A few years ago, a group of Seattle educators, activists and prominent community members noticed more young people investing their time in something that isn’t measured, or often even recognized, in schools.
That something was leadership — specifically, students who demonstrated “exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice, and against racism.”
There were students like Ifrah Abshir, who lobbied the city to give free ORCA transportation cards to low-income students. And Garfield High football player Jelani Howard, who helped lead his team toward a decision to kneel during the national anthem to bring attention to racism and police brutality.
In 2016, the first Black Education Matters Student Activist Awards were given to student leaders like Abshir and Howard for their role in fighting for social justice. Last week, three change-making students received the awards: Mia Dabney, a senior at Cleveland STEM High School; KyRi Miller, a 2021 Garfield High graduate; and Aneesa Roidad, a 2020 Ballard High graduate.
The award and student-recognition program was started with settlement money Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian received after suing the Seattle Police Department and the city of Seattle for getting pepper-sprayed by a Seattle Police officer. The award program, which gives each student honoree $1,000, has since been supported by former Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett and Grammy-award-winning hip-hop performer Macklemore.
In 2017, the program added the “Pennie Bennett Black Education Matters Award,” presented by the NFL star, in honor of his mother, a lifelong educator, which Dabney received this year.
Student recipients have shown over the years that activism exists in many forms.
“The problem with institutional racism isn’t in some far-off state, it’s right here in our own home and that’s why I’m particularly excited to honor these youth that are fighting against that kind of system,” Hagopian said during the virtual award ceremony.
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SOURCE: Seattle Times, Jenn Smith