Cookie Bouildin

Washington, My Home: Community celebrates decade of chess, inspiration from police detective
By GENNA MARTIN, SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF Published 5:34 pm, Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Washington, My Home is a new photo series by photographers Genna Martin and Grant Hindsley. Each month we will feature a different person from our region. We will share a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people, finding the beauty in the untold stories that surround us every day.

You can’t walk 20 feet through the Rainier Beach neighborhood along side Detective Denise Bouldin without someone yelling, “Hey, Detective Cookie!” Kids, adults, the guy who works at 7-Eleven, everyone knows her.

Bouldin, who is usually sporting her signature red lipstick and nail polish, works on special projects for the Seattle Police Department’s community police team. Her days are long, mostly spent visiting local elementary schools, dropping off food donations to the Othello Village homeless encampment, helping people find jobs, organizing events, attending meetings with community members, and teaching anti-violence training and chess to South Seattle students. She barely has time to stop for lunch. “I run off of Pepsi and potato chips,” she says.

Ten years ago, Bouldin was teaching her anti-violence course to fourth- and fifth-grade students and wanted to come up with a fun activity she could do with the kids. She suggested a basketball game between the students and police. The kids fired back with the suggestion of a chess tournament. Bouldin, who had never played chess, was initially skeptical but agreed. She brought in people to teach the kids the game and she eventually learned it herself, three years after starting the club.

“As a kid, I was brainwashed to believe I wasn’t smart enough to play chess. I had never seen a black person playing chess before. Chess was for white people.”

Only a small handful of kids showed up to that first tournament, but since then Bouldin has introduced hundreds to the game and her chess club is as diverse as the neighborhood around it.
During her anti-violence classes, she uses the chess board as a metaphor for the neighborhood. “Don’t rush to make a move, every move has consequences,” she says.

Now she teaches chess several times a week at local elementary schools, and runs her chess club on Saturday’s at the Rainier Beach Community Center.

“Chess is for everyone,” she says as she recalls a time when a kid wearing his football uniform stopped in for “a quick game” on his way to practice.

Many of the kids she teaches have witnessed violence in their own backyard. Rainier Valley has had a reputation for crime and drug activity, but that has been changing over the past few years. Driving past the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and South Henderson Street, Bouldin points out a bus stop. She says that it used to be hub of drug and other illegal activity. She began stopping there to sit with the people who hung out at the stop. Eventually they all left and never came back.

“I’m trying to change the violent perception of the community, trying to highlight the positive aspects,” she says.

Bouldin seems to understand the world these kids live in. The 37-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department grew up in the Chicago projects. She was surrounded by drugs, violence and prostitution. She credits her strict parents with her ability to stay out of that world.

As she makes her way around Rainier Beach High, current and former students run to hug her or ask when the winner of the annual chess tournament will be announced. She stops in at Van Asselt Elementary to play a game or two with fourth-graders who cut their lunch break short to play.

The level of trust she has built with the students has carried over into her job as policewoman. On more than one occasion, she has received tips about criminal activity in the neighborhood from her students.

Lack of funding has almost forced the chess club to shut down over the the last decade, but Bouldin has managed to keep it going. Now, the community is recognizing her hard work and the 10th anniversary of Detective Cookie’s Urban Youth Chess Club.

Last Saturday, a dedication ceremony was held for a new public art sculpture titled “The King and Queen of Rainier Beach” at the site of the future Detective Cookie Chess Park. The sculpture, two large metal chess pieces that glow with a soft purple light at night, was designed by local artist Peter Reiquam. The project was organized by the Rainier Beach Merchants Association, Friends of Detective Cookie, SDOT and the Office of Seattle Arts & Culture.

“There’s no better example of community policing than Detective Cookie Bouldin,” said Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who attended the ceremony along with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Bouldin hopes a tradition will begin: That the Rainier Beach prom king and queen will take a photo with the sculpture each year.

“Our children are our kings and queens.”


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