In Seattle, high school and college students are on the front lines of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Spawned by the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in Ferguson, students have mobilized in protest and a push for action. At the University of Washington, Black Student Union members have used this movement to push for more diversity, inclusion and the reimplementation of affirmative action. As part of this story, we follow activists at the UW as they formed a “Walk Out” protest at the University of Washington in Seattle. Nearly 1,000 protestors took the campus, delivering demands to four school program directors.
We also spent time with Garfield High School’s Black Student Union. During the last four months students there have mobilized to protest on the streets demanding more police accountability, additional resources to schools with larger minority populations and an end to the building the city’s new youth jail.
This story features rich characters that candidly reveal their passion and drive for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Some of our subjects include Sarra Tekola, a UW Senior and member of the Black Student Union, and four members of Garfield’s Black Student Union.
Sarra Tekola, UW Senior: Black people have been subjugated to the worst conditions. Redlined to the poorest of neighborhoods! The most destitute schools! The most amount of hazards! Wherever conditions are the worst, that is where you find us. That is why when you improve black lives. You improve society!!
Tonya Mosley: This is what Sarra Tekola calls her State of Emergency speech, a list of demands to the University of Washington.
The 22-year-old senior will be graduation soon, but Sarra and her peers use words like shackled and imprisoned to describe what they call the effects of systematic racism. And it will take more than a degree, they believe, to set them free.
Tekola: It’s not just police brutality. We’ve been dealing with all of these issues of access and issues of redlining communities and we’re still stuck in those communities without access to the same opportunities.
Mosley: It was the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson – and the non-indictment of the officer who shot him – that unleashed a wave of anger and activism across the nation and here in Seattle.
Tonya: So they’re calling this a youth movement. Would you call it the youth movement?
Sarra: Yes I definitely think its youth led. And I hope that we take into account the wisdom of our elders. Yes, I think its youth led because I have so many of our elders to be quiet and it’s better than it was 100 years ago. Yes it might be better but it’s still not equal.
Mosley: A few miles away at Garfield High School members of the Black Student Union (BSU) also began to mobilize. For years, the BSU lied dormant, but on October 22nd, the national day of protest, the “Black Lives Matter” hashtag became their movement.
Alyssa King, Garfield High School BSU President: That day it was raining and as we were chanting the different things that we were chanting, “Black Lives Matter,” I felt like that was empowering in that moment you had youth your age telling you that not only do black lives matter, the youth voices matter and our voices matter.
Mosley: But marching in the streets is only a part of it.
King: We know protect and serve does not apply to us.
Mosley: Alyssa and other BSU members are expanding their reach. Most recently, they sat down for two hours with the top brass of the Seattle Police Department.
Ayanda Chisholm, Garfield High Senior: We got to chance to kind of guide the conversation and so it gave me some insight on how much they know about their actions and the repercussions of what they do.
King: Although we did speak to them earlier this year, we are keeping an eye on them and the promises they made within the meetings.
Mosely: Do you feel like there is power in your voice?
Chisholm: Absolutely. I think if there wasn’t power in my voice people wouldn’t be trying to shut it down all the time.
Mosely: But with this new breath of activism comes some difficult lessons.
Issa George, Garfield High School BSU member: We’re out here trying to convince people of the value of our lives, meanwhile I’m a 17 year old girl trying to get through high school. I have to worry about the lives of all of my friends and all of my family because our country
Elijah Haynes, Garfield High School BSU member: I don’t want to say there is anything different about our generation but I can say the people in this room that there is a belief that we can make a change and an anger behind it that keeps it persistent. We are just going to lay here face down as you shoot us. You going to have to...I’m sorry I’m getting a little emotional. Yeah this isn’t something you can just do to us. We’re going to tell you it’s wrong and make sure you change it.
Mosley: The advisor of Garfield’s Black Student Union thinks it is quite possible, that we are the beginning of a major youth led movement, much like the civil rights movement of the 60’s.
UW Law student Nikkita Oliver calls it an awakening.
Nikkita Oliver: It’s about young folks standing up and realizing that we don’t have to sit, we don’t have to sit back and accept the system as it is. But it is a matter of us standing up and using our voice to make change.