by Chloe Collyer
At 12:55 p.m. Garfield High School hallways are silent, that is until the first students begin to flow out of their classrooms for lunch. The front steps quickly become flooded with bodies grasping onto backpacks and electronic devices.
On this particular Tuesday, Garfield’s Black Student Union members begin to stand out in the crowd, holding larger-than-average signs and passing them out, surprising passersby as they rush to lunch.
“We’re having a rally if you want to participate” says Shayla Stevens, 17.
“When?” another student asks.
“Right now” Shayla replies.
The Black Student Union organized the Dec. 17 rally in response to George Zimmerman’s recent lawsuit against Trayvon Martin’s surviving family members. Zimmerman, who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, is accusing the young man’s family of defamation in the lawsuit, which also claims he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Dylan Blanford, who graduates from Garfield next year, was a little girl when Trayvon Martin died.
“My dad pulled me out of school one day to talk to me about how I needed to act in front of white people to avoid getting killed,” Blanford says. “‘The talk’ for most of the people in the audience is about sex. Mine was about how not to get shot. For existing.”
“How many little kids are going to have to look on the news and see people who look just like them shot for nothing?” Blanford continues. “How many more of us have to be completely erased before you actually start speaking out and doing things for change?”
Jesse Hagopian, Garfield Ethnic Studies teacher and co-adviser to the Black Student Union, addresses the crowd of students as a cheer breaks out for him.
“We need to point out how disgusting George Zimmerman is. How shameful this man is. But I think we need to take the discussion even further to look at how disgusting the system is,” Hagopian says. “This is a system that profits off of Black bodies and is scared of Black bodies.”
Hagopian also recalls the long history of Garfield students taking political leadership beyond campus. Garfield students formed the Black Student Union in 1968, following visits from civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Stokely Carmichael — the same year that the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party was formed. Last year the Seattle Black Panther Party celebrated its 50th anniversary and worked with Southend students on the Youth Empowerment Summit hosted at Rainier Beach High School — part of the decades-long history of Seattle students and the Black Panther movement working hand-in-hand.
“Garfield definitely has a history of these rallies,” says Azure Savage, 17, a BSU member and author of “How You Failed Us” a book criticizing Seattle Public Schools for racism and discrimination. “This is the first [rally] of the year, and I hope it reminds people to carry on the legacy of community organizing and power of youth.”