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Protesters Demand Change at SEIU Local 6

by Marcus Harrison Green

SEIU Local 6 members gather at union offices.
SEIU Local 6 members gather at union offices.

Chants of “Sergio Must Go’ rang like salvos last Saturday morning as over 100 protesters assembled at SEIU Local 6’s South Seattle office along Airport Way S to demand a change in leadership at the venerable union that currently represents more than 4,000 janitors, security officers, barbers and retail workers across King County and Washington State.

The protest, the second in as many weeks, was ignited by an October,11th executive nomination meeting that saw long simmering tensions between established union leadership and reform minded candidates finally erupt, when Amelia Vassar- who is seeking to replace Sergio Salinas in the position of Local 6 President- was blocked from any attempt to run against the incumbent by a peculiar interpretation of union bylaws.

“I chose to run against Sergio because as a union representative, I have seen personally, how union leadership discourages organizers from advocating for certain members or challenging certain contractors.  I also see that members who have ideas or thoughts that conflict with the view of union leadership are discouraged from participating in their union,” said Vassar who has the distinction of being the first person to challenge Salinas during his 12 year tenure as the union’s head.

“He and the board decided that I was ineligible run against him because I did not work as a janitor or security guard, which is a bad interpretation of the bylaws. These same bylaws were in place when he originally ran for president of Local 6, so he would be in violation of them as well. Sergio knows that he is a very unpopular president and will do anything to avoid a vote.”

While neither Salinas nor any of his supporters attended Saturday’s rally they maintain that there has been no violation of union protocols.

However, his opponents insist that this apparent double standard was the straw on a mountainous stack of many that finally broke the camel’s back. The rally found them united in the opinion that Salinas and the executive board’s current approach to running Local 6 resembles something more tantamount to an authoritarian dictatorship than an organization sympathetic to the concerns of its members.

“This is the first time that Sergio Salinas has had any organized opposition and it really shows, because the internal life of the union has become more and more fearful and more and more repressive,” said Michael Ladd, who in addition to participating in the protest is running as a union reform candidate.

“By in large my fellow rank and file union members are not significantly involved in the decision making process within the organization,” Ladd continued.

“It’s just one big joke. As a shop steward on the job I am expected to be a smart, talented, fierce advocate for both my co-workers and the principles of the labor movement in general. But when you attend a typical membership meeting you quickly find out that the same standard doesn’t apply. Under Salinas, once you walk through the doors of the union hall you’re pretty much expected to shut up, turn your brain off, do as you’re told and never seriously question the leadership’s agenda”

Salinas’ opponents contend that he has been able to concentrate union power for himself and his flatterers on the executive board by installing a fear of retribution in any member who dares oppose him or his policies.

“He terminated me for disloyally once he learned that I was running against him. This is illegal. You can’t terminate me to take me off of the ballot. The members and the international union are going to see through this,” stated Vassar.

“There are countless people who say to me: I’d like to support you but I don’t know if I want to sign your petition Mike because I don’t know if that’s going to get back to Sergio or not, and I don’t want to lose my job,” added Ladd, who has spent the past several months passing out petitions making the case against the union’s current regime.

“We don’t need Edward Snowden to hand us some smoking gun or leaked document to put this all together, these sort of reactions are symptomatic of what many of my coworkers are already thinking. We have a lot of questions as to what the real relationship between the union leadership and the employers is like. And considering everything that has happened we are preparing ourselves for further retaliation from the union officials and the supervisors alike.”

Alongside jitters over reprisal, those at Saturday’s protest are unhappy with what they feel has been a growing coziness between union executives and the employers they are responsible for negotiating with on behalf of union membership. These concerns seem to point to Saturday’s protest being far from the last as long as the current constitution of the executive board remains intact.

“We have no other choice than to change the leadership. We’ve gotten to a crisis point with the issues of extreme workload, employer abuse and meager contracts for workers that are euphemistically labeled  modest contracts. Despite being organized for several years our security guards don’t even have union health care,” stated Ladd.

“It’s obvious to many of us that Salinas and his staff are resorting to outright repression because they have realized that the majority of the Local 6 membership want serious reform. Our message is simple : we want the leadership and the union officials to directly reflect the will of the membership. We want a fighting union that empowers both workers on the job and also the communities that we live in order to organize together for a better life and a better world. We are sick and tired of seeing the union leadership stand by as we work our fingers to the bone while the employers get fat and rich. It’s high time that we take our destiny into our own hands.”

Meaning in Movies: Beacon Hill Group Hopes Films Spark Activism

by Marcus Harrison Green

"Meaningful Moviegoers" grab concessions prior to a screening.
“Meaningful Moviegoers” grab concessions prior to a screening.

Flooding to the movies on a Friday night is about as typical for the average American as a diet forsaking anything resembling a vegetable, but what is rarely found during those jaunts to the multiplex is any reason whatsoever to engage in discourse with your fellow moviegoers that extends beyond, “Excuse me,” while shuffling shamefully to your seat after the previews have already commenced.

You come alone, watch whatever brain cell deadening confection Hollywood has shrewdly marketed to you, and leave alone- more than likely never making eye contact with anyone associated with the hoard of strangers in whose company you just spent nearly two hours. As such, there is no surer bet than wagering that the inspiration to join them in attempting to change the world more than likely missed grazing your mind by a wide margin, let alone striking it. But if they have their way, a group in South Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will push that inspiration a lot closer to its mark.

Featuring chairs drawn in tight assembly as neighbors hang on each others every word as intently as Moses during dictation of the Ten Commandments, heads alternating between nods of unflappable agreement and a state of stoic repose upon introduction to profound ideas, and spirited discussions that make the atmosphere pulsate with a vivacity that is more typical of an EDM dance club on a Friday night than a community gathering space – with issue focused documentaries that act as the catalyst of the foregoing- Beacon Hill Meaningful Movies,in its fourth month of operation,is seeking to show that despite what currently seems a preponderance of evidence to the contrary-Jeffersonian Democracy is indeed alive and kicking, and in South Seattle nonetheless.

The “Meaningful Movies” brand, first begun in the Wallingford neighborhood 11 years ago, has become distinguished for screening thought provoking films that challenge residents to engage in deliberate discourse and community activism. The end goal being for them to apply what had just been shown on screen to the improvement of communal daily life- in addition to formulating a collective solution to the litany of problems that the films touch on- including human sex trafficking, climate change, and income inequality.

It was seeing this living, breathing cauldron of the civically engaged upon visiting a Meaningful Movies venue in Wallingford that sparked the desire of Christina Olson-the community steward of Beacon Hill Meaningful Movies-to create an offshoot of the film series to the south end.

“I had always been interested in engaging documentaries that sparked conversations, but the best places around Seattle to catch them were at Meaningful Movie venues that were only located in various north end neighborhoods. I used to always think: Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to go across the ship canal on a Friday night just to see a great movie. It occurred to me that probably the only way I could stop doing that was if I brought them here to us in South Seattle,” exclaims Olson.

Olson, having previously succeeded in securing a grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for a garden project, was emboldened to apply to them for funding she used as start up money in getting Meaningful Movies off the ground in Beacon Hill. She ended up partnering with Beacon Arts, the primary organizer of art related events in the area, to help with marketing efforts.

In June, Beacon Hill Meaningful Movies became the newest affiliate of the network’s 11 venues and the only located in the South Seattle area. In its brief time it has attracted those residents who are looking to foster an actual community amongst the people they casually interact with on a daily basis.

“So often neighbors just pass by each other, and don’t discuss topics or engage with each other in any significant way. This acts as a gathering post where people can come and exchange ideas.” says Olson.

The Beacon Hill Meaningful Movies – which shows films every third Friday of the month at the Garden House on Beacon Hill- has gone out of its way to make sure the movies that are presented to its community vary both in tone and message, and have featured topics as diverse as the extinction of honey bees, to the acidification of our oceans, to worker co-operatives.

“It would be easy to provide only environmental films, but we want to stay open and attract a variety of interest and a variety of people instead of becoming: That movie group that’s always harping about migration, or is always on an environmental kick,” shares Olsen.

As important as the films themselves are, they function as only appetizer to the main course, which is the moderated community conversation that ensues just after credits roll, allowing even the rhetorically shy to chime in.

“After each movie we draw the circle of chairs together and everyone shares what they thought about the film how if resonates locally,” says Olson.

“All of our discussions are facilitated because my experience has been that often times in public forums there are strong personalities that can dominate and we don’t want that. We have a series of guidelines so  that whoever wants to be heard can be heard. We realize  there are some people who are just not quick thinkers and talkers and we want to honor that too.”

It is this parsing of community opinion that Olson believes can serve as a launching pad for transformation within the community which is why she often invites local advocates to the films to enhance the topics being broached.

“The next film we are showing cooperatives in Spain and how they function and we want to have a discussion about how we translate that to possibly forming other cooperatives in the South Seattle area.We’re actually going to have a speaker from “People’s Memorial Association” which is a funeral and burial co-operative to talk about how they formed. We want the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and beyond to asks questions such as maybe we can form co-operatives of our own here, and not depend on the mercy of a developer for jobs in our area,” says Olson.

But the movies are providing an even more practical purpose according to Beacon Arts director Betty Jean Williamson-who along with Olson heads up Meaningful Movies’ promotion. “I do think that we fill in that gap for people on specific issues where they might only be subject to talking points or “junk food” news that our media currently reports.”

“We want to give the opportunity for people who want to have discussions and want more in depth information about topics that affect us as a society to join us in doing just that. We are currently inviting people from around the area to come be a part of our steering committee to decide what topics should be presented.”

In its brief tenure, the south end affiliate of Meaningful Movie’s steering committee- made up of local Beacon Hill residents- has had the great fortune of choosing films that couldn’t be more timely than if they were in synch with the US Navy Observatory’s Master Clock.

“When we showed Migration is Beautiful it just so happened that we screened the film during the time all the news broke about the children migrants coming across the border into Texas. The government was planning to house them in military institutions. One of our guest that night happened to be involved in immigration issues and she said: We’re proposing an alternative. Why don’t we accommodate them at Discovery Park where the decommissioned barracks of old Fort Lawton could house and provide adequate services in a group setting?”

The relevance of the movies continues to not only attract a huge swath of southend area residents, but has been patronized from those living as far away as Mountlake Terrace and Poulsbo, something that both Olson and Williamson have a growing ambivalence about.

“My greatest fear is that the work that I am doing to facilitate access to arts and creating art in our community can become a lever for gentrification and that is my nightmare. Look at what happened to Belltown and what’s currently going on in the Central District,” says Williamson.

Still, Olson is doing all she can to make sure its local flavor stays intact as she wants to showcase local filmmakers-and by local she means with a capital L, as in within a 5-10 mile radius of Beacon Hill. “Though we didn’t select any this season, we’d like to eventually serve as a venue for local filmmakers within our community, even immigrants. We are currently looking into one that deals with the Ethiopian population of South Seattle.”

As Olson and Williamson embark on making the series a year round affair with viewings and discussions taking place at least twice a month, they face an uphill battle as the initial funding from the Department of Neighborhoods runs out in December which means that the fledgling franchise will have to more than likely depend on the graces of local philanthropists to keep operating beyond the holiday season.

“People really love what we’re doing, and I think we will be successful. It is truly just a matter of time. We’re still under a lot of the neighborhoods radar and are seeking to reach out to them,” says Olson. “As we grow and more people from around the area discover each other and get engaged in the discussion around the topics our films introduce, we feel that the entire community will be strengthened!”

Meaningful Movies Showings ( All films are shown at The Garden House: 2336 15th Ave. South, Seattle, WA, 98114. Doors open at 6:15pm. Film Starts at 7:00pm and includes free popcorn):

Friday, Oct 17th: Shift Change: Film makers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young will be in attendance along with People’s Memorial Society and a local group that provides assistance in creating coops.

Friday, Nov 21st: Princess Angeline: Film looks at the history of Seattle’s first people the Duwamish Tribe.  Film maker Sandy Osawa will be in attendance.

Friday, Dec 19th: Nothing Like Chocolate: Film centers around sustainable, organic, fair trade, bean to bar chocolate produced in Grenada.  Great door prizes guaranteed!

More Information: www.beacon-arts.org and www.meaningfulmovies.org

Cancer Finally Meets Its Match in Southend Advocate

by Marcus Harrison Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Skyway Building Dedication Celebrates “An Angel on Earth”

by Marcus Harrison Green

Cynthia Green (middle) stands under the new Cynthia A Green Family Center sign.
Cynthia Green (middle) stands under the new Cynthia A Green Family Center sign. Photo Credit: Egan Kolb

The Skyway area has probably never been so thankful for its hilltop setting as enough tears flowed this past Saturday to precipitate a flood of biblical proportions when the community honored one of its matriarchs in a rousing building dedication ceremony.

“She is the most loving, caring person I’ve ever meet. She is the most selfless person I’ve ever been around!” gushed Harriette Moore, who offered but one in a grand chorus of echoes that lauded the woman whose name will be permanently affixed to the former Renton Area Youth and Family Services West Hill Family Center, Cynthia Ann Green.

The 69 year old retiree spent most of the balmy Saturday afternoon unsuccessfully fighting back tears as the building- located at the intersection of 76th Avenue and S 127th Street in Skyway- that served as her workplace for almost 20 years was designated the Cynthia A. Green Family Center.

Though her title officially read Program Assistant during her 18 year tenure at the Center, most in attendance at the dedication- which included a large swath of community members her work directly impacted, former colleagues, and local luminaries- would have found that akin to referring to Steve Jobs prosaically as a marketer.

Green’s days at the center rarely conformed to a 9-5 schedule as she spent long hours graciously assisting members of the Skyway community in everything from fighting home evictions, to securing enough money to keep utilities on, to providing food for those who had none- many times sharing her own lunch with those who came to the Center starving- to providing a pillar of strength in the midst of personal tragedy.

“Cynthia was your best friend. Your shoulder to cry on. The person who lifted you up when you had a bad day. She just brought out the best in everyone who came into contact with her. Everyone in Skyway still just loves her.” Shared Sherry Dione, a daily visitor to the center.

Confirmed Barb Wiley-Taylor, a long time colleague of Green’s. “I’ve been waiting for years to celebrate Cynthia; it’s so easy to celebrate her. This is long overdue. She’s such an incredible person who has given so much to the community. I’m glad we’re able to celebrate her!”

The celebration- which was a lively affair that featured the reading of an original poem written specifically for the occasion by award winning poet Peggy Williams, a performance from Seattle R&B sensation Shaprece, a proclamation by King County Councilmember Larry Gossett that declared it Cynthia Anne Green Day across the county, and frequent eruptions of applause as what seemed like an endless procession of speakers shared what Green personally meant to them – almost took place without its guest of honor in attendance.

Upon being forced to retire from her position at the center in February in order to care for her ailing mother, Green requested that the community and her colleagues at the center do nothing in recognition of her, and instead parcel out any money they had intended to spend on a celebration to families in the community who demonstrated economic need.

The modest mother of five, who abhors the spotlight, had  actually vowed to herself not to attend  any ceremony that was planned in her honor.

“I really didn’t want them to make a fuss over me. There are so many people that need help in the community that I thought they should just give any money they were going to spend on me to them.” Said Green. “Up until about an hour before the ceremony I was certain that I wasn’t going, but my husband convinced me that the community really wanted me to be there, and I’d be letting them down if I didn’t attend.”

The celebration’s ad hoc group of organizers included a myriad of friends, associates, and co-workers who Green had amassed during her time at the Center. They were able to construct a novel solution that both honored her request to help needy families and satisfied the communities desire to commemorate her accomplishments.

In addition to the renaming of the building, they founded the Cynthia A. Green Scholarship Fund that will aide families within the community in meeting their basic needs and will be managed by Renton Area Youth and Family Services- the local organization that continues to operate the Center.

Green looks on as a community member speaks at the dedication Ceremony.
Green looks on as a community member speaks at the dedication Ceremony.

All the day’s transpirings came as an immense surprise to the guest of honor, as she had not been made privy to any of the grand gestures the community planned to bestow on her. “I’m utterly shocked.” An overwhelmed Green said through tears as she reflected on the day’s events. “I just thought that people would get up and say a few things about me. I had no idea that they were going to name the building after me and start a fund in my name. I…I can’t believe all of this is happening!”

And although  it had been months since the honoree had stepped foot into the building that now bears her name prior to Saturday, her impact and legacy within the community surely would have endured even without her names inscription on one of Skyway’s oldest buildings.

“There’s not a day that someone doesn’t come up here asking for Cynthia, even though she’s been gone for a little while. There isn’t a day that

someone doesn’t  tell a story about  her, or recount a memory about what she did for them.” recounted Cynthia A Green Family Center Director Morgan Wells.

Added Ginney Ross, a member of the group that Green founded at the center to help support grandparent’s who were sole guardians of their

grandchildren: “She always had this smile on her face that forced you to smile back, no matter how horrible your day had been, and she always has a solution to your problem. We know that there are angels on earth because of people like Cynthia.”

Disclosure: The writer of this article is the  proud son of Cynthia Green

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

by Devin Chicras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

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

Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema

MyWestHill.org/SOC

Skyway Breaks Ground on New Library

Skyway_Library_Groundbreaking_1Community members celebrated the Skyway Library groundbreaking last Wednesday afternoon Wednesday, July 9. As the crowd gathered, 25 children from the Skyway Boys & Girls Club’s summer music program entertained the crowd with songs.

KCLS Interim Director Julie Acteson welcomed the community to the event to celebrate the start of construction for the new 8,000 square foot library.

“The new library will be within walking distance from the Boys & Girls Club, Dimmitt middle school and several elementary schools,” said King County Library System (KCLS) Interim Director Julie Acteson.

A number of dignitaries addressed the crowd, including KCLS Board Trustee Jessica Bonebright, Friends of Skyway Library President Theresa McLean, West Hill Community Association President Bill Bowden, King County Sheriff’s Office Captain Ted Boe and King County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brian Barnes.

“We appreciate the voters in the community who supported this project,” said KCLS Board Trustee Jessica Bonebright. “This is going to be a great resource for the community.”

Project architect Matt Aalfs highlighted the design process, which incorporated input from the community. He said the new building will have almost twice the space, materials and computers.

“We tried to make a building that’s beautiful, that’s inspirational and it feels open and welcoming. We met with (community members) here,and thought a lot about the kids who live here who might need a place to go. We wanted them to feel comfortable and safe here, with whatever it is they need.” Aalfs said.

With gold shovels in hand, local dignitaries were joined by children with small shovels to break ground. “This Space is going to be great.” Said West Hill Community Association President Bill Bowden. “It’s just an awesome centerpiece for revitalizing the community!”

Special thanks to the King County Library System for assistance with this article

The Movies Come To Skyway

by Marcus Harrison Green

Fans express their affection for the Skyway Outdoor Cinema.
Fans express their affection for the Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

If the image of neighbors camped outside under starlit sky – sprawled over transplanted home furnishings while gorging on popcorn, and participating in a collective chorus of oohs and awes conducted by a recent Hollywood blockbuster – seems a sight capable only in one of the idiosyncratic enclaves belonging to the northern end of our fair city, then you may want to watch your step for stray shards of shattered assumptions, as South Seattle readies for its own brand of outdoor film fun.

Later this summer, the Skyway neighborhood will play host to the community run – and eponymously titled- Skyway Outdoor Cinema (SOC) – a cinema series that will commence August 1st – in the U.S. Bank parking lot behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue and 76th – with a showing of Despicable Me 2, and run three successive Fridays thereafter – finishing up August 22nd with Frozen.

Stewarded for over a decade by the volunteer operated West Hill Community Association (WHCA) – previously known as the West Hill Community Council (WHCC) – SOC was originally founded to provide a free, family oriented event that served as a much needed opportunity for engagement amongst community members.

A series of obstacles, including the lack of a thriving business district from which to draw sponsors, the challenge of uniting a disparate fan base and coordinating extensive fundraising efforts led to a reliance on grant funds to maintain a basic level of operation for the first thirteen seasons of the event.

With King County dissolving Unincorporated Area Councils in 2011 in response to budgetary concerns – resulting in a loss of guaranteed annual funding for the WHCC and a forced reorganization resulting in the newly rebranded WHCA – plus dwindling available grant funds, SOC decided to take a new approach. The new strategy, begun last season, is one that uses design and social media to increase its connection with fans and a more sustainable approach to its operating budget. By harnessing the power of its fans with crowdfunding and making smart purchases that eliminated the need to rent expensive equipment year after year – reducing basic operating costs- the event added a higher level of stability and increased its potential for growth.

Now in its second phase of life, the organizers of the open air cinema have redoubled their efforts in utilizing the event to galvanize the entire West Hill Community – which includes the neighborhoods of Skyway, Lakeridge, Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill, Earlington, Hilltop, Panorama View, and Skycrest – providing a centralized gathering locale that functions as an incubator of community, and that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Something that – according to locals – has been long overdue in the area.

“I think everyone is really tired of Skyway getting such a bad rap. Most people simply absorb what they hear on the news, but those assumptions really aren’t rooted and fact and experience. I think that not only hurts our image outside of our community, but I think it affects us as neighbors as well. We want to provide a fun, free, safe family environment for people to really learn what their community’s all about – I think we deserve that.” said Devin Chicras, WHCA board member and co-organizer of the cinema – in addition to moonlighting as the event’s Master of Ceremonies, Diligent Custodian, Technical Support, and Amiable Attendant Greeter during its film screenings.

With that goal in mind, organizers have made great strides in improving their marketing efforts to attract a much larger swath of the community. Chicras, along with co-organizer Mary Goebel, have worked hard on implementing the new strategy for SOC, which included heavily promoting the event on social media platforms and improving visitors’ experience at every level from engaging pre-show entertainment to free raffle prizes and keeping all concession items under a dollar.

By all measures, these new efforts appear to be working, as not only did attendance double last year, but the event has also enticed people from as far away as Burien and Des Moines to spend their Friday nights in Skyway.

Not bad for an area whose own residents, not all that long ago, barely wanted to set foot on its pavement. “It’s incredible to see this little parking lot in Skyway fill up with all these folks, having fun, talking to their neighbors, eating popcorn or having Domino’s delivered to them while seated on lawn chairs, detached minivan seats, or sprawled out picnic-style on a blanket. These are the people you see sometimes walking down the street, in the store, waiting at the bus stop. And now they’re here, like one big family. At 10pm behind a 7-Eleven in Skyway. It’s truly surreal, and completely inspiring.” Says Chicras.

Communal appreciation could not have come at a better time, as in the ensuing years since losing the majority of its funding, the event has had to rely more heavily on contributions from those living around the area. A dependency that appears quite secure, as the cinema was recently able to purchase a brand new audiovisual system, directly as a result of local generosity.

Costing a little under $7000, The A/V system – which will allow for a larger film projection, along with improved sound and picture quality more in line with traditional cinematic experiences – seemed out of reach for event organizers, as they received only a $3000 Community Engagement Grant from King County towards its purchase. Unsure of how they would make up the difference Chicras and Goebel turned to the community via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

“We only needed $3975 and ended up getting $4320! We were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our community.” said Chicras. The additional funds will be used to supplement SOC’s already meager budget, as it has never turned a profit, nor sought to – its primary mission remaining to build connections between residents. “We’re doing our best to make sure each and every person feels like being in that parking lot with their neighbors and friends is exactly where they should be on a Friday night in August.”

That is believed to be mission accomplished according to Sherrie Vineyard – who has attended the cinema since its inception.

“It gives (Skyway residents) four Friday nights each summer to really connect with our families and neighbors, and share what we’re about as a community. Last year, they held a raffle for school supply filled backpacks, and I was lucky enough to win one. That backpack went to a little boy who had a mom with no idea of how she was going to get supplies for him. The Skyway Outdoor Cinema does more than impact the lives of the community for four weeks each summer. They impact lives for years to come with their generosity and warm hearts.”

Skyway Outdoor Cinema runs August 1st (Despicable Me 2), 8th (The Lego Movie), 15th (Gravity) and 22nd (Frozen). Pre-show entertainment starts at 8pm, with the film at 9pm. Visit their website (MyWestHill.org/SOC) and Facebook Page (Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema) for more information.

Additional thanks to Devin Chicras for assisting with this article.