Youth Shall Lead: Youth Activists for Systemic Change Livestream Demands Action on Racial Equity

by Mike Davis

The brilliant council members of the Youth Activists for Systemic Change (YASC) organized a livestream event on Sat. January 23 in partnership with Town Hall Seattle to present a panel discussion on their thoughts and demands for creating a better future.

In June, these youth organized the Seattle Children’s March that was inspired by the Birmingham Children’s Crusade March of 1963. The members of YASC hosted a rally at Garfield Community Center, before leading a crowd of about 3,000 people on a march through the Central District. I, along with my daughter, attended that march and rally, and I remember being impressed by the passion and creativity of these youth who not only verbalized their demands, but performed music, dance, and poetry for the large crowd that included many youth like my daughter — who was inspired by these young activists.

The event Saturday opened with a poem that touched a special place in my heart. One of the youth, Rahma Mohammed, a senior at Chief Sealth High School, spoke of her experience in schools without teachers and faculty who looked like her or represented her culture. I had the privilege of attending African American Academy from Kindergarten–eighth grade. My educational experience as a youth included only Black teachers, Black administrators, even Black lunchroom staff and school nurses. It was always my hope for my children to also share that experience, but unfortunately African American Academy no longer exists. And in the absence of that institution, we are left with generations of youth who will endure an educational upbringing without diverse representation in classrooms and without educators with personal and cultural connections to the nonwhite students in their classrooms.

During a panel discussion, which included six youth from YASC with one student, Asira Sims, a junior at Summit Sierra High School, acting as moderator, these youth activists made demands similar to those of their adult counterparts. They seek strong leadership and more accountability. They want equality, dignity, and respect for People of Color. They want to stop seeing violence against Black bodies. And while these demands have become more familiar in American culture after a nationwide summer of protests, hearing these demands come from the mouths and hearts of children strikes a different chord. In a perfect world, these kids would be focused on school, friends, or sports. But in our current reality, similar to the reality facing the youth in the 1963 march in Birmingham, our youth are pushed into activism and fighting for the creation and implementation of a world where kids can just be kids without fear of harm or persecution based on the color of their skin.

One topic that appeared throughout the panel discussion was education. One council member pointed out that the “road to success is through education.” When asked directly about the Biden administration, and what the youth would like to see in the next four years, council member Mohammed asked for free education that includes college for low-income Americans. This is currently a national topic as the Biden administration extended the interest-free pause on student loan payments and there is currently a national push for student loan debt forgiveness.

The council expanded on the importance of education while discussing the significance of Kamala Harris becoming vice president. The council marveled at the idea of having a vice president who looks like them, they acknowledged the historical importance of having the first woman-POC vice president, but they accurately highlighted the fact that education is what made Harris’ rise possible. Access to high levels of education is the key to students from diverse backgrounds gaining access to positions of power, and they called on vice president Harris and the Biden administration to push for equal access in education so that more students of color can ascend to leadership positions and have the opportunity to create tangible change for their communities.

The panel also had a robust conversation on policing. As they did last summer, they called for defunding the police, and here they expanded on their thoughts regarding policing. Council member Miles Hagopian, a student at Asa Mercer Middle School, spoke about the Seattle Police Department being “the most funded department in Seattle,” and he proceeded to tell a story about his experience in first grade when his classroom didn’t have enough paper for students. Hagopian remembered his teacher rationing the paper, and he is now asking for funds dedicated to SPD to be redirected to Seattle Public Schools.

The YASC council also demanded that all cops be removed from schools and for the youth jail to be abolished. They want gender equity, which includes all-gender restrooms in schools or a third alternative to serve non-binary students. And when the new superintendent of Seattle Public Schools is selected, they would like to see someone in the position who has ties to the community, comes from a diverse background, and for that person to advocate for ethnic studies programs in all Seattle Public Schools.

These impressive youth touched on more topics than I was able to list here. Their event included poetry and performances, and they did an amazing job of highlighting the thoughtfulness and intellect of our future leaders. Towards the conclusion of the panel discussion, the moderator, Sims, reminded us that, “the youth are our future and they should be prioritized.”

You can view the full event on YouTube.

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

Featured Image: 2020 Seattle Children’s March (Photo: Sharon Ho Chang)

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