Meet the NAACP Youth Council and Their Plan for a School Year of Racial Justice

by Kaley Duong, Edan Gortzak, Alexis Mburu, Aneesa Roidad, Gian Rosario, and Leah Scott

Beginning its fourth year of advocacy, the Washington NAACP Youth Council (N-YC) is kicking off the school year on Monday, Oct. 5, with the virtual event Launching the 2020-21 School Year of Racial Justice to unveil our demands for the new year and promote Black Lives Matter at School’s new Year of Purpose

Founded in 2017 by then Education Chair of the Seattle King County NAACP Rita Green and Seattle educators Jon Greenberg and Sooz Stahl, N-YC provides a space that many of our schools lack: one in which BIPOC voices are actually valued.

Through N-YC’s courage, commitment, and collective effort, we have made strides in our educational system, from pressuring Seattle Public Schools to pass a historic resolution of support for #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool to getting Rainier Beach High School, made up almost entirely of BIPOC students, on the Building Excellence V Capital Levy for a full — and long overdue — renovation. 

The principle of true racial justice has guided our hard fought accomplishments and continues to guide our work, for it is what binds together our list of nine demands for Washington schools so that students can learn in antiracist, safe, and equitable environments. What started as a group based in Seattle has grown to represent five districts — and counting — in part because of the support of a Best Starts for Kids grant cowritten by Rita Green and Sebrena Burr in partnership with the Seattle Council PTSA. 

The demand that the N-YC was founded upon is the implementation of ethnic studies into curricula at all grade levels and subjects by fully staffed ethnic studies departments. Right now, despite its billion dollar budget, Seattle Public Schools has invested in just one ethnic studies position, currently vacant, for nearly 54,000 students in 104 schools. In the words of N-YC co-President Aneesa Roidad, “Our current curriculum is so detrimental to students not only because it’s whitewashed, misleading, and at times, downright false, but because it’s unimaginative, incomplete, and leaves us helplessly lost on that most important journey of knowing who we are and finding our place in the world. The antidote? Ethnic studies.” Ethnic studies is not an optional elective; it is people’s lives, bodies, and experiences.

Israel Presley addresses the Seattle School Board during a Black Lives Matter At School Week 2019 action by the N-YC (photo: Sharon Ho Chang)

To remedy the lack of ethnic studies offerings, N-YC is taking matters into our own hands. Believing that youth must be at the forefront of defining our education, we are working with Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN) to write Black Lives Matter curricula to make available to teachers. Our lesson plans will be featured in one of WAESN’s future blog posts. 

Increasing the voice of BIPOC youth in places where decisions are made in the education system is another of our demands. In partnership with Seattle School Board President Zachary DeWolf, N-YC co-President Leah Scott is currently championing the fight for youth representation on school boards, which some districts like Tukwila and Riverview have already implemented. Unfortunately, state law prevents youth representatives from being voting members of boards, a reality we plan to change; as part of this effort, we are currently reaching out to elected officials to lower the voting age for school board elections, allowing students to actually choose who represents them and offering early civic engagement. As students, we know what we need. And youth representatives are far more likely to help us get what we need. Without youth representatives on the Seattle School Board, the district is taking “backwards steps” when it comes to ethnic studies implementation. 

To realize our demand of hiring and retaining more BIPOC educators, we are partnering with the Seattle Public Schools’ Academy for Rising Educators to make becoming an educator an option for more people, including paraeducators and high school youth. Currently, there are plans to cofacilitate community based professional development sessions, facilitate graduate level classes, and conduct outreach to students.  

But these are just a few of our demands and projects. Learn more about our full plan to address the racism of public schools at our event Launching the 2020-21 School Year of Racial Justice, a collaboration with Black Lives Matter at School organizers Jesse Hagopian and Bruce Jackson, SEA Center for Racial Equity Director Marquita Prinzing, and Washington Ethnic Studies Now Director Tracy Castro-Gill. We are honored that Marquita accepted our invitation to be our featured speaker! 

In addition to serving as a launch for our demands for the new year, this event will launch Black Lives Matter at School’s Year of Purpose, expanding an annual week of action to a yearlong commitment to Black Lives.

Erica Ijeoma holds a protest sign at a Seattle School Board meeting during a Black Lives Matter At School Week 2019 action by the N-YC (photo: Sharon Ho Chang)

 Launching the 2020-21 School Year of Racial Justice

(We’ll start the webinar at 5:45 p.m. and let in the first 500 attendees.)

The NAACP Youth Council seeks to advance racial justice in our educational system, which will benefit both current and future students. There are many ways you can help us achieve our demands. First and foremost, attend and share our event! You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Contact Youth Coordinator Jon Greenberg to book speaking engagements or to be added to our mailing list. We encourage you to join the movement in amplifying the youth voices in Washington by engaging and supporting the NAACP Youth Council.

Featured image: Rena Mateja Walker Burr addresses the Seattle School Board during a Black Lives Matter At School Week 2019 action by the N-YC (photo: Sharon Ho Chang)

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