Scholars Inspire Change and Action in Their Neighborhood
Written by Emily Williamson, Rainier Health & Fitness Marketing Coordinator and community member
“I’m here because I need an ORCA card,” I overhead a young woman wearing a hijab say.
We struck up a conversation and she asked if I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I learned her name is Bahsan and she is a Rainier Beach High School (RBHS) senior. Like many of her classmates, she was eager to make change through the evening’s student-lead Town Hall on transportation justice.
“We can make a difference like Martin Luther King Jr.!” Bahsan said.
This attitude of youth empowerment rang throughout the night as students presented a series of statistics backed by personal stories to nearly 200 students, parents, community members and officials gathered at RBHS’s Performing Arts Center. The stage was set with a cardboard replication of a King County Metro bus and signs from the scholar’s march to Seattle City Hall calling for ORCA cards for students [For more info, see urbanimpactseattle.org/blog]. From the back of the darkened auditorium, students made their way to the front singing “Which Side Are You On?” while carrying giant illuminated letters. They lined across the stage to form the message: “SEE ME MY LIFE MATTERS.”
Many RBHS students shared personal stories, including Emerald City Commons resident, Miriam. She has asthma so finds it difficult to walk quickly to and from school.
The current two mile walk zone for Seattle Public Schools creates a barrier for many students to get to and from school and access afterschool programming, community events, jobs. Plus it’s a financial burden on many lower income families who spend 62% of their income on housing and transportation (according to the City of Seattle).
The following day, Laura Wright, Education Coordinator with Urban Impact at RBHS recapped the history of the movement. The previous school year’s See Me My Life Matters BLOC party led up to this summer’s CDF Freedom Schools® scholars march on the Day of Social Action. Having inspired students to use their voice for change, 25 of those CDF Freedom Schools® scholars helped organize the Town Hall to raise awareness about the disparate impacts the school’s walk zone policy has on our community.
Although there was much elation elicited by the success of this student-led Town Hall, Laura emphasized that the need is urgent, and ongoing.
“Last night after the event some of the students didn’t have a way to get home,” she said.
COMMENTS FROM THE EVENT:
“We are consumed with closing the achievement gap but we can’t do that if our students can’t get to the classroom.” – Community Member
"I want to send a shout out to all the staff and community partners who supported students to step up, organize this event, share their stories, create the artwork for it, and do outreach to the community in different ways so that last night could be such a success. I knew the Town Hall event was going to be an important event. I didn’t know it was going to be this incredible!" - Rainier Beach HS Teacher
“As a social worker in the community, I wish to say ‘I see you’ to all the RB students. To the surrounding village, let’s not wait until tragedy to get hyped for justice. We must act now. What is more important than children and them accessing their education?” - Community Social Worker
“If this happens [free transportation for all students] it is because you all [Rainier Beach students] organized and raised your voices.” -Transit Riders Union
What made this night so powerful?
Student Leadership and Self Advocacy—This event was organized and executed by our CDF Freedom Schools scholars/Rainier Beach students. Students engaged community members, bravely spoke about their experiences with challenges getting to and from school, and had articulate, thoughtful ideas for solutions. Students who may not experience being heard/seen or may not experience leadership in traditional ways had the attention of 200 people as they shared their experiences and ideas. From interviewing attendees for the Viking Shield, running sounds/lighting, talking with media, presenting data, and sharing testimonies –our students have so many gifts and skills that had a platform to shine and be seen. Specifically, 25 of our Freedom Schools scholars took the lead on much of the organization and is a tangible example of how summer learning and engagement changes everything. They are equipped and becoming leaders of change. Go Freedom Schools!
Art Activism/Story-telling- We used ART to engage our community in narrative. We believe that hearing each other’s experiences allows us to SEE one another. When we SEE one another, we are compelled to ACTION. Simply put, STORY SPARKS ACTION.
Community collaboration- Our community is a powerful force of active community leaders and partners who mentored and supported students in their planning and execution of this event. Special shout out to Rainier Beach Action Coalition, Transit Riders Union, Puget Sound Sage.
Race and Justice Lens- Students framed current experiences in a historical and critical analysis of race and equity. They raised awareness about how current policies have a disparate impact on our neighborhood and called for collective action.
Shout out to Rainier Beach team/Freedom School staff, Renee Willette, and community organizations advisors who devoted many many hours, energy, passion, and creativity supporting and organizing this event . Thank you everyone who supported this amazing event through prayer, volunteering, and attending.
Educations Coordinator at Rainier Beach High School
UPDATE: November, 16, 2015
Seattle City Council unanimously voted to fund ORCA cards for Seattle Public Schools high school students on free/reduced lunch. For more information, contact Seattle City Council.