The show went on, despite the cold and rain. At a series of performances held last month in Seattle's parks, actors bundled up against the weather to pay homage to namesakes of the very parks in which they performed.
As Blanche Sellers Lavizzo, M.D., Jackie Moscou, the artistic director at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, made the winter weather part of the scene.
"Well, normally you would see me in my long skirt and a white lab jacket," Moscou began as she portrayed Lavizzo, "but considering the weather out here today, I'm so happy to be here in winter attire."
Moscou joined other actors who portrayed eight African-Americans from Seattle's history as part of the People in Parks series she co-created with Seattle's parks department.
Performances are also held in summer but Moscou, speaking after her appearance on stage, said local heroes are an important part of Black History Month celebrations.
"We're honoring people that aren't famous, but they're the people that actually impact our lives. It's very important to remember the Martin Luther Kings, it's important to remember the Harriet Tubmans, but more importantly for our communities and our youth, we actually have to remember that we live here, and it's our job to impact our lives around us."
Youth participants in the Power Of Place program at Garfield Teen Life Center gave brief presentations about the parks before introducing the performers. Performances lasted roughly 15 minutes and served as an invitation into Seattle's black history.
Moscou played Lavizzo, who was born on July 11, 1925 and came to Seattle in 1956 to start a pediatric practice on East Madison Street. She became known for her warm manner and caring disposition toward patients and in 1970 became the first medical director of the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic at 2017 E. Spruce St. Because of the quality of the care at the Odessa Clinic and Lavizzo's attention to the specifics of how the clinic operated, Lavizzo became the go-to pediatrician in the Central District.
"I love children. I have four," said Moscou, as she played Lavizzo. "I spent my entire medical career as a pediatrician ... I guess for those of you who don't know me, I am a rather serious person. I like to pay attention to the large picture, but I hone in on the smallest details of how we accomplish those goals. I'm rather a small person, but I carry a big stick. My motto for life, my medical practice and the Odessa Brown Clinic was 'Quality with care and dignity.' This meant not just having good medical care, but paying attention to the chairs the people sat in, and the waiting rooms, making sure we knew their names, clean bathrooms and of course, art on the walls."
Theater is a way to bring history to life, Moscou said after her performance.
"Doing something like this is a very personal way to educate that will stick in your head a lot more than if you read a book or see a chart. It's a way to show that the arts actually can be integrated into every single thing we do."
It also gives meaning to the world around us. The Yesler Atlantic Pedestrian Pathway was renamed the Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park in 1991.
The other honorees
Edwin T. Pratt Park
1800 S. Main St.
When Edwin T. Pratt arrived in Seattle in 1956 he encountered discriminatory housing policies and de facto segregation in schools. For the next 12 years, until his murder in 1969, Pratt devoted his life to the belief that racial harmony could only be achieved through integration. Pratt became the executive director of the Seattle Urban League in 1961, and in that capacity championed the Triad Plan, which addressed segregation in schools, negotiated with the University of Washington to improve minority opportunity and sponsored a plan to encourage low-income home ownership called Operation Equality.
In the 1970s, the park on East Yesler Way and 20th Avenue South and the Pratt Fine Arts Center was named after Pratt.
Homer Harris Park
2401 E. Howell St.
After a storied stint in high school and college football, becoming the first black captain of both the Garfield High School football team in 1933 and the University of Iowa in 1937, the same year he won the MVP, Seattle-born Dr. Homer E. Harris Jr. started a dermatology practice in 1955. In 1989, the Black Heritage Society of Washington State honored Harris as a black pioneer in dermatology.
An anonymous donor gave $1.3 million to build a park in honor of Harris in 2002. It was the largest single donation made toward a park in Seattle's history.
Prentis I. Frazier Park
401 24th Ave. E.
Prentis Frazier was an intrepid, generous businessman. He arrived in Seattle in 1916, worked in real estate, insurance, bail bonds and investments, and helped make financial prosperity a reality for the small black community he and his family lived in. His contributions and successes include the organization of Blackwell and Johnson Undertakers, the opening of the Anzier Movie theatre with a lawyer named Clarence Anderson and the publishing of a black-oriented newspaper called the Seattle Enterprise, later to be renamed Northwest Enterprise.
In 1983, the .3-acre Harrison Mini Park, located in a gully behind Frazier's home, was renamed the Prentis I. Frazier Park.
William Grose Park
1814 30th Ave.
When William Grose found and returned the watch of Washington Governor Isaac Stevens in the mid-1800s, he set in motion a series of events that not only lead him to Washington Territory, but also to a prosperous and generous career in business. Governor Stevens was so impressed by Grose's honesty that he invited him to Washington territory. Grose once sold a hotel he owned for $5,000. After the building burned down during the Great Fire on June 6, 1889, Grose returned the $5,000 to the new owner.
Alvin Larkins Park
Corner of East Pike Street and 34th Avenue East
Alvin Larkins played the bass and tuba in the Jive Bombers band, a group of musicians from the U.S. Naval Military Band who played jazz on the side. After his service he was a part of the Rainy City Jazz Band, which performed at the first Bumbershoot festival. Larkins lived in and contributed to the Madrona community from 1949 till his death in 1977.
The Alvin Larkins Park was developed in 1975 and named after Larkins in 1979.
Powell Barnett Park
352 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way
Powell Barnett lived most of his life in the Leschi community after moving to Seattle in 1906. Barnett worked on various facets of Seattle's infrastructure and building projects: street car lines, the Waldorf Hotel at Seventh Avenue and Pike Street and the Perry Hotel on Ninth Avenue and Madison Street. Another believer in the power of integration, Barnett worked toward unity between blacks and whites through the YMCA and USO. He was also a talented baseball player and sousaphone player, going on to organize a semi-pro baseball umpires association and becoming a part of Local 76, the once all-white musicians union.
A 4.4-acre park on Martin Luther King Junior Way between East Jefferson and East Alder streets was renamed in his honor in 1969.
Flo Ware Park
Corner of South Jackson Street and 28th Avenue South
Flo Ware was a fierce advocate for the poor and elderly in Seattle, and her accomplishments garnered more than 75 awards. Ware moved to Seattle in 1947 and within three years began working toward improving schools.
Ware was memorialized amid overflowing love and support for her accomplishments in the Central District community. The Flo Ware Park was named in 1982.
Although the People in Parks performances are technically semi-annual events, The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center and Seattle Parks and Recreation do hold private performances by request. Contact Randy Wiger at Seattle Parks and Recreation (206.883.6110) if you are interested in hosting a private performance.