Streetwise Revisited

Seattle University partnered with The Seattle Public Library and others for this community program in Fall 2016 

The story of a young teenage girl living on the streets of downtown Seattle in the early 1980s has captivated audiences for decades.  From Sept. 15-Nov. 3, 2016, the Seattle Public Library hosted a new public education program, “Streetwise Revisited,” focused on “Tiny” from the 1984 documentary film “Streetwise.”

The Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness was a community partner in this series of events designed to engage the community in conversation and action about family and youth homelessness. Even better, we got to work with our close partner, Firesteel, on many of the events.

The program included a new photo exhibit by acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark (her final work) and the new film, “Tiny — The Life of Erin Blackwell,” which catches up with Tiny three decades after “Streetwise.”

Mark had met Tiny in 1983 while on assignment for for a Life magazine story on homeless youth. Mark and her husband, Martin Bell, returned to Seattle a year later to film “Streetwise.” In that Academy Award-nominated documentary, “Tiny” — Erin Blackwell — emerged as a central character.

Both “Streetwise” and “Tiny — The Life of Erin Blackwell” were screened. Seattle U’s activities included a campus screening of “Streetwise” Friday night, Oct. 7,  open to the public, and an advocacy workshop co-hosted with Firesteel at the Central Library. Other partners offered  a tribute to Mary Ellen Mark’s role in art history, by Michelle Dunn Marsh of Photographic Center Northwest, and a retrospective of homelessness in Seattle.

Highlights of the Program:

A free screening of the original film, “Streetwise,” at Seattle University on Friday night, Oct. 7. Special guests were:

  • Keanna Pickett, daughter of Erin “Tiny” Blackwell. Keanna is a gifted photographer and an educator at Washington Middle School, where she serves on the racial equity team and leads the after-school mentoring program for girls. She and her husband, D’Vonne Pickett, Jr. (SU ’14 and former SU men’s basketball player) have two children. See Keanna’s photography portfolio at
  • Prof. Claire Garoutte, SU assistant professor and director of photography in the Fine Arts department. Prof. Garoutte, a veteran documentarian, works with communities to help them tell their stories through photography and film. Among her activities is the Yesler Terrace Youth Media Project, where teens discover their expressive voice through photography and video as a means to examine the history of Yesler Terrace, the diversity within their community, and the potential impact upon this community of the redevelopment project.

Our project assistants Khadija and Shan wrote about the night from different perspectives: “The Uncomfortable Conversation” — Using ‘Streetwise’ as a Tool for Advocacy” and “The Fight for Her Life — ‘Streetwise’ and Keanna’s Triumphant Story.”

L-R: Catherine moderates a post-“Streetwise” discussion with Keanna Pickett and Claire Garoutte.

Five curated tours of the photo exhibit with special themes, including two that we hosted:

  • Thursday, Oct. 13, 6 p.m.: “The Life of a Homeless Teen” with cultural anthropologist and vehicle residency expert Graham Pruss. This tour takes you through the long-term consequences of youth homelessness for children, young adults, families and our society to explore how becoming a “street kid” can have lingering effects, even for those who exit homelessness. From personal experiences to big-picture perspectives, we’ll talk about how the exhibit raises issues about the lifelong impact of child and youth homelessness on socioeconomic skills/advancement, behavioral health and advocacy. We’ll also reflect on the powerful relationship between “Tiny” and Mary Ellen Mark. Graham Pruss is executive director & co-founder,; member of the executive board, All Home; and a U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, University of Washington.
  • We Are Part of the Story: A Photojournalist’s Responsibilities Working with People “At-Risk,” Friday, Oct. 14, 5 p.m. with Photojournalist Dan Lamont, Seattle U Journalism Fellow on Family Homelessness.Like many photojournalists, my work has been inspired and informed by the heartfelt, gripping, seminal images of Mary Ellen Mark. Over the years and the many stories I’ve told about social issues and the people whose lives they affect, I have learned that doing such work is complex and challenging. Emotional involvement and personal expectations are not only inevitable but imperative to tell an honest story. Understanding how to navigate this difficult terrain with people whose lives can be in chaos requires clear, honest intention, abiding respect and deep empathy. Our tour will use Mary Ellen Mark’s pictures as a jumping-off spot for a free-form discussion of these issues and their implications.
Shan (left) and Khadija (right) with Dan Lamont, before his Community Tour and the screening of “Tiny.”

Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m.: Free screening of “Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,” the follow-up film to “Streetwise,” at The Seattle Public Library, Central Branch in downtown Seattle. Special Guests: Director Martin Bell and Erin “Tiny” Blackwell. Read Shan’s and Khadija’s   reactions, “There Is No Perfect Answer – What I Learned from ‘Tiny,'” and “Mothers, Daughters, Conflict — The New ‘Tiny’ Movie Hits Home.”

A surprise visit from “Tiny” was a highlight of the community tour Oct. 14. Photo by Khadija Diallo.

An day of art and advocacy, “Create Change: Youth & Family Homelessness and the Arts,” Saturday, Oct. 29, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. This free workshop on how to use art and social media to address homelessness featured dynamic speakers, performers and workshops, including filmmaker Amy Enser, co-director of our “American Refugees” animated short “The Beast Inside“; a video production workshop led by Prof. Claire Garoutte and four youth from the Yesler Terrace Youth Media Project; a performance by “The Beast Inside’s” TiLawn himself; and dozens more performers and drop-in art activities.

To see what you missed at “Create Change,” check out SPL’s photo album from this exciting day and Firesteel’s collection of advocacy photo booth photos; and for a comprehensive review — with photos, videos and social media posts — see Shan’s excellent Storify story. Mandy was inspired to create a series of seven beautiful paintings about the day.

Mandy with paintings for her project reflecting on “Create Change.” See them all and read about her approach here.

Sunday, Oct. 30, 2 p.m.: “A Historical Perspective on Homelessness in Seattle,” a discussion featuring four local experts, moderated by our project director, Catherine, at The Seattle Public Library, Central Branch in downtown Seattle. Listen to the podcast of this illuminating event featuring Sinan Demirel, Colleen Echohawk, Leonard Garfield and Tim Harris here.

Here’s a recap of the entire “Streetwise Revisited” experience — in quotes, by our project assistant Shan. See all the memorable quotes as images.


See more about the project using the hashtag #StreetwiseSPL, and see all the events at the Library’s “Streetwise: Revisited” site.  

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