by Susan Fried
On Sunday June 30, 17 high school and 18 middle school graduates and their families from all over the greater Seattle area celebrated their educational achievements at the 4th Annual Black Graduation for Middle School and High School students at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.
Students arrived at the Africatown Center for Education & Innovation and were presented with an Africatown sash, given a light snack and then taken to the event by Limousine. On arrival they were greeted by family and friends before making their way to the auditorium for inspirational speeches, poetry and spoken word performances.
The day was a celebration of achievement for all the graduates and the speakers emphasized the importance of striving for your goals and once you’ve achieved them, to come back and give back to your community.
Joey Thomas — former NFL player, a graduate of Kennedy High School in Burien and former head football coach at Garfield High School — told the students to follow their dream, even if their parents and teachers have suggested they have a Plan B in case the dream doesn’t work out.
“I know that people tell you that because they care about you, but I’m going to tell you something, I one 110 percent disagree with that statement. When you have a plan B and a plan C, it’s so much easier to give up on your plan A.”
He used an analogy of being stranded on an island and the necessity of having to overcome adversity to get to where you need to go. He talked about overcoming his own mental blocks and how it was important to be “stubborn in the way you think and to be hard headed.” In order to succeed he told the students, “you got to bet on you.”
He talked about how important it was to return to their neighborhoods after they have success in their own lives.
“Systematically they got us thinking we can’t come back to the neighborhood. It’s okay to be successful as one person as long as you take your success and you stay over here,” he said. “But the minute you want to come back and give the information to your people, now we have a problem. Every time you unite folks you’re a threat to the system. So let me be one of the first ones to tell you that when you have success you have an obligation to come back to the neighborhood and give respect to the people. That’s not a choice, that’s not an option, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
All the speakers congratulated the students for their success in getting to where they are now and encouraged them to not allow life’s obstacles to get in the way of reaching their goals. The students heard that the community had their backs and that they had immeasurable potential.
Spoken word artist Dada Bass accompanied by her brother Owuor Arunga on trumpet, recited Nikki Giovanni’s poem Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why). The final lines of the poem were a reminder to the students that the skies the limit and to not give up on their dreams.
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended
except by my permission
I mean … I … can fly
like a bird in the sky …
Featured Image: Recent Seattle area High School graduates explain the designs they put on their graduation caps during the cap contest at the 2019 Black Graduation June 30 at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. (Photo: Susan Fried)