Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Dancer, Choreographer, Student


Jasmmine Ramgotra is an environmental studies student and a dancer. She is combining those interests in innovative and dramatic ways. 

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


When did you move into the Central Area?

I moved into the Central Area about late 2005 or 2006.

What neighborhood did you live in?

We were living in Madrona by Epiphany.

That was when I first met you.

Yes!

Which schools did you attend, then?

I went to Madrona Elementary in 8th grade. Then, I went to Garfield (High).

Madrona K-8. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


How was your experience at Garfield?

(laughs) It was an interesting experience. That’s because the first two years we were at Lincoln (High) because of construction. Then, the last two years we were at the original school (Garfield) again.

Where did you live before you were in the Central Area?

We lived on the Eastside, in the Redmond area.

Okay. So you’ve had very different experiences then.

Yes. Maybe more so on the east side though. We moved around a lot.

When you first were living in Madrona, how would you describe the neighborhood?

It was very quiet. As far as diversity goes, there were lots of different people living on our street. There was an adorable gay couple living a few doors down, and some families, and some single people.

It was a really nice place to be. Still, it’s like, the further and further you get, the more ‘dangerous’ it gets. And that would be in quotations.

Right. In quotations because…?

I’ve learned that the racial lines here are because of the redlining, historically since the 60s..? I’m not too sure of the exact date.

Madrona Beach. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Up until 1968 and Open Housing.

Before that people of color were forced into this area because they weren’t allowed to buy property in other places.

I’ve done a lot of research on my own about that on segregation and things like that. I took a race relations class, a sociology class at Seattle Central. That totally opened my eyes to so many things I did not notice before. Social problems brought attention to the race issues, but also to gender equityand things like that.

In that class, did they discuss the Central Area?

Not particularly, no. We did have one speaker come to the class and he talked about the Central Area a bit. He was a prominent figure at Seattle Central and he came and talked to us about redlining and what it did to the different neighborhoods.

The Garfield (high school area) is where people of color lived; historically, it’s been a very colorful school. It’s had a very interesting and heartbreaking history. I learned about the segregation not only of African Americans but also of Jewish people, and of people of color, in general. It shocked me that there was this idea, “You’re not allowed to be here (in larger Seattle), so you have to go live somewhere else”.

Garfield High. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

It’s an interesting point of history because it gets into the idea of what is ‘white’? At the beginning of redlining in Seattle, ‘white’ meant Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian. So, Italians, Irish and Germans, Asians and the Jewish were not considered ‘white’ so they were all forced to settle in Central Seattle.

They were all living in this neighborhood together. It’s interesting how that definition shifts. White is this weird abstraction; no one today would say that Jewish people aren’t white, or that Irish or Italians or Germans aren’t white.

It’s about class as much as it is about race. So once people achieve a certain level of socioeconomic power, they somehow magically cease to be of considered non-white.

When you were attending Garfield was there a focus on class, race and gender?

There was definitely segmentation. Well… we, we self-segmented. Each class did. When I say class, I’m talking about the (different) grades.



Sophomore, Junior…

Yes, exactly. It was very rare that there were white people that hung out with the black people, or Asian people that hung out with the black people, or Asian people that hung out with white people. There were very, very, distinct, clear groups. Then, I guess, there were the “other” people, who kind of meshed together.

Even at Garfield, the Asian kids hung out with the Asian kids, and the black kids hung out with the black kids?

Also generally, the white people hung out with the white people. So, people like me, people who are like of mixed race… it becomes so hard to decide where you fall in this. It’s one of the most conflicting things for me as a person. It feels like, ‘Oh, you’re kind of tan. The question I always get is, “What are you?”

People say that to you?

Yes. I get that all the time. That’s the number one question that I get asked when it comes to my ethnicity, my identity as a woman, as a person.

Garfield High. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

How did that strike you the first time it was asked?

I don’t even remember (as it’s happened for so long)! I think it probably was kind of daunting to me. I guess I’m... I’m Indian and I’m white. It became like an automatic response. ‘Oh, I know exactly what you’re asking about. You’re trying to find out what I’m made of - what makes me who I am’.

How does it feel now that you’re older?

It makes me feel very angry at this point in my life. I just get really upset. I’ll tell people, I’m a woman; I’m human. What are you trying to get at here? I’ll try to make them think about it.

Anyway, going back to Garfield, people were very segmented in separate groups. My group of friends were some (laughs) random girls who I just happened to get along with very well.

While I was at Madrona Elementary, I was one of the only people who was not African American in my grade, period. In every class, from kindergarten through 8th grade in each class there were maybe four or five people that weren’t black. So, that was a really interesting experience, too.

I noticed that my reactions to things totally changed. The dynamic was to get into this culture  and try not to be seen. I don’t know. I tried to blend in with wherever I was.

Madrona K-8. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

I think that is like the classic task of being in 8th grade is to try and not stick out.

I don’t want to stick out at all!

Did you keep any of those friends from 8th grade?

Yeah. Mars! I met Mars in 8th grade.

Oh, you did? Was he at Madrona, too?

He was!

You’ve known him a long time!

Yeah. Since I was 12, and he was 13-ish?

That’s amazing. You’ve known him, well, closing in on half your life.

Yeah, that’s weird to think about.

As far as the friends you had in high school, were they drawn around an interest in like dance or music, or was it just people that were attractive to you as personalities?

That’s a good question. Why did I become friends with the people that I’m friends with (laughs) from high school? (pauses) Hmm! I can’t remember how we started to become friends, really.

It probably was organic.  

Yeah! It wasn’t like you had one dance class and then… you were all fast friends. I think I had one close friend who I met because we had the same bus stop. The first day of school she was looking at me funny. Sort of checking me out. Analyzing me. Then, it turned out we had the same first period class.


Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

She was just always looking at me. I didn’t understand why. (laughs) I think I asked her if there was something that was bothering her about me. She said, No, there's nothing wrong. That's just kind of how it started. I thought she was angry at me for something! But it turned out she was just scoping me out. (laughs) We’re still friends! I think I just became friends with her friends.

Returning to Garfield, what did you think that kind of self-segregation does to young people? Obviously, you can only speak from your own experience... The idea of Garfield is that you have this mixed race high school but it sounds like in practice, nothing can be further from the truth.

It’s very true. Yeah. (sighs) I think it just perpetuates stereotypes, honestly. That’s because people in that age group are incredibly judgmental. Teenagers just don’t really think about what they say before they say it! I think that definitely ends up hurting people in the short term and in the long term. I found it to be very... unwelcoming.

It’s hard to put a finger on what it does to you everyday. There were times when I would avoid certain places, like a particular hall where some kids would congregate because you don’t want to be called out, sexually harassed or just like… As a young person, you just put up these walls.

Garfield High. Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Earlier, you described yourself as having tan skin. Did that make it easier for you? Did it help?

It kind of did. It helped me get along with people that might be called ethnic. They’re more accepting. For instance, at Madrona (K-8), people were much more accepting of me than they were of the people who looked white. It was as if people were thinking, Oh well, Jasmmine doesn’t really count as that (white) because she doesn’t really look it. She’s something else.

Do you have a little bit of wiggle room?

Yeah, there's wiggle room there. That was nice. It’s nice to be considered something… a part of that that felt like relief. In that situation, I just felt so glad that I didn’t have to be singled out as “Oh, you’re white”... There’s just so much, anger that goes back and forth between groups. So, I was… I was outside of that which was… nice. 

There’s probably a class aspect to that, often the kids from white families can a times afford things that other kids can’t. Privileged kids aren’t necessarily sensitive to that, which makes other kids angry, or jealous, and…  There’s that whole cultural belief that if we get to the child young enough, you can eliminate these racist and classist ideas but it seems like that was not at all your experience.

No. Not at all. What I do remember about learning about race and racism when I was young left me with the impression that it didn’t… it wasn’t really around anymore. We learned about it in elementary school and these were historically white elementary schools. They would show us a cartoon about what it was like when racism was just so intense. But, then, it’s taught that it’s not like that anymore!… It’s (presented) as if, “Oh, this happened in the past, but it has nothing to do with what’s going on now.” As a super young child, you just kinda take whatever people tell you and you’re like, Okay that’s the way it is -- until proved otherwise.

So you get to Garfield and discover, “Oh!”

Yes! It was more that Madrona (School) was the big one.


Madrona Beach, Mt. Rainier view. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

The big one?

Actually, Hamilton (School) was the big one because that was the first time that I came back to Seattle from being on the eastside for so long. On the east side, it’s like, 98% white. So I was the minority. Again.

Then we came to Hamilton and there were just so many types of people. I was like, “Woooooah! This is crazy! I’ve never been around this much energy before.” Then Madrona (School) was different from that. It felt better to me. Madrona felt safer than Hamilton did.

Where’s Hamilton?

It’s in Wallingford. I think it's just the crowds, the crowds of kids that were there when I was there. They got me into a lot of trouble. (laughs) I got myself into a lot of trouble while I was there because there was a huge culture shock. I didn’t know what to do to fit in so what I did to fit in was the wrong choice.

Well, that’s what being in your teens is for.

Yeah! (laughs) Yeah.


Garfield High. Architectural detail.  Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

There’s so much adapting.

So much moving and adapting. Yeah, I was like a chameleon, just moving and adapting constantly.

That will serve you well. Still, I’m sure it was hard.

Oh yeah, it was rough not having a constant group of friends in that period; it was really hard. It’s funny, because my sister really makes friends easily, so I just felt very alone. Very alone.

I was just so shy at that point in my life! I couldn’t really get the courage up to talk to people, and if I did, it was just awkward and sad? (laughs) It got better as the time went on. High school was much better, but Middle School was just… awful.

Do you think that when you look back when you’re 30 years old, do you think that having been in the Central Area will have formed anything about you? Or is it just incidental, just where you happened to live? What do you think will be the case?

I think it definitely formed things about me. I think it’s so important to be exposed to different, different… situations - for extended periods of time, especially cultural situations. Situations that make you feel uncomfortable. That’s so important.

If you aren’t exposed to that (variety), then you’re just going to make your own assumptions that’ll govern what you do, and how you feel, and what you think when you’re around different types of people. That can be very detrimental to your relationships with new people you meet. You can’t go into it having all these built up ideas in your mind.

It’s really important to spend time and get comfortable with the fact that everybody is different and we’re all the same. We’re different but we’re also the same.


Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

To be comfortable (in any situation as long as you’re safe) obviously, is really important. I feel so much safer around all types of people because I spent so much time around all different kinds of people! I would never have (that depth) if we kept living on the Eastside. It’s so great that we got to spend so many years here. And, I’m still here. I love it. It’s wonderful here.

Do you think as an artist, that either Garfield or being exposed to different people has influenced the kind of work you make now?

(pauses) I think… (pauses) I can see and feel the energy that I get off people. I’m perceptive. I have a really keen intuition about how people are feeling and maybe what might be going on for them. Being able to channel that energy and find inspiration, even in things that are so painful.

I think that’s important for my artistic process because there can be so much beauty… in your pain, getting through a painful process. It’s really important to recover from it, and come to terms with it, and move on.

To transform pain to beauty is a gift to other people because everyone will suffer.

That is so true! Everyone suffers.

When you make artwork from pain, it can give someone a moment of communion - they’re not alone in their pain. Someone else felt this way and got through it.


Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Yeah. I think it’s so important, being able to really reach people. In my own work, if I can pull a feeling out of somebody, whether it’s a good feeling or a bad feeling - that’s success, even if people hate it. That’s a strong emotion!

Yeah, I got a reaction! So much better than just, ‘Whatever. I don’t really think much of it.’

I know a couple of years ago you were really focusing on choreography and thinking that was the direction you might pursue. Is that still the case?

Yes. That’s still the case. Right now, I’m very focused on choreographing on my own self. I’m getting to know myself. As a person, as an artist, this is a really exciting period for that.

How old are you now? Twenty…?

I’m 22.

That’s a good time to do that. Your body can do things now: you have the strength; the control; and the training to do things you haven’t been able to explore before. When you figure out how to take something internal and express it physically, as you’re teaching your body to do, that you’ll be able to then teach it to other people.

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo: Carlos Sanchez ©

That was the most challenging part of choreography. Trying to verbalize it to people who probably don’t know what you’re trying to say is so hard. But… you learn a lot through verbalizing and showing. When I get really old, I’m probably not going to be able to move, so (laughs) I’m going to need to be able to talk about it.

I’m sure you’ll always be able to move, barring some horrible accident. Still, there are things you can do now in terms of flexibility and stamina and… you don’t have kids, you don’t have a full-time job, you have physical energy now. In lots and lots of ways, that’s exciting!

Yes.

If you were going to offer any words of wisdom to somebody who is in 8th grade about living in this area, what would you contribute?

I was 12 years old when I was in 8th grade; I was really young for an 8th grader. I think the most important thing is to be true to yourself. What feels good to you probably is a good thing.

I have learned that recently, that… it’s important to feed an appetite you have, whether it’s for schoolwork, academia, or painting, or dancing, or whatever it is. Whatever it is that you find that you’re really, truly interested in, it’s really important to truly follow that and be open to talking to people.

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

I did not talk to people enough at that age, and if I could go back, I would totally be myself and not try to conform to what I thought other people wanted me to be. That’s because it really didn’t get me anywhere, and if anything, it probably made it worse. There were a lot of assumptions I had about what I thought people wanted me to be.

I did the same thing at the same age. I think almost everybody does. You’re trying to figure out who you are, so it’s hard to be yourself when you don’t know who you are yet.

Yeah. There’s definitely no getting over that.

No, you just have to grow into it.

Yeah, but it is important to stop and, I don’t know… let it (laughs) let it come to you. Like, what do you really want right now? What do you really need right now?

And maybe, maybe, if you practice, it’ll become easier. I’m still doing that but it’d be good to practice from a really young age, just listening to yourself, your inner self. What is it you need and want right now?

Yes, because little children are born knowing that.

Yes!

It just gets set aside by middle school.

When you need it the most! (laughs)

Now, one of the things that I hear from people who don’t live here is that this is a dangerous neighborhood. Did you grow up with that perception of this neighborhood as dangerous?

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

I mean, I grew up with the perception but I wasn’t really fazed by it. I definitely walked around this neighborhood at night, late at night, many a time, and I felt safe.

Me too.

Yeah, There are only very specific places where you can see that maybe something fishy is going on. And, you shouldn’t probably go over there but... I don’t think you’re going to die or anything. People have such a fear that has been exacerbated through the media about the Central Area. Did you see that article about how the Central Area is changing?

In the past it wasn’t a neighborhood that everyone wanted to come to because it has been incredibly segregated as a neighborhood. Now, that real estate prices are just going up and there’s so much new building going on around here, people are suddenly, “Oh, yay! Central Area!” Today, it’s mostly white people who can afford it. All of the minorities are being pushed out because they can’t afford it anymore, and it just very unfair. It’s very upsetting to me, especially.

Yeah. Me too.

Yeah.

Cause I loved it. I hate to see it change, but… it is changing.

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Yeah.

I don't know whether you want to talk about this or not, but it is along this same line, this perception of violence and actual violence. There was some violence when you were in high school.

Yeah, there was. When I was in high school there were those two… there were those two major shootings that happened.

Yeah, Quincy Coleman

Quincy.

And what was the other?

I went to 8th, that guy was in my 8th grade class with me. I can’t remember his name right now… I know exactly what he looks like right now, in my mind. He was really sweet to me -- when we were in 8th grade together. I mean, he was a teenaged boy. He was nice. I’m not sure what it is that happened…

Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Only the people that were there know for sure what happened. What was the impact, do you think, that that had on the people in your class?

We all definitely felt a… shock, just a complete shock. Just resonating in every class. I could tell, the day we came back from… I think it was a weekend, it happened on weekend --

Not too far from where you live now.

Not far at all, not far from school either -

We all came back (to school) I think there an assembly and everyone was just horrified, and afraid, and… and it wasn’t exclusive -- to any group. We were all feeling the same thing. How and why did this happen?

I rode the bus with Quincy. There were so many people who (felt) for Quincy specifically. He had a lot of friends, for a year they all made t-shirts, and they all got tattoos, commemorating Quincy as a person. He was clearly very loved by a lot of people.

(nervous laughter) He wasn’t very nice to me, so, I didn’t really know him that well. I just kinda knew him on the on the side. I can definitely say that he was not the most polite of young people. I knew that… I knew that he definitely was involved in selling drugs. I think it was mostly just weed. Like, nothing too exciting. That’s all that I heard, really.


Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

There were a few days where he just had a stack of dollar bills that he would show it off on the bus. It was like, Whoa, where’d you get that? Mmm! Interesting. I don’t think anyone really knows the whole story

Right. No, we never will.

Yeah, we never will.

In the media, whenever a young man has been killed and it’s said there was gang activity, it’s seems like a way of dismissing… the humanity of the people involved.

Yeah.

It’s very reductive. It’s like “Oh well, live by the sword, die by the sword. Next!”
Do you know what I mean?

Yeah!




Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

It feels that way.

Definitely.

Yeah, you can’t just put that, put that heading on top of it and then decide to ignore it. I think that does put an image in people’s minds about, ‘Oh, this is where the gang violence happens and do stay away from that place. It’s dangerous.’

Yeah, and we’re talking about children.

Yeah, it’s dangerous for your children! It seems so ridiculous to me, actually. It’s very unfair to portray these kids - cause they are kids - as being so dangerous. Because it’s really trying to separate them from you. It really is that us vs. them paradigm. And I don’t like that.

No. I think it’s an ugly way of saying, “This death doesn’t matter.”

Yeah. It is really unfair.

There is no nuance to it. (pause). 

Now is there anything that you wanted to talk about, about having lived in the Central Area that we haven’t touched on?

I can’t really think of anything in particular right now, but... I do enjoy it! That’s for sure. And. I love to people watch, so this is a great place for that.

I just feel at home. Feeling at home in a place is important. As a person of color, I feel very at home and I feel accepted now.

Now are you still working with Spectrum (Dance Theater)?

Not really. I’ve kinda shifted gears from Spectrum.

Yeah, well, that’s natural.

I was there for a really long time; there was a lot of diversity there, too, which was awesome. They offered so many scholarships. That’s the whole point of Spectrum, though, to allow people who don’t typically have the opportunity to dance that opportunity. You don’t see that at a lot of dance studios. So many dance studios are just, if you can afford it, great. Sign up.

How do you think having studied there for such a long time influenced you as a dancer and a choreographer?

Spectrum Dance Theater. Madrona Beach. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


It influenced me a lot. I was exposed to Donald Byrd, the Artistic Director there. He is such an amazingly intelligent person. I don't think I’ve ever met such a genuinely intelligent person, in that particular way.

He’s kind of like a Shakespeare, or a DaVinci type person as they just are so articulate with the way that they express themselves. His choreography is always heavily researched, and it is always about… well, it’s not always about pain, but I find it to be very raw. It just strips those emotions all the way down. So being able to study under him and in a school that was all about that honesty and truth in your work is so important to me. It’s of the utmost importance to me when I make my own art, being truthful.

It probably resonated with who you are anyway, but it is how you go through the world.

Yeah.

Donald probably had a hand in that to some degree --

Oh, yeah.

You studied with him for how many years?

I studied with him for one year. I was in and out (of Spectrum) for at least three. Still, I studied directly under him only for about a year. It was an intense year and I learned so much. It was really hard, but in a good way.


Spectrum Dance Theater. Madrona Beach. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

When you’re entering University you almost have to kind of separate for a while.

Definitely. I never had enough energy to do both when I was that age. You’re supposed to have a lot of energy at that time in your life, and I was just exhausted every single day. I’d dance for hours and hours. Then, I’d get home and I had homework to do. And I’m going to bed. It just didn’t really happen.

I don’t think the teachers did care, to a certain extent they did, but not enough. They weren’t noticing that I was falling behind and maybe they should do something. It was really on me to... get back into it, and make sure that I graduated and all that so…

It all worked out.

Do you think there is a Spectrum aesthetic?

Yes!

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Has that informed the way that you make work?

It’s definitely informed the way that I move, period.

Yeah. It’s very strong. The movements are very strong. I think it’s strong to a point where you put too much effort into the little things.

There’s the attack; you attack movement. Donald attacks everything as far as movements, and it’s breathtaking. Still, that’s not necessarily what you need in every single dance form that you do.

Right now, that’s what I’m working on, finding the nuances within the attack. It can be more free flowing. It can be easy feeling.

Did you see a lot of his work?

I got to see quite a bit of his work, yes. It definitely is the most impactful dance I’ve ever seen in my life.

It must be strange to go from a situation like Spectrum into a university dance program.

Yeah, it is weird. It’s just so different. I… can’t really compare them.


Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Do you think you’ll ever go back?

I think I might. I think as I get further with my career I might go and talk to Donald of my own accord.

We’re really lucky that someone of his caliber is making work in a former bathhouse in our neighborhood. It’s almost unbelievable.

It is unbelievable!

Because he could be in New York, or anywhere and he’s choosing to be in Madrona.

I wish we could ask him why he stays. I mean, he travels a lot, but it feels like Spectrum is his home.

His ideas are interesting - he’s such a gift to this area.

He is such a gift!

I think, I think we’ve covered it. Do you?

Yeah, I think so.



Transcribed by the wonderful Andrea Lai, to whom we are very grateful! 

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2015   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 



This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program 







Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Marcus Goodwin. Student & Landscaper

Marcus Goodwin was born and raised in the Central Area. His mother worked 
at Madrona Elementary and he continues to pursue on-going educational opportunities. 

Marcus Goodwin. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


One of the things I wanted to ask because I know how hard you’ve worked in the 12 years I’ve known you…

It’s been 12 years, that long? Wow.

I’m wondering if you’d be willing to briefly share your story? I know in the last few years you’ve fought really hard to get an education.

I sure did.

You took computer classes; you built a small business.

I did. Yeah, I need to get back on that one.

So would you be willing to talk about a short version of your life story, where you started and how you ended up where you are now?

Where I started was, I was sheltered, bottom line. I had a curfew, I had (a time) to be in and (a time) when I had to be out and back again. That’s when we were little, we went to Madrona (Elementary). My Mom taught at Madrona for 40 years. When we got to Meany (Middle School) we was getting a little more freedom because Mom couldn’t come up there, you know, trouble-wise. She waited ‘til we got home then we got our ass whup. Now, (at) Garfield (High), we was uncontrollable. You know, teenage years, so we started drinking, smoking, getting high all the time, getting bad grades flunking out of school. That’s high school. Now, I went two years to college in Yakima. I didn’t finish, got one year in. Then got a job in janitorial for 20 years, never got any compensation for it because he was a slum lord, backyard boogie dude. So I got back here, got back into some drugs again, went down again, and then 2001 my Dad died.

I’m sorry. That was just before I met you.

This year on July 4th he would have turned 103 years old. Now, move up to my Mom’s death, (in) 2011. When the house got sold that’s when I became a homeless because my sister didn’t want nobody staying in the house. She sold the house, didn’t give none of us no money, now we’re all over the place. Ok. Now, after that I enrolled in school over there (SVI Technical). I been there ever since, got my high school diploma. Now I’m waiting on two jobs to call me back.

You know, Madeline, what I’m going to do, I’m going to keep going to school. If I don’t occupy my time, I’ll get in trouble.

I’m thinking about positive things. I’m not thinking about wandering around on the street. I can’t; getting too old.

Marcus Goodwin. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


How did you go to college without graduating from high school?

Easy. This was back in 1981.

When they didn’t have computers.

But they weren’t checking anyway. (laughs) They wanted you to take out Financial Aid so you go into debt. I ain’t paid back that loan.

So what helped you because it sounds like you went off the rails a little bit?

I went off the rails because I was with bad company. About the time I met you; the rails came back together. Anybody (in my life) that was positive told me to get my ass back in school so in 2011, I did. And I been there ever since, I’m still going there even though I graduated.

So for you it was just a matter of making that decision?

It was a snap decision, if I think about it, it will never happen. So if I make a snap decision I go for it. Just like the meeting we set up, it was a snap decision.

Yeah, I knew you would show up. You show up when you say you're going to.

Yeah. And I got to do more hard work, you know, I want to go up. I want to get this computer training under my belt; everything is running on computers now. I’ll take any computer class they’ll offer. You know I’m not going to stop going to school I don’t care, I’ll be 90 years old and still in school. I’m still a young buck. You, you are old (laughs).

(laughs). I am. I am.  

You were born in this neighborhood and went to school here?

I was. I went to school at Madrona (Elementary), Meany (MiddleSchool) and Garfield (High School).

My Mom was a teacher at Madrona for 42 years. My mother was the first black secretary at Madrona. Actually, (she was) the first black woman (employed) at Madrona School. (That happened) because the Black Panthers didn’t like what was going on (racial discrimination) in the school system. So they rocked the boat to move black people into those positions in the school district. The Black Panthers (actions) got my Mom the (opportunity for that) job. Ever since then, the whole (school) administration is black even the principal was, though they shuffle principals around like (trails off).

The Black Panthers did good things and they also did certain things in the neighborhood to keep their operation going… I can’t say what I what I want to say because I’d get a whole lot of replies from that.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Ok, can you describe what the street would have been like at 7pm when you were a little kid?

Full of black kids, Madeline. I grew up with white folks too and they were throwing peace signs, there wasn’t no n***** this or that. Well, people said it but it was older folks when we got in trouble.

Back in the 1970s at 7 at night, it was still light outside. At 7 o’clock in the Central Area it was very pleasant, we was picking fruit (from the fruit trees and bushes along the sidewalks) and eating ‘em, selling ‘em. We were going around grass-cutting. We made money; that was it, we made money.

Back then, the Ale House used to be (owned by a) Japanese. It was a drug store (Tokuda’s Drugs). Where St. Clouds is now, that used to be Pinckney’s. A black guy owned that. There was a barber shop. There used to be an IGA (grocery store) where the adoption place is now. A white man owned that he was Mr. Gibson.  He owned everything all around there. You know where that fitness place is on the corner? That was a cleaners. Where Ruby’s (Cleaners) is now, that was a store. Where that coffee shop (Cupcake Royale) was duplexes. There were duplexes all the way from Thirty-fourth to Thirty-third Avenues. (The) Madrona (neighborhood), it wasn’t looking like that (how it does now). I wish I could show you pictures.

In 1974, they divided Thirty-Third Street by Madrona Park from the school. My Mom had them put that (divider) in there. Madrona Park and Madrona Schools are different (administrative) things, one’s the city and one’s the school district. The kids at the school didn’t have enough room to play in the school playground so my Mom lobbied and got the money and got that (land) bridge put across there because kids was getting hit (by cars) at a record pace. That was a four way street.

Where the barber ship is now, that was Gene’s Barber Shop. Across the street was Dawson’s Barber Shop and across the street from that was the Dollhouse Café. The wash house (Laundromat) always been there. Hi Spot wasn’t there, somebody lived in that house, literally lived in that house. You know where that Wine Place is, that was the original Odessa Brown (Clinic).

Was that the Black Panthers Clinic?

No, the Black Panther’s Clinic, Black Arts West was where Glassy Baby is now. That’s where they used to be. Down here (the Teriyaki on MLK) this called to be Poppa’s, it was a little convenience store. I’m trying to cover all the bases.

You don’t have to cover the geography. I’m more interested in the whole live music scene. People could work full-time as musicians because there was live sessions every night in the 1960s.

Every night! Every night!

Now, we weren’t alive then, (but) my mom told us about The Savoy that was on Madison (Street) The Savoy was big bands, back then was when my Mom was our age, we weren’t no where around. Then there was Deanos and Oscars they did Jazz. Around where Planned Parenthood and Safeway is now on Madison there was clubs up there. All gone now.

Photo: http://millerparkseattle.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html

It’s all gone. Sounds like in the 1960s and 70s this neighborhood…

It was booming, it was booming.

So tell me about that.

In the 60s and 70s all we did was run around with snotty noses just being outside. See, we couldn’t go near those places. That’s the only reason I don’t have no recollection of it. Still, when we were in the Boy Scouts we took tours to places to where we listened to jazz and things like that. You can’t listen to it (live) now because half those guys are dead. The music is still there because they recorded records and CDs.

I need you to ask me some questions because I cain’t…

So what you remember comes from the 1980s?

Yes, the 70s and 80s.

So in the 70s and 80s you were running around with your friends?

Yeah, but we also saw the Black Panthers doing things too. Marches and things like this… It was great, they were protesting and there was what we used to call it the Black Festival Parade. We used to march. They used to come all the way up…

Who? The Panthers?

No, the (Black Festival) parade. They have everybody, the Panthers and every organized black group was in the parade.

Was everyone dressed to the nines?

Yes, in their uniforms. Remember the Guardian Angels in NY (New York City)?  Just like that.

Black Panthers on the Capitol steps, Olympia. WA.  Collection: Aaron Dixon


Were the Church Ladies dressed up?

Yeesss! Just like that.

In their fancy hats?

Yes! But they couldn’t wear no high heels because the route was too long.

But also in the 1970s there was a little bit of rioting because…

Where was the rioting?

It was individual rioting because of the racism.

See, I’m going to tell you (the history of the area). First of all during the war, WWII, it was the Jewish people here. After that it was us. There were the white people, who didn’t like what was going on. We were all on the outskirts and the police didn’t like that, they didn’t want us around so people migrated to the Central Area.

Now they are finally realizing this day that the Central District is in the center of the city, period. You can walk to downtown, you can do anything and so the property value is so sky high; it’s worth a lot of money. The trick was to raise the property taxes just enough to move us out, sort of a genocidal thing.

A cultural-cidal thing

Yeah, a culturalcide. Once you move out the prices are so high you can’t get back in. Still, I have never met a racist white person in my life except for once. I mentioned this before, it was down at Garfield (Community Center). I was playing basketball.

That’s when the riot came in, at the basketball game at Garfield.

Who was playing?

Photo: Madeline Crowley ©
Garfield and Montlake. The Garfield recreational team. They cheated. Then one guy said the n-word. So, back then in 1978 there was nothing but black people in that gym. We couldn’t take it anymore so we had a race riot at Garfield Community Center. Then guess what happened? We got taken to the youth center (Juvenile Hall). That was the wrong button to push, the police could not handle all that activity so they brought in the State Police and a whole bunch of us went to jail.  A whole bunch.

We were taken by the Police to the youth center and got our behinds tore up because we had no business fighting.

You included?

Ummhmm, to the youth center (Juvenile Hall). My Mom went down there, got (me) home, got a whup and went to bed. 

So how did that feel? That must have been your first really big fight.

It was. It was.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©
Was it scary?

It was scary because I didn’t know what was the outcome was going to be other than getting your butt whup by your Mom. That was on the obviee (obvious). We didn’t know if we were going to be tore up by the police or not.

How was it being in Juvie?

It was in the youth center. We were in a holding cell ‘til our parents got there.

So it wasn’t so bad.

No.

How old were you then?

I was about 16. Back then, oh, we had good times.

Yeah, tell me about that.

I had a whole lot of white friends, Japanese friends, Jewish friends; we rode our bikes all over the place and had a good time until that day. Then I never seen them guys again ever.

Because of the fight? Because of the riot?

Because they all moved away. We were all friends.

Why did they move away?

Because after the fight they moved from the CD (Central District).

Their parents moved because of that riot?

Because of that one riot.

So that riot had a huge impact?

It did. It did. And now everybody’s moving back because that was, what, 40 years ago?  They did a Biblical thing on us.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©



What?

You know the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years, until all of them were consumed because of what they was doing at the base of the Mountain. It’s the same thing. It’s recycled. Recycling. History repeats itself. Now it’s repeating itself. Now I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them.

Now, I’m confused. What you mean about the Bible?

The reason I said it that way is that Moses didn’t cross the river Jordan because of what they did 40 years earlier. When they got the Ten Commandments. He stepped down and seen all that dancing and they was praising the pagan. The Golden Calf. That’s when they threw the Ten Commandments down and whoever didn’t come to him went straight down the mountain.

We need to get back to the neighborhood, so your friend’s parents moved away.

The exact same as Moses did.

Yeah. Ok. So that riot at the school must have spread outside the school.

It did too. And people had animosities for years (afterwards) because we had a few riots; see people are not going to tell you this. Madeline, it wasn’t so much of a riot on the streets, there were fights, there were stabbings.

So it wasn’t like a teenaged fight, people were getting hurt.

People were getting hurt, and then after that blew over, here comes the crack cocaine in 1980.

So then what would it have been like on the street at 7pm in the 1980s?

It’s like this, it’s the same thing; we just got older. We were in high school and we were car-washing then. They had summer youth employment programs, they don’t have them now. We were working for Seattle Conservation Corps. They don’t have that anymore, so we was just working in the summer. At Madrona Park we had lunches, free lunches for everybody, now it’s just for kids, that’s it.

So you would have been graduating from high school about that time.

Ummhmm. And that (crack) epidemic just spread like water flowing (like in) New Orleans (like Hurricane Katrina). You had that problem, and people were dying. But there was another drug that was even worse that crack that was heroin.

Photo: Madeline Crowley ©
There was heroin here?

Heroin. Snort it or shoot it. You know what’s in heroin?

A lot of junk and opium.

Antifreeze. They give you an illusion, you think you’re high but it’s poison. How many overdoses you hear with crack? Not too many do you?

Not too many, maybe because you burn it so it’s pure.

How many overdoses do you hear about with heroin?

I knew a guy in college, he didn’t even get the needle back out.

‘Cause it hit his heart and blew it up. It’s poison. That was in the neighborhood too. Until the Black Panthers took a broom, so to speak.

So the Black Panthers cleaned things up. What year would that have been?

I’d say the middle of the 1970s.

So they went after the drug addicts? Were they were kind of like the Nation then?

The Islam Nation, I’d say the mid-70s to 80s. That’s when Reagan got reelected and Reaganomics but they couldn’t stop that crack.

So the Panthers would go after the Dealers? What about the crack houses?

There was nothing they could do about them, there was too many. There was too many. That’s where the City was supposed to come in. So once the authorities started figuring out how to get rich off of it, they started having people start extorting money. Nobody never talks about this. But they started extorting money. You think the City works for the Mayor, no. The Mayor takes orders from the City.

The government was on the take?

Yeah, don’t think they goodie-goodie. They were lining their pockets. And they still lining their pockets. Now there’s no more crack houses. Now they’re putting things out here, drugs out here too. (Hits the table) People don’t talk about that.  Madeline, they making so much money off of it. They don’t want to make it legal because they’d have to tax it and they wouldn’t get no cut.

Now, see they don’t care about marijuana no more, but if you get caught with crack cocaine they want the big dealer because there’s money. That’s why everybody you see have cel phones, they don’t use pagers anymore, they don’t use phone booths anymore. They using these prepaid, you can’t track that, you get a plan they can track you.

So when crack came in during the 1980s, how did the neighborhood change? It sounds mostly in the 70s kids were running around, it was pretty safe. What happened when crack cocaine came in?

Everybody started experimenting with it. Everybody went their own ways. We weren’t as tight as we were. That’s when the police presence started coming in. They were battering ram their houses, taking everything they had, taking them to jail. They’d get out because of drug money; it’s a recycle thing.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

How did that change the feeling in the black community?

This is when the black community depended upon the police to do the right thing but some of the black kids were getting killed and you know what I’m talking about. There was a shooting down there the other day. This was an Asian guy, he went after his girlfriend and an 8-month-old baby and the police shot him because he had a gun – they’re trigger-happy. We expected the police to put this under control. Instead, this corner here full of drug dealers with curb service, pull up in your car, just like Cherry (Street) used to be: Union (Street); Yesler (Way); Jackson (Street); Judkins (Park); Rainier Beach, all the way down.

I would imagine kids stopped playing on the streets?

Yes.

There wasn’t that fellow feeling anymore?

Because their kids were involved on drugs, things in the house was coming up missing. You know what I’m talking about right? They were selling their mother’s and father’s jewelry, going into their mother’s purses, stealing from their mothers, going to the bank and writing checks because they had to support their high.

So the family fractured, the community fractured?

Uh-huh. There was nowhere to turn because the police was doing the wrong thing.

So it sounds like in the 70s there were parties and places to dance and then it just exploded.

It was great. We used to drink beer and we can’t even drink a beer on the street anymore.

So in the 80s, the community kind of…?

Just disbanded because the people who were clean and sober, if they weren’t smoking it they were selling it, they became drug dealers and they are still drug dealers to this day and that was how many years ago?

Then when the 90s came?

Still the same.

So, then describe the 90s, what was it like then?

People started getting arrested. Ok, people had enough. People was breaking into houses, stealing cars, shooting people, stabbing people, robbing for what you call it, Oxycontin, so the pharmacies closed. Then everybody had to go to Walgreens. All the little drug stores here closed.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

So that’s when Tokuda Drugs closed?

There is not a Tokuda Drugs (anymore) is there? Because they were being robbed so much. Black people fought back, that’s when the gangs was popping off at each other, shooting at each other and it’s been like that since.

So the crack years went through the 90s?

Yeah it’s still here but it’s slowed way down, now it’s Sherm. You know what Sherm is? You take embalming fluid and a Newport (Cigarette). Madeline, they take a pack of Newports, they know somebody in the medical field, they dip the tobacco in the there, pull it out, let it dry and then fire it up. You don’t put something (meant) for a dead people in a live body. It’s paranoid. That’s how that white man died up there, on Cherry (Street) with the kids in the car (Justin Ferrari). The guy (the shooter) was high. The guy was smoking Sherm. The kid was high plus he was running and shooting backwards, you can’t run and shoot backwards.

Did they get the right kid?

Yeah, they got the right kid. Now they’re trying to blame the mother.

How do you stop someone in all that?

Well, in a way you can. She knew he wadn’t all here and he was running.

They weren’t really a true gang, they’re just kids with drugs.

That’s all it was. They were just kids with their pants all down. And if you take them down to LA, they get the hell beat out of them. You know ‘cause those gangs down there, them is (real) gangs down there - also in Chicago and NYC. There aren’t no real gangs here. Those is just wannabes, they’s good kids but something influenced them to do the wrong thing.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©



What do you think that is?

The wrong people. Bad influence. Older people, I mean like people your age. Already came up in the ranks, went to prison, don’t want to go back so they recruiting kids to do their dirty work, bring them the money and gives them the narcotics so… that’s an ongoing thing there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing you can do to stop it.

After the crack years, houses started to be more attractive and the neighborhood started to change again. How would you describe that?

You see, I’m not mad at them white people. The more different races that move in crime goes down sometimes, now in the summer the crime rolls but it’s not the white people’s fault. You want me to get all real? White people move in and crime went down. Every two or three months somebody got shot on Cherry (Street). Frank got shot on 27th he got shot seven times. I haven’t seen him since. He’s alive though.

I know his neighbor.  He said he was a good man.

He’s a good kid. He’s 40 years old. He was on his porch. The guy were ranking at Frank’s Mom’s house and he said something this kid didn’t like. But that doesn’t cause me to shoot somebody.

It shouldn’t. Well, you’ve seen some big changes in the neighborhood how do you feel about it now?

I feel good about it. I get along with everybody. I get along with everybody. I don’t care what color they are; I get along with everybody. You want people to treat you the way you treat them, so you got to earn respect if you want respect. If you jump off on the wrong foot; you’re going to have problems. I get along with everybody. You know that right?

Yes.

Some of the people I know who live around the (Madrona) Park been there for 60 some years. They’ve seen some changes. The park has changed; the park wasn’t like that.


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©



What was it like?

The basketball court went east/west instead of north/south. Wayne Melonson was the first black guy to put a hoop up there.

Aaron mentioned him.

Wayne Melonson. He was the Principal of St Therese for a long, long time. I think he was the one who put the hoops and the tennis courts there. It was just a hoop like this and it had a red and white stripe going around it like a barber shop thing he put that there. Everybody played at that one hoop. And we got mad and we said we want a full basketball court. Wayne snapped his finger or something and we got a full basketball court. I’ve been playing basketball for over 20 years.

When crack hit in the 80s what was walking down the street at 7pm like?

Everybody over here (near Yesler Way), selling it from block to block. People in the cracks and crevices just smoking it. Not so much weed, people wasn’t buying weed, It was new rising drugs, the government dropped it in the water. People say white folks brought it here. No, people from California brought it here. Some of our own people, black, white and mostly Mexicans.

Hmm, well. I’ll ask you later.

Did I get high? Yes.

No, that’s not what I was going to ask. How would you describe the neighborhood in 2000? What’s it like then?

Nothing changed. Ain't nothing changed. We just got older and police are shooting us more. And the Black Festival Parade it’s like grass growing on a slope, nobody attends. White people don’t attend but they sure as hell have a whole lot of people at Torchlight Parade. Still we can’t, we keep blaming the white people for stuff that’s our fault, we cain’t do that. We got to take initiative for our own lives, got to take responsibility for what we do. Cain’t keep blaming the white man for that, we can do anything we want to in America, as they say, but when you cross the line and break the law you expect something to happen to you, right?


Photo: Madeline Crowley ©



Yeah.

A lot of white people don’t realize we get guns put in our faces by the police, we get slammed on the hood of the car by police for no reason because of our skin color. We walk across the street, three kids the other day walking across the street and six police cars swarmed them, threw them on the hood, cuffed ‘em and said, you guys are a threat. You’re a gang. But there was only three kids. They say three or more is a gang. Well, nine or ten white people can walk down the street and don’t get bothered.

So when you were a kid the police were different?

They were nicer. They weren’t shooting us and things like that, because we had the Black Panthers.

Tell me more about what you remember of the Panthers in the neighborhood.

They did do things to get money. They had to fund their movement but it had positive effects because they offered protection too. Then the police came, the FBI came and they disbanded them. But they never let the white supremacists groups thrive.

They did the Breakfast Program, the Clinic (Carolyn Downs), kicking drug dealers out… Slowly but surely it’s getting better in the Central District. Still, the police got to stop harassing us, stop shooting us, that’s the problem.

Right.

All black folks are not the same; all black folks do not look alike.


I think that covers what I was thinking we’d cover. Thank you!


 ©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2015   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 




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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The CentralAreaComm.blogspot.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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