NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

Anti-racist organizers recognized with Black Education Matters Student Activist Awards

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!

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