This year’s Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners have received their prizes! Starting an award for young racial justice activists has been one of the best things I have ever done. Getting to give each young changemaker $1,000, public recognition, networking with their peers, and the opportunity to collaborate with four time NFL Pro Bowler/activist athlete Michael Bennett has made the award ceremony truly thrilling.
Here’s how it all happened.
In January of 2015, I gave the final speech at Seattle’s Martin Luther King Day rally that had ended at the Department of Justice building downtown. Not long after, I was pepper-sprayed in the face without provocation by an officer of the Seattle Police Department. I was on the phone with my mother at time of the assault, coordinating a ride to his then two-year-old son’s birthday party. The incident was captured on video by an onlooker. I then filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department and reached a settlement over the incident. I want to be clear that the settlement does not represent justice, given that the officer who pepper-sprayed me did not even receive a one day suspension for the assault. However, I am committed to using the proceeds to further the pursuit of social justice, and so I created the “Black Education Matters Student Activist Award” (BEMSAA). Each year The BEMSAA committee gives this award to the students who are most active in the struggle for racial justice in community. This year’s BEMSAA winners received their awards at the end of the Girls Empowerment Summit that was hosted by Pele and Michael Bennett. Below are the winners for 2018.
- Layla Mohamud is a leader of the People of Color Alliance (POCA) at the Center School. Under Layla’s leadership, POCA has planned and led the center school’s MLK Day assembly, which was originally planned for January. When Layla and POCA members
solicited questions about race and racism from their peers in the days leading up to the assembly, they received blatantly racist comments in the form of an online survey. A few days later, the MLK assembly was canceled because of rumors of hateful threats against the community. Scared but undeterred, Layla led the movement to make sure the assembly was rescheduled. Victorious in her struggle, they carried out the assembly and In the end, the assembly was expertly carried out, pushing the staff and students to explore institutional racism in their society and their own school–as well as how to fight it.
Lalya is also a founding member of the NAACP youth coalition. Watch her powerful testimony to the Seattle City Council about increasing funding to services that meet the needs of our city’s most vulnerable population (starts 18 minuets into the video): http://www.seattlechannel.org/BudgetCommittee?videoid=x84639
Layla was this year’s winner of the the “Pennie Bennett Award,” a special BEMSAA given by Michael Bennett in the name of his mother, a lifelong educator.
- Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker is one of the outstanding young founders of the NAACP Youth Coalition (NY-C) that is dedicated to pushing Seattle Public Schools toward racial justice. They helped lead the successful campaigns to demand ethnic studies programs in the Seattle Public Schools and to get the school board to officially support “Black Lives Matter At School Week.”
Watch their powerful testimony to the Seattle City Council about increasing funding to services that meet the needs of our city’s most vulnerable population (starts 18 minuets into the video): http://www.seattlechannel.org/BudgetCommittee?videoid=x84639
- New Generation is an activist organization founded completely by Seattle Black high school youth. New Generation formed in 2017 in the wake of the police murder of Charleena Lyles. These student leaders led a walkout/speak out at Garfield High School about her death and have continued to organize in their school and community for racial justice. Uniting students with Charleena Lyles’ family on the one year anniversary of her death, New Generation held a powerful assembly that launched the hashtag #RememberHerName to make sure that people don’t forget her and the police violence that led to her death.
Background on the Black Education Matters Award
The Black Education Matters Student Activist Award gives recognition, support, and a $1,000 award to student leaders in the Seattle Public Schools who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, class exploitation and other forms of oppression—within their school or community. Over the past three years, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization have been honored with the award.
The BEMSAA board is made up of local educators and activists from Seattle. The Award has been generously supported by former Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett and Grammy award winning artist Macklemore. For a full list of previous award winners, please visit the Award Winners page.