- Seattle Police Officer Denise "Cookie" Bouldin, whose chess club for Rainier Valley kids may have to close due to lack of funding, was swarmed by potential donors.
This is the 16th straight year that Washington Senator Patty Murray has held her Golden Tennis Shoe Awards. It's normally an anodyne fund raiser that rakes in campaign cash while applauding people who have—just like our "mom in tennis shoes" Senator—made a big difference despite very long odds. We're talking classic rubber chicken event. I mean, look at what was served this year.
Obama strategist David Axelrod was speaking this time around, which sounded like it might be interesting—but in the end was more about praising Patty Murray for winning re-election than talking Democratic political strategy going forward. (“You can imagine that election night was a little gloomy around the White House," Axelrod said, ruminating on what happened in 2010. "But there were a few rays of light we saw, and one of those rays of light came from the State of Washington.”)
What actually made spending lunchtime in the downtown Convention Center worthwhile: The heartbreaking, show-stopping speech by Seattle Police Officer Denise "Cookie" Bouldin, who received one of today's Golden Tennis Shoe awards for her work teaching chess to kids in a rough section of the Rainier Valley.
Cookie was being rewarded for using her Saturdays off to try and reach kids who might otherwise slip into the gang violence that plagues the area around Rainier Avenue South and South Henderson. The intersection, she says, is "right in the battleground, right where kids need me." So that's where she runs Officer Cookie's Chess Club in a quiet, donated space.
Cookie likes to say: "Chess teaches the kids how to strategize, how to make good choices. And not only that, but that there are consequences for the choices you make. Whether it’s going to be a good consequence or a bad consequence, it depends on the decision you’re making right now. On the chess board, if you make a decision too quick, you can lose your king."
And on the streets, if you make a decision too quick, you can lose your life.
"That’s what I teach them," Cookie says. Plus: "It’s two hours that kids get to be free of worrying about violence. They can just relax their minds and be themselves. I actually have kids lining up at the door, waiting for me to set up the chess.”
These are kids who don't think of themselves as strategic geniuses. "I'm not smart," they tell her. "Chess is for smart people."
After learning how to play, they come up to her and say: "Detective Cookie, I'm smart!"
You listen to Cookie talk about this and you think: Awesome program. Wonderful that it's happening. Good on Patty Murray for recognizing her. Glad all this is going on. What's for dessert?
And then, toward the end of the speech, Cookie stabs you in the heart.
Her funding has run out. She's grateful for this award and all, but she's going to have to end her chess program this summer because she can't afford to pay a chess instructor, can't afford to put on the tournament that motivates the kids to keep playing, "can’t buy the trophies, can’t buy the kids the t-shirts.”
She starts crying, right there on the stage in full police uniform. She ends her speech gracefully but quickly. She returns to her seat.
You think: This is terrible. How much can it cost to run this chess program? Hey, all the moneyed people in this room! Solve this problem! Now!
Everyone else is thinking the same thing.
“I know—I know—because of the quality of the people in this room, that that chess program is going to re-open this summer," says Axelrod when he gets up to speak. Murray, later in the program, offers similar encouragement to her donors to step up and help.
And they do. Cookie is swarmed after the event ends, all kinds of people handing her business cards and writing checks on the spot.
I asked her afterward: Did she expect this?
“Oh my God, no. Not at all. And for Patty Murray to extend that welcome for people to do that, at her own event, it was just heart-taking. It was something. It was wonderful.”
Did she get enough money to re-start her chess program and keep it running?
Cookie needs $6,000 just to run the program this summer, and she's not there yet, even with all of today's donations.
She's mystified that the Seattle Police Foundation, which over the years has given her $5,000 to keep the program going, has decided to stop giving her money. She hopes somewhere in the business cards she received today is the answer to her need for continued, sustainable funding.
Meantime, Cookie is completely, cynic-destroyingly thrilled to have received a plaque affixed with a pair of golden tennis shoes from Senator Patty Murray today.
Getting the award, she says, is right up there with the time she got to act as Rosa Parks's body guard on a Seattle visit, up there with the time she got to fly to Washington, D.C. to help out with security for President Obama's inauguration.
“I’m going to put this in my purse and take it with me everywhere and show everyone," Cookie told me. "I’m going to take it to the hair dresser, I’m going to take it to the restaurant and take it out and show the waiters. It’s going to be in my purse. It’s going with me.”
(To people who may read this post and ask: How can I donate to Cookie's chess club? Check back on Slog tomorrow, when I'll have a thorough answer.)