by Sharayah Lane
Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” vibes through the room and laughter rises in waves as everyone gets in on the after school jokes.
Walking into a room of teenagers can no doubt be intimidating but the first to come and introduce herself is Lewam Fitwi.
She is confident, funny and very welcoming. Lewam has that presence of being a leader in the room with the friendship of everyone. But the teen program we were standing in helped to shape her current space of being exactly herself, unapologetically.
The Activistas Employment Program was created by Central District based non-profit Powerful Voices. The program’s biggest annual event, Girlvolution will be held on April 22nd at South Seattle Community College from 10am – 4pm. The free event will include social justice workshops created by and facilitated by participants in the Activistas program. Girlvolution is a youth led social justice conference aimed at creating a space where girls’ voices are amplified. Facilitators, like Lewam, pick and research a topic to present in small groups at the event.
“At first I just came here for the money,” Lewam said laughing, “but no seriously, until I really got to know the other girls here, now I love coming and spending time with everyone.”
Lewam, like each of the girls in the program, had her own story behind her. She was born in Eritrea and her family moved to Florida when she was 1 year old, then to Seattle 7 years later. Her family came to Seattle in search of better job opportunities, but did so at the cost of their community in Florida.
“It was easier for my family in Florida because we had lots of family close by. But not having that same type of community in Seattle has made it kind of hard to live here,” said Lewam.
As the youngest of her 4 other siblings, Lewam comes from a home with more traditional Eritrean roles that have often left her with a lot of the responsibility at home. She has had to miss school to translate for her mother at the doctor. As the only child still in high school, high expectations on her to become successful have pushed her to learn to navigate her different environments.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people, you know,” said Lewam, “like I have to be one way at home and another way at school, then get to be another way when I’m here.” She described the Activistas program as the place where she can truly be herself. “The things we talk about here are the real issues that we don’t get to talk about in school.”
Powerful Voices Employment Coordinator Yecelica Valdivia said Lewam may have a hard edge at moments, yet is incredibly vulnerable and knows where she’s headed.
“Lewam is a “tell it like it is” person. She’s real, dedicated, incredibly loyal, and caring. She shares her perspective with such honesty and passion that allows for others to do the same.”
The workshopping component of the program has allowed Lewam to really explore a topic she is passionate about: discrimination. She is looking at research of high school dropout rates for Black youth in comparison to their white classmates.
“Discrimination,” she says, “can be as simple as making someone feel uncomfortable in the classroom because of their race or gender.”
“You give them that negative look and they can feel it. If you are already struggling in school you would be less likely stay in an environment where you are so uncomfortable.”
Other Activistas will be presenting on a wide range of topics including cultural appropriation and rape justice. The Girlvolution event includes breakfast and lunch, and is free and open to the public.
All those in attendance will get the opportunity to hear from youth on topics that are meaningful to them, and participate in the incredibly important act of uplifting the voices of young women.
Girlvolution is our window into future social dialogue, with Activistas like Lewam leading the way.
Featured image: Members of the Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) Leadership. They will be presenting workshops about Modern Colonialism and What it Means to Be an Activist on April 22.