Photo depicting two smiling Black youth holding up their projects.

The Liberated Village Arts & Education Festival Celebrates School Without Walls

by Chardonnay Beaver

On Saturday, May 13, Liberated Village held their Arts & Education Festival at Alan T. Sugiyama High School. Free to the community, the festival featured live performances from young Seattle rapper Skye-Dior and DJ Vitamin D, meals from The Original Philly’s (“Philly’s Best”) and Rooted on 23rd, presentations, and outdoor information booths. 

Liberated Village is a collective movement, based in King County, dedicated to developing programs that transform the educational system from a racial justice approach. Through their academy, minoritized youth ages 5 to 24 years old and their families have access to resources that help them live “liberated lives.” 

The Best Starts for Kids Liberation and Healing from Systemic Racism (“Liberated Village”) academy comprises 19 community-based grassroots organizations to offer youth educational resources, training, and cultural programs. Youth are also provided mentors, which the village refers to as subject matter experts (SME’s). Each of the 19 community-based grassroots organizations serve the youth with specialized programs, ranging from media training to Afro-Indigenous wellness curriculum. 

Liberated Village is a school without walls. 

Yolanda McGhee, one of 20 program managers for King County’s Best Start for Kids program and visionary behind Liberated Village, says this collective movement is a spiritual assignment. 

“God is concerned about his children. And we are at a place where he’s given us the resources to be able to impact our children in a positive way,” she said. “So I feel like he’s saying it’s our time now.”

During a speech at the festival, McGhee impassionately described her personal challenges navigating public school as a Black youth. 

“I will tell you about my early experience in school education system, because it was hard for me. They labeled me and didn’t teach me how to share my brilliance and my greatness because they didn’t know how to uplift the brilliance of Black and Brown children,” McGhee said. 

McGhee’s school without walls was motivated by these adversities. 

Best Start for Kids is voter-approved to support every baby born or child raised in King County to reach adulthood happy, healthy, safe, and thriving — according to the King County Department of Community and Human Service Initiatives. Best Start for Kids centers a fundamentally grassroots logic: The community knows what the community needs. King County’s Best Starts for Kids contracts strategies such as Liberated Village to help make events like the Arts & Education Festival possible. 

Jasmine Parker, the mother of Liberated Village “scholars,” attended the festival with her husband and four daughters. Parker and her husband decided to homeschool their daughters after racialized aggression toward their eldest child persisted in their former school district. 

Living in Kirkland, where Black people make up less than 2% of the city’s population, Parker was discontent with her daughters’ cultural connection, in comparison to her and her husband who grew up in the culturally vibrant Central District and South Seattle. 

Parker was introduced to Liberated Village through a relative, who leads one of the LLCs in the academy named Victorious Youth Program. She emphasizes the powerful impact representation has had on her daughters since joining the collective.

“It’s liberating to know that my kids can make a change, [they’re] given the different opportunities to do something outside of what they’ve never even thought of doing … that’s given me a boost and I think that’s given my children a boost,” she said.

Parker says the collective is worth her family’s commuting from Kirkland to the festival in Rainier Beach. 

Steve Sneed, lead creative of Art Ed Solutions and race and social justice consultant for Pacific Northwest Ballet, has been serving minoritized creatives for over three decades. His community involvement includes formerly managing cultural arts at Seattle Center and LANGSTON, and recently joining the Liberated Village academy. Sneed provides “scholars” with training and exposure to impact communities through cultural arts. 

Like McGhee, Sneed believes his work to be a spiritual assignment he seeks to fulfill.

“All my life, I’ve worked in theater, I was a youth performer. I started at the age of 15 and went on to make a living in cultural arts, and I know how it impacts young people. So that’s why Art Ed Solution is a mission of mine. It is a ministry,” Sneed said. “One of the ways I share my gifts is to do the work of training of young people using theater to not just to train them for the theater, but to train them for life using theater and arts for that purpose.”

He says this program is built on three pillars: discipline, confidence, and motivation. With the support of the Best Starts for Kids funding through the Liberated Village, Sneed is able to expose his scholars to internship and professional arts organizations. 

Art Ed Solution is now featured at Alan T. Sugiyama High School for all students to enroll. 

The Liberated Village Arts & Education Festival illustrated the vision behind this school without walls. McGhee says these events serve as a catalyst for relationship building. 

“This paints a picture for the community. The community doesn’t just have our words, but actually sees it,” she says. “This is about relationships. We’re not measuring quantity, we’re measuring quality.”

Community members gather at STEMTAC Foundation’s booth, a group dedicated to developing a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) foundation for youth to connect their knowledge in STEM to education, career, and community. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Vieagus Ortega)
Youth approach one of the information booths at the Liberated Village Arts & Education Festival. The Original Philly’s (Philly’s Best) stationed their food truck at Alan T. Sugiyama High School to serve their infamous cheesy fries. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Vieagus Ortega)
Rooted on 23rd served fresh french fries and fried fish to those who attended the Liberated Village Arts & Education Festival. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Vieagus Ortega)
Yolanda McGhee, program manager for King County’s Best Starts for Kids and visionary of Liberated Village, delivers an impassioned speech about Liberated Village’s mission. McGhee sported a shirt that said “Visionary: The Liberated Village” on the front, and “Yolanda” on the back. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Vieagus Ortega)
From far right to left: Jasmine Parker, her four daughters, and husband sit side-by-side inside Alan T. Sugiyama High School, while listening to speakers share about their organizations. Mr. and Mrs. Parker recently enrolled their daughters in Liberated Village academy, a simple process parents can do online. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Chardonnay Beaver)
Steve Sneed, lead creative of Arts Ed Solution, spoke about his involvement in Alan T. Sugiyama High School. Sneed uses his background in cultural arts to empower the next generation of scholars. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Vieagus Ortega)

Chardonnay Beaver is a multimedia storytelling, influential speaker and writer. Her stories center the lived and historical experiences of minoritized communities in America, in a nuanced way. Her articles has been featured in Crosscut, The Facts Newspaper, The Seattle Medium to name a few. Chardonnay is a recent graduate of the University of Washington, earning her degree in political science and journalism & public interest communication and minor in diversity studies. To learn more, visit her website.

📸 Featured Image: Two Liberated Village “scholars” showcase their bright smiles while at the Arts & Education Festival. The festival included the Liberated Village academy’s grassroots organization information booths, where they shared their scholars’ projects or information. May 13, 2023. (Photo: Vieagus Ortega)

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