Friend of Seattlish & the Emerald, and Confirmed Handsome Journalist Ansel Herz has had one hell of a week—but he managed to make time to sit around and gossip with Hanna and Marcus.
We recorded this last week so a bit of the info might be a little dated (our beloved producer, DJ, is still fighting the good fight at Standing Rock. Love you, Deej!)—but don’t worry! We’ve got another ep coming Monday with updates on the 37th and some other stuff.
The sight of students with rapt attention, hanging onto every syllable uttered by their instructors as their minds rush to digest the extraordinary knowledge being served – so it can promptly return for a second helping – would seem a dream scenario at any school across the country, let alone one located in the South Seattle area, but indeed that reality transpired last week as around forty students – from high school to college aged- willingly exchanged basking in the glorious summer sun for an elusive education on the systematic structures of racism at the Tyree Scott Freedom School held at Beacon Hill’s UCC Bethany Church.
If that sounds like some heavy scholarship during the dog days of summer it is intended to, shared Ariel Hart a school facilitator. “I feel like this is a rare opportunity for youth to unlearn lessons that they’ve internalized throughout their lives, and other ones that are absent from the majority of school’s curriculum. This is a place that teaches people how to organize to help change things, and to take a look at how racism oppresses everyone, whether you’re a person of color of not.”
The school- named in honor of Tyree Scott, the well known Seattle area civil rights activist and community organizer- models itself after the first Freedom Schools that emerged across the country during the civil rights era as a response to racial inequities within the public education system.
Seattle first joined the Freedom School movement in 1966 when around 4000 -mainly African American – elementary and high school students boycotted the Seattle Public School District to protest the racial segregation that was routinely being practice by the district at the time. A forgotten history of the city that is well worth remembering according to Dustin Washington of American Friends Service Committee, who also serves as one of the school’s lead organizers.
“People see Seattle as a very progressive city, but the reality is that racism continues to persist in our classrooms and everyday life. There’s a reason that youth of color are 4 to 5 times more likely than white youth to be suspended in our school system. There’s a reason why they’re twice as likely to drop out than white youth, and it goes far beyond the myth that they don’t have enough individual will and self-determination. It has much more to do with the systems we’re all prisoner to.”
It was this focus on systems, rather than individuals, as the catalyst for the societal ills that plague communities of color that was at the forefront of much of the teaching the students received during the week. As a result, the subjects they tackled were ones you’d be hard pressed to find mentioned in any other classroom within the city limits – as they grappled with Economic Inequality, Long-Term Juvenile Incarceration, and Disparate Health Outcomes. All issues were intensely scrutinized through a racial lense.
It was a view that was truly eye opening according to many of the students. “What I learned was kind of a shock to me.” Said Asia Davis, a first time attendee who was aghast after learning about the potential causes behind the considerable discrepancy in infant mortality rates between African- American women and their white counterparts. “I go to a school that has mostly white students, so I feel fortunate that I m going to be able to bring back what I’ve learned to my school and share it with the others that go there who would otherwise have no clue.”
The school’s purpose was not only to present provocative subjects in a way that many of the students had never before encountered, but to also develop the next generation of civil and human rights leaders, fostering in them a sense of empowerment that would eventually allow them to impact their communities in an enduring way much as the school’s namesake did.
With that in mind the Tyree Scott Freedom School eschewed a top-down approach to its pedagogy, instead favoring a process that made its students largely responsible- via forged consensus and small group discussions- for everything from creating a decorum by which they agreed to treat each other by, to exploring creative solutions that acted to redress the social grievances presented to them at the school.
“I’ve really learned to be a leader here, and it’s something that I can apply whether I’m organizing people to help house the homeless, or to stop people from being racist as it’s a learned thing. No one is born with that trait.” said Saara Jones a student who attended the school to become a better organizer.
The tactic of allowing them a liberal amount of control in the educational process seemed to go over quite well with the students, many of whom were more familiar with having a pedantic lesson plan dictated to them at their respective public schools. “This school is really magnificent in terms of, not only the knowledge that is installed in the young people here, but in terms of wisdom, and creativity being reciprocal. We get to learn from each other, and teach each other at the same time.” Said Rashaud Johnson, a member of Youth Undoing Institutionalized Racism (YUIR) and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) who was attending the Freedom School for a fourth time to gain knowledge of how to best organize against the building of the new $210 million King County Juvenile Detention Center that he felt was an extension of the school to prison pipeline.
“I’ve realized from being here, and just talking amongst my peers, the responsibility that comes with being white. It’s hard to address that issue anywhere, especially in a normal school setting with teachers who don’t really get the topic, or want anything to do with it. So it’s great that we can have discussions with people our own age, so that everyone can get a deep understanding of how detrimental racism is, and that we really need to stop with the thinking that puts any race superior to another.” asserted Celia Carina Von Berk, one of several non African – American students who attended Tyree Scott.
The school had a commencement of sorts this past Friday, as all of the students traveled to Seattle City Hall, using what they had learned
throughout the week,to present- in front of an audience of city officials that included Councilmember Nick Licata, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim and Office of Civil Rights Director Patricia Lally- their proposals on how to remedy the quagmires associated with the city’s Education, Economic and Juvenile Justice systems- problems that had perplexed many local legislators for longer than the majority of the students had been alive.
After the presentations the students blended amongst the audience and broke into three separate groups to discuss how the submitted proposals could be implemented at the city level. A discussion that the Freedom School attendees found worthwhile. “You had all these different generations cooped up under one roof and actually talking and listening to each other. There was no complaining, just a lot of respect, whether you were a student or an older person. This was a beautiful experience.” said Rashaud Johnson.
Added Simone Evans another student at the Freedom School who had attended to improve her community organizing skills “I’m going to take the information I’ve learned here and go out and do something with it. I can’t wait to come back next year!”
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
It greets you like a bewitching tonic; a smooth liqueur culled from honey suckle. Its every utterance serves as an intoxicant to your ears. You can’t help but become entranced by its seeming contradictions, as nothing so raw could seduce you by its polish, nothing so genial could paralyze you with its power, and nothing so delicate could rumble with so much emotion. However, it indeed accomplishes just that, and it is the voice of South Seattle performing artist Monique Franklin.
This voice she possesses has bedazzled the throngs who have attended her spoken word, poetry, and performing arts performances across the Central District and South Seattle. Functioning as her main chisel to craft the provocative tales she shares on stage, that deal with everything from the emotional complexities of abortion, to the alienation inherent in growing up biracial, to the imbecility of misogyny, with the common thread that they evoke experiences so strong that they fill lived in by the audience. It’s no wonder that she’s been mentioned as the Billie Holiday of spoken word.
Comparisons notwithstanding, the Franklin graduate,and single mother, refuses to confine her gift to stage performances, as it seamlessly transitions to advocacy for causes dear to her heart, relaying instructions to her students at tap class, explaining algorithms to an enthralled group of computer science geeks, and expressing her chi while practicing martial arts. Hers is a voice which rarely ever rest, much to an audiophiles delight.
Emerald: Not only are you the unofficial poet laureate of South Seattle but you’re also soon to recieve your Computer Science degree from the University of Washington. Poetry and Computer Science seems like an interesting convergence.
Monique Franklin: Even though people think of it as dry, Computer Science is really a creative endeavor. As a programmer you can make anything. It also appeals to me because I’m hoping to help African American, LGBT, and other underrepresented communities have access to something which may elude them. It’s unfortunate that we all get taught at an early age that certain subjects are for certain types of people or that we’re born good at math, and that’s just not true. I failed math in High School and went back and learned it in college, and was then able to pursue Computer Science because of it.
Poetry is something I’ve been doing since I was a child; it’s kind of what I’ve been doing all along. I came to it because it helps me filter what’s going on in life, it helps me to take another look at it and understand it. It’s how I process things. I didn’t actually share my poems with anyone until I was 21, but I’ve been writing since I could write, which is since I can remember. I think having that incubation period is really important in developing your own voice and in creating sacred space. Still to this day I write things that are not for anyone else; they’re only for me.
Emerald: Could you share some of your of your history in growing up in the South Seattle Area and how that’s influenced your life and work?
Monique: I grew up on 37th and Andover and going to John Muir Elementary. I come from a single parent family of five – my mom raised all us. I’m kind of in the middle. I have an older sister and three younger brothers, and that was really informative growing up. I was eventually bused out to Orca, which is an alternative school, and that became a pivotal time in my life because we were one of the only black families there. I’m biracial, my mother, who raised me, is white and my father is black, and so even though I was raised in a diverse community,at a very early age I learned that people are fairly superficial. There would even be some who would say, “Oh, you’re half white, I can’t trust you.” As a young person, my understanding of why that was, is different from my understanding of it now, with the cultural perspective of what it means to be black in America, or what it means to white in America. People made a lot of assumptions about me, so it was pretty interesting growing up.
People would ask me questions like, “Is that really your mom?” It wasn’t just children who would ask, it was adults too. Some of the teachers and people in the stores, would ask my mom “Did you adopt those kids?” People just feel uncomfortable when they don’t have the answer to the race question in their mind and so they feel entitled to get this information. In addition I grew up very athletic and my mom actually coached most of my teams until I got into Middle School. I grew up playing volleyball, basketball, softball, and football, before the boys actually sprouted in middle school. I was considered the A-Train, I used to drag the boys across the field. It was pretty exciting, still the highlight of my elementary lunch time experiences.
The highlight of my sports career though, is at Franklin High School, where the basketball team I was on actually had the highest GPA as a championship team. We actually got honored in Olympia, WA for setting a record for Grade Point Average. The whole legislative body took a moment to recognize us. It was an exciting time to be at Franklin High School.
Emerald: Well, you certainly seem to have the confidence of a top tier athlete during your performances as they definitely don’t appear presented by the stereotypical neurotic artist. How has athletics shaped your art?
Monique: Well, I’d be lying if I said that I’m supremely confident always, and that I don’t have any confidence issues to speak of. So I can’t say that, but I will say that when I approach my art I say that I don’t want to not do the things I want to do because I’m afraid, or because I don’t think I have enough guff. I have the same conversation with youth. I tell them that it’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to not do the things you want to do because you’re afraid.You can’t grow if you’re comfortable all the time. So that’s definitely how I approach my art and my life.
Overall, I feel like my spirit is of an inner warrior and I’m trying to develop that so that encompasses the competitive spirit I picked up from athletics . I mean I’m undefeated in thumb wrestling. If you want to find out we can do it later (laughter). I grew up playing games, and in a family of five competition was rampant. Even now I have a game brewing. I’m supposed to visit New York shortly, and I want to experience it and do some writing, but I want to challenge someone in basketball while I’m there.
Emerald: You’re engaged in a tremendous number of activities. You’re a poet, writer, performer, mother, tap dance instructor, computer science enthusiast. If you had to pin it down, what best defines you?
Monique: I think what really defines me is that I’m willing to learn anything. I’m really community minded. I’m trying to lead the way on Social Justice issues, so those are things that would define me. I love to work with our youth so that defines me.
I look at it like I’m me first and art is something that I do. So whatever I do, I’m going to bring whatever gifts I have to bear to do that. So if there is an organization that I’m supporting and they need a poet I’m going to bring my artist self to that venue. I think it’s irresponsible not to speak up when you should, and however that looks. Whether that’s me as an artist, or me as a mother, I think it’s the responsible thing to do.
Emerald: What most sparks you to create poetry and your spoken word performances?
Monique: I think it’s evolving. Right now the desire I have is that’d I’d like to be known. I don’t want to be famous, but I want to be known. In the sense of being understood and in the sense that I have stories that I want other people to know. It’s the idea that I have a truth I want to speak right now, and maybe that won’t always be my driving force, but that’s what it is right now.
When I see other people I enjoy their diversity, and the ways in which they do things, the nuances, and the details of how they do things are interesting to me. I think that bleeds into my scientific interest. I’m a researcher, so I’m there with my pen and pad, taking down notes, “That was really amazing what they did there,” but also I think I’m generally interested in knowing other people. There’s something you learn from an artist about that artist when they’re performing, even if they’re not presenting themselves. The choices they make in inventing someone else as a character is telling.
Emerald: What artist influence you today?
Monique: As an artist I write about all types of things, but I’m really influenced by music a lot, though I don’t listen to very much of today’s. The musicality from today’s music is just gone, the loopiness of it can be annoying. It’s catchy, but it doesn’t stimulate me. I listen to Prince, Maxwell, but also to 80’s rock. I like good music, however that comes. I’m into Jazz, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. I’m influenced by dancers, Michael Jackson, and the Nicholas Brothers. My poetry is also influenced by the sciences I’ve taken. I have poems wrapped in metaphor, just strictly around science and love and relationships. My daughter is a huge influence as well. My last show was titled Momma’s Muse which incorporated some of our real life experiences, with her permission, and also pulls in some other stories from people’s lives, which illustrated what I was trying to convey better than my own could.
Emerald: How is it that you’re able to be so emotionally naked onstage, saying very intimate and provocative things? That would frighten most people.
Monique: It comes back to that desire as an artist to be known, and for me the power of art is one of those teaching tools. People don’t all have the same experiences, but people can share in an experience through art, and some of that sharing can provoke conversations. Many of them that I wish I would have had the benefit of before I made certain decisions in my life. For me art is an opportunity to provoke those conversations to happen between other people. Whether or not it’s a strong, “I don’t believe in that, you shouldn’t do it.” Well, at least it’s a conversation, and then also, this goes back to being able to wrap some of the experiences of others into the characters I am on stage, it was really liberating for me to be able to take it on and tell someone else’s story, but to still have aspects of my own story intertwined. So I think the whole mix of it, people don’t know what is true and what’s not when you’re own stage, it gives you a certain level of removal. When I’m on stage, it’s never just my story, there’s always something more.
Emerald: You’re very outspoken about LGBT rights as a poet and performance artist. Where does that stem from?
Monique: For ten years of my life I grew up with two moms and so it created a situation, because during that time there was no protection for people who had alternative lifestyles. They could get fired from their jobs, so we couldn’t have many conversations within our household about it because it would jeopardize my mom’s employment So that meant each of us had to come up with different ideas of what that meant and unfortunately when we stepped out of our house the overwhelming conversation about it was very negative. It was another opportunity where I found myself in between these places in society and I had to figure it out. It was things that others have the privilege not to think about it until they choose to think about it.
Emerald: So did your writing and poetry serve as a type of release from all that was going on while you were growing up?
Monique: Writing and poetry was how I made sense of things, It was my internal conversation that I had with myself about what was going on, and what was really important in the world. I did a lot of philosophical writing about what was going on in my life and what was truly important about being a human being. I felt like the world had a crisis and so it led me to be a loner. I didn’t trust many people, and I didn’t think most people understood what was important. That meant I was very selective about who I let into my circle. I didn’t want anyone in my house who felt my mom was an evil person just because she was who she was.
Emerald: So does are you of the belief that great art is born out of life’s adversities?
Monique: Good art can come from anywhere. The thing is that humanity is so complex, and you can have an artist make the most beautiful painting and be a deplorable human being. That’s just a fact, but you can’t deny that they’re gifted. The reality is that we are complex, and we have great beauty and we have great horror, it just is what it is. There’s not a person on the planet who can say that they’re happy with every decision they’ve ever made.
I think art is gifted to some people, I think with others art is something they’re driven to develop, I think there’s a lot of things that come into art. I can only speak from where my art comes from, because I’m interested in a lot of different things and I’m interested in developing those different areas, I’m ambidextrous and a Gemini, so all this stuff kind of rolls together. For me art is about what piques my interest in the moment. There’s a sound that maintains my art; it’s very rhythmic and musical.
Emerald: So the melodic flow in your poetry is a conscious effort?
Monique: Yeah, I think as an artist, as a poet, I have my own aesthetic around how things sound. When I’m creating something the way it sounds is important, even the way it feels is important.
Emerald: What’s your process for coming up with some of your more ingenuous lines and metaphors in your poetry?
Monique: I have a poem called System Administrator it’s actually an erotic piece.
Emerald: The title completely gave that away (laughter).
Monique: What I like about metaphor is you say things without having to say it, you get to kind of hide some things, just like in the title of that poem. There’s some ambiguity about it. It’s tongue and cheek to me and that’s way it’s fun. I’m working on a whole erotic chat book called applied physics, and it’s all wrapped around a metaphor right now that are related to certain physicals properties, such as gravity and the uncertainty principle. There’s just certain things that lend itself towards looking toward a certain perspective.
Emerald: You’re a fairly successful artist and yet you don’t have any formal training, so to speak, in terms of an MFA or Arts Degree. What would you say to those people who have always wanted to write or perform poetry, or those who have always wanted to follow a passion, but just can’t seem to muster up the nerve?
Monique: It goes back to fear, no one is saying go stand on the corner and hold a sign that says, “will work for rhymes.” (laughter) Success started to come for me with the belief that what I was doing was going to work out in the end, and that I was just going to take the steps I needed to take to get to that end. It has to be more than hoping. It must be knowing that it’s going to work out and I’m going to do everything that I need to do in order for it to work out. If it’s something that you have a passion for, you need to start taking little steps in that direction, and what you’ll see is that the universe will seem to conspire to get you where you need to be. You start moving in that direction and opportunities will start opening up for you, but it takes hard work. It isn’t like I’m just going to roll out of bed and it’s going to be great! Chance plays a role for some people, but for the rest of us we need to work hard.
Emerald: They say that for a poet happiness is elusive. How do you define happiness at this stage in your life?
Monique: One of the things I learned about being a mother was how much I value community, which is in stark contrast to when I was growing, as I wasn’t too impressed with humanity (laughter). However, I realized that I needed other people in this life. You need other people to be truly happy and successful. It’s about developing those relationships. finding people you can trust, and to trust yourself is important. I’d say happiness is possible, and defining your own happiness is necessary. I say think about what makes you happy, and find more of that, even if it’s just twenty five more minutes a day of that, and as you increase your happiness quotient life will change for you. For more information on the multi-talented Monique Franklin, including upcoming shows and events, please visit www.verbaloasis.com. You can also follow Monique on Twitter @VerbalOasis
As concerns have recently reemerged over the level of violence in the South Seattle area, the Emerald spoke with Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, and who also recently led a community discussion on violence reduction at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. Councilman Harrell currently resides in South Seattle.
Emerald: You recently led a community forum on the topic of violence prevention in the South Seattle area. Community Meetings, as they relate to violence, are dismissed by many as a “token” response that rarely ever results in any action being taken. Why should residents have cause for optimism after this particular meeting?
Bruce Harrell: First of all we are developing an actionable plan that we should be able to announce this month. We’re putting not only resources behind it, but best practices we’ve taken from other cities, as well as some creative ideas about how to protect our community in the South End of Seattle. So my attitude about meetings like that are, number one, I try to make sure that we can talk about everything, including things our own community can do. An example would be that one East African attendant spoke up and said that: “You know, I don’t see East Africans here and you need to do better outreach to make sure that my community is represented at these kinds of meetings.” I told him that he was right, and that we would do everything possible to do that, but I added: “You need to do the same thing. You need to figure out, how we can reach your community, as we have tried to reach out.” We established an immigrant/refugee commission, specifically for that purpose. We now have an East African person in our Police Academy, which we’re proud of.
That’s a prime example to me of, when people are demanding that others do things, that they feel empowered to do it themselves. I live by a quote: “You either accept things the way they are, or you accept responsibility for changing them.” So, I think that the meeting was a very good one. It gave people the chance to meet our police officers and to let them know that we do care about South Seattle, and that they do have leaders who are developing plans to protect our community.
Emerald: Some people say that the easy remedy to violence in the area is to simply have more police officers around, however, an expanded police presence is a very polarizing issue amongst South Seattle residents. How can it be assured that police officers are viewed as actual partners with the community in fostering a safer South Seattle?
BH: The fact of the matter is that we can not have police officers on every corner arresting kids for just standing around being who they are. We also have to give our own community leaders the tools to empower themselves.
I think that there are people who have come from the street life, and have found a way to overcome it. They have dealt with the negative messaging that they have received in their lives and now are giving back and can help us improve our communities. I think that as an investment strategy we need to know who these individuals and groups are, and we need to double down on them. Again, we all know that we can’t arrest ourselves out of all the problems we have. We need to flood the streets with these kinds of good folks.
I also think that our officers need to be better trained to build community trust, and community relations at every opportunity. I recently attended a meeting at Rainier Beach High School, and I watched a couple of officers stand by the hallway and simply watch the crowd for a long period of time, to then only walk out of the school and get right into their car. What I wanted to impress upon the officers is that this is the time you build community, and public trust. So I want to see more officers, like Captain John Hayes, who seems to know everyone’s name in the community, and who can walk around and mix it up. Because when we couple that with the right kind of outreach, we can move the needle. The other component is that the “no snitch”policy is a cancer to our community, and when we see shootings, we need to be able to break that. What has been effective in some other cities is to get high profile spokespeople, athletes, celebrities, people that come from the community, to help us change that cultural norm and that has to be very intentional when we are losing these lives.
Emerald: How do you think the city can empower organizations that are currently working in South Seattle to address the public safety issue?
BH: Right now I’m trying to figure out what organizations have the ability to scale up, and provide us some capacity to move the needle in terms of cultural norms, and can really make a difference. So, I think the first thing we need to do is take an inventory of these organizations and invest in them. The city’s role then is to be the quarterback or the facilitator in allowing these organizations to do what they do best, and that is reaching the community and changing the conversation, so that communities can feel empowered to protect themselves.
Emerald: Economic Development has often been trumpeted as a silver bullet for public safety concerns around South Seattle, however, many people view it as a “trojan horse” for gentrification. You would be hard pressed to find a resident who wouldn’t love all of South Seattle to be a consistently safe and vibrant place, but they would also love to still afford to reside there when that happens. Could you address that issue?
BH: I think it first starts with a vision, and that vision has to be described with some level of specificity. So if I was to describe a great vision for South Seattle it would be that it remains affordable, so that you wouldn’t see huge seven figure homes in these areas with very few affordable homes and it would be safe. so I don’t think that you compromise price just because it becomes safe. That’s where the beauty of small business comes into play. You have to have a barbershop, a pizza place, a small restaurant, or a store where you can buy clothing. You have to have a vibrant small business atmosphere that, again, is safe and has parking, that you can use transit to get there. It has to be vibrant, so that anyone, from any part of town, feels comfortable going there. A great example is the resident led resurgence going on in Hillman City.
You don’t have that vibrancy in some areas of South Seattle. The medical cannabis dispensary is not the kind of small business that attracts a lot of patrons; they only attract a certain kind of patron. So the vision is of safe, active, vibrant, small business development, affordable housing, open space, parks that are activated, police officers who walk and ride bikes around, that’s a good community and an affordable community.
Emerald: With our potential police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, being an outsider to the city, many have questioned if a person who lacks a familiarity with the area can really hope to address the concerns of South Seattle. What is your feeling on that?
BH: I would have absolutely loved to have had a chief who knows all parts of our city, in particular the South End, but we don’t have that. The mayor made it clear that it was his preference to go outside the existing culture, and I accept that. So now, what’s most important is that Chief O’Toole gets the intel needs and that she has actual experience with dealing with some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country, and she does. I sat in on her interview panel, and that was exactly my line of inquiry. She spent a lot of time overseas as well, and I wanted to make sure that she had the credibility and experience in dealing with some of the tougher areas, and I’m fully convinced she does. In fact I think she will shine in that regard. She will have a learning curve to know the players in the community and so forth, but I think she is a quick learner and I think we’ll be very pleased with her ability to adjust.
Emerald: There’s a lot of conversation that if Rainier Beach, Skyway, Othello, etc, where instead Fremont or Wallingford, the type of violence and crime that’s been experienced wouldn’t be accepted by the city. What can be done to fix the perception that there is a divide in what the city tolerates in certain areas in comparison to others?
BH: If you walk other neighborhoods, and parts of this city, as I do, such as Lake City Way, University District, Pioneer Square, you will hear the exact same thing, that conditions are intolerable, yet the city leaders do not make the right level of investments into those areas. The fact of the matter is using federal funds, state funds, and city funds, we should again double down on the South End, because of the rates of poverty, the rates of unemployment, the graduation rates that aren’t where we need them to be, and I think that while we can greatly improve that, we don’t have leaders who are neglectful of that part of town.
I go back to what I said earlier, for those people who want more attention and resources, join me in making sure we get them. a lot of time, when I do my inventory organizations in the community, I ask: “What do you need? How can we help you succeed?”
As someone who sees these drive bys and shootings, I understand the frustrations people have, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but many of us have been dealing with them for 30 to 40 years, and I think it’s symptomatic of what’s happening in our country. You notice in almost every city, in every state, you have under invested areas, but I’m very optimistic that we’re putting strategies in place to improve them. Cleveland High School is a great example of that. The graduation rates have gone up 20 percent and the PTA has broken records in fundraising! So there are things that are rising in the right direction and what sets us back is another dead body found in the street.
For those of you whose dedication to wine and cocktails as their primary drinks of choice is akin to religious fixation, and consider beer only as the pariah of the adult beverage family, to be purchased reluctantly during cash strapped periods, a visit to Spinnaker Bay Brewing in Hillman City just might be enough to stimulate a conversion to beer as your preferred libation.
Founded, owned, and operated, as the realization of a lifelong dream, by Head Brewer Janet Spindler and her partner Elissa Pryor, with equal measures of love, passion and zeal, Spinnaker Bay Brewing, and its savory signature brews -with names like Little Dinghy Blonde™ and Fraid Not Pale Ale™ – has become synonymous with bringing Christmas Day to your taste buds, and developed into a magnet for attracting the residents of the broader Rainier Valley area.
On any given night its warm and welcoming atmosphere, complemented by carefully curated vintage decor, houses collars both white and blue – hipsters from Columbia City, hyperlocals from Hillman, and the beer curious from Mt.Baker, Seward Park, and Rainier Beach. All are often immersed in good-humored conversations, while sharing home made pastries or delicious eats provided by the local food vendors just outside the brewery. While serving as an incubator for community, its main allure remains its herculean tasting beer, which many have christened as the best brewed in all of Seattle, north or south.
A testimony to this fact, is that most of its servers – who it should be noted in an era where customer service has become as archaic as silent movies, and chivalry, appear to have graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Nordstrom School of Client Relations – labor there for incentives that trump the financial, as in response to why she loved working at the brewery, one of the staff replied: “To be honest, before here, I never knew Beer could taste this good!” So speaks another convert.
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle