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Community Stories celebrates 10 years

By Shannon Gee

Ten years ago this week, I began work on a new Seattle Channel documentary series called Community Stories. Conceived by then Seattle City Councilmember Jim Compton, the goal of the new program was to shine a spotlight on Seattle communities with a focus on diversity and inclusion.

Here’s a short trailer featuring video clips from a decade of Community Stories.

Our first Community Stories interview a was a conversation and a haircut with Zed Aschenaki, the owner/operator of Salon Adidez in Columbia City and an Ethiopian refugee who came to Seattle by way of Sudan and then Canada. Next, I interviewed kids who were perfecting their song and dance numbers for the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center Teen Summer Musical. And I got to sit in on the recording sessions of the hip-hop duo Blue Scholars’ second album/EP The Long March.

Since that first summer in 2005, Community Stories has told inspiring stories from all over the city. We met the tireless volunteers at Seattle’s VA Hospital; saw how Helping Link teaches computer literacy skills and English to Vietnamese immigrants; and followed the Post-Prison Education Program, which provides college tuition for ex-cons.

Community Stories danced with Northwest Tap Connection, a youth tap dance program; wheelchair dancer Charlene Curtiss; and the Apna Bhangra Crew. We made music with the Oaxacan-style musical group La Banda Gozona, Jack Straw Studios, and Brazilian musician Eduardo Mendonca. We threw pots at Salty Dog Studios in Ballard, carved stone with the artists in residence at the James and Janie Washington Jr. House in the Central District, and wrapped utility boxes in the International District with anime-style artist Ken Taya/enfu. We paddled with outrigger canoers; learned how to play goalball, aka soccer for the blind; and got in the scrum with Seattle’s Division III and predominately gay rugby team, the Seattle Quake.

We met a lot of firsts, too. Harold Mills, the first African American hydroplane racer at Seafair. Bonnie Beers, the city of Seattle’s first female firefighter. Dr. Ruby Shu, the first Japanese American female doctor in Seattle. We examined history with the story of slain Seattle Filipino American and fishing cannery activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes and looked back at how Seattle responded to the emerging AIDS crisis in the 1980s. We said hello to new Hillman City coffee shop Tin Umbrella and goodbye to the beloved Bailey/Coy Books on Broadway.

These are just some of the stories we explored. In 10 years, Community Stories has been honored with more than 30 Northwest Emmy™ nominations, including five for the series overall, and 10 wins.

In June, Seattle Channel was awarded the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) 2015 Kaleidoscope Award for the Community Stories documentary Honor Totem. The hour-long documentary followed the creation of a 34-foot memorial totem pole carved and raised in honor of John T. Williams, a First Nations woodcarver who was fatally shot by a Seattle police officer in August 2010. The pole, which was hand carried from its carving spot on the Seattle waterfront, now stands at Seattle Center.

Like all of the Community Stories producers, Honor Totem Producer/Director Ian Devier delved into the story with heart, artistry, intelligence and a commitment to the Community Stories mission. Receiving the Kaleidoscope Award, whose purpose is “to encourage and showcase journalistic excellence in covering issues of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity” and is “presented annually to news organizations that show an ongoing commitment to covering the diversity of the communities they serve” is heartening and encouraging to us at Community Stories and Seattle Channel. I am humbled that our collective efforts have been recognized with this prestigious national award.

Many thanks to everyone who has worked on Community Stories this past decade…and there are a lot of you. There are many more stories to tell. Let’s keep sharing them!

Shannon Gee is a senior producer at Seattle Channel. She launched the station’s award-winning Community Stories series.