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Life and violence in the Rainier Valley: 'My home is right here on Rainier Ave.'

Neighborhoods in southeast Seattle can be tough. But people are looking at ways to make things better for themselves and those around them.

Second of two stories

Seattle police detective Denise "Cookie" Bouldin knows what it is like to be young and living in a rough area.

"Seattle is nothing compared to the Chicago projects," she said during a recent interview, referring to the place where she grew up. Gangs, drugs and prostitution were all around her then. "I hated the police because my community and the people around me hated the police,” she said. But after talking to an officer at her high school, she began to realize that she wanted to be a cop.

Detective Cookie, as she is called almost universally by people who know her in the Rainier Valley, is a 33-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department. She has worked in the south precinct for about 25 years and also lives in the area. Her nickname is the result of her childhood love for cookies. In 2006 she started a chess club in Rainier Beach, even though she did not know how to play the game. Chess enables her to have conversations with kids in the Rainier Valley, much like the one she had with the police officer in her high school when she was growing up. 

“I use the chess board to teach anti-violence,” she said. “Most of the kids who participate in my chess club have seen violence, have seen death."

The year before she started the club, she had organized a basketball tournament in the neighborhood. After the tournament, some kids she spoke with said they had interests besides basketball, and that they wanted to play chess. 

"I’m thinking: I hate chess,” Bouldin said. But she agreed to organize an event anyway.

About 20 kids showed up to that first chess event, and only three knew how to play the game. "I saw something wrong with the picture," she said. "Here we had kids that wanted to do something out of the norm, and there’s no avenue for them."


Detective Denise "Cookie" Bouldin and students from Van Asselt and South Shore schools at her annual Urban Youth School Chess Tournament. Photo: SPD

The club currently meets on Tuesdays at the Rainier Beach Library and on Saturdays at the Rainier Beach Community Center. Six kids and young adults turned out for a chess club session at the community center on a recent Saturday afternoon. The room was generally quiet, except for when Detective Cookie, or a chess instructor who works with the club, chimed in to comment on the wisdom of particular moves. There were also a few friendly barbs exchanged between a couple of the players. The overhead fluorescent lights were off and bright sunlight glowed outside the windows, some of which looked out onto Rainier Avenue South, near South Henderson Street. The space resembled a high school classroom. The chessboards were laid out on folding tables with blue plastic tops.

Nile Hunter, a sixth grader, was wearing a basketball jersey with a Batman logo on it. Hunter learned to play chess at the club. He plays piano as well. "It helps me learn and sometimes just release stress from other things I do," he said, referring to chess. Making moves where he can take other people's pieces is his favorite part of the game. "It's fun to play," he said

Evelyn Gresham arrived as the two-hour chess session neared its end. She was there to pick up her daughter, Angel. A lifelong resident of the Rainier Valley, Gresham said that she sees chess as a self-esteem booster for her daughter. "It's a good, healthy challenge."

Angel is 10 years old now and began learning to play chess at the club when she was 5. She was looking forward to a tournament that was coming up on June 10 at the Van Asselt Community Center. "It was a quiet place," Angel said when asked what she likes about participating in the club. Bouldin says that Angel shows quite a bit of promise as a chess player. As the detective plays against her, and as she watches Angel play against other opponents, she encourages her to stop and think before making moves and to look beyond the easiest play.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 11:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Rainier Valley.
I wanna be there
when the sun done shine
on dear sister bertha.
A thousand feet along her way
to 3rd quarter length below sea level worm in muck,
mud eight feet thick, watery, vibrate-y,
One hundred feet below everything above.
Bertha indeed regrets her participation.
Dearest least effective engineers of America,
Sorry Seattlers but of good faith and commonwealth precints,
your highway guys n gals do not do so good
or as good as necessary.
Ladies n gents, I give you Bertha put to rest.
No point repair and continue. . .
Solid Seawall BOX Cut/Cover/Seawall
Yesler-to-Pike
Solid Earthquake BARRIER
Possible, most advantageous.
Manages underground water flows better,
and as actually necessary if you'd ever
use your little heads, thankyou verymuch.
Boeing is in this mess as much as anybody.
Taxi! Renta-dingaling? Live overlooking cliffs!
Drive as if it's an entitlement!

Whatwaitwhoa! Whattabout how hard it is
to screw up rail as we do so repeatedly?
Aren't we thus entitled to celebrity?

No, Seattlers, you are not entitled.
Get your act together. You suck.
Your Sculpture Park is a cemetary.
That's spelled c e m e t a r y?
Oh yeah you suck at parks all right.
Pedestrian stuff? Oh yeah like you know whatever.
Nacho Libre?

Wells

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Nevermind what I just wrote.
-
Gut instinct alarmist 'minority viewpoint shared' by estimated
more than 30% professional engineering community worldwide.
-
PUT BERTHA ON THE SHELF
Drill-Fill SEA-FENCE is like totally like, weak.
BOX Cut/Cover/Seawall SOLID Earthquake Barrier. uh Wha?
-
Anyway, thorough discussion of these issues will occur somewhere.
Maybe in Seattle, maybe not. Probably not. Seattlers. Geez.

Wells

Posted Sat, Jun 14, 9:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for this series, Bill Lucia, and for telling us about Detective Cookie Bouldin's wonderful work with kids.

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