Local social justice groups will be hosting a community meeting later tonight to inform south Seattle residents about the counties plan to build a new, super–sized$210 million Juvenile Detention Center, and how it will impact the area’s youth. The event will feature free food, a chance to meet with community organizers working on the issue, and a debate between elected officials about what is needed to fix the current Juvenile Justice System. Event organizers hope that the meeting will shift the community’s focus from “fixing broken youth” to “fixing broken education and criminal justice systems.”
“The story the County tells is that the current youth jail is old and needs repairs. So they want to build a new one, but make the new one twice as big. The current facility isn’t even at capacity. That logic just doesn’t add up.” Says local area youth Khalil Butler, who will be speaking at the event. “When a school in my neighborhood needed remodeling, they moved the students to another location and made the needed repairs. Then the kids were returned to a repaired school that was same size as when they left. If construction of the New Youth Jail moves forward as planned, seems like a lot of money will be wasted.”
The No New Youth Jail Campaign: Community Night will take place in the 2100 building, located at 2100 24th Avenue South. Doors will open at 6:00pm and the program will start at 6:30pm. Over 200 people are expected to attend.
Robin Hood does Jay- Z and Hendrix? Anything is Possible Theatre’s upcoming production of the merry archer and his band of cohorts has little in common with your grandfather’s version of the classic tale. The South Seattle theater company has promised to present the story as you have never seen it before, complementing its enduring theme of economic inequality and social justice with hip hop music, electric guitars and a strong and courageous Maid Marian ripped directly from the 21st century.
The play will run two consecutive weekends at the Rainier Valley Cultural Arts Center and will feature a special Giving Night on June 21st , where along with entrance into the show, tickets will include admittance into a post – performance social benefiting organizations, including the Rainier Valley Food Bank, the Columbia City Church of Hope and Project Cool, working to alleviate poverty and hunger within the South Seattle area.
Showtimes are below:
June 13 7:00 p.m.
June 14 7:00 p.m.
June 15 2:00 p.m. (pay-what-you-can performance)
June 20 7:00 p.m.
June 21 7:00 p.m. *Special Giving Night* (see below)
It greets you like a bewitching tonic; a smooth liqueur culled from honey suckle. Its every utterance serves as an intoxicant to your ears. You can’t help but become entranced by its seeming contradictions, as nothing so raw could seduce you by its polish, nothing so genial could paralyze you with its power, and nothing so delicate could rumble with so much emotion. However, it indeed accomplishes just that, and it is the voice of South Seattle performing artist Monique Franklin.
This voice she possesses has bedazzled the throngs who have attended her spoken word, poetry, and performing arts performances across the Central District and South Seattle. Functioning as her main chisel to craft the provocative tales she shares on stage, that deal with everything from the emotional complexities of abortion, to the alienation inherent in growing up biracial, to the imbecility of misogyny, with the common thread that they evoke experiences so strong that they fill lived in by the audience. It’s no wonder that she’s been mentioned as the Billie Holiday of spoken word.
Comparisons notwithstanding, the Franklin graduate,and single mother, refuses to confine her gift to stage performances, as it seamlessly transitions to advocacy for causes dear to her heart, relaying instructions to her students at tap class, explaining algorithms to an enthralled group of computer science geeks, and expressing her chi while practicing martial arts. Hers is a voice which rarely ever rest, much to an audiophiles delight.
Emerald: Not only are you the unofficial poet laureate of South Seattle but you’re also soon to recieve your Computer Science degree from the University of Washington. Poetry and Computer Science seems like an interesting convergence.
Monique Franklin: Even though people think of it as dry, Computer Science is really a creative endeavor. As a programmer you can make anything. It also appeals to me because I’m hoping to help African American, LGBT, and other underrepresented communities have access to something which may elude them. It’s unfortunate that we all get taught at an early age that certain subjects are for certain types of people or that we’re born good at math, and that’s just not true. I failed math in High School and went back and learned it in college, and was then able to pursue Computer Science because of it.
Poetry is something I’ve been doing since I was a child; it’s kind of what I’ve been doing all along. I came to it because it helps me filter what’s going on in life, it helps me to take another look at it and understand it. It’s how I process things. I didn’t actually share my poems with anyone until I was 21, but I’ve been writing since I could write, which is since I can remember. I think having that incubation period is really important in developing your own voice and in creating sacred space. Still to this day I write things that are not for anyone else; they’re only for me.
Emerald: Could you share some of your of your history in growing up in the South Seattle Area and how that’s influenced your life and work?
Monique: I grew up on 37th and Andover and going to John Muir Elementary. I come from a single parent family of five – my mom raised all us. I’m kind of in the middle. I have an older sister and three younger brothers, and that was really informative growing up. I was eventually bused out to Orca, which is an alternative school, and that became a pivotal time in my life because we were one of the only black families there. I’m biracial, my mother, who raised me, is white and my father is black, and so even though I was raised in a diverse community,at a very early age I learned that people are fairly superficial. There would even be some who would say, “Oh, you’re half white, I can’t trust you.” As a young person, my understanding of why that was, is different from my understanding of it now, with the cultural perspective of what it means to be black in America, or what it means to white in America. People made a lot of assumptions about me, so it was pretty interesting growing up.
People would ask me questions like, “Is that really your mom?” It wasn’t just children who would ask, it was adults too. Some of the teachers and people in the stores, would ask my mom “Did you adopt those kids?” People just feel uncomfortable when they don’t have the answer to the race question in their mind and so they feel entitled to get this information. In addition I grew up very athletic and my mom actually coached most of my teams until I got into Middle School. I grew up playing volleyball, basketball, softball, and football, before the boys actually sprouted in middle school. I was considered the A-Train, I used to drag the boys across the field. It was pretty exciting, still the highlight of my elementary lunch time experiences.
The highlight of my sports career though, is at Franklin High School, where the basketball team I was on actually had the highest GPA as a championship team. We actually got honored in Olympia, WA for setting a record for Grade Point Average. The whole legislative body took a moment to recognize us. It was an exciting time to be at Franklin High School.
Emerald: Well, you certainly seem to have the confidence of a top tier athlete during your performances as they definitely don’t appear presented by the stereotypical neurotic artist. How has athletics shaped your art?
Monique: Well, I’d be lying if I said that I’m supremely confident always, and that I don’t have any confidence issues to speak of. So I can’t say that, but I will say that when I approach my art I say that I don’t want to not do the things I want to do because I’m afraid, or because I don’t think I have enough guff. I have the same conversation with youth. I tell them that it’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to not do the things you want to do because you’re afraid.You can’t grow if you’re comfortable all the time. So that’s definitely how I approach my art and my life.
Overall, I feel like my spirit is of an inner warrior and I’m trying to develop that so that encompasses the competitive spirit I picked up from athletics . I mean I’m undefeated in thumb wrestling. If you want to find out we can do it later (laughter). I grew up playing games, and in a family of five competition was rampant. Even now I have a game brewing. I’m supposed to visit New York shortly, and I want to experience it and do some writing, but I want to challenge someone in basketball while I’m there.
Emerald: You’re engaged in a tremendous number of activities. You’re a poet, writer, performer, mother, tap dance instructor, computer science enthusiast. If you had to pin it down, what best defines you?
Monique: I think what really defines me is that I’m willing to learn anything. I’m really community minded. I’m trying to lead the way on Social Justice issues, so those are things that would define me. I love to work with our youth so that defines me.
I look at it like I’m me first and art is something that I do. So whatever I do, I’m going to bring whatever gifts I have to bear to do that. So if there is an organization that I’m supporting and they need a poet I’m going to bring my artist self to that venue. I think it’s irresponsible not to speak up when you should, and however that looks. Whether that’s me as an artist, or me as a mother, I think it’s the responsible thing to do.
Emerald: What most sparks you to create poetry and your spoken word performances?
Monique: I think it’s evolving. Right now the desire I have is that’d I’d like to be known. I don’t want to be famous, but I want to be known. In the sense of being understood and in the sense that I have stories that I want other people to know. It’s the idea that I have a truth I want to speak right now, and maybe that won’t always be my driving force, but that’s what it is right now.
When I see other people I enjoy their diversity, and the ways in which they do things, the nuances, and the details of how they do things are interesting to me. I think that bleeds into my scientific interest. I’m a researcher, so I’m there with my pen and pad, taking down notes, “That was really amazing what they did there,” but also I think I’m generally interested in knowing other people. There’s something you learn from an artist about that artist when they’re performing, even if they’re not presenting themselves. The choices they make in inventing someone else as a character is telling.
Emerald: What artist influence you today?
Monique: As an artist I write about all types of things, but I’m really influenced by music a lot, though I don’t listen to very much of today’s. The musicality from today’s music is just gone, the loopiness of it can be annoying. It’s catchy, but it doesn’t stimulate me. I listen to Prince, Maxwell, but also to 80’s rock. I like good music, however that comes. I’m into Jazz, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. I’m influenced by dancers, Michael Jackson, and the Nicholas Brothers. My poetry is also influenced by the sciences I’ve taken. I have poems wrapped in metaphor, just strictly around science and love and relationships. My daughter is a huge influence as well. My last show was titled Momma’s Muse which incorporated some of our real life experiences, with her permission, and also pulls in some other stories from people’s lives, which illustrated what I was trying to convey better than my own could.
Emerald: How is it that you’re able to be so emotionally naked onstage, saying very intimate and provocative things? That would frighten most people.
Monique: It comes back to that desire as an artist to be known, and for me the power of art is one of those teaching tools. People don’t all have the same experiences, but people can share in an experience through art, and some of that sharing can provoke conversations. Many of them that I wish I would have had the benefit of before I made certain decisions in my life. For me art is an opportunity to provoke those conversations to happen between other people. Whether or not it’s a strong, “I don’t believe in that, you shouldn’t do it.” Well, at least it’s a conversation, and then also, this goes back to being able to wrap some of the experiences of others into the characters I am on stage, it was really liberating for me to be able to take it on and tell someone else’s story, but to still have aspects of my own story intertwined. So I think the whole mix of it, people don’t know what is true and what’s not when you’re own stage, it gives you a certain level of removal. When I’m on stage, it’s never just my story, there’s always something more.
Emerald: You’re very outspoken about LGBT rights as a poet and performance artist. Where does that stem from?
Monique: For ten years of my life I grew up with two moms and so it created a situation, because during that time there was no protection for people who had alternative lifestyles. They could get fired from their jobs, so we couldn’t have many conversations within our household about it because it would jeopardize my mom’s employment So that meant each of us had to come up with different ideas of what that meant and unfortunately when we stepped out of our house the overwhelming conversation about it was very negative. It was another opportunity where I found myself in between these places in society and I had to figure it out. It was things that others have the privilege not to think about it until they choose to think about it.
Emerald: So did your writing and poetry serve as a type of release from all that was going on while you were growing up?
Monique: Writing and poetry was how I made sense of things, It was my internal conversation that I had with myself about what was going on, and what was really important in the world. I did a lot of philosophical writing about what was going on in my life and what was truly important about being a human being. I felt like the world had a crisis and so it led me to be a loner. I didn’t trust many people, and I didn’t think most people understood what was important. That meant I was very selective about who I let into my circle. I didn’t want anyone in my house who felt my mom was an evil person just because she was who she was.
Emerald: So does are you of the belief that great art is born out of life’s adversities?
Monique: Good art can come from anywhere. The thing is that humanity is so complex, and you can have an artist make the most beautiful painting and be a deplorable human being. That’s just a fact, but you can’t deny that they’re gifted. The reality is that we are complex, and we have great beauty and we have great horror, it just is what it is. There’s not a person on the planet who can say that they’re happy with every decision they’ve ever made.
I think art is gifted to some people, I think with others art is something they’re driven to develop, I think there’s a lot of things that come into art. I can only speak from where my art comes from, because I’m interested in a lot of different things and I’m interested in developing those different areas, I’m ambidextrous and a Gemini, so all this stuff kind of rolls together. For me art is about what piques my interest in the moment. There’s a sound that maintains my art; it’s very rhythmic and musical.
Emerald: So the melodic flow in your poetry is a conscious effort?
Monique: Yeah, I think as an artist, as a poet, I have my own aesthetic around how things sound. When I’m creating something the way it sounds is important, even the way it feels is important.
Emerald: What’s your process for coming up with some of your more ingenuous lines and metaphors in your poetry?
Monique: I have a poem called System Administrator it’s actually an erotic piece.
Emerald: The title completely gave that away (laughter).
Monique: What I like about metaphor is you say things without having to say it, you get to kind of hide some things, just like in the title of that poem. There’s some ambiguity about it. It’s tongue and cheek to me and that’s way it’s fun. I’m working on a whole erotic chat book called applied physics, and it’s all wrapped around a metaphor right now that are related to certain physicals properties, such as gravity and the uncertainty principle. There’s just certain things that lend itself towards looking toward a certain perspective.
Emerald: You’re a fairly successful artist and yet you don’t have any formal training, so to speak, in terms of an MFA or Arts Degree. What would you say to those people who have always wanted to write or perform poetry, or those who have always wanted to follow a passion, but just can’t seem to muster up the nerve?
Monique: It goes back to fear, no one is saying go stand on the corner and hold a sign that says, “will work for rhymes.” (laughter) Success started to come for me with the belief that what I was doing was going to work out in the end, and that I was just going to take the steps I needed to take to get to that end. It has to be more than hoping. It must be knowing that it’s going to work out and I’m going to do everything that I need to do in order for it to work out. If it’s something that you have a passion for, you need to start taking little steps in that direction, and what you’ll see is that the universe will seem to conspire to get you where you need to be. You start moving in that direction and opportunities will start opening up for you, but it takes hard work. It isn’t like I’m just going to roll out of bed and it’s going to be great! Chance plays a role for some people, but for the rest of us we need to work hard.
Emerald: They say that for a poet happiness is elusive. How do you define happiness at this stage in your life?
Monique: One of the things I learned about being a mother was how much I value community, which is in stark contrast to when I was growing, as I wasn’t too impressed with humanity (laughter). However, I realized that I needed other people in this life. You need other people to be truly happy and successful. It’s about developing those relationships. finding people you can trust, and to trust yourself is important. I’d say happiness is possible, and defining your own happiness is necessary. I say think about what makes you happy, and find more of that, even if it’s just twenty five more minutes a day of that, and as you increase your happiness quotient life will change for you. For more information on the multi-talented Monique Franklin, including upcoming shows and events, please visit www.verbaloasis.com. You can also follow Monique on Twitter @VerbalOasis
And now for the main event! A rematch of last years NBA Finals that went an entertaining 7 games. Last year the Miami Heat were victorious, winning their 3rd NBA title in franchise history and their second in back to back years. Meanwhile, the Spurs have been stewing about last years NBA Finals loss since the moment the final buzzer sounded in Game 7, and are looking to get revenge on the defending champions. The X- factor in this heavyweight battle will be bench production. The superstars on both teams will do their respective roles, but then it’s up to the bench to produce and make it easier on their superstars.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs in 7 games
Antonio Foster is a former basketball player for Rainier Beach High School
I love Seattle, but over the years I’ve heard a lot of people badmouth this city for a variety of reasons. Most of the time the reasons given are, in my experience, completely untrue. So your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to help me defend this fine city from slander. These are the most common complaints about Seattle:
This is Seattle’s biggest stigma, and you know what? It’s true. It rains a lot here. What people don’t know is about 90% of the time it’s a very light rain, a mist, a sneeze from the sky. If you’re in Seattle long enough you begin to realize the only people using umbrellas are tourists. You don’t need one. Your body heat alone will keep the rain from hitting you. Since moving here I’ve learned to appreciate the constant rain in Seattle. It keeps everything luscious and green, and it’s the only way some of these non-showering hipsters would ever get wet.
The Seattle Freeze
I’ve heard the story a hundred times. Someone moves here from a small town and just can’t seem to make any friends. They say Seattleites are unwelcoming, distant, and cold up front. There are two things wrong with this. First, making friends as an adult takes time. If you come on too strong it creeps people out. Pump the breaks, hayseed, and play it cool. Friends will come if you don’t try to force it. Second, this is not a Seattleite problem. This is a city of transplants. I’ve lived in Seattle for 8 years and I know zero native Seattleites. They’re like sasquatches. So many people swear they exist but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever seen one. The Seattle Freeze is an excuse used by boring people whose personality is even greyer than our weather.
Ok yeah, Seattle has a rich history of drug use, but what do you expect from a city with a giant needle sticking out of it? Do you enjoy the music of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix? If they didn’t have easy access to drugs right here in Seattle none of that music would’ve happened. You’re welcome. And if you’re not into illegal drugs, we have a pretty awesome legal one here.
Now you’re informed. We are proudly wet, unaccepting of the dull, and fueled by drugs. The next time you hear someone besmirch this city, defend its honor.
Michael Primavera is a Seattle based humorist whose collection of comic musings can be found at twitter.com/primawesome
News Brief: On Tuesday, the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee passed the bill to rezone the area around the Mount Baker Light Rail Station. On a 4-1 vote, with Bruce Harrell dissenting, the Committee moved the legislation to the full Council for a vote on Monday, June 23rd.
Echoing concerns from some area residents that the legislation has moved too quickly, Harrell proposed two amendments. The first amendment would have tabled the bill indefinitely for further study. This amendment failed when no additional Councilmembers came forward in support. The second amendment substituted a height limit of 85 feet (instead of the original 125) on the parcel currently occupied by Lowe’s Home Improvement. It too failed on a voice vote.
In last ditch effort to derail the legislation before going to the full City Council, opponents of the Mount Baker rezone came out in full force. They wore t-shirts saying “NO REZONE” and “Jobs NOT Apts”. As in previous meetings, they contended that they had not been fully included in the process, and that a rezone would fail due to slack demand for market-rate development while causing land values to escalate, threatening small businesses.
A final amendment by Councilwoman Sally Clark, one that sought to assuage fears that a 125 foot residential apartment complex may be built on the Lowe’s site, also failed without additional support. Clark’s amendment sought to explicitly limit the proportion of development on the site for residential development, if a structure nearing the height limit was, in fact, built.
Editorial: The PLUS Committee made the right decision to move the legislation for consideration by the full City Council. While opponents of the bill organized an impressive number of people to speak against the bill on Tuesday, they continued to provide an unclear sense of what they wanted with respect to the legislation itself, as well as a lack of realistic alternatives to bring about the one thing they all agreed they wanted: jobs.
In the course of three Committee meetings, opponents of the Mount Baker rezone have, at different points, said they want the legislation tabled so that it could go back to the community for reconsideration and that the rezone should not occur at all. They have also concurrently claimed that a rezone will fail to attract new development and that a rezone will result in gentrification. The opponents of the legislation give the impression that they are talking out of both sides of their mouths or throwing in every objection but the kitchen sink to stop the legislation.
On the issue of jobs, there is also more smoke than light. Opponents of the rezone have focused on the mere possibility that a developer could construct a 125 foot residential complex as a fatal flaw and a reason to reduce the height limit on the Lowe’s site, as proposed in Councilman Harrell’s amendment. They contend that the Seattle Mixed Use designation would result in residential units crowding out the possibility of commercial uses and therefore living-wage jobs. It has been pointed out multiple times, however, that the only structure rising to 125 feet that would make sense from a developer’s perspective would be commercial or mixed commercial/residential. Less flexibility in height restrictions would then only serve to limit the kind of potential commercial development that could occur. The “solution” to this problem would be counterproductive.
If bringing jobs to Rainier Valley is desired end, a rezone at 125 feet makes more sense than the alternatives that have been proposed. The process, one which began in 2009, has gone on long enough. Developers need a solid framework upon which they can predictably draw up plans and stakeholders throughout Southeast Seattle have long deserved a better urban environment than the one that currently exists. The PLUS Committee incisively recognized these facts amidst the panoply of arguments and made the right decision to move forward.
Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of our series South Seattle Goes ToSIFF
We’ve all driven through those towns that seem like no one lives there – or that no one should. Bleak, dusty horizons, the occasional meth head ambling by, and a corner store that looks like it hasn’t had a customer in the last century or two. In BFE, director Shawn Telford seeks to portray the lives of those who live in these forgotten towns – particularly, those still young and figuring their shit out. Sound familiar? It is – we’ve seen this storyline more than enough times over the last 25 years. However, despite numerous glaring issues, the film turns out to be quite entertaining.
The loosely constructed storyline follows three high schoolers in the town of BFE: Ian, preoccupied with caring for his dying Grandpa; Ellie, living in a meth house while trying to protect her baby sister; and Ellie’s boyfriend Zack, who must deal with his attraction to his friend’s mother. Sound like a lot? Just you wait, we’re not done! We still have to throw in Tom, the Korean kid battling against the “old ways” of his stern father; a scraggly crew of drug dealers; and a horde of other teenage boys that are buddies with our leading crew.
Telford has attempted to create a slice-of-life style flick that draws parallels between the intersecting lives of everyone in the town. And largely, he succeeds. The dialogue is witty, the scenes with the boys remind me of my own high school adventures, and there are enough characters to fill a movie three times the film’s length. Which actually turns out to be the problem with this cute little movie: it needs to be three times as long to successfully fit that many stories.
In the first half of the film, we see missed moments happen again and again –scenes that try to be both funny and poignant instead have to rely on the barrage of jokes flying throughout every scene, because with so many characters to get to, we can’t possibly get enough screen time with each to care about them. True, the jokes are well thought out, and everything rolled along relatively seamlessly, but I found myself wanting more from the first half of the film than giggles.
Things start to pack a bit of a punch as the movie progresses. We get a few brilliantly performed villains and start to feel for these teens stuck in a dead-end town. We do wish they would stop stating – very obviously – that they are stuck in a dead-end town… but no matter.
As a whole, the film did about 75% of what it set out to do. The town was there, the characters were there, the clichés were there, and the jokes were certainly there. I was rarely bored, and when I was, the kickass soundtrack was always there to distract me. Telford’s use of close camera shots was aesthetically pleasing, and though the ending was cheesy, it fit with the fluffiness of the movie as a whole.
What I missed from the film were the gut-punches, the investment in the brilliantly witty characters, the desire to watch them succeed and the hurt when they did not. The problem with throwing all of the moments in instead of selecting the best ones is that the audience comes away with none of them. In short, everything was there – just too much of it. The bottom line: Despite the film’s overall disjointedness and Telford’s desire to cram six storylines into a 90-minute film, the witty dialogue and killer soundtrack made the piece a very enjoyable bit of fluff. Go check it out!
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.
As concerns have recently reemerged over the level of violence in the South Seattle area, the Emerald spoke with Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, and who also recently led a community discussion on violence reduction at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. Councilman Harrell currently resides in South Seattle.
Emerald: You recently led a community forum on the topic of violence prevention in the South Seattle area. Community Meetings, as they relate to violence, are dismissed by many as a “token” response that rarely ever results in any action being taken. Why should residents have cause for optimism after this particular meeting?
Bruce Harrell: First of all we are developing an actionable plan that we should be able to announce this month. We’re putting not only resources behind it, but best practices we’ve taken from other cities, as well as some creative ideas about how to protect our community in the South End of Seattle. So my attitude about meetings like that are, number one, I try to make sure that we can talk about everything, including things our own community can do. An example would be that one East African attendant spoke up and said that: “You know, I don’t see East Africans here and you need to do better outreach to make sure that my community is represented at these kinds of meetings.” I told him that he was right, and that we would do everything possible to do that, but I added: “You need to do the same thing. You need to figure out, how we can reach your community, as we have tried to reach out.” We established an immigrant/refugee commission, specifically for that purpose. We now have an East African person in our Police Academy, which we’re proud of.
That’s a prime example to me of, when people are demanding that others do things, that they feel empowered to do it themselves. I live by a quote: “You either accept things the way they are, or you accept responsibility for changing them.” So, I think that the meeting was a very good one. It gave people the chance to meet our police officers and to let them know that we do care about South Seattle, and that they do have leaders who are developing plans to protect our community.
Emerald: Some people say that the easy remedy to violence in the area is to simply have more police officers around, however, an expanded police presence is a very polarizing issue amongst South Seattle residents. How can it be assured that police officers are viewed as actual partners with the community in fostering a safer South Seattle?
BH: The fact of the matter is that we can not have police officers on every corner arresting kids for just standing around being who they are. We also have to give our own community leaders the tools to empower themselves.
I think that there are people who have come from the street life, and have found a way to overcome it. They have dealt with the negative messaging that they have received in their lives and now are giving back and can help us improve our communities. I think that as an investment strategy we need to know who these individuals and groups are, and we need to double down on them. Again, we all know that we can’t arrest ourselves out of all the problems we have. We need to flood the streets with these kinds of good folks.
I also think that our officers need to be better trained to build community trust, and community relations at every opportunity. I recently attended a meeting at Rainier Beach High School, and I watched a couple of officers stand by the hallway and simply watch the crowd for a long period of time, to then only walk out of the school and get right into their car. What I wanted to impress upon the officers is that this is the time you build community, and public trust. So I want to see more officers, like Captain John Hayes, who seems to know everyone’s name in the community, and who can walk around and mix it up. Because when we couple that with the right kind of outreach, we can move the needle. The other component is that the “no snitch”policy is a cancer to our community, and when we see shootings, we need to be able to break that. What has been effective in some other cities is to get high profile spokespeople, athletes, celebrities, people that come from the community, to help us change that cultural norm and that has to be very intentional when we are losing these lives.
Emerald: How do you think the city can empower organizations that are currently working in South Seattle to address the public safety issue?
BH: Right now I’m trying to figure out what organizations have the ability to scale up, and provide us some capacity to move the needle in terms of cultural norms, and can really make a difference. So, I think the first thing we need to do is take an inventory of these organizations and invest in them. The city’s role then is to be the quarterback or the facilitator in allowing these organizations to do what they do best, and that is reaching the community and changing the conversation, so that communities can feel empowered to protect themselves.
Emerald: Economic Development has often been trumpeted as a silver bullet for public safety concerns around South Seattle, however, many people view it as a “trojan horse” for gentrification. You would be hard pressed to find a resident who wouldn’t love all of South Seattle to be a consistently safe and vibrant place, but they would also love to still afford to reside there when that happens. Could you address that issue?
BH: I think it first starts with a vision, and that vision has to be described with some level of specificity. So if I was to describe a great vision for South Seattle it would be that it remains affordable, so that you wouldn’t see huge seven figure homes in these areas with very few affordable homes and it would be safe. so I don’t think that you compromise price just because it becomes safe. That’s where the beauty of small business comes into play. You have to have a barbershop, a pizza place, a small restaurant, or a store where you can buy clothing. You have to have a vibrant small business atmosphere that, again, is safe and has parking, that you can use transit to get there. It has to be vibrant, so that anyone, from any part of town, feels comfortable going there. A great example is the resident led resurgence going on in Hillman City.
You don’t have that vibrancy in some areas of South Seattle. The medical cannabis dispensary is not the kind of small business that attracts a lot of patrons; they only attract a certain kind of patron. So the vision is of safe, active, vibrant, small business development, affordable housing, open space, parks that are activated, police officers who walk and ride bikes around, that’s a good community and an affordable community.
Emerald: With our potential police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, being an outsider to the city, many have questioned if a person who lacks a familiarity with the area can really hope to address the concerns of South Seattle. What is your feeling on that?
BH: I would have absolutely loved to have had a chief who knows all parts of our city, in particular the South End, but we don’t have that. The mayor made it clear that it was his preference to go outside the existing culture, and I accept that. So now, what’s most important is that Chief O’Toole gets the intel needs and that she has actual experience with dealing with some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country, and she does. I sat in on her interview panel, and that was exactly my line of inquiry. She spent a lot of time overseas as well, and I wanted to make sure that she had the credibility and experience in dealing with some of the tougher areas, and I’m fully convinced she does. In fact I think she will shine in that regard. She will have a learning curve to know the players in the community and so forth, but I think she is a quick learner and I think we’ll be very pleased with her ability to adjust.
Emerald: There’s a lot of conversation that if Rainier Beach, Skyway, Othello, etc, where instead Fremont or Wallingford, the type of violence and crime that’s been experienced wouldn’t be accepted by the city. What can be done to fix the perception that there is a divide in what the city tolerates in certain areas in comparison to others?
BH: If you walk other neighborhoods, and parts of this city, as I do, such as Lake City Way, University District, Pioneer Square, you will hear the exact same thing, that conditions are intolerable, yet the city leaders do not make the right level of investments into those areas. The fact of the matter is using federal funds, state funds, and city funds, we should again double down on the South End, because of the rates of poverty, the rates of unemployment, the graduation rates that aren’t where we need them to be, and I think that while we can greatly improve that, we don’t have leaders who are neglectful of that part of town.
I go back to what I said earlier, for those people who want more attention and resources, join me in making sure we get them. a lot of time, when I do my inventory organizations in the community, I ask: “What do you need? How can we help you succeed?”
As someone who sees these drive bys and shootings, I understand the frustrations people have, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but many of us have been dealing with them for 30 to 40 years, and I think it’s symptomatic of what’s happening in our country. You notice in almost every city, in every state, you have under invested areas, but I’m very optimistic that we’re putting strategies in place to improve them. Cleveland High School is a great example of that. The graduation rates have gone up 20 percent and the PTA has broken records in fundraising! So there are things that are rising in the right direction and what sets us back is another dead body found in the street.
Editor’s Note: The Emerald was extended an invitation to cover the Seattle International Film Festival. As our arts reportage serves the dual purpose of showcasing the amazing array of artist and their projects, who reside within the South Seattle area, and also to draw attention to unique artistic works which are rarely highlighted elsewhere, yet have the potential to be enriching cultural experiences for our readers, The Emerald accepted the opportunity to cover a few select films playing at the festival which we felt would be of particular interest to our readership.
by Mary Hubert
The opening of Obama Mama began with a black and white picture of Stanley Ann Dunham amidst audio recordings of people lauding her intelligence and spirit. As the video progressed, I realized immediately that this was going to constitute the bulk of the film. The first hour of the film consisted entirely of interviews with Dunham’s old classmates, recounting how smart, curious and progressive she was through a combination of anecdotes and a very, very extensive history of the civil rights movement. Though the film did an adequate job of beating into the audience that Dunham was, for being born and raised primarily in Texas, progressive and a mental force to be reckoned with, as an audience member I felt inclined to announce, “Okay, I got it!”
The history of the 1950s-1970s, as well as interviews with the same five high school classmates, was repeated ad nauseum, and I found myself wondering whether the director had placed any faith in her audience that they had knowledge of basic history. The persistent repetition of basic facts was drilled into our brains still more thoroughly through the use of short animated sequences to further clarify the points being made. For example, a drawing of a black and a white hand joining to create a cartoon baby was used when an interviewee spoke of Dunham and Barack Obama Sr.’s marriage. The combination of illustration, repetitive interviews, and historical facts succeeded in creating a strong picture of who Dunham was as a young woman, but the information that was relayed could have been achieved in half the time that the movie utilized.
Some of the most interesting aspects of the film centered on Dunham’s work campaigning for the rights of Indonesian female laborers. Though the film did effectively detail this it was again with the over-thoroughness that made me uninterested by the time this chapter was over. As a result, we didn’t get to her life’s work until over an hour into the film. This had the effect of boring me enough that I was much less invested in Dunham’s fascinating work in Indonesia than I ordinarily would have been. That being said, the section of the film dealing with her work in Indonesia was the strongest aspect of the piece, mostly due to the stand alone strength of her labor. The Indonesian culture that was detailed in the film was additionally fascinating, but again had little to do with Dunham and felt once more like a history lesson.
Ultimately, the film felt as if the director did not have enough material to fill an entire 90 minute SIFF piece, so instead of shortening the work, she simply dragged out each section to fill the time. This was even apparent in the vagueness of the interview candidates – many of their points centered on speculating what Dunham “would have done” or “would have liked”, as if they did not know her in the slightest – and in fact, many did not. Additionally, they used the same five photographs of her, as if they did not have any others. Although the film made a bold choice in not involving Obama in its production – it focused on Dunham’s work by itself rather than her relationship with the President – the result was a dearth of material that made what they did have too lengthy and overly sentimental. By the time the film got to Dunham’s 1995 death, rather than being saddened by the passing of a truly remarkable woman I was relieved that this would be the final montage I had to sit through before the end of the film.
The bottom line: A truly remarkable life of a wonderful woman was made boring by over-explanation, lack of information, and pointless montages that took away from, rather than added to, the uniqueness of Dunham’s life. The documentary was unsuccessful in creating a compelling story out of her life – if you’re interested in Obama’s mama, Obama Mama might not be the best source.
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.
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle