Photo depicting FEEST youth standing on a stage cheering happily.

FEEST Empowers Students to Action Across Seattle

by Ronnie Estoque

Access to affordable, healthy, culturally relevant foods in schools has always been a focus point for FEEST, an organization led by Youth of Color in South Seattle and south King County. Recently, FEEST has reassessed the curriculum they’ve taught their students in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and Highline Public Schools (HPS) to help improve their organizing skills. Both SPS and HPS have guaranteed that their school food will be free to all students for the remainder of the 2021–2022 academic term.

“We want school lunch to be free for everyone K–12, indefinitely,” said Cece Flanagan, a community organizing and training manager at FEEST. “We are also ensuring that youths’ basic needs are being met by offering free groceries and meal deliveries, loaning technology to connect to school/virtual meetings, ensuring youth [organizers] are connected to mental health supports, and paying them a competitive wage.”

While FEEST has a focus on running campaigns around food equity in schools, they have also supported other local campaigns regarding issues identified by students. During 2020’s protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, students from Black Minds Matter (BMM) advocated for the removal of officers from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) from SPS. Alongside WA-BLOC, an organization focused on disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline through restorative justice, FEEST partnered with BMM to gather nearly 20,000 signatures and presented the petition to the SPS board. Ultimately, SPS voted to end its contract with SPD due to the collective effort that was largely spearheaded by youth from South Seattle.

“Base-building is at the core of what we do, which means that we are constantly engaging with students and community members within the South End and southwest King County to hear the problems that they’re going through and then also create space for them to identify solutions,” Flanagan said.

BMM was initially founded in 2019 by students from Rainier Beach High School (RBHS) who opposed teacher layoffs due to SPS budget cuts. After nearly a year of organizing, the students, with the support of teachers, successfully fought to have all cut positions reinstated along with establishing an ethnic studies program and hiring more BIPOC teachers.

One of the cofounders of BMM is Kidist Habte, who is currently a RBHS alumnus. Habte also served as a FEEST youth leader organizing for better school food alongside other students in the Seattle area. Flanagan believes that it is vital to connect with students in a variety of spaces and to help them understand that issues within the educational system are often intersectional and systemic.

“The coalition building with WA-BLOC was really strategic and also just made sense because WA-BLOC does restorative justice work with young people; they’re really committed to transformative justice in schools,” Flanagan said.

Currently FEEST is running their programming virtually to ensure the safety of their staff and students during the pandemic. Recently, the organization conducted a listening session for students in the SPS and HPS to identify some of the biggest problems they are experiencing in school. Some of these include the need for an emphasis on the emotional and mental well-being of students who are often over-disciplined in their schools. Flanagan hopes that in the future more students can express their voices around issues that affect them.

“We [FEEST] want to do another listening session where we invite all students from Seattle Public Schools to come here, and we want to do a survey,” Flanagan said.

One student who has felt empowered by her time organizing with FEEST is Lillian, a senior at RBHS. She remembers her first meeting where she participated in a group activity that pushed her comfort zone in a healthy way.

“It was a very, kind of, nourishing experience, in a sense, because it made me feel that I could do things even if it was like a small role or a big role,” Lillian said.

Since that meeting, Lillian has grown as an organizer and is currently a youth leader for FEEST, where she creates and facilitates campaigns with students and is paid for her work. FEEST has played an integral role in forming her identity and how she views the world.

“[FEEST has] made me realize that I need to amplify my own voice and I need to find my self-love, and [that] with self-love a lot of things can happen positively … FEEST will always be my community,” Lillian said.

Organizing with FEEST has helped Lillian identify future goals of pursuing a career relating to social justice, and she wants to make sure that her voice is heard for future generations to feel inspired by.

“My BIPOC community matters a lot to me … I want to make change for them,” Lillian said.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: FEEST, an organization led by Youth of Color in South Seattle and south King County, has a focus on running campaigns around food equity in schools, but the organization has also supported other local campaigns regarding issues identified by students. Photo courtesy of FEEST.

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