Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Brooks Andrews, Pastor, Japanese Baptist Church

Retired Pastor Brooks Andrews is an author of books on the effects of the Japanese American internment/incarceration on his family as his father was a Minister to the Japanese Baptist Church

Photo by Madeline Crowley

There’s a line in a TS Eliot poem that says something to the effect that, life takes a circular route, we come back to where we started and we see it for the first time. For me, coming back here was to see the Japanese Baptist Church for the first time. Not through the eyes of the child who had left, but in the eyes of an adult who’s gone through some pain and then recognizes the value and the heritage of this community that I really never left.

About Brooks Andrews

Brooks’ life reveals that the twists and turns during a profound search for meaning can sometimes bring you to the very same place you began, yet entirely transformed.

Pastor Brooks Andrews on the Central Area Community of the Japanese Baptist Church:

Did your family live near the Japanese Baptist Church in the Central Area?

We lived just down the hill, east of the Church on 15th and Alder.

Brooks in his father's arms. Collection Brooks Andrews

The Japanese Baptist Church - Photo by Joe Mabel

During World War II (WWII) internment/incarceration of the Japanese-Americans from this church, your father made a startling decision. Could you talk about that?

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Order 9066 by President Roosevelt sent all the Japanese on the Pacific coast to American concentration camps in the west.

Gate at Minidoka. Collection Brooks Andrews

Mother’s Day in 1942 was the first Sunday that the Japanese Baptist Church (JBC) and the community had been emptied of all the Japanese. This meant that Dad (Pastor of the Church) didn’t really have a job here in Seattle anymore. So, he decided that we would be moving to Twin Falls, Idaho (to minister to those in the Camp). That was about 20 miles from one of the camps, called Minidoka. And so, in late summer/early fall of 1942 when I was five-years old, Dad packed us in the car and moved us to Twin Falls.

Camp Minidoka - History

Do you remember any feelings about that move?

I was five, so I’m not sure I remember any feelings about it, perhaps I thought it was an adventure. I do remember arriving in Idaho at the house Dad had rented for us to live in. I looked out the car window and said, “Where are the Twin Falls?” I was looking for water, for waterfalls, but it was just a house.

Brooks with his family. Collection Brooks Andrews

Were your playmates from the church?

I remember prior to the evacuation playing with my Japanese playmates then the next day they were gone.  Of course, I didn’t fully comprehend why they were gone. They were moved with their families to the Minidoka camp so that’s where I caught up with them later on.

Brooks and Playmates. Collection Brooks Andrews

Since you were five years old, was the move was kind of a good thing because you were back with your friends?

It was. I was in first grade in Lincoln Elementary in the town. We weren’t allowed to live in the camps so we lived outside.

Brooks, Family & Friends. Collection Brooks Andrews
You were allowed to go into the Camp, though?

Oh yes, I’m sure Dad made daily trips into the camp. During the summer we made family trips into the camp when school was out. Often, we went on the weekends to the camp. Every time, we had to get a valid pass signed by the Department of Army. When we stopped at the gate we got out of the car and showed our pass. Then any bags or packages we had with us were looked over by the guard at the gate.

What do you remember of the camp?

I remember always seeing the guards, the guard tower and walking the grounds of the camp. We went to visit different families. They were always so happy to see us, and so very gracious in receiving us.

I remember in summer time it was very hot and very windy which precipitated the dust storms. It was desert, just sagebrush and dust. The summer dust storms were the bane of the occupants of the camp because the barracks weren’t weather tight, so dust seeped in through the walls and even the floorboards. Maybe the building lumber used wasn’t dried completely so in the summer it shrunk and you could see through the cracks in floorboards to the dirt below. There was always dust; people were constantly cleaning because of the dust. In wintertime, it was the opposite, very cold. The barracks weren’t insulated, so it was very cold in the winter.

Did you run around and play or were you helping your father?

I wasn’t really helping my father. Once we got inside the camp, Dad was off doing his business in camp. I was more involved in social things with my mother, visiting the families in the different barracks. Oftentimes when we left camp, mother would have a list of items people would ask her to pick up for them at the local dime store. They needed thread or material or little things to do because they were imprisoned.

It must have been hard for you too. When you’re little you want stay at home with your toys where you’re nice and warm.

One thing that I detested in the wintertime was that my mother made me wear these wool pants. I just hated them, they were itchy. I hated to put them after my bath on Sunday. It was just terrible.

Brooks as a Cub Scout. Collection Brooks Andrews

I think you mentioned the first time we met that your father would also run errands for people in the camps. He would frequently drive back to Seattle for those errands.

Yes. He would drive 1,500 miles back to Seattle. That was before freeways so it was two-lane roads.

(In the book 'Omoide V' by Dee Goto, Pastor Brooks spoke of the ostracism and aggression his father experienced for standing with his Japanese Congregation. He was bodily removed from a local restaurant. Later the owner of that restaurant bought the rental home the Brooks' were living in order to force them out)

During wartime rationing?

There were different levels of rationing, for food, for gas, and so forth, so depending on your occupation, you got a sticker that read A, B, C, etc. Dad did not have any problem getting gas because he had a clergy designation. Clergy had a higher designation so he had an unlimited gas resource.

In the Church to help people prior to going to the camps Dad decided to use the gymnasium for people’s household items. Dad took tape and marked off 10 foot squares on the gymnasium floor. Then put family names on the tape because they could take almost nothing with them (two suitcases only per person). They had to have a place to store their larger things, so the gymnasium became a storehouse.

Once people became settled in camp, they began requesting items that were stored here at the Church gymnasium. Oftentimes Dad would come out of the camp with a list of requested items. Then he’d drive back to the Church to pick up items. Dad made 56 trips during the years to pick up items and bring them back. The joke of the whole thing was that often the requested item would be on the bottom of the pile.

In his diary he mentioned something about picking up a box and bringing it all the way back and they said, ‘that’s the wrong box.’

Dad had to make reports back to New York City to the Baptist Headquarters every month. To give you an idea, for the month of February 1944, he made 206 calls, wrote 85 letters, preached two sermons, attended four meetings, conducted one meeting, had two baptisms, two weddings, 152 visitors coming and going at our house, and the mileage he traveled that month was 2975 miles. He carried 135 passengers. And one of the annual reports lists 42,000 miles of travel.

They didn’t have shock absorbers or paved roads so those were hard miles.

Those were hard times compared to what we have today.

How was the Church protected from vandals with everyone gone?


I don’t know what protected the Church. The Church was all locked up we really didn’t have any vandalism in the Church, a few broken windows but there wasn’t any vandalism like there was at Maneki Café or others.

Maneki Cafe - History (vandalism mentioned)

Maybe because back then people wouldn’t do that to a Church?


You said something that stuck with me when we first met. I said that your father was like a Saint…

Someone said if Baptists had Saints, that my father would be one of them.

… that’s very much deserved but it must not be easy to be the child of a Saint.

You probably talk to any ‘PK,’ Preacher’s Kid, and they will have a similar story of growing up with a Pastor.

Though, for me, I didn’t realize this ‘til later years. I feel like I grew up without a sense of self. In my writing, I put it something like, I didn’t have a name; I was Andy’s son but I wasn’t Brooks. Every time someone would see me it was always, “There’s Andy’s son.”

So, in college when I left this church I took this whole story and put it up on a shelf. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to talk about it.

That came back to bite me, though. In later years when I was in my 60s I had a crash into major depression. I had a plan to take my own life but through the intervention of some friends that didn’t happen. I spent some time in the Psych Ward as an outpatient at a hospital in Snohomish County and was in therapy for a few months. During that therapy, all this stuff bottled up inside me I was able to flush out and heal.

That’s true also for a lot of families whose parent are high profile in the community. Oftentimes, there’s a dark side to that in family dynamics or dysfunction. We weren’t seriously dysfunctional. We were just a very traditional 1940s family but my Mom and Dad divorced in 1955. And that’s when Dad resigned also…

Because back then you had to resign if you divorced?

I don’t know about that but he was the English-speaking pastor from 1929 to 1955. By then, he was older man. It was time to retire. It was time to have a Japanese-American Pastor. That was one of the reasons.

Still, I often wonder about my Mother, as she wasn’t the high profile person in that situation. She was in the background but she was doing as much ministry as my father. There’s a poem, a line from an English poet, ‘they also serve who stand and wait.’ 

I think of my mother in that regard. She was very much in the background but very quietly doing the work. Sometimes, I think if there was ‘another woman’ in their marriage, for my mother that ‘other woman’ was the Japanese-American Community. It took so much of Dad, he threw himself into that community and maybe he should have put some of that energy into our family.

Brooks, top row 3rd from the right, next to Yosh Nakagawa in white jacket. Collection Brooks Andrews

Interestingly, though, you chose a similar path.

I did. (Sighs) Sometimes I wonder was there nothing else I could do? But you know, I bounced around for some time.  I did go to seminary after college graduation in 1961 or ‘62. I was in seminary in Berkley CA for a year and half. In the early 1960s and it seemed like the whole world, or at least the US was in turmoil. Also, the seminary was only two blocks south of the Berkeley campus, the center of all this stuff… where all this was going on.

I didn’t know who I was, so I dropped out and came back to Seattle. I had worked my way through college driving a truck for UPS, the United Parcel Service. After I came back, I picked that up again.  I always had an interest in boats. So, I went to SCCC to their carpentry program.  Then spent many years working in boatyards and had my own boatyard in Ballard with a partner for several years. After that, I got into contracting, remodeling and so forth. I did that and was also involved in a Church in Edmonds. During that time, I went back and got my Masters degree at the Seminary. I was on staff in a Church in Edmonds for a long time.  

I crashed into depression in 2003. I resigned at that time and we continued worship at the Edmonds Church another year and half. During that time, Yosh Nakagawa
came back into my picture. We’d lost communication over the years. I’ve known him since grade school. Anyway, I got to feeling that now I’m free of this other church in Edmonds, maybe God was calling me back to the Japanese Baptist Church.

I said nothing to my wife about it. I thought about it, and prayed about it. Then, one Sunday after church service at the Edmonds Church the first words out my wife’s mouth were, ‘I think God has released us to come back to the Japanese Baptist Church.’ That was the confirmation I was waiting for.

We came back to the JBC with absolutely with no intention of it being a place other than to worship. Once I got here, though, they said, “Maybe you’d wanted to be ordained here in the American Baptist Churches (ABC).” I said, “Fine, I can do that.” To be ordained in the ABC, you have to be ordained into a specific job in a Church. So, I said, “Ok, I would be the Minister of Pastoral Care.” That’s how I got back into the ministry. Then, the Senior Pastor at that time retired in October of 2011. Then,  the Church said, ‘we’d like you to be our new Senior Pastor.’ I said, “No, I’m too old to start over again,” so they asked me to be our Interim Pastor while they do a search. A year and a half later, here I am.

It’s funny that it’s come full circle. When I met you I assumed there’d been this unbroken chain from your father to you…

It wasn’t that, a son following his father’s footsteps, I went all around that barn many times.

It’s actually a very interesting story how through all these twists and turns you did return to the place you’d started this story.

For me, it’s a homecoming but it’s also part of my healing journey too. In fact, a big part of my healing journey.

I was born into this Church in 1937. I grew up in this Church and had many relationships in it through the years. Some of the older Nisei today still remember me from being a child. There’s a line in a TS Eliot poem that says something to the effect that, life takes a circular route, we come back to where we started and we see it for the first time. For me, coming back here was to see the Japanese Baptist Church for the first time. Not through the eyes of the child who had left, but in the eyes of an adult who’s gone through some pain and then recognizes the value and the heritage of this community that I really never left.


  It’s interesting too that you refer to poetry quite often and to woodworking both of which is to put your heart into your hands.

In college, I had a double major in English and Biblical Literature so that’s where some of that comes from. I enjoyed boatbuilding, I did the finish carpentry on boats. The thing about working with your hands is that at the end of the day, you can step back and look at it and say, ‘That’s really good. I accomplished that today.’ Or you can see what you need to change the next day, and you change it. But in Ministry at the end of the day you look around and you think, ‘what have I accomplished today?’ Some of those things you’ve accomplished in that day, you may never know.

Sometimes in Ministry the Pastor is called to shepherd the sheep. I’ve often said, it happens in every church, there are some sheep that I’d like to lead to slaughter. There are some that you’d like to shake them and say, ‘get a life.’

It seems through pain and struggle, you have found to your way a path that from the outside seems like a path with great heart. How would you describe that?

In growing up… this is part of the dysfunction of my life, I rarely had one-on-one time with Dad. I didn’t have that one-on-one bonding relationship with my Dad. Yet, I heard his voice loud and clear always speaking to me. That voice came to me through the group, the scouting outings, or the church functions when we're all there. That voice that came from what I observed in his leadership and interactions with groups, it probably informed what I’m doing today.

I feel I grew up to be a very insecure boy. I found security or release in movies. I loved action movies like Robin Hood. If there was a hero and a damsel to be won, I felt I was there, I was that hero. The way I put it is that each one of us, are the heroes of our own story. And as I look back on my story, I can say I am the hero of my story.

I think that compassion comes out in the group; that spoke to me. So, often when I’m out in the community, I do a ton of memorial services for people who haven’t been inside the JBC for years or even had never been here, but everywhere I go among the Nisei Japanese, they say, “Oh, you’re Andy’s son.” Then, they tell me that, your father baptized me, or your father married us, or something like that. Oftentimes, when people talk about my father, or about what he did for them during the war, they have tears in their eyes.

That just makes me realize the heritage I have, the importance of… not that I have to be a Pastor also, but to realize the strength I draw from that story. And what I do for my own life, how I relate to my congregation and the community, and my own family and my grandchildren.

Do your grandchildren know that whole story?

The oldest is 18 and is graduating this year. When she was in middle school she asked me to speak about this episode, the incarceration at Minidoka. Then, for a senior project, she interviewed me and did a PowerPoint presentation about my father and our family. Also, I have a daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren who live in Atlanta Georgia. Two years ago, my son-in-law went with me on the Minidoka Pilgrimage. My daughter now is the keeper of the story.

I feel blessed when I’m asked to do Memorial services and funerals and gravesites.

The Nisei Veteran’s have a Memorial Wall naming all the families who were incarcerated during the war in all the camps in the US. A couple of years ago someone initiated a move to put my father’s name on the wall there; he’s the only Caucasian name on that wall. It says, Andy Andrews, Minidoka. 

Out of my connection to the Japanese community, I was asked to speak at this recent Memorial Day Veterans’ Observance at the Lakeview Cemetery. Also, in the last two years on Remembrance Day which is Feb. 19th when the Japanese were moved from their homes, I’ve been asked twice to give the Invocation at the Washington House of Representatives on that particular day. Because of my father and my family, because of the association with the incarceration and the Japanese community, people often ask me to do things in the community. Whenever I’m asked, it honors my family; I’m humbled that people would want me to do it.

In a way, your father doesn’t get this because he’s gone. Maybe it’s his gift to you to see the difference that one person can make. If you weren’t the person you are, it wouldn’t be appropriate for you to be there, his son or not. Now it gets to be about you.

The thing about Ministry is it can be a lonely business. Last week, someone took me out to lunch and we just sat and talked. It’s a gift for me for someone to do that, because it gets me out of the office. We interact in some language other than pulpit language or church language. We can talk about whatever we want. It’s not going to be spread around, it’s just a good release.

When I was at the other church I did a lot of counseling, I used to hang out a particular Starbucks three or four days a week, to just to get outside of the walls of the building. After a while, I got to know some of the regulars and the baristas. It kind of evolved to a point where people would say, ‘oh, the Pastors in his office.’ Someone would sit down and we’d have great conversations. They’d say things they wouldn’t tell their spouse or friends. While, the preaching of a message every week, it’s like standing on the Empire State Building and pouring down a bottle of iodine on people below to cure the world’s ills. 

In the counseling I did there, the first thing I would say is I don’t want my position or my title to be a barrier to our building a relationship, so use whatever words that best express what’s going on inside you. And people would say, really? That’s why I enjoyed being out in Starbucks because it happens quicker and you go deeper. In fact, there’s a book, the “Gospel according to Starbucks.” It talks about Starbucks having this neutral atmosphere that builds relationships and understanding, you go and you sit and you have your coffee or tea and talk. It speaks of relationship building.  

To me, the real heart of ministry is relationship building. It’s the eyeball-to-eyeball, knee-to-knee part that really turns my crank.   

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   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

Friday, July 12, 2013

Michelle Purnell-Hepburn, VP / Controller

Michelle Purnell-Hepburn like her parents before her works in banking. Her family had an outsized impact on the Central Area through the Liberty Bank, black-owned and community supported it was the first African American bank in Seattle

Photo: Madeline Crowley we come, these few people wanting to start a minority-owned bank. I just think the powers that be were not quite prepared for that at that time.  

About Michelle:

Michelle Purnell-Hepburn has spent her life in financial institutions, literally learning at her father's knee, then working at the Liberty Bank when young. The Liberty Bank was the first African-American owned bank at that time west of the Mississippi. It is an important part of Central Area history. 

This interview is now available in the book, We Lived Here, published by Chin Music Press:

Your parents contributed to an important part of Central Area history, they were part of the Liberty Bank.

Well, the Liberty Bank of Seattle was a dream of my father. He wanted African-Americans to have the ability to create their own destiny. 
Liberty Bank. Mr. Gould, Rev. McKinney, Dr. Jackson. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Interior. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Original Application. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Telegram. Refusal of Charter. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Dr. Jackson. Mr. Purnell (right). Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Opening Day. Mayor Braman. Gov. Evans. Mardine Purnell. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Interior. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Opening Day Ceremony. Employees on a crowded sidewalk. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. The first employees. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. First Transaction. Teller Patrinell Wright. Customer Councilman Sam Smith.
Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Board. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. First Day's Customers. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Transacting Business. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Councilman Sam Smith. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. Staff. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

Liberty Bank. First Customers. Collection Michelle Purnell-Hepburn

(I learned of Liberty Bank via the Central District News supplemented this with research and found Michelle Purnell-Hepburn)

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   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

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Laura Dewell, Executive Director, Green Plate Special

Laura Dewell works tirelessly to share her years of knowledge from owning and running successful restaurants with lower-income community kids in the pursuit of Food Justice

Photo: Madeline Crowley

There’s so many reasons to feel that you have less opportunities but in reality, absolutely in reality, when you’re given an opportunity, take it.

What made you choose the Central Area for the Green Plate Special project?

I was looking farther south when an opportunity arose with Marty Liebowitz of the Madrona Company, a family-owned contractor/builder and property owners. I thought it could be a good fit, being on the edge of the Central District but I wondered if Madrona was the demographic I was looking to serve in the first stage of our project. In reality, Madrona K-8 School has the highest rates of subsidized lunches in the city. Roughly 80% of the youth in the school are youth of color and many are financially struggling.  So, it was an organic process; and it came to us in a really special way.

The Green Plate Special project teaches kids how to grow and tend food, but also about nutrition.

            That’s correct, because 50% of what we do is in the garden and the rest is in the kitchen.  The garden now is a temporary site, we’re moving farther south at the end of this year. We planned to build a kitchen in this garden but funding didn’t happen at that point. This kitchen now is in the Madrona Presbyterian Church. Since you don’t see an on-site kitchen, people have the impression it’s a youth garden program or a community garden. It is very much a community garden but our focus is on middle school youth. They get to experience the process of planting through harvest and then going into the kitchen to cook.  

A teenaged Laura with her dog. Collection of Laura Dewell.

Green Plate Special works with youth for three or four sessions, or over a period of six months, or in the summer program. In some programs kids don’t always see everything through fruition, instead it’s the process of introducing them to the garden. A lot of folks in the city don’t have any experience with food gardens.

Although our focus tends to be on low-income families, this lack of garden knowledge is across the board nationally. It’s an issue of not knowing where your food comes from. As well as not being aware that the food you put inside your body makes a difference to your health.  It seems for middle- and upper-income people there’s more understanding of nutrition and food. It is a Social Justice issue and a Food Justice issue that lower income families don’t have this information nor have the ability to access nutritious food. Combine this with exhaustive days and overwhelming lives – they’re not getting information to make their own choices. 

Laura as a child. Collection Laura Dewell.
To counter that, we expose kids to fun, interesting things in the garden and kitchen that integrates math and science. It’s experiential learning.  So once the garden has gone through harvest, then we take it to the kitchen and cook it together.

There are lots of great programs in our community that do food gardening with kids through Elementary and High School but not really in Middle School.  The problem is that it doesn’t move into the kitchen. You also have programs that feature cooking, but they’re not necessarily integrated with the garden. 

Our experience is that our kids have done a community garden project and grew kale or collards but they’re not eating it. They’re just growing it, for money or whatever, but they’re not going through the whole process from garden to table. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
 What have you heard from kids who have made it through the process, they’ve grown the food and gotten to eat it themselves? 

            At this point, I’d say we have a 95% rate of kids actually getting that “Aha!” moment of like, “Oh! This is actually good!”  The program has an expectation that students taste one bite of something and they continue to taste that same food at least five times. That’s worked, and the reaction is amazing, actually.

We were just in the garden yesterday with a group that comes for four weeks and this was their first garden day. They were in the kitchen a week before and the resistance to what we were talking about with food was pretty high: “I don’t go outside!” “I don’t eat carrots!”  “Our family doesn’t eat cherries!” and so on, “Our family doesn’t…”  So, I’m saying, ‘Well, okay, but you said you’re not allergic to it, so we’re going to try it.’  Then, they were eating sugar snap peas for their first time. The next week in the garden they asked, “Are there any more sugar snap peas?”  And I could say, “Yes. I brought ‘em just for you!” 
Photo: Madeline Crowley
 Kids had also said: “Carrots?  I don’t eat carrots out of the ground! That’s disgusting.”  I explain that we wash them first! Really, a little light bulb goes on for them.  So you wash these carrots and they’re beautiful. What they thought was dirty is startlingly beautiful. Then, I couldn’t stop them from pulling them all out!  “Can I take this home?  Can I take that home?” 

I told them about purple carrot and white carrots, and they said, ‘Oh, purple carrots, that’s disgusting!’”  Suddenly it was totally different when we washed them and brought them to the table as part of a snack with cucumbers and sugar snap peas.  

Sometimes we do foods that they’re familiar with, to be respectful of the foods that they’re already eating. These are foods that they like as kids; foods we all liked as kids. So, we adapt those favorites and throw some new things into it.  We always make homemade ranch dressing with yogurt, lots of herbs and garlic. It tastes like ranch dressing, but it has yogurt instead of sour cream and buttermilk and they’re amazed.  They go from total resistance to, “Oh, this is good!”  “That was the best class I’ve ever had!”  “I wanna do that again!”  “I like your program because you let us taste stuff.  I do other cooking classes, and they don’t let us taste things.” 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
 You hook them in with the cooking more than with the growing, because there is resistance to being outside with the bees, and bugs, and worms, and it’s dirty. So we plant with them – they plant seeds, they harvest, and then they really get into it. They forget their attitudes in the moment, and it’s really amazing.  They might not take that with them immediately but they have had that spark, that little “Hey!” that will at some point be an opportunity.  It’s about giving them opportunity and empowering them to make their own choices. 

If they continue to eat the way they’ve always eaten?  Then, that is their choice, but it’s the beginnings of an educated choice, as opposed to not having that information. And it’s a move away from believing that it’s dirty in the garden, that food needs to be sanitized, everything needs to be sterile and everything needs to be packaged.  When we try to tell them the difference between packaged food and food straight from the garden. Then that brings up what’s in season, to eat what’s in season.
Photo: Madeline Crowley
 What is your ultimate goal for the program?

I still have huge goals for the program; we’re putting a huge amount of work into it right now.  The new location on Rainier Avenue will have a kitchen on-site. We’ll have chickens, and bees and a greenhouse. It’ll also be the showcase for the program as it’s being funded. It’ll be a showcase for what we’re doing, which is teaching math, science, nutrition, and empowerment and Food Justice to middle school youth and other kids in the community. 

That will help lead to small programs in other communities that will be run by people in that community. We’re creating a package – a garden and portable kitchen next to a middle school or a community center that middle school youth can access. 

We can expand this into high school and lower elementary as well. Still, it’s important to keep the educational curriculum focus on middle school. So my goal is to support schools with this curriculum. Even though schools say they understand the importance of nutrition, it’s not happening. It’s not happening in the lunchroom, it’s barely happening in the classroom.  I have no judgment on what the nutrition people and the folks that are serving the kids are tasked with; that is very political.  It has to do with top-down ideas of where funding is coming from, what corporations say schools can and cannot do.  
Photo: Madeline Crowley
We know all of that.  While we’re not interested in becoming a political push, we can, with time get youth voices and eventually their families’ voices to say, “We want something better. We demand it, and we’re going to make changes.”

That means a lot of these wonderful little gardens connected to schools will actually be utilized. Generally, you go to these school gardens and they’re these sad little places because there’s nobody to help with it.  The poorer the school, there’s less money and less support from the PTA because those parents are working two jobs. They’d love to be part of their kid’s school but they don’t have the time. That’s the burden that they have, and the teachers’ burden.  So someone starts this little garden and the kids will plant something but there’s no one to water or tend to it. What the kids plant just dies and then it goes fallow. Then, during the summer when it’s should be at its height, there’s nobody there to look at it.

It’s great to say I’m interested in cooking and I’m interested in gardening, I’m interested in those issues. Yet, it’s another thing when someone says I have no interest in those things. Those are the kids that we want to touch as much as those who are interested. In our second year in Madrona School, they came to us twice a week during class time so every student had to be there. Initially, we had so much resistance and disinterest. Yet, by the second cooking class there was a huge difference in interest. By the end of the program, the attitude, the respect, the enjoyment was there. They had forgotten that they were way too cool for it. It was drastic. We touched a lot of lives. Some of those kids are coming back to us through other programs. They’re really proud that they can demonstrate what they’ve already learned to other kids. Even though this isn’t something that is necessarily going to be in their lives, they might not go out and garden. They might not be interested in cooking as a profession. Still, they are becoming aware of where their food comes from, and the importance of that, of what it means to eat locally and the health issues around food. It’s just little steps like that.

So, for anyone who’s never heard of Food Justice, can you speak about that? 

To me, Food Justice means having access to whole foods, being able to make that choice for yourself and for your family. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Grocery Outlet because those foods might be coming from far away, they might not have local produce. They might not have local or organic food they might carry a lot of packaged and prepared foods; but they do carry fresh foods and at a price folks can afford. It also means giving people the ability to make choices for themselves. 
Right now, society completely blames obese people for their health-related issues; it’s their fault; it’s problems of their own making, diabetes, heart-disease. Yes, they are making some of those choices and some people will never change. Still, when a child is becoming obese at the age of 6 that’s different because there’s not a thing that child can do about it.  When they get older those fat cells have already formed and a process has begun that’s hard to escape. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
 Food Justice means that families understand there are certain foods they should start serving children when they’re very young. That they shouldn’t start feeding children solid food at the age of six months. That there is no nutritional value in fast food, pop or soda, there is none in processed food. They need to know that, but they’re not getting that information. We have people in this country, lots of them who are actually starving {for true nutrients} but they’re obese. 

How does that work, how can you be obese and starving at the same time? They’re given food for their meals by Welfare and wonderful organizations without federal funding who try to help by passing along fast food, processed food and cakes. It’s filling yet there’s no nutritional value. Bodies can’t properly process that food and it just fill the cells with junk. Then, healthy and whole foods are more expensive; fruits and vegetables are more expensive and therefore folks can’t afford to eat them although they would like to. There is no reason that fruits and vegetables and whole foods should be too expensive for our families to eat. 

Everyone should be able to afford fruits and vegetables. Food Justice means giving people the right to eat fresh vegetables and being able to cook with fresh food, and have access to correct nutrition information.

You touched on this earlier but why did you focus on the Central Area?

As the Central Area and south of it tend to be families of color, despite Seattle being liberal, we have a huge skew from white and black upper middle class and middle class to lower middle class people struggling financially. The lower middle class has high levels of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In our community there’s a higher rate starting in elementary school of about 20-30% kids are overweight in the community of color. In the nation we’re about number three in that skew of what people of color are able to access in terms of healthy food, of what they know about nutrition as opposed to what upper middle class families have access to in terms of education and food.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
It sounds like what you’re saying is those differentials in food and education translate into different health outcomes for people of color in the Central Area?

That’s right. And their community leaders are trying to make change by talking to them about these issues. My understanding of the African-American food tradition is that the balance of vegetables to beef, chicken and pork, as well as how those vegetables are being prepared is not in balance with today’s lifestyle. So, there needs to be education from their own community and leaders in that community are trying. Still, there are reasons why people eat comfort food.

I thought this would be a good area to start with because there’s a lot going on in this area. There are also there are huge needs in the north end too with the Latino population. I chose this as a gut reaction to looking at these food and education issues for the populations in the Central Area. Then, really it was it matter of someone offering to create relationships in the Central Area to find where we could start this project. That was my focus and that had to do with trying to access those populations.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
 Can you tell a story of a kid who really understood what the program is trying to do?

So, we work with an after-school program out of Madrona School, it’s an African-American national service sorority. They have a branch in Seattle, there are wonderful women running this great group.

They took a chance on us our first winter and so we did a nutrition program of five sessions with girls. Their program focuses on math, science, and empowerment. It’s about communication and young women supporting each other in how they communicate. It’s a great program.

We came in with a nutrition program. We talked about {nutrition} labels. We did three sessions on portion sizes with all these activities and two cooking sessions. We brought in a frozen pizza and we talked about the calories in one pizza. What proportion that was for your day’s allotment of calories.  Then we compared that to making your own pizza. Next, the girls made the dough and had an amazing time. There were a lot of girls in that program who were on the edge of overweight and a few who were obese and struggling.

And it was all new to us. I asked how many of you guys eat breakfast? Only a few hands from 18 girls in the room went up. How many of you eat lunch? None of their hands went up. So, a lot of these girls are walking out the door for school and don’t eat until 3 o’clock in the afternoon. So I talked about what skipping meals does to your brain, to your health, and how that can cause health issues down the road. It’s not going to help them lose weight, if that’s their focus, because often they binge in the afternoon because they’re so hungry.  We talked about that and how cool it would be if they could take some healthy snacks to school instead. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
 We talked about maybe packing a lunch for school, if that’s a possibility, and how that’s going to help you to have little meals for your brain. And 3 weeks later, they sent me a thank you letter from the whole group.  Victoria Ramirez, the head of the sorority branch, then copied me on an email she sent to all the girl’s parents. It said because of these sessions with Green Plate Special, the work they did, the respect they gave and the enthusiasm that the youth showed, every one of your girls wants to start packing lunch. It’s not cool at school but they wanted to make it cool again. So, they were asking for water bottles and they were asking to be able to buy bulk snacks that they could take to school.

Victoria was blown away by that change and its impact. The next school year she emailed me to say one of the girls from the program who was on the edge of being obese was now looking great. She wasn’t on a diet but after the Green Plate Special program she and her Mom decided to eat differently. She was one of the girls who had said, I had never tasted a carrot before. I always thought they would taste like dirt. And when I tried my first carrot from the garden it was good, it was sweet.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

 Kids are competing for the vegetable soups we make, there are tons of vegetables and greens in those soups. Yet, there’s a palatable fear of that first spoonful of vegetable soup or the fear of putting that sugar-snap pea in their mouth. Since, it’s middle school there’s drama that comes with it, so they’ll put up such a stink abut how they can’t eat it, it’s really hard for them to try it. Then, they’ll try it. They come back quietly and ask if they can have another. They just have to try it first.

One thing that’s exciting is the opportunity to learn basic cooking especially basic knife skills because most of these kids don’t cook with their families. They’re not old enough to be making choices in their families.

We’ve had kids who’ve continued with us, one of our market students helps sell produce on Fridays. His little brother who is in third grade comes with him to the garden. At first, he wouldn’t eat the greens but he became fascinated with vinaigrette, and emulsions because we do that too as part of the science part of cooking. With an emulsion, you can use it at a dip. So, he wanted to make a vinaigrette at home and got total resistance. I gave him everything he needed to take home but there was real resistance at home, ‘You don’t like salad. We don’t eat that.’ He’s been coming on Fridays for two years now and little by little, his favorite thing has become bowls of salad. He has a loving family. Now, his little brother has his own jar of vinegar and oil because he wants to make a vinaigrette like his older brother did. So, he brought garlic home. His dad asked him what are you going to do with that? He said, I’m going to put it on salad. His Dad said, You don’t like salad. So, the next week the little brother comes back and says, I don’t like salad, I don’t like lettuce. So, it’s like, yes, you do. You liked it two weeks ago, so here, try it again. So, it’s back and forth. First, introducing them to something and seeing if they like it. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
 We got so many letters at the end of the 7th grade about the program, 24 thank you letters. They said, things like:
I learned we could all be a family and sit down together to eat and it was like Thanksgiving but more fun.
I learned the person on my team at the garden was very different that I thought, so I learned to get along with people I didn’t know or like before.
I learned I can make salad without so much beef and chicken in it, and without Green Plate Special,
I wouldn’t have known that.
I liked the taste test where I got to try all these new things. That was fun.

They learned how to use a knife properly because we practice that every week. Right now, we’re set up in a church but going forward, it’ll be more home-focused. We’ll have equipment like a refrigerator, dishwasher, electric burners and cutting boards – with a place to eat. We want them to navigate these skills at home with basic cooking and simple ingredients.

They want to make desserts. So, when we do, it’s zucchini bread. They were just falling all over, ‘This is disgusting - that’s going to be awful.’ They wouldn’t try it at first but after they took the whole thing home. A lot of kid will take things we make in class home to their families because we have a lot of leftovers in boxes. There’s one young man in our program who always takes food home, I don’t think it has to do with pride about what he did in class, I think it has to do with taking food home to his family. So we always make that possible. In the garden too, we just planted so the students from this session won’t be there when it comes up. They know, though, that they are welcome into this garden to come and harvest the collards and bring that home to your family.  

 We have some of the kids want seeds so they could bring them to a garden at home. One minute it’s all about attitude, they’re not being respectful and the next minute, it’s like, ‘Wow! Those are my seeds! They just came up.’ And they’re running into the garden to see the little teeny sprouts.
It’s just one spark but maybe that one spark will transfer to a brother or a sister. When we can create curriculum that includes science and math and nutrition and then they can incorporate that so their teacher doesn’t have to do the incorporating. We can do as it as an outside organization supporting that in schools but not get wrapped up in the schools themselves. Then we can get access to the schools, and as the funding is coming in now, and people are seeing that after three years we’re doing this well. We’re getting small grants and funding for the garden. There are some great people behind that funding who know a lot of other generous funders, so it gives us the power to start making things happen for our community.

If you could communicate life advice to teens what would it be?

Be open-minded and open to new things; don’t be afraid to try something no one around you has tried when you’re given the opportunity. Being open will help you expand your world. It will  expand your opportunities. As we know, people of color have more barriers to deal with and fewer opportunities. Yet, if you can be more open-minded not only with people but with experiences, you’ll be introduced to new things. The more new things you’re introduced to can create more opportunities which can open doors.

What is even more important than being open is not to let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do; to believe that you will have opportunities. We know why people feel they don’t, lots of people feel that way, but you do have choices for yourself. Branch out as much as you can and then you’ll have more opportunities.

There’s so many reasons to feel that you have less opportunities but in reality, absolutely in reality, when you’re given an opportunity, take it.

(Laura Dewell was found for this project by walking by her garden)

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   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 


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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 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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