‘Powerful and beautiful’: West Seattle High School’s third annual Equity Day

(WSB photos by Patrick Sand)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“I think it’s powerful and beautiful that it’s us, the students, who are making this change,” said West Seattle High School student Makhari Dysart during the closing assembly at the school’s third annual Equity Day.

She was referring to the gun-law-reform campaign spotlighted by the student-organized March For Our Lives events around the nation four days earlier. That issue in fact was one of the workshop topics offered to WSHS students during Equity Day on Wednesday – but only one of more than 30, and there was only time for each student to spend the morning at two. Here’s the full list, as shared with us by faculty member and organizer Jennifer Hall:

Musical Equity
Immigration Equity
Native American Panel
Racial Privileges
Physical Activities and Individuals with Disabilities
Environmental Equity
LGBTQ+ Activism Through Art
Unions and Equity
Women of Color: STI Inequity .
Disability is Diversity
Education Equity and Standardized Testing
Sexual Assault
Student Voice Forum
Equity and Drug Treatment
The Intentions of “Trash Talk”
Equity and the Arts
Equity and Age Discrimination
Equity and Socialism
Equity Through Restorative Justice
Climate Change
Education Equity for People with Disabilities
Equity and Homelessness
School Gardens and Equity
Equity and Religion
Mental Health Equity
Racial Microaggressions
Resisting Hate Groups in the Pacific Northwest
Gun Laws and Equity
Slanted Eyes: The Asian American Experience
LGBTQ+ 101 Q&A Panel
Fighting Human Trafficking
Equity Through Self-Defense

Like each student, we attended two workshops.

Knowing the WSHS Library had lots of room for observation, we went there first; three panelists took on a topic that will affect the students for the rest of their lives – climate change.

(From left, Eli Crawford, Katie Thompson, Lylianna Allala)

This is a topic that will affect the students far more than the rest of us. They heard from, and ask questions of, Lylianna Allala from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal‘s staff, Katie Thompson from Sustainable Business Consulting (based in West Seattle), and Eli Crawford from 350Seattle.org.

Along with talking about how climate change factored into their jobs, all three expressed interest in how the students were thinking about it. “How many of you are concerned about climate change?” asked Allala; most raised their hands. How many are taking action to fight it? Just a few hands. Its effects, she continued, are already real – species disappearing, flowers’ blooming times changing, people moving because of flooding. She mentioned New Orleans and Houston, and the Quinault Tribe planning to move to higher ground. Equity factors into this because it’s often low-income people and communities of color that are suffering “first and worst,” she said.

Crawford talked about the difficulty of making progress because some people are “just stuck” in old ways of thinking or acting. “They’re doing things that are just crazy – ‘you’re putting in ANOTHER PIPELINE?’ … To make a difference in climate-change work, we have to think about where people are stuck.”

Thompson said progress can be made if you “try to really listen to what the other person is talking about or cares about.” She also told the students that climate-change-related jobs they might do in years and decades ahead “aren’t even out there yet – don’t limit yourself to the positions already out there.” She also talked about taking small steps – she for example drives a hybrid car.

The questions were sophisticated. Nuclear energy came up twice. The first round of responses suggested that the panelists weren’t comfortable with it. Students suggested they might be “stuck” in old thinking.

Other questions – what about cleaning the air to mitigate some of what’s being put into it? Crawford thought it would be better to “stop the exploitation and extraction” of resources.

What about carbon dioxide from agriculture? If you decide to make the personal choice to eat no (or less) meat, you can have an impact on that, Thompson noted. Her fellow panelists admitted to being omnivores and Crawford acknowledged the difficulty of talking to people about personal choices such as food and transportation.

Synthetic food, alternative power generation, measuring your carbon footprint all surfaced in continuing discussion, as did more suggestions for lower-impact personal choices – Allala mentioned buying secondhand clothing.

Sounding a note of hope, Crawford wanted the students to know: “(People are) going to tell you that you are small, that you are insignificant … and it’s not true.”

That was a truth on display last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people joined in the March For Our Lives events. Student organizers and participants were lauded by the leaders of the second workshop we observed, Gun Violence through an Equity Lens. Cause Haun with Moms Demand Action described herself as a WSHS mom; Catherine Person was from the Everytown Survivor Network; Brandy Grant, from the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

This workshop was more personal, from the opening moment of silence, through Person’s story of losing her brother Keith – shot dead when she was 19 – through Grant’s anguish at having to talk to her young son about the extra risk faced by people who, like him, also happen to be male and Black.

“I am in awe of you and the power and potential you have,” Person told the students. She also asked if anyone in the room was a survivor of gun violence; a boy raised his hand and said his brother had been shot. “I’m so sorry,” Person said, asking if he would speak with her later.

The workshop did not focus on what changes might be made in laws, but on the equity issues – even the broadest one, that Americans are “25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun as (people in) other developed countries,” that 96 Americans are killed with guns on a daily average, “including 7 children and teens,” that 50 women are shot dead in the U.S. in an average month by intimate partners, and that Black men are 13 times more likely than white men to be killed with guns.

Grant discussed the racial disparities in more detail, and introduced her mother, who was at the back of the room observing. She also played a YouTube clip of 11-year-old Naomi Wadler‘s speech from March For Our Lives in DC:

What did the students think when they heard Naomi speak? she asked.

One replied: “She’s brave for speaking out -a lot of people at her age won’t speak up. I’m 17 and a lot of people my age won’t.”

After that was when Grant got emotional after saying she worries about her 12-year-old son “every day, every day, every day.” She added that she had graduated from high school “at the time of Columbine,” and that we shouldn’t still be having to have discussions about school shootings. Butshe said she’s hopeful that this generation won’t “let themselves be divided.”

And the statistics continued: 130 incidents in our state one recent year with a firearm on school premises, school transportation, or school facilities, then other stats about young shooting victims, and about guns kept unlocked. And she urged the students to know who their legislators are, and how to contact them.

Students were asked why they came to this workshop. One said she knows this is a big issue right now but felt she needed to get more information. Another said that like Grant worries about her son, her own mom worried about her going to public places.

Haun ultimately reminded everyone that hope “isn’t a magical thing” – it doesn’t just happen – it springs from being involved. And getting involved, she said, can be simple – logistics, or being the person who goes to get snacks for their fellow volunteers.

The workshop ended and students were dismissed for lunch, which was followed by the all-school closing assembly, featuring student speakers and emcees along with some visiting guests – after the National Anthem was presented via the Jimi Hendrix instrumental version, followed by a singalong with the first part of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Also singing – as she presented a poem – the first guest speaker of the assembly, Nikkita Oliver:

“Justice is just us … without us, there is no justice … justice is what love looks like in public.”

And another thing about love, the activist/artist/former mayoral candidate advised the students – you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

Makhari Dysart was one of the first students to take the microphone.

She asked how many in the gym had gone to last weekend’s march. Relatively few hands went up. While she expressed pride that “us the students … are making this change,” she also called out those who had skipped Equity Day, or at least the assembly – the empty seats of those who didn’t show up to support gun-violence victims, Native Americans “robbed of their land time and time again,” and others whose struggles were discussed during Equity Day.

And yet she said those who were there gave her hope – “you are the changemakers … find the change you want to make and pursue it.”

Ed Ewing, who founded the Major Taylor Bicycle Club within Cascade Bicycle Club, called himself an “accidental activist.”

The club has reached more than 5,000 youths. To the students, he advised finding something they’re passionate about, then doing it.

Fran Yeatts of the West Seattle Food Bank said there are many ways to be involved – “and you guys are seriously on the path already.”

Her message: It’s not required that you have all the answers just because you want to fight for equity.

Student Anissa Babitu introduced local activist Chris Porter, who first said he had brought two friends to help students register to vote.

He spotlighted racial inequities – Black men’s lower life expectancy and higher unemployment; White Americans’ wealth being 13 times that of Black Americans, and more. He spoke of West Seattle’s history of housing discrimination, and times when his neighborhood near Lincoln Park had deeds restricting buyers/residents of color.

County Council Chair Joe McDermott was the final guest speaker.

He told the students that conviction is necessary if you’re going to fight for equity, and that it stems from empathy, and can also come from your own lived experience, citing his as a gay man. After citing some of the current struggles for justice, he concluded, “Equity is worth fighting for, right, Westside?”

The ensuing applause suggested they agreed. (As did the well-known WSHS alum who recorded a special Equity Day welcome video.)

P.S. Along with the community panelists, the event also clearly ran on student volunteer power. Shortly after arrival on campus, we met Deija and Vanessa:

Our coverage of last year’s WSHS Equity Day is here.

6 Replies to "'Powerful and beautiful': West Seattle High School's third annual Equity Day"

  • Kathy March 29, 2018 (8:50 am)

    Thank you for covering this event.  It’s really great to see our teens thinking and acting on these issues!

  • Rebekah March 29, 2018 (9:44 am)

    As a Native American activist for Leonard Peltier for 28 years who considers myself a Democratic Socialist, it was an honor to be on the Social Equity panel.  I have been heavily silenced as a Democrat, abused, threatened and told to keep quiet as an activist for Native American rights and as a Bernie Sanders delegate, not to mention the fact that the 34th District has never responded to my numerous letters about my abuse and mistreatment.  These same Dems who were there were the same people who told me I was “too passionate” about Native American rights and that I need to be quiet about Leonard Peltier. 
    However, it was very healing and therapeutic.  It was great to be able to talk about it to the students and to share my truth.  It was a bit nauseating to see the same people who tried to silence me (some Democrats who spoke) speaking later.  In the end, I am proud of West Seattle High School for giving a voice to the voiceless (me) and for encouraging the students to think for themselves and to be better people.  The students are amazing.  Jennifer Hall, who organized this, is amazing.  The students are smart and had many amazing questions.  I was enriched from this experience. 

  • The power of learning March 29, 2018 (2:06 pm)

    Thank you to the West Seattle High School staff, administration and community volunteers!  You are what have kept the day and momentum for including the day in the calendar every year going.  Days like this “don’t happen by magic.”  More importantly, they can help bridge the informal learning students encounter everyday from the attitude and actions peers, media, neighbors, and families provide to a more formal learning structure that might help students make sense of it.

    Nice job Westside!

  • Wseattleite March 29, 2018 (9:13 pm)

    A tremendous event that would seem to be a catalyst for real discussion. I do wonder two things.  First, was there any discussion about the real cause of man made climate change, and that is the exponential growth of human population on earth. For some reason, this seldom seems to be part of the conversation. Often a lot of talk about pipelines, but little discussion of the several billion people who are starting to be able to have air conditioning, and how that is going to be supported with energy sources.  To simply insist that resources are not harvested, is a very entitled stance when to do so would keep the Seattle quality of life away from so many other people. Second, was there any alternative viewpoints offered besides the normal rhetoric from what in reality is toward one end of the bell curve regarding social issues?  Many of these topics do have deeper cause and effect theories around them which would lend this event to real dialogue and conversation.  That typically won’t happen when the moderators are all saying the same things. 

  • ltfd March 29, 2018 (11:34 pm)

    What about “Equity equity”?

    • WSB March 29, 2018 (11:59 pm)

      By tackling more than 30 topics, I believe they achieved that.

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