to make them proud come election day.”Watanabe stated.

With unemployment, economic development, and public safety being paramount in the minds of South Seattle voters, and the 37th District housing almost the entire area, Jayapal and Watanabe are sure to engage in a competitive race right up until election day on November 4th.

In Alajawan’s Hands: South Seattle Mother Keeps Her Son’s Memory Alive

by Marcus Harrison Green


Ayanna Brown
Ayanna Brown

“I still talk to him every morning. I say: Mama loves you.” Ayanna Brown shares as she delicately grasp a branch belonging to the Japanese Maple tree she and her husband planted in memory of her son Alajawan.

The 12 year old boy tragically had his life whisked away from him fours years ago walking from a bus stop near the Skyway 7-11 on Martin Luther King Jr Way  and 129th street, when Curtis Walker –  a member of the street gang The Bloods – mistook him for a rival and fired four shots directly at Alajawan. The only one to strike his body punctured his lungs, eventually leaving him dead in one of the convenience store’s parking stalls, just a few feet away from where the tree now flourishes in an adjoining enclosure.

“You know that tree isn’t even supposed to be here, that’s what the woman who dug the hole for it said. It’s some sort of miracle that it’s even there.” She says as she makes her way around the parking lot, retracing the steps from the  last few moments of her son’s life, coming ever closer to where she saw his body laying those four frightful years ago.

What is equally miraculous is how she is able to roam around the parking lot as if it were nothing but an extension of her living room. The site would more than likely trigger a hail of horrendous memories for most in her situation, but Ayanna has become a permanent fixture of the 7-11, so much so that her presence has become as synonymous with the store as its sporadically operational Slurpee machine .

“It says no loitering.” she chuckles, referring to the sign adhered to the store’s main window that is positioned just low enough for the cashier working inside to be able to acknowledge her with a wave and a smile as she journys around the former crime scene.“I’ve never paid any attention to it though.”

These frequent sojourns are her way of keeping connected to Alajawan, as she continues to cope with his passing. The time clock associated with the grief she feels for burying her youngest child, before he barely scratched life’s potential, has no hands attached to it.

“The Fourth of July is torture for me, all the helicopters, ambulances and fire trucks… it all makes me think back to that day when I lost him. My favorite show used to be CSI, but I can’t watch it anymore because of the autopsies. I just see his face every time. It never gets any easier for me. You just try to get acclimated to the feeling that he’s gone the best you can.”

While her son’s loss still haunts her, it also continues to resonate within the community of Skyway where her precocious 12 year old seemed the frontrunner for mayor had his age not prevented him from being electable.

Alajawan Brown

“He gave up his Saturday mornings to tutor younger kids at a math academy. He would feed people he would see outside of the stores begging for food. He would actually go inside the store and buy food for them with his own money, so they would not go hungry. He would save up to buy his own school supplies so that me and his father didn’t have to. He loved Skyway, and said he always wanted to make a difference here” she says as her mind savors nectarous recollections.

While it would have been understandable for her to have departed the area immediately after Alajawan’s death, forsaking it in the wake of tragedy, Ayanna has credited the Skyway Community for gifting her with strength during ghastly times.

“The people of this community have really rallied around me. I believe in the people who live here in the Skyway/West area. As tragic as Alajawan’s death was, I really don’t think any other community or neighborhood anywhere would have given me and my family the love that we received here.”

She realizes the surprise her statement might cause those whose familiarity with the Skyway area is limited to what currently passes for news coverage on the neighborhood.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have our problems, but so does Bellevue. From my own experience, the majority of the (violence and crime) that happens in Skyway is perpetuated by people who don’t live here. They bring their drama from their respective communities and leave the residents here to deal with the consequences and take the blame.”

She hopes to return all the support that she’s received from the community, while keeping her son’s memory alive, via the Alajawan Brown Foundation- operating as Alajawan’s hands- which besides offering tutoring services to area elementary aged children, provides Thanksgiving dinners to those residents who would starve on the holiday, and organizes a back-to- school supply drive that will be kicking off later today at the Sam’s Club in Renton.

In addition, the foundation offers scholarships to those children who would otherwise be unable to participate in youth sporting activities – including football, Alajawan’s favorite sport- because of the often prohibitive fees associated with them. Of all the charitable enterprises that the foundation participates in, it is this offering that Ayanna seems most proud.

“Before he passed away he wanted to play football. The season was four months away and the  fee to participate was $160. Me and his father were going to try to scrape it together, but he told us not to worry about it. He would pay for it himself. The day after he died we found a budget in his room that he had worked out. He had figured out that he had needed to make $40 dollars a month, and he had planned out how many lawns he needed to mow in order to reach his goal.”

“All this work that we’re doing with the foundation is really nothing but continuing on with what he was doing with his life, giving people opportunities that he wanted for himself and others. He would always tell me, ‘Mom, I want to make a difference. That’s my dream, and dreams never die if you don’t let them.” She continues.

“I refuse to let my baby’s memory die. I refuse to allow him to be just another dead black male. He’s not going to be just another statistic as long as I’m breathing.”

As she passes the Japanese Maple one last time before she gets ready to depart from the 7-11 parking lot, only to reconvene there with it again tomorrow, she can’t help but reflect on the trees tenacity. “Yeah, they said that he wouldn’t survive because his roots were too close to the cement in the ground, but  look at him now. He’s thriving anyway!”

If you would like to donate to the Alajawan’s Hands back to school drive you can drop off school supplies today between the hours of 9:00am and 3:00pm  at the Sam’s Club located at 901 S Grady Way, Renton, WA 98057. You can also deposit your school supply donations at any Puget Sound area Wendy’s collection box until August 20th. You can contact Alajawan’s Hands directly at http://www.alajawanshands.com.

Humor Sauce: Drive High, Get a DUI?


by Mike Primavera

On the way home from work I saw a sign above the freeway that read Drive High, Get a DUI. Ok, but how does a cop tell if you’re high? I’m pretty good at hiding it, I fooled my mom for years. After a little research I learned the police have no on the spot test to prove someone was under the influence of marijuana while driving. The standard field sobriety test is given regardless of what they suspect you’re under the influence of. This is ridiculous. Being high and being drunk are on two opposite ends of the spectrum, therefore should require an adjusted field sobriety test, which I have provided for you below.

The standard field sobriety test is broken into 3 parts:

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (The Pen Test)

That’s right. Nystagmus. No, it’s not a Harry Potter spell. Nystagmus is the bouncing of the eyes when they’re all the way to the right or left. This is what the police officer is looking for when they have you follow the pen.

 Adaptation: Pretty much the same test, only the officer uses a RedVine (or if you’re a disgusting degenerate, a Twizzler) and drags it across your lips. If you don’t take a nibble you pass.

The One-Leg Stand

Stand on one leg and say the alphabet. Be honest, could you do this sober? Balancing is hard and that LMNOP part of the alphabet song is no picnic either.

 Adaptation: This test is stupid so I’m throwing it out completely. You want to catch a stoner? Show them a cat .gif and see how long they voluntarily watch it. More than 5 times through? You’re under arrest, Cheech.

The 9 Step Walk and Turn

9 steps, heel-to-toe, turn, 9 steps back. During this little runway walk the cop is checking for balance and judging your outfit.

 Adaptation: Again, same test, only you have to tell the officer a story while you walk. If you can’t get to the point by the end of the 18 steps, you’re higher than angel sandals.

All joking aside, if you get pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, deny everything and get a good lawyer. They have no way to prove it. However, I beg all of you to reconsider ever getting behind the wheel while stoned. I can forgive an 80 year old woman driving 30mph on the freeway, but not you Stoney Bologna. Stay home and order a pizza.

South Seattle Readies for “Night Out”

Seattle Night OutSouth Seattle will be bombarded by a host of events tomorrow night, including cookouts, block parties, and safety demonstrations as its neighborhoods- from Mt.Baker to Skyway- will join  the rest of the country in celebrating the 30th annual National Night Out Against Crime.

First celebrated in the Seattle area in 1984, The Night Out- as it is commonly known- is intended to arouse community involvement in crime prevention activities, police-citizen partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie, all while delivering a clear message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized in standing against them .

With South Seattle suffering a steep increase in its crime rate over the past year, and consequent concerns over public safety in the area, it is a message that many residents relish delivering.

“I’m doing this because I think it’s desperately important for our entire community.” Says Anne Porter, who is heading up a Night Out event in her North Rainier neighborhood where she’ll be passing out disaster preparedness packages.

While the events focus primarily on hindering crime in the area, it is the valuable opportunity they provide for community interaction that most intrigues Porter.

“I want to know my neighbors better. We’re hoping to get as many people stopping by as possible. We need to galvanize this community.”

That sentiment is echoed by Cynthia Kniffin, a Columbia City resident who is hosting her own Night Out themed block party. “We hope to get to know who is on our block. The deeper the connections you make with your neighbors the better it is for the safety and togetherness of the whole neighborhood.”

A list of South Seattle Night Out events taking place on August 5th is below and will be updated periodically.

1) 37th Avenue South Night Out. Start Time: 6:00pm. Organizer:Stephen Bentsen. Location: 37th Avenue South Seattle WA

2) South Holly Street Night Out. Start Time: 5:00pm.Organizer: Ingrid Berkhout. Location: South Holly Street between 39th Ave and 42nd Ave Seattle, WA

3) 39th Avenue South Block Party: Start Time: 6:00pm. Organizer: Cynthia Kniffin (phone: email: cynthiakniffin@gmail.com) Location: 39th Ave S between Genesee and Oregon (near Rainier Community Center)

4) 28th Avenue South Seattle Night Out Potluck: Start Time: 6:00pm. Organizer: Anne Porter (email: annesiemion@yahoo.com) Location: 1701 28th Ave South Seattle, WA (Mt. Baker/North Rainier)  Note: Children’s activities will take place at this event.

Claude Burfect: “I Do, I Don’t Promise”

Editor’s Note: This is the last in our series of interviews with the candidates- 5 Democrats and 1 Republican- who are vying to replace retiring State Senator Adam Kline in the 37th District. The top two candidates chosen in the primary election-  held on August 5th-  will continue on to the general- which takes place on November 4th. The winner of which will represent the 37th District in the Washington State Senate. The 37th currently comprises almost the entire South Seattle area.

Claude Burfect
Claude Burfect

Claude Burfect’s never been one to sit idly by and wait for others to attend to problems that needed fixing. It is this attitude, forged from his time spent fighting against segregation in his home state of Louisiana during the civil rights period, that the Vietnam veteran and political science major has brought to the task of community organizing within South Seattle. With a track record of impacting local legislation that rivals that of any area elected official, it’s no shock that he’s often taken for one. It is a position he would like to hold officially as he competes for the 37th District’s State Senate seat.


Emerald: You’ve been a community organizer in the South Seattle area for quite some time. Why are you now running for office?

Claude Burfect: What has me running for office is the crime in this district.  I’ve been living here for over 36 years and it’s never been worse. A large part of that is we have a 40 percent black male unemployment rate in the District. When you have that type of unemployment you’re going to get a lot of crime.


Emerald: What are your ideas for addressing both crime and unemployment in the 37th District?

Burfect: One of the things that I’m advocating is that we need to come up with programs in high schools that will benefit a lot of the kids who are not college bound, or who don’t want to go to college, or are not college material. We need to put trades back into both our high schools and the prison system. Currently 4 out of every 6 kids who do not graduate from high school graduates into the prison system.

Putting both high school kids and prisoners into apprenticeships, and giving them a trade, allows them to become viable citizens within the community. They become productive taxpayers, and they begin to reap the American Dream. That’s why trades are so important because so many kids who come out of college can barely find a job in their profession. Employment reduces crime and that creates livable communities.

When a guy comes out of prison he has no skills, so what does he do? He re-offends. It’s a cyclical thing. He goes right back into prison because there is nothing else for him to do.  That’s why I’ve worked with a great deal of community youth in making sure that they get a good education, and skills that will allow them to become employed. There is no child that should be left behind.


Emerald: What conversation do you have with businesses to entice them to come to South Seattle?

Burfect: First and foremost, I’d tell them that this is a thriving area with a great deal of opportunity. Let’s focus on an area like Skyway where I happen to live. There aren’t as many businesses there as there used to be, so people in that area are usually forced to go to Rainier Beach or Renton to shop. However, there is a great opportunity for anyone who wanted to come in and open stores to scoop up all the people from Skyway, West Hill, Lakeridge and the surrounding areas. Who wants to drive far away when you have something right next door?  I would love to see a shopping plaza in an area like that. Despite what some people have said, we have the market for it here.

I wanted to also say that I would like to make sure that African Americans play a huge part in the businesses that come back to the community.


Emerald: You have been adamant that Washington State’s tax structure is extremely unfair, especially to low and middle income earners. What ideas do you have for altering it?

Burfect: I wanted to say that I’ve been the initial advocate for a state income tax on the top 1% in Washington for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until fairly recently that all of the other candidates in the 37th race, with the exception of Rowland Martin, jumped onboard with me. It wasn’t so long ago that they were all afraid to talk about it because it failed the last time it was put to a statewide vote.

The fact is, we are one of 7 states in the country that does not have a state income tax. Again, I’ve advocated for and also been employed on putting the logistics of one together. I believe that if the last state income tax bill that was put to a vote had been written in language that appealed to the people we would have it today. Bill Gates, Sr. (who led the support for a state  income tax) wrote it in a way that was anything but.

A state income tax would help us reduce a lot of these incidental taxes that affect the poor and middle classes most. One of my opponents is saying that we need to add another gas tax, and I’m saying that you have to be kidding me! We can’t add another gas tax, gasoline taxes are exorbitant today.


Emerald: In such a packed race what makes you stand out from the other candidates?

Burfect: Out of all the candidates I am the one who initially spoke up about how to address crime and our income tax structure. Everyone else was silent about them until after I said something. These are issues that I’ve been dealing with long before I decided to run.

Over the last 15 years I have been to almost every single legislative session that has been held in Olympia. I honestly have a better attendance record during the three month sessions than most of our current elected officials.

I’ve also been organizing the community for a long time. When the Senate Bill 5541 came down, which was going to close Rainier School along with other institutions, I organized the community to fight against that bill,  and we ended up defeating it.  I know how the legislative process works. As an organizer, I’ve done that, been there, and seen everything.  So I feel that my lobbying knowledge gives me an upper hand on everybody.


Emerald: Assuming that you’re elected what would you want someone to be able to say once your time in office was up?

Burfect: I want them to say first and foremost that he worked for the constituents and not for any other interests. That he was a doer, and not a promiser.


Emerald: You’ve lived in New Orleans, which is known as one of the most vibrant places on earth, but you’ve chosen to make South Seattle your home for much of your life. What is it about the area that is so special to you?

Burfect: South Seattle is a place where I’ve found a home. I’ve lived in Beacon Hill, and now  Skyway. What’s so special to me is how vibrant this place used to be. I would even say that it was more so than New Orleans at times. The community of South Seattle has gone through some rough patches in recent years, but what remains special about it is that we can recapture that vibrancy if we commit to doing it.

Review: The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey

by Mary Hubert

photo by Erik Stuhaug
photo by Erik Stuhaug

A one-person show is always hard to pull off. If the actor cannot hold their own onstage, there is no one there to cover their faults. The subject matter must be interesting enough to watch one person tell a story for over an hour. The storytelling must make do with a set that is simple enough to work with, not against, its storyteller. And, most importantly, every aspect – character, space, circumstance, and all else – must be done with absolute specificity.

It was with apprehension, then, that I entered Taproot to see The Amish Project, a one-woman play written in response to the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mine, PA, in 2006. In this tragic event, a man took 10 young girls hostage with the goal of molesting them, shooting them all and killing 5.

Taproot’s attempt to expand on their standard material went over relatively well. Though by one-person show standards it was a traditional one, it still deviated from their standard canon of musicals and classics. The subject material felt relevant given the recent rash of school shootings, and the convention of a one-person show worked fairly effectively to portray and raise questions about this issue.

At times, I found my attention wandering – 90 minutes is a long time to watch one person, and the script tended to get repetitive in the middle. However, for the most part I stayed engaged, due largely to the quality of Marianne Savell’s performance.

Savell’s specificity was admirable. She used her right hand primarily for gesturing, with her left hand used less often. However, for each character, the left hand served to portray a different tic: one of the little girls grabbed at her dress, one woman held her hand on her hip, and another, the wife of the killer, swung it loosely at her side, signaling her simultaneous anxiety and apathy toward a world that had rejected her. These small but effective choices aided the audience in following each character, and made me invested in each person’s journey.

I also appreciated the effort made by both the actor and the script to humanize all of the characters, even the killer. Each time Savell portrayed a different character it was with the same specificity and care. Her unwillingness to make any character a stereotype made each one human.

My primary complaint with the piece is that instead of allowing the audience to draw their own inferences from these character representations, it forced us to agree with its theories. If the characters had simply been presented in a humane way, as they initially were, this would have allowed the audience to question and conclude how they wished. Instead, at the end of the piece, we were expressly told that there was a God, and that everyone deserved forgiveness. This took away my agency as an audience member, and I resented the removal of my freedom to make my own decisions based on the material presented.

The bottom line: Despite some flaws with the script and a fairly blatant suggestion of what to take away from the issues presented, Savell’s performance was brilliant in a very difficult role. See this production if you want some excellent acting surrounding a relevant issue – just be prepared for some preaching.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

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