Teens Explore History of Yesler Terrace
Mohamoud Kodah, a Garfield High School student, prepares to shoot a video at a Yesler Terrace garden.
They knocked on many doors and interviewed countless residents. They took photos and shot videos, too—all part of an extensive project by Seattle teens to capture the rich history of Yesler Terrace.
Serve Seattle focused on Beacon Hill's Cheasty Greenspace in partnership with EarthCorps and at Yesler Terrace in partnership with Parents Empowerment for Education Results.
“It’s good for the university to engage with the community for something like this.” - Assaye Abunie, Multimedia Resource and Training Institute
Claire Garoutte of Seattle University’s Fine Arts department partnered with Asfaha Lem-lem, coordinator of the Yesler Terrace Computer Lab and Learning Center, Kat Vellos, program director at Youth In Focus, and Assaye Abunie of the Multimedia Resource and Training Institute to lead a group of 13 teens in a summer youth media program at Yesler Terrace. The students tackled a range of historical topics over six weeks about the subsidized housing project. An exhibit of their work will be featured on the SU campus from mid-September through November. (See You’re Invited for more details.)
“It’s good for the university to engage with the community for something like this,” says Abunie, whose nonprofit serves Seattle immi-grant communities and seeks to mobilize young media enthusiasts through multimedia training. Youth in Focus is an afterschool photography program for disadvantaged teens.
Yesler Terrace’s backyard and community gardens drew one team to arrange a visit with Vinh Nguyen, a 15-year resident who agreed to appear in a video in front of his whimsical backyard plot. His grandson Jason Nguyen translated his grandfather’s native Vietnamese language for interviewer Rekeik Meshesha, a sophomore at Holy Names Acad-emy. She discovered this satisfied gardener spends four days a week proudly tending his red, pink and yellow roses and other ornamentals.
The students and their volunteer mentors, including several from SU, gathered four mornings a week at the Yesler Terrace Commu-nity Center to map out their efforts. In small teams, they hammered out plans to interview community figures from the Seattle Housing Authority and SU’s Center for Service and Community Engage-ment as well as Seattle City Council President Sally Clark, who chairs the council’s special committee on Yesler Terrace.
Yohanna Gebregiorgis, a freshman at Garfield High School, said her group planned to ask Clark about Section 8 housing vouchers and which of the more than 500 Yesler Terrace households would receive first choice.
Some teens focused on the first residents to be displaced by phase one of the redevelopment. Others interviewed elders at Yesler Terrace who have called it home for a decade or more. They also probed how the redevelopment could impact residents who serve as neighborhood childcare providers and the history and future of basketball at Yesler Terrace.
The enterprising teens occasionally learned not everyone was inter-ested in appearing on camera. Mentors encouraged them to regroup, rethink how to present their project with more polish and try again.
Garoutte says she hopes to find funding to engage new teens in the program annually until the Yesler Terrace redevelopment is complete, which could take 15 years or more.