In his public safety address to the Seattle City Council last week, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray detailed a series of ‘Find it, Fix it’ Community Walks, focused on several crime hotspots.
At the walks, community residents, police, and city officials will walk together to identify physical disorder and solve it, hence the find it and fix it theme. The primary areas of focus are graffiti removal, street lighting, litter and garbage clean-up, and trimming overgrown bushes and trees.
The first Find It, Fix It Community Walk
Wednesday, July 2, 7 – 9 p.m., 23rd Ave. S and S. Jackson St. (Red Apple Parking Lot)
7 – 7:30 p.m.
Short program featuring Murray, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, and department representatives.
7:30 – 8:40 p.m
Walk commences along the following route:
Jackson from 23rd to 22nd
22nd from Jackson to Main
Jackson from 25th to 26th
Stop at Fire Station 6 (405 Martin Luther King Jr Way S)
Walk along S King St. to 28th and 29th
Return to the Red Apple parking lot
8:40- 9 p.m.
Walk concludes and department representatives are available for follow-up questions
Additional ‘Find it, Fix it’ Community Walks will take place in the upcoming weeks:
July 8, 7 – 9 p.m.: Orcas and MLK
July 22, 7 – 9 p.m.: Sound Transit tour, between Rainier Beach and Othello Stations
Editor’s Note: Sunday Stew is our new, regular feature – showcasing original, short-form fiction and poetry from South Seattle’s stable of talented writers and poets.
The Perfect Pair
Writer’s Preface: This story relates the tale of a South Seattle area male youth – growing up during the late 90’s- when the most important thing on your mind (besides girls) was a hallowed pair of Air Jordan shoes.
He brings the ball down the court…
3…2…1!!!! The game ending horn sounds!
I awoke from my dream to hit the snooze button on my annoying alarm clock, and wiped the crud out of my eyes.
“Hello world.” I said to myself, as I stared at the collage of Air Jordan posters plastered on my wall. To be like Mike!
My fantasy was cut short as my mom frantically knocked on my door to assure I was awake and getting ready for school. The daily routine of a high school sophomore.
It was Friday, and just so happened to be the same day that the white/red Air Jordan 12’s were released in stores! The Holy Grail of foot wear! Plus, it was pay day!
Shiiiit! My mom thought I was going to class? Yeah right! I was going to pick up my paltry $160 check from the mall and grab my first pair of Jordans with my own money.
This was an epic moment for a young Jedi in training. This story predates the internet era, so back then there was no way for anyone to know about shoe releases months ahead of time, unlike any present day eight year old who can spell G-O-O-G-L-E, unless you knew an insider who worked at the local Foot Locker. I just so happened to have a cousin who was a wage slave at the one nearest me, and was always my first call before I left home for the day.
Oh yeah, we didn’t have cell phones back then either… We had these little boxes called pagers. Simple devices that allowed you to leave a number to call back….that’s it! If you were clever you could write simple messages 31707 (spells love upside down) or use codes like 69 and 911 (I’ll leave their respective meanings open to interpretation).
Anyways… I digress. Back to the story.
So I skipped school and rode the bus down to the mall to grab my check from my job at Corn Dog on a Stick. As I entered the food court I saw a guy walking out with the Jordans I wanted! I gave him the nod of respect. A sign of admiration for his shoe game, that only a true sneaker aficionado would understand.
I said wassup to my peeps at work, grabbed my check and headed off to the bank to cash it. It was only about a block from the mall, but it somehow seemed further that day as the sky pummelled me with raindrops.
The five minutes it took to cash my check seeming like an eternity, and as soon as the last greenback was placed into my hand I made a beeline for Foot Locker.
The closer I seemed to get to the store, the warmer the small wad of money in my pocket became. It was almost as if it was being nuked in a microwave.
I actually patted my jeans about 10 times along the journey to make sure the cash was still securely in there.
Just a few more feet and I would be at my destination, then suddenly by pager blared a text from my cousin Rick at the store – 911!
I assumed his boss was giving him crap about holding my pair. I put some more pep in my step, and made like I was running for the gold in the one hundred meter dash, finally crossing the finish line through the store’s doors. Boom!
I smashed right into Rick. “Wassup cuz?” He asked.
“I just paged you.” he continued as the cash in my pocket had now turned radioactive.
“Man, the GAP has these sick pullover jackets that fit in a pouch for $25. They match the new Jordans perfectly. We should cop some and rock them to school together.”
Rick was towards the end of his lunch break, so if we we’re going to go – to that epitome of 90’s middle class commerce – we had to go then and there- before I had the opportunity to purchase my treasured moccasins.
I was down, even though normally matching fits is a no-no in my book. But, I told myself I’d make an exception this time to floss with my folks.
“Damn, I hope I have enough for both…” I said to myself as we made our way. As I looked at the pullover’s unsympathetic price tag Rick could sense my hesitation. “Come on, you know we’d look fly in them!” I had to inflate my bravado in order to mask my now precarious financial situation. We purchased the jackets. Oh, to be sixteen again…
As we strolled back to the Foot Locker together, I gazed down at Rick’s shoes, so as to visualize myself wearing them. It wouldn’t be much longer!
I rushed passed girls who seemed to want a little bit more attention from me, at least that’s what Rick told me, as there was one thing, and one thing only, on my mind.
We finally arrived back at his store. The moment was NOW!
Rick went into the back to grab the last pair of white and red Jordan 12’s in size 11. Standing and waiting in the center of the store, it felt like God had just placed his hand on my shoulder. This moment was priceless for a young buck. It was like being christened a full fledged Spartan warrior after enduring the rigors of training since boyhood! Okay, maybe that is a stretch, but you get the point.
So I broke bread and counted out my remaining cash. The shoes came out to be $138.48…. Ah shit!I bought that jacket. I only had $135!!!!
My heart began beating like a marching band at halftime. What the fu…? How? Why? Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!
I asked Rick if he had a few bucks I could borrow. “Naw man, I’m broke too. Sorry fam.” I felt like grabbing my face and screaming like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. “Please don’t do this to me God!” I murmured. His hand since removed from my shoulder!
I recounted my money. I was really going to miss out on these Jordans over $3.48!!! I repeat, $3.48!
I skipped school for this shit! In my moment of panic I lost myself in thought. I forgot where I was and who was around me. At that point it didn’t matter anyway…. Or did it?
Slap. I heard a handshake that awoke me from my moment of insanity to realize Rick is shaking hands with Shane. He’s a Senior and hoop star at my high school. I tried to compose myself, shaking off the tears I was fighting.
“Wassup J? I see you grabbed those new J’s.” Shane says to me. “Actually man, I’m short $3.48.”
He laughs and gives me a $5 bill. The money didn’t even hit my hand before it went into the register.
It felt like ten gorillas who were standing on top of each other had just leaped off my back. Woooo! Shane tells me not to worry about the $5 and gives me a ride home from the mall.
He changed my life with that simple gesture. You never know what you can do to change someone else’s life. It cost him $5 but to me it was priceless. I still remember staking out on Cloud 9 the entire rest of the year! Shout out to Shane! That was the first of many pair I’ve owned, and since then they’ve always been purchased with exact change!
Jerron Craig is a South Seattle native, as well as a husband, father, freelance writer and sneakerhead, who is just trying to use more than 10% of his brain to get paid.
Community: VFW Meat Raffle from 4 to 7pm @ Skyway VFW Hall 7421 S. 126th St Seattle, WA 98178. More Info: email email@example.com
Movies: Opening of Belle (Limited Engagement) showtimes 2:00pm, 4:15pm, 7:30pm and 10:00pm @ Ark Lodge Cinemas 4816 Rainier Avenue South Seattle , WA 98118. More Info: http://www.arklodgecinemas.com
Technology: Washington Talking Book and Braille Library Presentation (Teaching those with low vision how to access books and other materials). Class goes from 2:00pm – 3:00 pm @ STAR Center: 2600 South Walker Street, Seattle WA 98144. More Info: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Toddlers: Tot Gym ( Gym will be filled with lots of toys, along with a few bounce houses for each and every toddler’s enjoyment) from 10:00am to 1:00pm @Rainier Beach Community Center 4600 38th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118 More Info: Carl.Bergquist@seatte.gov
Arts: Connect The Dots Art Event starts at 11:00am @ Mt.Baker Light Rail Station Plaza: 2415 S McClellan Street, Seattle WA 98144. More Info: http://www.seedseattle.org
Environment: Sustainable Seattle presents Let’s Go Beacon! A Green Hood Clean Water Walk. Walk begins at 11:00 am@ El Centro de la Raza: 2524 16th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144. More Info: email email@example.com
Community:Skyway Community BBQ (Event is free and will also feature a raffle). Goes from 12pm – 6pm @ The Grocery Outlet: 68th Avenue South, Seattle, WA. More Info: Patrick.Lowndes@gmail.com
Q: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a little over 6 months now. Things started out really great with us. I do a lot of marathons, and triathlons, and he was very supportive of me, always coming out to cheer me on no matter the weather. He is very attentive to my needs and is always doing sweet things for me. The thing is, recently there’s been an abrupt change in his behavior. He gets extremely embarrassed, and angry, when I pay for dinner whenever we go out on dates, as I have a better paying job than he does, which is also something he gets angry about. He has started using language such as, “I will allow that,” or “that’s something I will take under advisement,” when I give him my opinion on a decision we should be making together, such as where to go on vacation or to eat. I’ve come to find out that he has a very “traditionalist” view of the male/female relationship, and adamantly believes that I should be “submissive” to him. This is the first time I’ve ever encountered this type of thing in a relationship and I’m not really sure how to broach this with him. I in no way, shape, or form plan on being submissive to him or anyone else. I think he’s awesome and could see us going further together but this is kind of a major hiccup. What do I do?
Wendy Says: All relationships have their challenges. However, your challenge seems to be in the area of core values. You believe people are equals in a relationship and your boyfriend seems to believe that men rule the roost. Whether his values are borne out of his insecurity in the wage-earning department or they are values instilled in him from birth, it is going to be his default mode when issues challenging his sense of self arise. When you see anger regularly in a new relationship, see it as a big red flag. He may have no idea how often it flares up as it may be a regular occurrence for him. Trying to fix someone’s issues early on is a major remodel project you need to dust your hands of now. He may have his great qualities, but they will always take a backseat to his rage. I would encourage him to do some real work on his anger and attitudes toward women. I would encourage you to find a partner that has similar values to you and a default mode void of anger.
Q: I’ve been with my boyfriend for over a year now and we were planning on moving in together, however, he recently revealed to me that he had been in sexual relationships with other males in his past. I want to flatly state that I am all for equality for everyone, and I know that in this day and age it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I just don’t really know what to make of it, as it seems weird to me that he used to date men, and is now dating me. I have enough women to be jealous of without now being jealous of guys too. Maybe I’m overreacting but I just think it opens up Pandora’s Box of things down the road in our relationship. He says that past relationships or all the same, men, women, what difference does it make as he’s with me now. Is it wrong that this is bothering me so much?
Wendy Says: One thing is important to understand: feelings are not right or wrong, they just ARE. Feelings don’t think. Actions can be right or wrong. Having said that, I think it’s important that you acknowledge how this new information has made you feel. You feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. You have to decide what to do regarding this new information. Your comment about needing to be jealous of women is a concerning one. Prior to learning that your boyfriend has dated men, did you feel jealous in regards to how he has been around women? If that’s the case, that’s an entirely different issue. Security in a relationship is important. If you trust him completely around women, why not around men? Perhaps he can help you understand any differences, or lack thereof, in his romantic relationships with men and women. What you may find is that he is drawn to similar characteristics in people whether they be male or female. Including his interest in you. We tend to be drawn to what is familiar to us emotionally (more so than physical characteristics.) I would encourage to talk with him about your feelings and to learn more about how he has been in relationships historically. If you notice a pattern of deceit, this relationship is not for you. On the other hand, if you see that he has been a loyal boyfriend to others, chances are quite good that he’ll be the same with you.
Q: My wife and I got married right out of high school and have been together for almost 10 years, and have one child. I love my family, however, the thought that can’t escape from my head is that I got married too young and that I missed out on some of the best years of my life. Several of my friends, who are now just settling down, were able to experience things that I didn’t because I wed so early, and to be honest I’ve always been a bit envious of them. I’m finding myself starting to really resent my decision that I made as a teenager. Things just feel really suffocating right now. I’m not saying that I want to step out on my wife or get divorced, but I do think I really need to reassess things, and maybe we do need a little “break”. I’m not sure how to even bring the subject up with her or if I’m a bad person for doing so? What do you suggest?
Wendy Says: Marrying young and starting a family does present it’s own challenges. Many people question their choices to do so later on when the pressures of family life seem particularly difficult. On the other hand, being single can suck too. It’s not all the fun and games it’s cracked up to be. If one choice were clearly better over the other then everyone would make the same choice. The question you need to ask yourself is: what do I want? If your answer is: to run around with whomever I want doing whatever I want to do for an undetermined amount of time, perhaps you need to think more about the question. You mentioned envying your friends’ freedom as single people. Understandably, a lack of obligation as to where you’ll spend your weekends or evenings after work would be nice sometimes. Is that an arrangement you and your wife can make for each other? In other words, would it be okay for each of you to carve out some free time for yourselves to be with friends or have some alone time? Do you think that would help alleviate some of the resentment you’re feeling? Would that give you a bit of the break you referenced earlier? One person can not meet all of our needs. We need family, friends, colleagues, etc. to give us balance and support. In fact, the better network we have the more we appreciate our partners. In terms of how to bring it up to your wife, you just need to talk with her about the pressures you feel having so much responsibility so young. Tell her how you feel about wishing you had fewer obligations at such a young age. Ask her how she feels about all of her responsibilities at a young age. You can’t go back in time and change things, obviously. You have responsibilities now. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your life and family and that is extremely valuable. Don’t discount what you have built in your life. Work with your wife to give yourselves some personal perks that might help you appreciate what you have and help to abate the resentment.
Yesterday, the Seattle City Council voted to approve the Mount Baker rezone by an 8-1 vote, with Councilman Bruce Harrell in opposition (http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2021450). The legislation allows for greater urban density, a wider range of commercial uses, and tighter design standards around the Mount Baker Link Light Rail station.
The rezone’s intended effect is to transform an area currently dominated by strip malls and parking lots into a pedestrian-friendly hub of commercial and residential activity. Spurred by a neighborhood planning process that began in 1999 and a design framework developed 10 years later (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/northrainier/documents/default.htm), the rezone is a culmination of nearly 15 years of consideration. It also represents the city’s commitment to fostering growth in areas now served by investments in Link Light Rail. This is a major win for the future of Rainier Valley.
The Future/Back to the Future
Speaking of the future, two other developments stood out at this meeting. The first is Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw’s enthusiasm for further positive changes that can be made to the area, now that the rezone issue has been decided. She cited the original Olmstead Brothers’ plan for Seattle parks (http://www.seattle.gov/parks/parkspaces/olmsted.htm) and her interest in “reclaiming North Rainier’s Olmstead parks and boulevards.” The Olmsteads’ 1903 plan initially called for 20 contiguous miles of parks and green space throughout our city. While the city built out much of this plan in its early years, including space along Lake Washington Blvd and in the heart of Mount Baker, it breaks down into a sea of congestion and concrete along Rainier Ave S. Many area residents have called for the beautification of this area by bringing more of the Olmstead Brothers’ original vision into fruition and making concurrent traffic changes at the intersection of Rainier Ave S and Martin Luther King. They may have an ally in Councilwoman Bagshaw.
The second thing that stood out at this meeting are the opposing votes by the two Councilmembers who reside in Southeast Seattle, Sally Clark and Bruce Harrell. With district-based elections starting next year, both Councilmembers will be up for re-election. Harrell has already registered to run for the district-based seat, Position 2, while Sally Clark is running citywide, for Position 9. Even while withholding all opinions about districting, which I mildly supported/still loosely support, it is nonetheless interesting to note.
Sally Clark voted in support of the rezone, along with seven other Councilmembers, while Bruce Harrell voted against it. In opposing the legislation, Harrell echoed the opponents of the rezone in saying that it shouldn’t occur until the city can identify developers who have an intention to build. “There are no pending development projects contingent upon this planned rezone… It would seem to me that this is when you start talking to the developer community,” he said. Later he also claimed that, he had not heard a single comment in support of a 125 foot height allowance for a parcel currently occupied by Lowe’s Home Improvement.
Both claims came across as strange.As Clark herself pointed out earlier in the meeting, by the time a developer has intentions for an area or a particular parcel, the city is already behind the curve. “The city will not act fast enough in order to change the land use map to make sure the neighborhood gets what it has been asking for.” This seems prima facie evident considering the duration of the current process. The Mount Baker rezone, from the time the city released the 2009 Design Framework, has taken five years to approve. This is just for theoretical development. Perhaps, as Harrell says, the city can wait until developers draw up specific plans. The question is, then what? There is no reason to believe the process will be any less drawn-out or contentious in the future. Furthermore there is a question of whether the city wants to get into the business of micromanaging future development. This is a recipe for years of added uncertainty and chaos, not greater democratic participation.
Harrell’s claim that he has not heard any support for raising the height allowance for the Lowe’s parcel is also confounding, given that he attended the same Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meeting that many of my neighbors and I did. Some of us, myself included, spoke directly about this issue. Either way, Harrell will find political support among the vocal opponents of the rezone should he run again next year. This may be exactly the point. He appears to have taken a less reasoned policy stance to gain well-organized political backing. Clark took a simultaneously more principled and practical position by recognizing long-standing planning principles and supporting means to ends on which most Valley residents can agree: we needs smarter growth and more jobs. For that she should be commended.
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 our first installment in a series on the redevelopment of the King County Children and Family Justice Building, and its impact on South Seattle families and youth.
The words draped from the streetlamp read: Live,Learn, Work, Play. An extended invitation to all who pass underneath the sign – on 12th Avenue and Alder- to enjoy the vibrant business and entertainment ward housed within its immediate surroundings.
However, as inhabitants scurry past to imbibe at their favorite watering hole, or indulge their appetites at the nearest neoteric eatery, it’s often easy for them to ignore the nondescript structure which rest no more than 20 feet away. Though, if the recent firestorm that has ignited over its future is any indication, the days of its obscurity are quite numbered.
“It’s a pure tragedy! That building will be nothing more than a kids for cash operation.” said Otieno Terry – a local youth and Y.U.I.R (Youth Undoing Institutional Racism) member- in reference to the King County Children and Family Justice Center Building, which will soon be replaced by a new $210 million dollar facility bearing the same name. The development of which has stoked a tremendous amount of controversy in South Seattle for residents fearful over an extreme hike in youth incarcerations.
The impending construction of the new facility is being financed by a 2012 levy initiative passed by 53% of King County voters,which added an additional property tax of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed land value to area homeowners over a 9 year time frame.
The existing building houses a juvenile detention center, and also serves as King County’s main facility for juvenile court cases, including those involving abuse, neglect, and child abandonment. The structure has not been renovated since 1972 and – according to the County- has long been overdue for redevelopment.
“We were in a situation where the drinking water had turned brown. There was mold and mildew in the court houses, and our electrical system did not function properly,so that children who were in the housing units had to be provided extra blankets just in order to keep from freezing at night. Our sole motivation for building this new center is to make conditions better for the county and community.” said Claudia Balducci, Criminal Justice Strategy Section Manager for King County’s Office of Strategy and Budget.
But several area Social Justice groups – led by EPIC (End the Prison Industrial Complex) and AFSC (American Friends and Service Committee)- have aligned to challenge the County’s assertion, as they view the building of the new facility as an action that will directly exacerbate the problem of disproportional imprisonment rates as it pertains to South Seattle minority youth.
While the overall rate of incarcerated King County juveniles has actually decreased in the past few years, by the County’s own data, the proportion of youth of color: black, hispanic and asian, has actually risen during the same time period. In King County, minority adolescents are currently twice as likely to be placed in a detention center than their non-minority counterparts, despite making up less than 40% of area’s youth population.
“You can’t legitimately tell me that you’re going to build a new detention facility for almost a quarter of a billion dollars and keep it empty! This is a rift on if you build it, they will come. And where will this children be coming from? It won’t be from Mercer island, Bellevue or Magnolia. It will be from Rainier Beach, from Skyway, from Othello and the CD, as it already is.” said Dustin Washington of the AFSC.
The County, however, while acknowledging the persistent racial disparities in youth incarceration rates, maintains that the new building shouldn’t be viewed as an instrument that will further provoke those discrepancies, “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the new building. It is going to house updated courtrooms, state of the art meeting spaces, and housing that isn’t at all detention oriented, but is actually used for children who are victims of domestic abuse and have no other place to go. Yes, the detention center will still be a part of the facility, but we’re actually reducing the number of beds from 200 in the current center, to only 154 in the new building. Detention space isn’t like commercial real estate where you can create more on an as needed basis, so we have to make sure that we can still accommodate situations as they present themselves.” Says Balducci.
Members of the coalition against the facility say that the reduced number of beds in the detention center is still too many. “Depending on estimates, the average number of children in the detention center on any given night ranges between 54 -70 kids. They’re not even using half of the bed space as it is. No one is saying that they shouldn’t re-model the prison to improve its conditions, but $210 million for a completely new facility? Especially in our current climate where at every level of government, from federal, to our own state and county legislatures, are crying broke. They can’t afford adequate health care, housing or education for everyone in our state, county or city, yet we can afford a youth prison? This money has to be flowing to someone, somewhere.” Said James Williams, a coalition representative.
It’s a question that several area youth have also been asking, including Khalel Lee, an organizer with Y.U.I.R. “You know the importance of priorities by where money is placed. Instead of more money being put into education, they’re put into prisons. Why not take half of the money allocated for the prison and put it into our schools. We need better equipment. We need books that don’t fall apart when you turn the pages. We also need after school programs, and work programs for teenagers. We need things that are more preventive rather than punitive.”
For their part, the County doesn’t feel that the preventive and punitive can’t go hand in hand. “This doesn’t have to be an either or situation. We agree wholeheartedly that we need to focus more energy, and give more support to preventive measures, but it’s also a reality that there are circumstances where detention is needed.” said Balducci.
She also rejected the notion that construction on the new building would function as a money grab. “Are their going to be contractors who get paid? Yes, of course, someone has to do the work. But, thankfully we don’t have private prisons in Washington State that are run strictly to turn a profit.”
The issue recently came to its boiling point at a recent community forum held at the 2100 building on 24th Avenue South and hosted by EPIC- Which was attended by Balducci, along with a representative from King County Executive Director Dow Constantine’s Office. Over 200 South Seattle residents showed up to hear arguments for and against the center’s redevelopment, and to see whether any common ground could emerge between the two factions. Unfortunately, neither side appeared to leave contented.
“What continued to be brought up throughout the meeting was, fix broken systems, and not broken people, but I simply don’t see why we can’t do both? We do need to fix the system, I’m not disputing that, as it isn’t perfect. We can’t have a kid who lives in Rainier Beach, and is given a summons to a court out in Federal Way, and yet he has no transportation to get there so he ends up missing it. He then has a warrant issued for his arrest, and then he’s locked up in detention.” Said Balducci. “Are we where we want to be yet? No, but we can get there.”
Voices of the coalition against the prison contend that the county representatives at the meeting offered nothing but a flimsy wall of words in their defense of the facilities construction. “Ms. Balducci seemed like a nice woman, and at least she did get up and speak, which is more than I can say for the representative from Dow Constantine’s office. However, she’s the mayor of Bellevue. Why in the world is she even tasked with speaking to us? If the County had been earnest about getting actual community buy-in about this project they would have had meetings like this before they sought to build the prison, not after. For such a large allocation of money, you would think that we’d have more serious discussions about it as an entire community, not just with so-called stakeholders that seem cherry picked by the county.” said Washington
One attendant at the meeting echoed the sentiment, “I speak to people and they literally thought that the levy was for parks or something. The lack of education about this issue is astounding, especially as dry as the money spigots appear to be in our area. The detention center needed to be renovated 15 years ago, so why are we fast tracking things now, with very limited discussion with the people, and the families who will directly be affected by this? Why didn’t they speak to a broad group of youth who had been incarcerated and who live in this area? I don’t want my son or daughter, preyed upon and locked up, so they can act as a return of investment on a youth prison.” Said Martin Friedman.
As more groups rally against the building of the facility, while the County simultaneously proceeds with their construction plans, one thing seems certain in all of the resultant murkiness, the discord over this issue remains quite far from over.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and newly confirmed Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, will both be visiting the New Holly Gathering Center – located at 7054 32nd Avenue South- on Thursday, June 26th at 6:00pm to film the latest installment of Ask The Mayor.
Mayor Murray will be taking questions directly from those in attendance, as well as discussing a host of issues ranging from his proposal to stave off cuts to metro bus service, universal preschool , gun violence, neighborhood crime, and progress on police reform.
In love is an easy state to tumble into with Shontina Vernon’s music. Perhaps it’s because you can’t quite figure out what genre along the musical spectrum lays claim to her inimitable sound. Folk? Rock? Jazz? Blues? Soul? All season the flavoring of her melodious entree. Or, it could be that her lyrics, layered with so much meaning, provide a sharp counter to those currently being spewed from our radios – which seem to be directly rehashed from the dialogue of Green, Eggs, and Ham. Or, it might just be because her songbook spans such a wide range of human experience that it becomes nigh impossible for your ears to be infected by one of her tunes without it causing you to harken back to a pivotal moment in your own life – whether love squandered, hopes realized, or dreams stalled. In any case, Vernon’s music, similar to the emotion it inspires, simply put, is just really damn good.
The Texas native and University of Washington educated playwright/singer-songwriter, returned to the city last year, making South Seattle her home. And though she travels back and forth to the East Coast and internationally, our novel area has served to reignite her creative embers, while providing her a much needed site of repose between projects. We were able to stop replaying her last album just long enough to catch up with Shontina in person, to discuss her own love for music, her upcoming projects, and life in South Seattle.
Emerald: Common wisdom suggests that you have to leave Seattle, especially the southern end of it, and go somewhere else in order to achieve success in most artistic endeavors. You’ve lived in pretty much every major city in the United States, what is it that continually brings you back to South Seattle?
Shontina Vernon: It’s a combination of things, but mainly timing. I’ve lived in Atlanta. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York, but Seattle is unique to me. It has a quaint small town vibe, yet feels like a great place to incubate new ideas. The pace here suits my life at the moment. I travel a lot, and re-entry here is always so easy. And the natural beauty could reawaken even the most dormant imagination. Being an alum of UW has also meant that I have access to a really solid artistic community. Seattle’s the kind of place where on one hand, I wish more people knew about it- and there were more people of color- but then again, I don’t always want to share it. Blame the introvert in me.
Emerald: The lyrics of your songs have so much depth and meaning behind them. They’re a welcome contrast to many that are currently produced by the music industry. How are you able to create songs that resonate so powerfully with the listener?
Shontina: I try to be a really good listener myself, to what my experiences at any given moment are trying to show/teach me. I had a very rich life growing up in Texas, so I pull from there a lot. I’m adopted, but my mother was born in 1917 and my father was born somewhere around 1893, so I had very old parents who were rooted in a time that is so not now. They were very much country people, very simple salt of the earth people. I think that the way that they lived their lives seeped into me, along with the way that I hear and experience music, so some of that root sound, blues sound in my music, comes from them. I’m also a theater artist, so I use what I know about playwriting/acting to help me get into different perspectives in terms of writing a song. It allows me to step into a character so to speak and write from that place. There’s so many ways to write music, and I employ them all, at least I try to.
Emerald: Would you say singer/songwriter is your primary occupation? You do so many other things.
Shontina: I would say my primary occupation is that I’m a storyteller. That is the one thing that is fundamental to all of the disciplines in which I work. As an artist, I have the unique vantage point of being aware of all the different stories for which I am the intersection, or the culminating event. Stories ask to be told in different ways, so I try to honor that and tell them with whatever form best suits the telling.
Emerald: Is it even possible to describe your creative process when working on musical project?
Shontina: No (laugher). It’s not. Because it’s so different depending on the thing I’m making.
Emerald: Okay, let’s isolate one of your works. The song Dreamer, which I think is absolutely amazing, how did you go about writing it?
Shontina: I don’t even remember writing the song (laughter). What I remember is where I was when I wrote it. That time in my life, who I was with, the conversations we were having. The conversations that I was having with myself. How I wrote it? I don’t really know. I just know what inspired it. I also seem to remember that the melody and the words came together. As of late, I’ve been experimenting with music and sounds, producing more tracks and allowing the lyrics to come as they come. My last song I released, “Snake Oil Man” was like that.
Emerald: So for you is art akin to that Ernest Hemingway quote that, “In order to write anything you have to live life first?” Essentially life itself is the muse for an artist?
Shontina: Yes, because life is everything, right? Everyone that shows up, every place that you live, every place that you visit, that is all fodder for what you write. But, how you will write about those things is always a surprise. You never know. I forget who the writer is, but there’s this quote about writing being as much of a process of discovering one’s self in what you write, because sometimes things about you are revealed to you right on paper that you weren’t quite consciously aware of, so there’s this relationship between you and the work all the time.
Music to me tends to reveal more about how I feel. I mean, I feel pretty intelligent in terms of what I’m thinking at any given moment. I do feel smart, but when I work in music, it all of a sudden becomes clear to me about how I felt about a situation rather than what I thought about a situation. Feelings are harder to get at.
Emerald: As an artist, how do you define a successful career? For some it’s monetary reward, for others it’s acclaim for what they do. What is it for you?
Shontina: For me it’s, “Does it feel good and am I happy doing it?” And I don’t mean that superficially either. If I’m making art, but unable to sustain a life for myself, then it doesn’t feel good. And it makes me worry for the kind of art I’m making from that place. It isn’t successful. Now, if I’m making tons of money, but my creative life is languishing and there is no art. Same. There is no joy in that either. It’s not about accolades or lots of money. I think those things are fine. I don’t personally have a judgment about those things, but at the end of the day, you still rest with you, and those just aren’t the things that I imagine will stand out on my deathbed. It’s got to feel good on all fronts or I’m just not doing it (laughter).
Emerald:. Your songs often mix tragedy and humor. Why is that?
Shontina: Life is just like that. And I think you see and understand things more clearly with contrast. Something is sadder if it follows something really, really joyful. It’s more joyful if it follows something really tragic and really sad. So I think that’s the musician in me that says that they have to play together. I’ve now lived long enough to see myself make decisions that I thought were really good, that farther down the line turned out to be bad, and I’ve made some decisions that I thought, “this is really bad,” and farther down the road they turned out to be the best thing, so the truth is that you don’t really know. You just have to include it all in the telling of a good story.
Emerald: I know that Joni Mitchell has been a major inspiration for you, but who else has played a role in your artistic development?
Shontina: So many! I’m a huge fan of Junot Diaz as a writer. When I first read his book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, it sort of freed my writer’s mind me from some of its constraints. I think, because he is someone coming to the states from the Dominican Republic, he has an eye that peers into this world, and that world. Again, contrast. There is also Audre Lorde. I was here in Seattle, when I went into a bookstore and found an anthology of her work. Poetic, pointed and raw. I was just like, “Where has this person been my whole life!” Growing up in Texas there wasn’t a lot I was exposed to. I was dreaming a life for myself with no evidence that it was possible. Neither of my parents had much schooling, so there’s a lot that you’re like, “Well, how do I do this? Can it even be done?'”
Musically, I listen to everything. I’m a huge fan of the old jazz heads – Thelonius, Mingus. Abbey Lincoln was a revelation for me. Her compositions are so beautiful and wise. It’s funny, I love her music, but Joni Mitchell is more of a literary influence for me, because of the way she used words to paint pictures. She was a visual artist that approached music from that mind. Hearing her and Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading, a lot of them reminded me, that, “I’m a musician, and story is my way in.”
Emerald: What do you want people to say about you after seeing one of your performances?
Shontina: I want them to come out with the feeling of not wasting the hour or two, with the feeling of what’s possible. If their imaginations get stretched at all, if they come out with any questions, that’s good for me.
Emerald: So what’s next for you?
Shontina: Several things. I’m working on a collaboration called the Storyband Project, a kind of theatre lab for musicians to experiment with storytelling. I’m also expanding a new theatre piece that I presented here in March at CD Forum’s Creation Project. It’s called NOTE TO SELF: Postcards from Cuba and Beyond, and it takes a look at Black American identity against a global canvas. Of course I can’t wait to record some music. I’ve already started working on material for the next album. And finally, I’m collaborating with a group of writers on a web series being developed through Eclectic Brew Arts. It’s a story that follows a young church, and the evolution of some of its members. And it’s called BATTLE AXE.
Emerald: What advice do you have for any burgeoning artist from around this area? Especially for those who keep hitting a bump in the road? Shontina: The first thing is, don’t kid yourself about what you want or why you want it. I encourage people to really look inside themselves. If you’re pursuing capital A – ART, just to seek validation of your worth outside of yourself, that’s a dangerous place to begin. Not that some haven’t started there and found their way. But I say that because we have the kind of culture here in America that really knows how to exploit that individual. The machine is waiting to eat you. But If you’re committed to making art because you know you have something of value to give/to express, then make it. It will find its proper place if you are simply committed to the discipline required to make it. Take care of yourself. Fill your life with good people, take note of the beauty that is around you, and make a point to leave the world better than when you came.
For more information on Shontina, including upcoming shows and events, please visit: http://www.tinavernon.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @tinavmusic
Producing a film seems like rather a nebulous task. We have the director, who directs, the actors, who act, the designers, who create the world of the piece, and the writer, who writes the thing. But what does a producer do, exactly? He is the forerunner, the organizer, the person who makes the thing happen. And Ramon Isao, an up-and-coming writer/producer in the Seattle film scene, certainly fits that mold. The energetic, talkative, and charismatic young artist is set to do his third feature this summer, Dead Body, a slasher-meets-mystery flick sporting a cast and crew of young up-and-coming Seattleites and shot in a cabin a few miles out of town.
When I asked Ramon how long he’s been writing, he said, “I’ve always written, even as a kid. I started out with fiction, but 8 years ago, my buddy Kevin asked me to help rewrite a movie called Zombies of Mass Destruction”. A completely new experience for Ramon, he jumped on the chance, and the two were able to produce the feature amidst positive reviews.
Then, along came Junk – a film he described as “A raunchy, evil comedy – the work that I’ve decided my parents never need to see”. In addition to co-producing and co-writing, he co-starred in this one, playing a character that he put as “disturbingly like myself”. Ramon said that learning to act in this type of role changed everything for him as a writer and producer. He exclaimed, “I gained a newfound appreciation for what actors did!”
Fresh from these two successes, he has jumped headlong into co-writing and co-producing – along with co-conspirator Ian Bell – a combination slasher and mystery flick called Dead Body. Seen it a million times? That’s what I thought. When I asked him why this movie was so special, he pointed out the never-done combination of slasher and mystery. Turns out, it’s hard to do – Isao has worked with Ian for months to crack the formula, involving high school kids, a game gone wrong, mystery, death, and campiness all bundled into one delicious little flick. With it, he’s interested in “combining the humor and the absurd with violence”.
Believe it or not, though, the new genre isn’t what Ramon is most excited about. He spent most of his time gushing about the talented group of young Seattleites working on the film. Ramon said he was “dead lucky to score” the cast and crew. As Ramon put it, “Every single one of these people is super talented – I’m mostly just excited to show off to everyone that I landed all of these awesome collaborators!” Almost as exciting for Ramon is that he can do a film in his hometown, with people in his hometown, about an area in his hometown. His goal with this group is to build a community of Seattleites to make art with, project after project.
Upon asking him what a Seattle layperson should do to get involved with Dead Body: He laughed, and said, “Come to us! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be a PA throughout August – you’ll get some food and experience, and get to kick it with some kickass artists!” You can also check out their Kickstarter to donate – cool perks include a Halloween party with the cast and free tickets to see the movie at one of the festivals it will be circulating at (Ramon is shooting for horror festivals and SIFF, to name two).
His response to my query of how to get into film in general? Get out there and do it! “It’s easy!” he said, and immediately laughed. “No, I’m lying. It’s fucking hard. But you just have to go do it. Start making things! You gotta make the bad shit to get to the good shit”. So, you heard him, would-be film guys. Start making movies, even if they’re terrible. Get out there with your camera and shoot shit – you never know when you’ll get your break. And stay tuned for more on Dead Body – I expect we’ll be seeing more about it soon.
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