Success At Salishan

Growing Up In The Projects


By Michael Pellegrini


Brenda Buck grew up in Salishan – a white kid in a housing project where at the time, whites were in the minority. Now a special-ed teacher at Sherman Elementary School in Tacoma, Brenda, age 37, is one of the many success stories to come out of Salishan.


“We moved here in 1968, when I was a first grader,” said Brenda. “It was pretty much a black neighborhood, back then. There were Black Panther meetings right up the street from us. Everyone was suspicious of us at first, because we were white. Later on as the people began to trust us – when they finally knew we were in the same boat they were – I remember getting invited to those Black Panther meetings. It was real different.”


“I truly love this community,” said Virginia Verrett, Brenda’s mother. “I came here with the philosophy that my children will be safe because our four walls are the perimeter of our lives, and I will make that safe. I did my best to make them feel they weren’t deprived, and make sure they didn’t get into trouble. We served a lot of sliced apples and peanut butter and lots of graham crackers and kool aid just so I could keep my kids in my yard. I stayed very close to my children.”


“In our community when I was growing up, we knew all the families around us,” said Brenda. “All the parents watched out. It was almost like an extended family system.”


“Another thing was that as kids we didn’t see the differences of skin color. I remember one year, my best friend lived next door. That Easter, my mom made the same outfits for both of us. We went to a new church that day, and we told the Sunday School teacher we were sisters. The looks we got!”


“I have lifetime friends from here, that are just precious, and we’re all doing well. I haven’t heard of any families that have moved back in. There was always that stigma, that there were all these welfare moms in here, whose kids were never going to amount to anything. But there’s a lot of us – there’re doctors and lawyers and I’m a teacher – there are many of us out here doing really well, all who grew up in Salishan.”


Brenda’s mother agrees. “Some of these families have as many as eight children and they were all successful. The Carr family, for example – one’s a principal, there’s ministers, there’s missionaries in that family. A lot of them went through the University of Washington. They were all successes.”


Virginia’s own philosophy for success was to keep the kids out of trouble by keeping them busy. “We were all involved in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and 4-H and craft classes at the community center,” she said.


“We had a lot of little clubs, too,” said Brenda. “I had a cooking club. We’d pool all of our allowances or money from babysitting jobs, and then we’d go to the store and get the ingredients we needed. I was teaching everyone else how to cook, or sometimes they were teaching us a dish they learned when they lived in the south or where ever. It was a neat time.”


“My mom was the type that we always felt rich, not poor,” said Brenda. “Sure, there were lots of times someone would come knocking at the door, asking to borrow sugar or margarine or something. I’d be upset because it was our last cup of sugar or whatever, but my mom always gave it to them. But it was okay. We always got back so much more than we gave out. I think everybody felt that. We were all in the same boat, so we all pitched in.”


Of course life was not without problems. “I saw some of the sad stories,” said Brenda. “I saw some kids get pulled in to the gangs and things like that. To see them strung out on drugs and so on, was heartbreaking. It really was. So I have seen both sides. I’ve not just seen it in rose colored glasses.


“Right now we have someone selling drugs just down the street, “ added Virginia. “If you’ve lived here as long as I have, you can usually spot it.”


“I have felt concerned for my mom’s safety sometimes since I’ve been gone,” said Brenda. “Just because there were a lot more gang related shootings. Often times I’d be talking to her on the phone and mom goes, ‘Oh, there’s some more gunfire.’ And so I was concerned that way. But growing up here, I never felt unsafe.”


Overall, she believes growing up in Salishan was a positive experience. “I don’t have any regrets about growing up here,” said Brenda. “I learned that you don’t look on the outside of a person, you look on the inside. It’s helped me be more understanding of the kids in my classroom. It’s helped me teach them the basics, because I’ve had to do that all my life.”


Crime In Salishan


Because of the way the Tacoma Police Department collects crime data, it’s impossible to break out crime stats for just Salishan. The greater majority of the project does lie within the department’s sector 4-2, however. Thus, given below is a comparison of crimes in the general area of Salishan (using sector 4-2), contrasted with that of North Tacoma (sector 2-4), part of South Tacoma (sector 3-4) and part of the Hilltop area (sector 1-2). Also given are figures for the city as a whole. Data is for 1998.





Who Lives In Salishan?

* Based on data supplied by the Tacoma Housing Authority


Out of 813 families, 67% have a female head of household. Of those who indicated a language preference, 40% chose English as their primary language, 25% chose Cambodian and 23% chose Vietnamese. 41% of the residents have been in pubic housing for 5 years or less; 26% have been in public housing between 6 and 10 years. Additionally:



·        27% of residents are White

·        12% of residents are Black

·        4% of residents are Hispanic

·        59% are Asian


·        49% are under age 17

·        7% are between 18 and 25

·        35% are between 26 and 59

·        8% are over age 60