It was one of the most triumphant days of my life.
Thursday, June 15th was a day when I took the most painful moment in my life and used it to produce one of the most joyous days of my life. This was the day I had the honor to present the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to four incredible young changemakers in the Seattle Public Schools. The Student Activist Award fund offers a cash scholarship and community support to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice and against institutional racism. Our winners this year were Jelani Howard, Baily Adams, Precious Manning-Isabell, and Mahala Provost—young activists who you will undoubtedly hear much more about in the future as they continue to challenge racism and transform every institution they encounter.
Each student received $1,000 from the fund I started after winning a settlement when I was assaulted by a Seattle police officer. I won this settlement by launching a federal lawsuit against the City and the Seattle Police Department after being pepper sprayed without provocation at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle. While the officer who doused me with pepper spray, officer Sandra DeLaFuente, didn’t even receive a one-day suspension for assaulting me on the sidewalk, I was at least able to win some compensation that I could put to good use. I then partnered with leaders in the Seattle NAACP–education chair Rita Green and youth outreach coordinator Rachael DeCruz–to form a committee for finding and selecting leading student activists.
Joining us for the award ceremony were the Super Bowl champion Bennett brothers, Michael and Martellus–two of the greatest football players in the NFL and two of the greatest activist athletes in the world. Having these two celebrated athletes and powerful spokesmen for justice made the award ceremony deeply meaningful for all in attendance. Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett gave one of the awards in the name of his mother, Pennie Bennett, to Mahala Provost. Bennett said of this newly established award,
The Pennie Bennett Black Education Matters award is given in the name of my mother who, as an administrator and a teacher, has dedicated her life to changing the school system and her community. This award is presented to the most outstanding student changemaker for their work in the community and at school–and for believing that anything is possible and inspiring others to be different.
Provost won this award for her dedication to showing the power of STEM fields (winning seven gold medals statewide in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) and her activism for food justice with the organization FEAST, where she worked to eliminate food deserts and teaches about nutrition in communities of color.
Student award winner Precious Manning-Isabell is the president of the Black Student Union at Chief Sealth International High School and has been a leader on and off the campus. She helped to lead the Black Lives Matter At School day action at her school, as a cheerleader she refused to stand for the national anthem to raise awareness about racism and police violence, and she helped produce an award winning documentary, “Riffing on the Dream,” about race relations at her high school.
Award winner Baily Adams is the president of the Black Student Union at Garfield High School and has helped organize teach-ins, die-ins, know your rights trainings, and was leader in the Black Lives Matter At School event this year. When Donald Trump was elected president, Adams was one of the students who lead a walkout of hundreds of students out of the school, joining thousands of other students from all around the city in one of the biggest walkouts in Seattle’s history.
Jelani Howard is a member of the Garfield High School football team and helped lead the team in discussions about taking a knee during the national anthem, building on the example of Colin Kaepernick, to raise awareness around racism and police violence against people of color. The entire team agreed and their action–all season long–garnered national news headlines and inspired teams all around the city, state, and nation to follow suit.
Seeing the joy in the faces of the student activist award winners and their families that evening made me certain that pain I endured from being assaulted by the police was not in vain. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.” These students represent a new generation of young Black rebels who are expanding our understanding of the purpose education, refuse to accept a system that does respect their humanity, and are becoming truly powerful agents of change.
The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool event in Seattle yesterday was breathtaking.
Never before in the country has an entire district of educators risen up to declare that Black lives matter. It’s hard to even put into words the power of this event. It has been reported that 2,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school across the district–in fact, the number was much larger than that. That is the number of shirts that were ordered from the Social Equality Educators, however, many schools made their own shirts. Families made buttons and distributed them to schools. Some parents set up informational booths in front of their school with resources for teaching about racism. There was a joyous atmosphere around the city. Many educators around the city took the day to teach students developmentally appropriate lessons about institutional racism and hold dialogues about Black lives matter.
There is so much work left to be done to make Black Lives truly matter at school. But at the rally for Black lives at lunchtime at my high school, Garfield, something happened that let everyone know that change is already happening.
One of our teachers, Janett Du Bois, revealed to everyone in the middle of our rally that the police had murdered her son a few years ago. No one at our school knew about this. It was in that moment of seeing everyone wearing Black Lives Matter shirts that she found the strength to tell her story. Her bravery to go public with this has changed Garfield forever. I am so glad that she no longer has to suffer alone with the pain. Here is a short news story that doesn’t do her full speech justice, but will give you a glimpse: http://www.king5.com/news/local/seattle/2000-seattle-teachers-to-wear-black-lives-matter-shirts/338419052
ABC provided national news coverage of our day and the amazing evening rally: http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/seattle-teachers-bring-black-lives-matter-school-42942387
Here is a link to some of the best photos taken of the day from a Seattle Public Schools parent, photographer, and author Sharon Chang: https://sharonhchang.com/blacklivesmatteratschool/
Below are just some of the photos of schools from around Seattle who participated in #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool:
Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool: Hundreds of professors across the country support Seattle educators in their day of action
Over 200 scholars and professors nationwide sign statement in support of the Seattle teachers’ October 19,, 2016 action to make Black Students’ Lives Matter in the district. The support for making Black Lives Matter in our classrooms has been widespread, yet some around the nation have also responded with messages of hate and fear. Dr. Wayne Au, Associate Professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell and an editor for the social justice teaching publication, Rethinking Schools, put out a call to professors and scholars to publicly tell the Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle School Board that many experts in the field of education and beyond support Seattle teachers. Below is the statement and the list of 212 names and affiliations as of October 17, 2016.
We, the undersigned professors and scholars, publicly express our support for and solidarity with teachers of Seattle Public Schools and their October 19, 2016 action in recognition of making Black Student Lives Matter in our schools. We hope that these teachers are continually supported by the district, the school board, their union, and parents in their struggle for racial justice in Seattle schools.
Name & Affiliation (for informational purposes only)
- Curtis Acosta, Education for Liberation Network & University of Arizona South
- Alma Flor Ada, Ph. D., Professor Emerita, School of Education, University of San Francisco
- Annie Adamian, Assistant Professor, California State University, Chico
- Jennifer D. Adams, Associate Professor Science Ed and Earth and Environmental Sciences, CUNY
- Tara L. Affolter, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
- Jean Aguilar-Valdez, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
- Lauren Anderson, Associate Professor of Education, Connecticut College
- Subini Annamma, Assistant Professor, Special Education, University of Kansas
- Zandrea Ambrose, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
- Nancy Ares, Associate Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
- Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Teacher Educator–Montclair State University; EdD student at Rutgers Graduate School of Education
- Rick Ayers, Asst. Prof of Education, U of San Francisco.
- William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), University of Illinois Chicago
- Wayne Au, Associate Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell
- Jeff Bale, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
- Megan Bang, Associate Professor, learning Sciences and Human Development, Secondary Teacher Education
- Lesley Bartlett, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Teddi Beam-Conroy, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, University of Washington
- Lee Anne Bell, Professor Emerita, Barnard College
- John Benner PhC, University of Washington, College of Education
- Jeremy Benson, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Rhode Island College
- Dr Berta Rosa Berriz, Arts in Learning Division,Lesley University
- Dan Berger, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Margarita Bianco, associate professor, School of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado Denver
- Anne Blanchard, PhD, Senior Instructor, Western Washington University.
- Whitney G. Blankenship, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies & History, Rhode Island College.
- Aaron Bodle, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, James Madison University
- Joshua Bornstein, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Felician University.
- Samuel Brower, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston
- Anthony Brown, Associate Professor, University of Texas Austin
- Kristen Buras, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
- Dolores Calderon, Associate Professor, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington university
- Timothy G. Cashman Associate professor, social studies education, University of Texas at El Paso
- Keith C. Catone, Principal Associate, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
- Charusheela, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Minerva S. Chávez, Ph. D., Director, Single Subject Credential Program, Associate Professor, Department of Secondary Education, California State University, Fullerton
- Linda Christensen, Director Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark College.
- Christian W. Chun, Assistant Professor of Culture, Identity and Language Learning, University of Massachusetts Boston
- Carrie Cifka-Herrera Ph.D. University California Santa Cruz
- Donna-Marie Cole-Malott, PhD candidate, Pennsylvania State University
- Ross Collin, Associate Professor of English Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Rebekah Cordova, PhD, College of Education, University of Florida
- Chris Crowley, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Wayne State University
- Cindy Cruz, Associate Professor of Education, UC Santa Cruz
- Mary Jane Curry, University of Rochester
- Karam Dana, Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Chela Delgado, adjunct faculty in San Francisco State University Educational Leadership graduate program
- Robert L. Dahlgren, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, SUNY Fredonia
- Noah De Lissovoy, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin
- Betsy DeMulder, Professor, College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
- Robin DiAngelo, Adjunct Faculty, University of Washington School of Social Work.
- Maurice E. Dolberry, PhD. Lecturer, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington-Bothell
- Michael J. Dumas, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.
- Jody Early, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Washington Bothell
- Kimberly Early, adjunct faculty, Education department at Highline College & Applied Behavioral Science department at Seattle Central
- Education for Liberation
- Kathy Emery, PhD, Lecturer at San Francisco State University
- Joseph J Ferrare, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
- Michelle Fine, Professor, City University of New York Graduate Center
- Liza Finkel, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling
- Kara S. Finnigan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education Policy, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester
- Ryan Flessner, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Butler University
- Susana Flores, PhD Assistant Professor, Curriculum, Supervision and Educational Leadership at Central Washington University
- Kristen B. French, Associate Professor & Director, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, Woodring College of Education, Western Washington University
- Victoria Frye, Associate Medical Professor, City University of New York School of Medicine
- Derek R. Ford, Assistant Professor of Education Studies, DePauw University
- Jill Freidberg, part time lecturer, Media and Communication Studies, University of Washington Bothell.
- James A. Gambrell, Assistant Professor of Practice, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
- Arline García, Spanish Instructor, Highline College
- Mónica G. GarcíaAssistant Professor Secondary Education, California State University Northridge
- Brian Gibbs Assistant Professor of Education University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- David Goldstein, Senior Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell.
- Julie Gorlewski, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Alexandro Jose Gradilla, Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies, CSU Fullerton.
- Sandy Grande, Professor of Education and Director of the center for the comparative study of race and ethnicity, Connecticut College
- Allison Green, English Department, Highline College
- Kiersten Greene, Assistant Professor of Literacy Education, State University of New York at New Paltz
- Susan Gregson, Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Cincinnati
- Martha Groom, Professor, IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Rico Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
- Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Michigan State University
- Amy Hagopian at University of Washington School of Public Health.
- Jessica James Hale, Doctoral Research Fellow, Mathematics Education, Georgia State University Elizabeth Hanson, ESL Professor, Shoreline Community
- May Hara, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Framingham State University
- Nicholas Hartlep, Assistant Professor of Urban Education, Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN
- Jill Heiney-Smith, Instructor in Teacher Education, Director of Field Placements, Seattle Pacific University
- Mark Helmsing, Coordinator of Social Studies Education, University of Wyoming
- Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr., Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies & Practice, College of Education, University of Arizona.
- Erica Hernandez-Scott, Master in Teaching Faculty, Evergreen State College
- Josh Iddings, Assistant Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies, Virginia Military Institute
- Ann M. Ishimaru, Assistant Professor, University of Washington
- Dimpal Jain, Assistant Professor, California State University, Northridge
- Brian Jones, City University of New York, Graduate Center
- Denisha Jones, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, Trinity Washington University
- Beth Kalikoff, Associate Professor, Univ. of Washington Seattle
- Richard Kahn, Core Faculty in Education, Antioch University Los Angeles
- Daniel Katz, Chair, Department of Educational Studies, Seton Hall University
- Mary Klehr, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education
- Courtney Koestler, Director of the OHIO Center for Equity in Math and Science, Ohio University
- Jill Koyama, Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona
- Chris Knaus, Associate Professor, University of Washington Tacoma
- Matthew Knoester, Associate Professor, University of Evansville
- Rita Kohli, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Riverside
- Ron Krabill, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Patricia Krueger-Henney, Assistant Professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Massachusetts Boston.
- Saili Kulkarni College of Education Assistant Professor Cal State Dominguez Hills
- Scott Kurashige, Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Gloria Ladson-Billings Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education UW-Madison
- Carrie Lanza, MSW and PhD, adjunct faculty, University of Washington Bothell
- Douglas Larkin, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
- Alyson L. Lavigne, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt university
- Clifford Lee, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
- Kari Lerum, Associate Professor, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Washington
- Pauline Lipman, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago
- Katrina Liu, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, University of Nevada Las Vegas
- Lisa W. Loutzenheiser, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
- David Low, Assistant professor of literacy education, California State University Fresno
- John Lupinacci, Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching & Learning, Washington State University
- Wendy Luttrell, Professor, Urban Education & Critical Social Psychology, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
- Aurolyn Luykx, Assoc. Professor of Anthropology & Education, University of Texas at El Paso.
- Sheila Macrine, Professor, Umass Dartmouth
- Tomás Alberto Madrigal, Ph.D., Tacoma Pierce County Health Department
- Jan Maher, Senior Scholar, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of NY at Plattsburgh
- Curry Malott, Associate Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- Gerardo Mancilla, Ph.D., Director of Education Administration and Leadership, School of Education Faculty, Edgewood College
- Roxana Marachi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, San Jose State University
- Fernando Marhuenda, PhD, Professor in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Valencia, in Spain
- Tyson Marsh, Associate Professor, Seattle University
- Carlos Martínez-Cano, PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
- Edwin Mayorga, Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, Swarthmore College
- Kate McCoy, Associate Professor of Educational Foundations, SUNY New Paltz
- Cynthia McDermott.EdD., Professor and Regional Director, Antioch University Los Angeles
- Jacqueline T. McDonnough, Ph.D., Associate Professor Science Education, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Kathleen McInerney, Professor, School of Education, Saint Xavier University
- Deborah Meier, MacArthur fellow, NYU fellow
- José Alfredo Menjivar, Doctoral Student, CUNY, Graduate Center and Humanities Alliance Fellow, LaGuardia Community College
- Paul Chamness Miller, Professor of International Liberal Arts, Akita International University
- Jed Murr, Full-Time Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Bill Muth, Associate Professor, Adult Learning and Literacy, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Kate Napolitan, Teaching Associate, University of Washington Seattle
- Jason M. Naranjo Assistant Professor, Special Education University of Washington Bothell
- Pedro E. Nava, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Mills College
- Network for Public Education
- Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Tammy Oberg De La Garza, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt University
- Gilda L. Ochoa, Professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Pomona College
- Margo Okazawa-Rey Professor Emerita, San Francisco State University
- Susan Opotow, PhD Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
- Rachel Oppenheim, Director and Core Faculty, School of Education, Antioch University Seattle
- Joy Oslund, Coordinator of directed teaching, assistant professor, Madonna University, Livonia, MI
- Sandra L. Osorio, Assistant Professor, School of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University
- Callie Palmer, WSU doctoral student/adjunct faculty at Linn Benton Community College
- Django Paris, associate professor, department of teacher education, Michigan State University
- Hillary Parkhouse, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Boston College.
- Summer Pennell, Assistant Professor of English Education, Truman State University
- Patricia Perez, Professor, California State University Fullerton
- Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor. College of Ed. Michigan State University
- Bree Picower Associate Professor Montclair State University
- Farima Pour-Khorshid, Teacher Educator, University of San Francisco and PhD Candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz
- Shameka Powell, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, Department of Education, Tufts University
- Rebecca M Price, Associate Professor, UW Bothell
- Sarah A. Robert, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo (SUNY)
- Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education, Michigan State University
- Rosalie M. Romano, Associate Professor Emerita, Western Washington University
- Ricardo D. Rosa, PhD., Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies,, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
- Wayne Ross, Professor, University of British Columbia
- Dennis L. Rudnick, Associate Director of Multicultural Education and Research, IUPUI
- Lilliana Patricia Saldaña, Associate Professor, Mexican American Studies, University of Texas San Antonio
- Jen Sandler, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
- Jeff Sapp, professor of education, California State University Dominguez Hills
- Alexandra Schindel, Asst Professor, University at Buffalo
- Ann Schulte, Professor of Education, CSU Chico
- Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education, UW-Madison
- Déana Scipio, Postdoctoral fellow, ERC & Chèche Konnen Center at TERC
- Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
- Doug Selwyn, Professor of Education, State University of New York
- Julie Shayne, Senior Lecturer, University of Washington Bothell
- Sarah Shear, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, Penn State Altoona
- Mira Shimabukuro, Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell
- Janelle Silva, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Carol Simmons. Retired educator, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle University Professor, Seattle Community College, Western State University, City University Professor.
- Dana Simone, Instructor, Foundational Studies in Education, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- George Sirrakos, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
- Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita, California State University Monterey Bay
- Timothy D. Slekar, Dean, College of Education, Edgewood College, Madison, WI
- Beth Sondel, Assistant Professor, Department of Instruction and Learning, University of Pittsburgh
- Debbie Sonu, Associate Professor of Education, City University of New York
- Mariana Souto-Manning, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Teaching, Teachers College Columbia
- Jeremy Stoddard, Associate Professor, College of William & Mary
- David Stovall, Professor, University of Illinois Chicago
- Rolf Straubhaar, Assistant Research Scientist, University of Georgia.
- Katie Strom, Assistant Prof Educational Leadership, Cal State Univ East Bay
- Katy Swalwell, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Iowa State University
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor, Dept of African American Studies, Princeton University
- Monica Taylor, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
- Cathryn Teasley, Assistant Professor, University of A Coruña (Spain)
- Adai Tefera, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Clarens La Mont Terry, Associate Professor, Occidental College
- Amoshaun Toft, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Sara Tolbert, Assistant professor, College of Education, University of Arizona
- Maria Torre, the City University of New York Graduate Center
- Diane Torres-Velasquez, Associate Professor, University of New Mexico
- Victoria Trinder, Clinical Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Eve Tuck, Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies in Education, OISE, University of Toronto
- Carrie Tzou, Associate Professor, University of Washington Bothell
- Angela Valenzuela, professor of Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin
- Manka Varghese, Associate Professor, University of Washington College of Education
- Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Professor, California State University Sacramento
- Michael Vavrus, Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies (Education, Political Economy, History), The Evergreen State College
- Verónica Vélez, Assistant Professor and Director, Education and Social Justice Minor and Program, Western Washington University
- Maiyoua Vang, Associate Professor, College of Education, California State University, Sacramento
- Michael Viola, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
- Donna Vukelich Selva, Edgewood College, Madison WI
- Catherine C. Wadbrook, MA, Med, Assistant Professor, Department of English and Journalism, Austin Community College
- Mimi Wallace, Assistant Professor, Secondary Education, McNeese State University
- Camille Walsh, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington Bothell
- Lois Weiner, Professor, Director, Urban Education and Teacher Unionism Policy Project New Jersey City University
- Melissa Weiner, Associate Professor of Sociology, College of the Holy Cross
- Michael Wickert, Professor of English an Education, Southwestern College, Chula Vista, CA
- Gabe Winer, English/ESOL Department Co-chairBerkeley City College
- Min Yu, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University
- Ken Zeichner Boeing Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington Seattle
- Shelley Zion, Professor, Urban Education, Rowan University
By Chris B. Bennett
The Seattle Medium
Jesse Hagopian, a community activist and history teacher at Garfield High School, recently reached a $100,000 settlement with the City of Seattle for an incident in which he was pepper-sprayed, without provocation, by a Seattle Police officer after he gave a speech at a community rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2015.
At the time of the incident, Hagopian was on the phone with his mother– arranging plans for a ride to his two-year-old son’s birthday party — when Seattle police officer Sandra Delafuente assaulted him with pepper-spray.
“That day was deeply painful, and not only because of the burning in my ears, nostrils, and swollen eyes,” said Hagopian. “What hurt the most was the fear that I brought to my two sons who were deeply troubled watching me writhe in pain and pour milk on face to try to sooth the burning.”
The pepper-spray assault was caught on video and garnered millions of views online and was the subject of national and international news stories. As a result of the video, Hagopian was able to show that the incident was unwarranted.
“It is deeply disappointing that we are in this place again that we see how protestors and peaceful marchers are treated by the Seattle Police Department,” said Attorney James Bible, whose law firm represented Hogapin in his claim against the City. “I think the question that should be posed by many is what would happen if there, in fact, was no video in this particular case. We’d be stuck with nothing but the narrative of law enforcement and what we know now is that the narrative of the law enforcement rarely, if ever, matches the video that we’re able to capture and gather on occasion.”
Hagopian, to his credit, has turned the incident into an opportunity to support people who are making a difference in the Seattle area, as he is providing money from the settlement to support the work of groups and individuals to improve the plight of people of color.
At a press conference held Monday at the NAACP office, Hagopian announced the establishment of his Black Education Matters Scholarship for student activist. Hagopian presented three high school students – Marcelas Owens, Ifrah abshir and Ahlaam Ibraahim – with $1,000 to use in order to continue their work in the community.
Marcelas Owens has been on the recognized for her work both locally and nationally on healthcare and transgender issues.
Ahlaam Ibraahim hosts an annual Islamophobic event to educate people who may be afraid of Muslim people due to media bias. In addition, she also uses social media to address bad things that are happening in schools and has been instrumental in getting building improvements at some schools through her use of social media.
Ifrah Abshir helped lead the Transportation Justice Movement for Orca Cards in Seattle Public Schools. This started off as a quest to secure Orca Cards for Rainier Beach students that lived more than a mile from school and were getting to school late or missing school because they did not have the financial means to pay for bus transportation. The two-year battle culminated in the City of Seattle providing Orca Cards to low-income high school students in Seattle.
“I’m really excited to say that the real heroes in our community are the young people who are making big change and getting ready to make even bigger change,” said Hagopian. “We are going to turn all this pain into positive movement forward and into action.”
“Already you’ve transformed Seattle Schools,” he said of the recipients. “I can’t wait to see what you guys do moving forward.”
In addition, Hagopian also announced funding for the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation, and Families of Color Seattle – two community-based organizations that are also helping to make a difference in the community.
Africatown Center for Education and Innovation is an organization that has developed a concerted effort to change the trajectory of African American students by providing a culturally responsive learning community that fosters hope, resilience, and academic achievement.
Families of Color Seattle is a local organization that provides parenting support and cultural programming for families of color.
“It’s meant so much to me to see the work that you’ve done with families of color across Seattle to empower them and this is exactly the type of work that I want to continue to support in Seatttle,” said Hagopian about his donation to the organization.
Hagopian says that the awards are not one time gestures and that he plans to establish a fund so he can give out funds to deserving people each year.
“We’re going to put thousands of dollars into this fund, so people can get it,” he said.
As it relates to the pepper-spray incident, the outcome is bittersweet for both Hagopian and the NAACP.
“This is a victory in that it has received an outcome,” said Sheley Secrest, Vice President of the Seattle King County NAACP. “But this is a lesson that Seattle has already had the opportunity to learn. SPD should be ashamed because they know that they have a problem when it comes to policing these types of protests.”
“We’ve told them over and over again and the fact this it has cost them over $100,000 for their failure to learn from their mistakes is a lesson that as taxpayers we cannot afford,” Secrest concluded.
With the settlement the City of Seattle did not admit to any wrongdoing. The Office of Professional Accountability recommended that officer Delafuente be suspended for one-day without pay for her actions. However, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, reportedly, choose to give Delafuente an oral reprimand instead of suspending her.