Yesterday, the 2021 Seattle Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners were announced in an online ceremony.
The award initiative was started with funds Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian received in a settlement after suing the Seattle Police Department and the City of Seattle when he was wrongfully assaulted with pepper spray by an SPD officer.
The Black Education Matters Student Activist Award (BEMSAA) offers a $1,000 package, public recognition, and entrance into a community of social justice organizers to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice, and against institutional racism.
– Jesse Hagopian, founder of BEMSAA
Past award winners have been among the most impactful student leaders in Seattle, including helping to get police removed from the Seattle Public Schools, leading mass walkouts against Donald Trump’s inauguration, leading the successful movement for ORCA transportation cards for Seattle students, leading whole teams to take a knee during the national anthem, launching the NAACP Youth Coalition, leading movements for food justice, and more.
Jesse Hagopian began the ceremony by introducing the nature of the BEMSAA award. The three students receiving the award will join a community of seventeen other students who have won the award since 2016.
Next, Ayva Thomas described the importance of student activism.
She stated that Black activism is essential in shifting the power structure in schools and districts in order to drive the mission of these institutions.
Centering the voices and humanity of the Black youth community will enable students to work towards disabling a white supremacist education system.
After Thomas spoke, the three award winners were introduced.
Each awardee was nominated by a Seattle educator.
Alekzandr Wray, an ethnic studies program manager and a humanities teacher at Garfield High School, presented the award to KyRi Miller, one of his students.
Wray nominated KyRi because of his leadership roles and his work with community leaders. Wray explained: “KyRi has the rare skill of being able to blend hard and uncomfortable truths with an unwavering sense of urgency and love.”
“His words are powerful and demand attention, as I most recently experienced when he helped serve as a leader and organizer for our Black Lives Matter at School Week assembly and mural painting.”
Most notably, KyRi worked with community artists to develop a mural at Garfield High School that depicts black past, present, and future.
Wray notes KyRi’s exceptional academic record and his vision and consistency in his work with the student community. Upon accepting his award, KyRi elaborated on his future plans, in which he hopes to someday become an actor and/or director. He wants to change the way Black people and people of color are depicted in different media and entertainment businesses.
Ultimately, KyRi aspires to show that stereotypes do not accurately represent Black people and people of color.
Rita Green, the NAACP Washington education chair, nominated and introduced Aneesa Roidad. Aneesa has been and activist and organizer with the NAACP Youth Council for five years. Seattle Educator Sooz Stahl said of her: “I was dazzled by her ability to galvanize her peers’ collective energy toward solutions to these [social] issues.”
Since joining the NAACP her freshman year of high school, Aneesa has achieved many things, including getting the school board to sign onto Black Lives Matter. Aneesa attributes her leadership skills to the NAACP Youth Council, saying that everyone who has been brought into the community has excelled.
Aneesa will be attending Harvard this fall and hopes to continue her work with student activism on campus.
Next, Jon Greenberg nominated Mia Dabney, an activist and organizer with the NAACP Youth Council. Michael Bennett assisted Greenberg in in presenting the award, doing so in the name of his mother (the Penny Bennett award).
Seattle educator Jon Greenberg said: “Mia has emerged as one of the primary leaders of the WA NAACP Youth Council (N‑YC), one of the most influential youth-led groups in the Puget Sound area. One tangible win that Mia led is the creation of Seattle Public Schools Board Policy 1250, which puts youth on the Seattle School Board. [It] was passed unanimously in the spring.”
Additionally, Mia has worked to advocate for mental health wellness, especially among Black youth, Indigenous youth, and other youth of color.
Her work around mental health issues has had a profound difference in Seattle schools. In the future, Mia aspires to go into medicine or the sciences in hopes of alleviating race and gender disparities in these fields.
Her goal is to ensure that young people of color feel safe and healthy.
Congratulations to KyRi, Aneesa, and Mia: the three 2021 Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners!