Due to COVID-19, in-person programming and performances are currently on pause for the safety of our students, artists, and community members. In the meantime, we will continue to bring arts into the community via digital content and opportunities.
ELEVATE is a showcase of Black and Brown voices uplifting one another through the art of spoken word. This project shares untold and unseen work centered around local and national historical events, the impact of systemic racism and individuals challenging racist ideologies. Most importantly, ELEVATE is the celebration and empowerment of the people. This event was created for the community, by the community.
This virtual evening of raw, bold, breathtaking performances from poets of all ages, presentations by a historian, and celebrations of unsung heroes who have paved the way will be followed by a community conversation. All were invited to witness the intricate and creative program for free when it premiered on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 at 6:30 pm PT.
How the program was developed:
Historian and President of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State (BHS), Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, was engaged to consult with the ELEVATE team to share Seattle history from 1907, 1921 and 1928, years when STG’s three historic venues (The Moore, Neptune, Paramount) first opened.
Mentors + students collaborated to create a spoken word and dance pieces. Mentors + students met regularly during the months of February, March and April to discuss issues affecting them, while using the history they learned as the impetus for their pieces.
Mentors collaborated to create one spoken word piece focusing on the historic Moore Theatre segregated entrance and balcony.
Unsung Heroes were interviewed and will be acknowledged for their contributions to the region.
Meet the ELEVATE Team
Expand the list below and tap to learn more about each of the members of our ELEVATE Team!
This 14 year old high honor roll student of Seattle Academy enjoys traveling, sports, and building original creations with Legos. Anderson has played on his school's basketball team for two years. He has learned to play the Steel Pans and the Trombone.
Mr. Williams was cast as the lead role in his elementary school production of, “The Life of Richard Wright.” He also performed in the Seattle Parks Dept, Teen Summer Musical’s, “Peter Pan.”
Anderson would like to have a career in sports after he graduates college.
Deasia Gordon is an 11 year old 6th grade native of Seattle who attends Rainier Valley Leadership Academy. She is on the Principle Honor Roll with a 4.0 GPA and is involved in the Scholar Huddle Program. Deasia has participated in elementary school plays, talent shows and is currently involved in gymnastics at the Seattle Gymnastic Academy. This young lady attends church weekly, participating in youth activities, choir, feeding the homeless, and clothing drives.
Miss Gordon has danced the last 6 years with NW Tap Connection, participating in two shows each year. Her dance styles include: Tap, House, Hip Hop, Modern, and Jazz. She has performed in the Grovement Show by Shakiah Danielson, and Chloe & Maude’s Tap Into Empowerment virtual program, which is based in Los Angeles. Deasia has a positive attitude and plans to attend and graduate college after high school.
Denasia Gordon is a 14 year old 9th grade Seattle native who attends Rainier Valley Leadership Academy. She is currently on the Principle Honor Roll with a 4.0 GPA, and is involved with the Student Council. Miss Gordon has participated in school plays, talent shows, and danced for her school’s Black History assembly and Dance Team. She leads youth activities, and sings in the choir at her church.
Denasia has danced with NW Tap Connection for six years and is a current member of their Totally Tap Kids program. Her dance styles include: Tap, House, Hip Hop, Modern, Jazz, and Afro Brazilian. She has performed in Orlando, Florida, in STG's DANCE This at the Moore Theatre, in AileyCamp and the final showcase, Seattle Center’s FolkLife Festival, Central Area Umoja Fest, The Grovement Shows by Shakiah Danielson, and Chloe & Maude;s Tap Into Empowerment virtual program based in Los Angeles.
This ambitious young lady plans to pursue a college degree in Business, and continue dance through teaching or performing professionally.
I am Emmanuel Brannon, a Junior at Franklin High School. I play basketball for my school and am very involved in my community. My non-profit organization, Colour of Code, I founded when I was 12 years old. I conduct programs with kids of color to help people who look like me with resources that aren't that accessible: youth workshops for coding, summer youth internships, and young parenting courses.
For four years I performed in the Teen Summer Musical. All of the acting, dancing and singing helped build character and confidence in me.
In my free time, I enjoy writing, being involved in the Principal's Cabinet, and other leadership groups.
Estrella Gonzales-Sanders is an award-winning dancer and entertainer. At 12 years of age, she is a dynamic, well-versed performer whose infectious energy can mesmerize and captivate an audience! She is a featured dancer on Netflix’s Original Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. She was recently featured on Evening Magazine as an up-and-coming force in the dance and entertainment industry. She is a National Hip-Hop dance winner, a 10-time scholarship winner in the field of Tap and Hip-Hop, and a two-time Junior Seahawks Dancer. At age 9, Estrella has been mentored by and trained directly with Emmy and Golden Globe winner Debbie Allen and Tony award-winning Savion Glover. Since the age of 2, Estrella has trained and studied with Northwest Tap Connection under the direction of Melba Ayco.
Gianni Johnson is a 2020 graduate from Franklin High School and is currently attending Seattle Central Community College. Outside of school, Gianni is very passionate about performance arts, whether that be through acting, dancing, or even original works of his music or spoken word pieces. Gianni is someone who seeks to inspire people to pursue their dreams and remind people that they are not alone.
Harlem Naché Yarbrough is a talented 11 year old artist and dancer. Named after the Harlem Renaissance, her family knew early she would have a passion for the arts. Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Harlem began dancing with local dance studios, and would eventually become a member of Northwest Tap Connection, where she honed her skills in hip-hop, ballet-modern, and tap. She has participated and performed in a number of showcases, festivals, and even in Seattle’s Teen Summer Musical, “Uncle Willie’s Chocolate Factory. “ Her most recent dance affiliation is with “In The Kut Studios,” where she was a company member of “First Klass.” In late 2018, Harlem was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes, she has used her passion to persevere and stay healthy despite her medical conditions. In addition to being a skilled dancer, Harlem enjoys cooking, writing, and painting. She is an exceptional student, currently a 6th grader at SAAS (Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences). She is the oldest of two little sisters, and loves spending time with friends and family. Harlem loves all things related to Science; she hopes to either attend Howard or Harvard and to one day be a chemist.
My name is Harmony Dexheimer. I am in the Ninth grade. I found my passion for theatre at a young age. I have been a part of STG since I attended the Ailey Camp. I first auditioned and was accepted in the program when I was 11 and again at age 13. I am grateful I have the opportunity to be a part of Elevate.
Hello my name is Jaci Graise, I live in Browns Point/Northeast Tacoma. I go to Meeker Middle School. I’m on my school's basketball team and play AAU basketball and softball. I’ve played the violin since I was 5. I am classically trained and have also been blessed to be able to play by ear. In the last few years I have started to play the Djembe, which I love! I enjoy roller skating, writing bars and spending time with my family in Mississippi.
I am a 9th grader at Seattle Middle College on the University of Washington campus where I am an honor roll student. I participated in the Alvin Ailey Dance camp in 2016 and performed at the Moore Theater in downtown Seattle. I also was a participant in the Teen Summer Musical in 2019 where I performed at the Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle.
In 2019 I had the pleasure of dancing with N The Kutt dance studio which premiered it's Massacre show at the historic Langston Hughes Theater in the Central District of Seattle. Out of 300 of my peers, I, with one other student, was chosen to write a poem to be published in a book called, " Breathe the Truth Back In," in 2018.
I am passionate about Performing Arts and activism.
Madison Bryant has been dancing for 11.5 years. She is currently enrolled at Spectrum Dance Center and Northwest Tap. Madison started dance at age 3, attending Rainier Dance Center. Then from ages 10-12 she joined the Rainier Dance Center’s Dance Team. At age 11 she competed at Dupree Dance convention, with a tap solo and received first overall of the entire competition and a judge’s award. Madison uses dance to express her emotions and it will forever be a part of her life.
The 12 year old most recently made her Book-It Theatre debut in the audio production of Childfinder. Prior to this, she performed in the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Annie and appeared as a principal in a National Powerade Commercial. For Seattle’s Little’s Performers, she played the role of “Simba” in The Lion King; and “Mike TV” in Broadway Bound’s production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Maya is also a proud participant in Seattle’s Teen Summer Musical program. In addition to performing, Maya loves learning new instruments and writing new songs. When she isn’t busy on the piano or guitar, she spends her time on the soccer field with Seattle United’s Elite Clubs National League Team. Maya is a 7th grader at Lake Washington Girl’s Middle School.
Nyshae Griffin is a 14 year-old Seattle native who is an aspiring entertainer. She is an honor roll scholar at Rainier Valley Leadership Academy. Miss. Griffin was a cast member in the Teen Summer Musical's play "Uncle Willie's Chocolate Factory." She is a member of Kutt'N'Up, a hip-hop dance organization led by "Koach" Tyrone Crosby. You may have also seen Nyshae singing at several community events, most recently the MLK Day Celebration at the historic Garfield High School.
Rahma Mohammed is an 18 year old Iraqi high school senior at Chief sealth international high school. Poet and co-president of Youth Activists for Systematic Change (YASC) youth council and one of the organizers for “The Seattle Children’s March”.
The ELEVATE team would like to say thank you to those that have paved the way for Black and Brown artists and community members to have greater opportunities in this city. Thank you for your blessings and contributions.
Jamaican born and raised, Mr. Allen left his country with his young family during the 1970’s political unrest. He was first introduced to the Paramount Theatre over 41 years ago through the band Third World, a Jamaican fusion band formed in the early 70’s, by the band’s personal manager and part owner of the Paramount, Eulysses Lewis, of The West Coast Theatre Corporation.
Mr. Allen has extensive experience in the financial world, experience he started at the early age of 7 when his father, a CPA, forced his son to help with his clients' financial audits on weekends. This was something he did not enjoy but had to do out of respect for his father and not having a choice. Because of this early start, over the years he developed strengths in managing the financial side of businesses, eventually landing him a job with the British bank, Barclays, where he was the youngest banker ever hired in the history of the company.
Mr. Allen has been involved with the taking care of the Paramount since the late 70’s and has helped in the restoration of all of STG's venues. He says, “It’s been a pleasure to see things work again," and recognizes his hands as his “gift.” He credits his knowledge to curiosity, taking time to ask questions and manually learning how to fix things.
There is no better staff member that knows STG venues and history. He can attest to ghost stories and shares memorable moments and shows such as Starlight Express and The Phantom of the Opera (the Raoul tour). People that have influenced him are Marcus Garvey, B.B. King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Allen held the role of Chief Operating Officer for STG until a few months ago. It was a title he proudly held for almost 2 decades. He is one of the first Black IATSE Local 15 Stage Journeymen.
George Northcroft has served on the STG Board for seven years. He is a business and civic leader with experience in financial management; marketing and operations in Fortune 500 companies; pension management; county, state and federal government administration. In addition to serving on the STG Board, George serves on the Boards of the University of Washington’s Consulting & Business Development Center; The Breakfast Group; and University of Washington-Bothell.
George retired in 2017 as the Regional Administrator of the Northwest/Arctic Region of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). He was appointed to this position by President Barack Obama. George oversaw all of GSA’s operations in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington; including management of federal real estate and information technology. At that time the Northwest/Arctic Region had an inventory of 647 owned and leased buildings, more than 460 employees, and an annual budget of more than $462 million.
Previously, George served as the Director-Business Relations & Economic Development for King County. He had the responsibility for the retention, expansion and recruitment of businesses. He served on the Boards of enterprise Seattle; the Trade Development Alliance; the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council; Seattle Chamber Commerce’s Urban Enterprise Center. His career experiences also include Nordstrom’s Director of Treasury and Cash Management; Director of the State of Washington’s pension system; a banker with both First Interstate Bank of Washington and CitiBank of New York; a general partner/owner of KUJ/K96 radio stations(Walla Walla); a marketing representative with both IBM and General Electric.
George has also served as Co-Chair of the Bellevue Economic Roundtable; Treasurer-The Group Health Foundation; Board of Directors-Labor Ready; Vice Chair-Bellevue Convention Center Authority; Vice-Chair-Washington State Investment Board; Board of Directors-Bellevue Chamber of Commerce; Regional Vice-President of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators; President-Pacific Northwest Bankers Association; Chairman-Bellevue Community College; Board of Trustees- the Consumers Union; Board of Directors-Seattle Urban League. George received his BBA and MBA from St. John's University. He is also a graduate of Pacific Coast Banking School and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
George and his wife Gloria have been residents of Bellevue, WA since they moved from New York City in 1981 with their daughter, Dara and son, Marty. In 1999 they were both honored as Citizens of the Year for the City of Bellevue. Gloria retired as a Senior Clinical Specialist with Genentech, a biotech company. They have been happily married for 54 years. They have three grandchildren, Caleb, Brayden & Maya.
The former King County Councilman was the founder of the Black Student Union of the UW campus. He helped to organize nearly a dozen high school and middle school Black Student Unions throughout Seattle. As a student activist, Larry was instrumental in bringing about the UW's Educational Opportunity Program, which focused on recruitment and admissions for people of color. He also served as a member of the Seattle Chapter, Black Panther Party. On March 29th, 1968, Mr. Gossett was arrested for unlawful assembly during a sit-in at Franklin High School. Ironically, his jail cell was in the same location as his King County Courthouse office. Larry Gossett was the Representative of District 2 1993-2019 and held as Chairman of the Council 2007 & 2013.
Dr. Jones is an author, educator and community activist. She was named Poet Laureate for the City of Seattle and Martin Luther King County. She travels extensively throughout the country speaking on issues of culture and diversity. Her published works include the Color of Culture Series , Unleashing the Power of a Sister and Nectar from Grandhoney. She has been a teacher at the elementary, college and university level and was Director of Communications for the Seattle Community College District. Her community activities include serving as president of Seattle Black Child Development Institute and the Washington State Community College Black Educators. She was vice president of the National Council on Black American Affairs and the local Seattle Chapter of Links where she chaired the Services to Youth program. She is a former member of the Seattle Youth Commission, Langston Hughes Board and the Joint Advisory Commission on Education. Dr. Jones conducted Effective Black Parenting classes graduating over 200 parents; provided SAT preparation classes for high school students attempting to gain college entrance and was a founder and director of Mt. Zion Ethnic School. She is an active member of the YWCA Women of Color Advisory Council.
Alpha Kappa Alpha recognized her with the “Talented Tenth Award.” Mona Lake Jones was featured as one of twelve women on the National Distinguished Black Women calendar and chosen by the Ford Foundation to be a United States Freedom Sister. Dr. Jones is now listed in the national “History Makers” register. The local Medium Newspaper designated her to be a “Trail Blazer” and the Seattle National Council of Negro Women as a “Community Pillar.”
The theatre is a conduit of a combined reflection of sensibilities that are characteristic of audience, performers, and venue workers. Visual and performance art measures the sentiment of the day, and it is the visionary art-makers who push our opinions, take our temperature, and literally mirror the world.
STG fully embraces a diverse and dynamic community of artists by providing them a creative platform to entertain its audiences across three venues with equitable access. Its doors are open to indulge our riotous spirit as much as it engages and awakens the quiet places within us. Hidden in plain sight is early 1900s Seattle theatre history that disturbingly clashes with the equal access we enjoy today.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Seattle was a growing city. The population of Seattle tripled between 1900 and 1910, including large numbers of Black people and immigrants from China, Japan, and the Philippines. On paper, the city of Seattle welcomed all who wished to make a home and seek new opportunities. In 1890, the newly established Public Accommodations Act was considered a civil and legal rights fix-all, declaring that all citizens were entitled to access public facilities like hotels, theatres, and restaurants. Many businesses statewide disregarded the law or challenged it outright, and there were cases brought against businesses who were willing to be charged with low misdemeanor fines. On the other hand, these charges were a viable recourse against discrimination as they were reported in local newspapers and became part of the public record.
Amid Seattle’s burgeoning identity as a sophisticated destination town, the Moore theatre opened its doors in 1907. This was just two years before the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition that would attract crowds of global visitors. Constructed in the looming architectural shadow of the demolished Denny and later remodeled Washington Hotel, the theatre sat at the center of developer James Moore’s imaginative plans for modern city amenities and civic reality of sharply regarded land as populations boomed. While a lavish theatre lobby and accommodations were being designed with doors built to welcome the public, a closer examination of history reveals limited access, segregated seating and yes, sometimes the doors were painted black.
The rise in prominence led to inward glances and considerations for what type of programming is proper and appropriate to embody the “Seattle Spirit”. With the invention of film, new repeatable offerings emerged with complicated questions for how audiences were willing to invest time and money. In June 1916, the Moore advertised a “limited engagement” to screen Birth of a Nation. Although the ad’s intention was to spur ticket sales, it also inadvertently called attention to the limited engagement with the local community including protests led by Seattle NAACP, and questions of safety in encountering white supremacist propaganda.
In the 1930s, Seattle’s Negro Repertory Company, a Black theatre troupe, produced 15 shows. Among them was Stevedore, a play dramatizing racialized labor politics of the working waterfront industry. With a run that began at the Seattle Repertory Playhouse and later revived at the Moore, the play was a Seattle sensation, deeply resonating with longshoremen and local communities who packed the theatre.
Theatre and film are two forms of creative expression that put Seattle on the map, and today it continues to advance economic growth while lifting local pride. Much like every city across the United States, the recognition and accolades of Seattle’s progress came at the cost of exclusion in large part along racial lines. This history continues to challenge us, and it is these art forms that allow us space to process, reckon, and imagine a different reality.
Instinctive reaction, deep emotion, and honesty are intelligent and collective responses borne from shared experiences and historical reference that influence the ELEVATE project. Amplifying the dialogue, justifying the discourse, and edifying the discussion is the unapologetic sentiment expressed in what the artists release for viewers to affirm.
Though presented with historic facts, interpretation of past and present events is inherently influenced by personal judgement for the truth we seek. The highs and lows of Seattle theatre history can fill volumes, and the sum of it all is greater than the Paramount, Neptune, and Moore Theatres. The historians who teamed up to unpack and share how people, places, and events were instrumental in shaping these three venues have pledged their commitment to STG for the next two months to describe supported evidence for how early 1900s mentality and civics are at the root of the theatres we have today.
We are Jackie Peterson, Ryan Anthony Donaldson, and Stephanie Johnson-Toliver—and this is how we ELEVATE.