by Beba Heron
(This article was originally published on the South End Stories Youth Blog and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
“I never started being an activist — it was always a part of me.” While only sixteen years old, Mia Dabney has made some impressive waves in the Seattle community. A junior at Cleveland STEM High School in Beacon Hill, she is both a prominent figure in the school community and in the larger area for her social activism.
Dabney has been involved in community activism from an early age, as it was almost an expectation in her family. Dabney’s father — a graduate from the HBCU Grambling State University in Louisiana — was involved in connecting alumni of the school with the newest generation of students. “I had been attending the events my father organized to connect the youth and older generations of Grambling together since I was little,” said Dabney. Meanwhile, Dabney’s mother was a part of the Washington Education Association — working on creating educational resolutions which help to solve the issues that are prevalent among the members of the union’s circles.
Through her exposure to community leadership because of her parents and being around a drive for social change during her childhood, Dabney developed her own passion for social justice early on, and thus, she has continued her work as a leader of community change.
Primarily, Dabney’s work is with the NAACP Youth Council of Seattle (N-YC). The Council advocates for racial equity in Seattle Public Schools, although they are expanding their jurisdiction to include districts outside Seattle, such as in Edmonds and Tacoma. The N-YC is a group dedicated to including BIPOC youth in spaces where conversations are happening about social justice in order to bring the youth perspective to the table as well as create change in youth-centered institutions like education. Dabney has been a part of the council since 2018 and joined because she wanted to make meaningful change in the way students and their teachers interacted, especially concerning how students and teachers communicate about important issues like racial equity and social justice.
Dabney is particularly passionate about her involvement in the education of teachers. Through the NAACP, Dabney has spoken on numerous adult educational panels with the aim of teaching adults and new teachers how to create respectful and humanizing relationships with their students and ultimately change the dynamic between educators and scholars. Dabney often poses the questions “How can we as youth support you as educators?” and “How can you as educators support youth?” in her presentations. Recently, she spoke at the 2nd annual Rainier Educators of Color Network conference about the personal experiences of both students and educators with racism in public education.
Through her efforts and connections, she has influenced a lot of new teachers and helped them become a better generation of educators. Her work has changed the culture of the classroom and has also changed the way that teachers view those spaces to better accommodate their students. “I want to help teachers understand that you have to listen and communicate and be there for the students. You are more than an educator to them. You shape their future.” For Dabney, this is super important — “I want that to click in their head.”
Currently, Dabney’s work with the N-YC has been focused on getting youth representation on the Seattle Public Schools’ board (see other N-YC demands here). One past project which she was involved in, and is particularly proud of, was the N-YC’s role in demanding SPS superintendent Denise Juneau’s removal. Despite the Council’s work with Juneau over her time with the district, they felt their demands were consistently not being met. “We wanted to see changes, and changes weren’t happening.” The NAACP’s mission with their youth council was to have students be a part of political conversations, especially when they explicitly affect youth. Dabney and the team felt that Juneau wasn’t adequately involving them or listening to their perspective. “We want to be a part of the conversations and a part of the process. And that didn’t happen with Denise Juneau.” Due to N-YC’s efforts and community pressure, Juneau will not be renewing her contract with the district and will resign in June 2021.
Aside from Dabney’s incredible activism with the N-YC, she also finds time to participate in even more local leadership roles. At her high school, Cleveland STEM, she is the vice president of the Black Student Union. With them, she has organized many school community events. Prior to the pandemic shutting down in-person instruction, Dabney was organizing pep rallies and movie nights centered around profiling a different Black actor every Wednesday of Black History Month. Now that her school’s BSU is operating entirely online, Dabney and other members are focusing on the mental health of Cleveland’s Black youth. Quarantine and the political climate of this past year has had dire effects on the Black community. “All the protests, all the deaths, you can feel it. We feel it,” Dabney said. Recognizing these serious impacts, with Cleveland’s BSU she is working to educate members on the importance of taking care of themselves, especially in the time left leading up to Juneteenth. “We’re trying to become more connected with the students. We’re here for you; we care for you.”
Just after the murder of George Floyd this past summer, Dabney helped organize a school rally held at El Centro De La Raza, a community center in Beacon Hill near the Cleveland HS campus. There, she spoke on the importance of not letting Floyd’s death be forgotten and “ensuring that this moment doesn’t pass us.”
While she has put incredible effort into changing the community through her activism, she has also learned a particularly valuable lesson along the way. Having seen adults who burn out from their efforts in social justice movements, she has learned and accepted that no one person can do it all.
Social activism has an inherent community aspect to it. Teamwork is essential, and Dabney has learned the importance of collaboration, both as a tool to create lasting change and also as a means to protect one’s mental health. “I want to be in the fight for the long run,” she said. For Dabney, it is particularly important that movements for social change don’t end any time soon. She sees value in there being long-lasting participation in radical change so that efforts now can continue “helping generations down the line.”
All too often, Black women are at the forefront of movements for radical social change. One perfect example could be the Black Lives Matter movement founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrice Cullors, three Black female activists. Their advocacy also involves African immigrant rights as well as prison abolition and LGBTQIA+ rights. Knowing this, it’s clear to Dabney where she stands. “As a young Black woman, my voice is needed in the conversations. I don’t often say that I am a part of the change. Because I believe from the bottom of my heart I am the change. Me being myself standing here is the change.”
Beba Heron (they/them) is a Running Start student at South Seattle College and youth editor for the South End Stories Youth Blog. Beba loves learning about political theory and thinking about how they can apply what they know to the world around them to make change. In particular, Beba is interested in how communities of color are affected by policy and how global capitalism lays the foundation for inequality in our society.
Featured image courtesy of Mia Dabney and South End Stories Youth Blog.
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