Seasoned Settlers is a Washington, D.C. metro-based educational entertainment organization putting a creative spin on safety. We talk to Executive Director Sweeetz LaBamba about public safety as a collective responsibility, the power of arts engagement, and how a career in clowning led her to become one of the District’s most dynamic safety advocates.
What inspired your passion for traffic safety?
I was inspired just by being a regular civilian and being in the general public. I’m interested in how people navigate public spaces. I drive, I walk, I watch others drive, and I see a lot of issues and concerns. I’ve also heard horror stories from younger family members about traveling to school. I’m inspired to change that narrative.
Tell us about your work with Seasoned Settlers. What is your mission and what services do you offer?
Seasoned Settlers provides inclusive educational entertainment and engaging art and theatre experiences for seniors, disabled individuals, and youth. We address issues concerning public safety, transportation safety, anti-bullying, health and wellness, financial literacy and more. We’re also party professionals who specialize in events.
Seasoned Settlers is such an interesting name. What is the meaning behind it?
Typically, I ask people which descriptive words come to mind when I say the word “seasoned.” They respond with things like spices, old, wisdom. That's all correct. We use the term “seasoned” in reference to what seasoning does. Seasoning is used as a preservative and as an additive to give flavor. When we lead educational sessions, instead of leaving participants the same way they were they entered the space, we engage and build them using cognitive and physical stimulation. This “seasoning” allows people to grow and change during their time with us. Also, we're experts in our craft, we’re seasoned professionals. Settlers are like the settlers who traveled to various places to explore. Combine these words, and you get Seasoned Settlers. Since we are a mobile organization, our tagline is "pioneering to a community near you.”
So you are a professional clown! How does that play a role in your public safety work?
Yes, I’m literally a professional clown, hence the name Sweeetz. When I started out, I was performing and engaging the crowd, but I was always doing more educating and teaching instead of the typical Abra-Cadabra tricks. My magic shows would literally become STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) projects incorporating arts and science but always in a “lit” way. It was educational but also cool and entertaining.
You educate people about traffic safety in a really fun and creative way. Can you tell me about how you incorporate performance art into your work?
We use art to navigate and bring clarity to important issues. Our educational experiences incorporate live entertainment, storytelling, puppetry, and designing cool keepsakes. Participants use art to reflect and create a visual perspective. By doing so, they are able to speak and think deeply about the topic and can able to narrate their feelings and thoughts through art. We also create engaging educational videos aimed at different audiences. Check out our Safe Street Crossing Song that teaches kids how to look left and right before crossing the street. We also created a distracted driving video encouraging teens to stay safe behind the wheel.
What do you think is the most pressing safety issue facing the DC Metro region?
It’s not necessarily one issue. Distracted driving, speeding, distracted walking, unsafe infrastructure all contribute to our traffic safety issues. It’s various components but if we all work together – drivers, commuters, walkers, medical responders, DDOT – we can make change.
Who is getting traffic safety right?
It’s hard to say. Globally, traffic safety is an issue. As long as there are accidents and fatalities where people are affected, there remains work to be done. If one life is lost, that’s too many. We must continue to strive for better.
Finish this sentence: “I dream of a street where…”
Drivers obey the speed limit without devices to distract them and are considerate of the people surrounding them.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
Car crashes are 100% preventable. We can change the narrative for creating safe streets with no dangerous incidents. Let’s work towards it.