When Candace Wesley moved into the Legacy Park apartment complex two months ago, she was shocked by how much crime there was in the Lakewood neighborhood.
Shortly after she moved in, a drive-by shooting shook the neighborhood. In the weeks that followed, there was an attempted break-in at her complex, as well as property crimes and violence in the area.
“It makes you not want to say hi to your neighbor,” said Wesley, 48. “It makes you guarded. It makes you not want to be decent all the time.”
If ever a neighborhood needed a National Night Out event to spread awareness about crime prevention and cultivate camaraderie among neighbors, it was this one, Wesley decided.
So about three weeks ago, Wesley, who used to organize National Night Out events in Tacoma, went about pulling together a block party.
It was going to have it all — a bounce house, cotton candy, face painting, raffles, an appearance from members of the City Council and more.
Then last week, a two-alarm fire displaced about 30 people from Wesley’s apartment complex at 3502 92nd St. S.
“The fire disrupted everything,” said Wesley, who has been staying in a motel while she looks for a place to stay.
Not everything, as it turns out. The block party was still on for Tuesday.
“That’s why I gotta do this National Night Out,” she said this week. “I gotta remind people, we’re displaced right now, but they’ve promised we can come back in five months, so we have to stay together.
“Just because we’re not there right now doesn’t mean we’re not going to stand up to criminals and say, you can’t tromp our neighborhood.”
Wesley wasn’t the only one who felt that way. After the fire, she said, she heard from several neighbors, asking whether Legacy Park would still host a National Night Out event.
So Wesley went back to work, canvassing local hotels and trying to track down displaced neighbors via word of mouth to tell them: The block party is still on.
“People are wanting to speak up, but they’re afraid,” Wesley said. “So I said, National Night Out can be your platform. You don’t have to feel like you’re standing alone. You don’t even have to say anything. Just come be with the community, loving each other and eating together.”
Wesley said she has always been community oriented.
Before an eye disease forced her to retire last year, she did social work for a Tacoma organization that aimed to prevent gang violence. There, she specialized in mobilizing the community and mediating conflicts.
And after work, she was mobilizing her neighbors. She said she was no stranger to leading anti-violence rallies, sit-ins and marches.
National Night Out will be her first community event in Lakewood, but she said her goal is the same.
“These events are supposed to be for the youth, but it’s always the adults that have the mic,” Wesley said. “With National Night Out, it’s important for communities and youth especially to see the partnership between organizations, the church and law enforcement, especially since law enforcement has such a bad stigmatization right now.”
Wesley said she expected 150 to 200 people to show up to the block party, including many of the 10 families displaced by the fire.
“This is our community,” she said. “We take pride in where we live.”
Hannah Shirley: 253-597-8670, @itshannah7