South-End Students Bring “Hope” to City Hall

by drea chicas

Call: “Got hope?”

Response: “Got hope?” (x2)

Call: “Got freedom, got love, got hope, that’s dope! ”

Response: “Got freedom, got love, got hope, that’s dope!” (x2)

Close to 150 children and youth chanted that original, electrifying cheer on the steps of City Hall on Friday, July 31st. They made their voices heard, calling for change and sending an inspiring message of hope to Seattle Public Schools administrators, Mayor Ed Murray, councilmember John Okamoto, and many other community leaders that joined in solidarity. These students, called scholars, were from the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools at two South-End sites—Rainier Ave. Church and Rainier Beach High School. The CDF Freedom Schools is a six-week, national model that inspires children to fall in love with reading and learning. Every day at the Freedom Schools, scholars engage with a multicultural curriculum centered on an “I can make a difference” theme. Connecting to their own sense of power, scholars also learn how to create change in their communities with hope, education, and action. On Friday, scholars took their voices to the streets as they marched from the John Stanford Center to City Hall on the Day of Social Action, protesting Seattle Public Schools 2.0 mile walk zone.

Throughout the summer at Freedom Schools, Rainier Beach High School scholars researched the impact that Seattle Public Schools’ transportation policies have on their education. Seattle Public Schools expects families and students who live within a 2.0 mile walk zone of their neighborhood to walk to school or pay their own bus fare. Families who live within a 2.0 mile radius are denied transportation. Calling this public policy “inequitable,” students mobilized alongside community members saying that for many students, especially those experiencing poverty, this policy “creates a barrier to getting to school, and therefore a barrier to their education.”

Scholars make their way up City Hall steps. Photo Credit: TyCeleste

The 1.5 mile-march simulated the walk that many students take every morning. While the scholars were safely escorted by police, for others walking in some areas of the city isn’t that seamless. One parent said, “Walking 2 miles along Rainier Ave. to any school in Rainier Valley is unsafe.” Rainier Ave. will soon undergo changes, but many students and their families will be left with few options. Students posed their solution— a free Orca card for every student living in a 2.0 mile walk zone. Along the way, high school marchers chanted, “Hey hey, ho, ho, the walk-zone must go.” Organizers connected this transportation issue to other pressing civic issues like the school to prison pipeline issue, and child poverty.

There were other cheers that high school students chanted en route: “We who believe in Freedom cannot rest until it comes” and when the younger scholars joined the high school marchers together they sang “I know I can be what I want to be.” Tyra Griffith, 24 years old, is a first-year, Servant-Leader Intern (what educators are called at the CDF Freedom Schools) said, “As we marched down the street, I felt inspired that our scholars pulled together with pride and courage fighting for what they know to be true. I saw big smiles filled with pride. I also felt angry because of the disregard for scholars but motivated by their willingness to fight.”

Scholars read advocacy letters to city officials. Photo Credit: TyCeleste
Scholars read advocacy letters to city officials. Photo Credit: TyCeleste

Families and parents who joined the rally at City Hall were also beaming as they saw scholars read advocacy letters to city officials. The willingness to fight was evident from many perspectives. There are only two CDF Freedom Schools sites in Washington. Urban Impact, Rainier Ave. Church, and Rainier Beach High School have sponsored the launch of the model in Seattle. Read Lead, a California-based non-profit, partnered with Urban Impact to establish both the Rainier Ave. Church and Rainier Beach High School sites. Since this transformative model generates the lasting impact we want to see in our communities, we need more CDF Freedom Schools program across Seattle. Friday’s demonstration proved that the children and youth are ready to infuse our communities with hope when given the space to do so.

drea chicas, who prefers her name appear in all lower case, is the co-founder of the first CDF Freedom Schools in Washington State. In addition to believing in the power of education, drea believes in the power of young voices reverberating in the public square.

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