Tag Archives: University of Washington

2016 Edward E. Carlson Student Leadership Award Speech

Power to the People

We are on stolen Coastal Salish tribal lands and that needs to be acknowledged prior to proceeding.

Receiving the Edward E. Carlson Student Leadership Award reveals to me more than meets the eye. It is not merely the case that I as an individual am being recognized here today. Rather, the values that I hold dear and the issues I have been working on with some of the most amazing and brilliant people are also being recognized as valid and recognition worthy. It tells me that not only students, who are also people of color or other people with marginalized identities believe it is time for the University of Washington to live up to and to honor its mission and values; it reveals that we have the broad support and backing of the community who also want to see equitable changes to the institution. This is precisely what I believe is necessary to achieve not only positive change, but beneficial change for us all.
As a historian and as a radical educator, as well as, a Black Lives Matter activist, it is my firm belief that we should not always accept the history as it is handed to us by the public or academia. First of all, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not merely some docile pacifist who touted nonviolence in the 50s and 60s. Second of all, the period between 1955 and 1975, when the United States experienced the second reconstruction is titled incorrectly as being the Civil Rights Era. Two other major and vital wings of the Black Liberation Era, Black Nationalism and Black Power, without which the beneficial gains that were made would have potentially been impossible, are nearly completely omitted. Third, and most important, the history that is normally conveyed to most Americans is that there were only two predominant leaders during this period, Malcom X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  However, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott was neither planned nor organized by King, rather Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, a teacher at Alabama State College, who was also the president of the Women’s Political Council had been working on segregation issues for two years prior to that and it was she who organized the boycott. Ela Baker, who was influential with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and also the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was responsible for helping to organize the students of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was instrumental in the Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, and the Voter Registration campaign in Selma, Alabama. And Bayard Rustin, a name almost unheard of in traditional education because he was an openly homosexual man. However, he had been working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation since the early 1940s, instructed King in 1955, that nonviolence was more than a strategy but also a way of life, and was instrumental in the strategizing and organization of nearly every major Civil Rights demonstration during that period including the March on Washington in 1963. This brief overview is not meant to invisibilize the efforts of people like Bob Moses, John Lewis, Assata Shakur, Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, Medgar Evers, Anne Moody, or the countless teachers, lawyers, sharecroppers, carpenters, and civilians who contributed and protected each other, but I simply do not have the time to convey to you the importance of their stories and contributions.

The point is that it was not merely the efforts of a very limited few, but rather, the collective efforts of people from across the spectrum who employed and deployed a multiplicity of tactics, which was required to achieve the positive and beneficial results they did. Today is no different and neither are the struggles we are having, nor the issues we are contesting. One of our very own, Emile Pitre, in 1968, had a vital role in compelling the university to increase both its students and its faculty of color. He is still here to this day encouraging and mentoring students, and seeking to improve the demographic distribution of this very campus. And yet, not two weeks ago we were compelled to stage yet another demonstration because of the lack of faculty and students of color and in particular, people of African descent, among a host of other unjust and disparaging conditions. Not least of which is this institution’s complicity in the school-to-prison pipeline, and benefitting from the prison industrial complex.

Institutional discrimination and racism are deeply entrenched within our structures and practices and will require all of us to make sacrifices as we change the system and the manner in which it functions. For some of us that will mean merely that we are to support those who actively, and who are well within their rights to challenge systems of oppression and discrimination. For others, that may mean exerting some of your influence in situations where your influence can be felt, but otherwise, under other circumstances, you may have elected to refrain from doing so. For others, like many of the people recognized today for their work in the community, Dr. Marisa Herrera the director of the James E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center, or Stephanie Gardner the director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), which assists many minoritized students to achieve success in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic disciplines otherwise known as STEM, should continue doing the work they are doing. The point is that it is going to require all or most of us to accomplish our goals and to help shape our world into one that is comfortable for us all to live with and in.

There are risks, of course there are risks. And while I live with the constant reminder that people of my complexion, with my ethnic composition have been assassinated by our own government for doing precisely what I am doing right now; none of that will stop me. I will not be intimidated into non-action. I will not be silenced. I will not submit to coercion. I will not be bought off. I will stand on the side of justice, equity, equality, and liberation with my fist held high! And I will trudge into the trenches with my sisters and brothers routing out evil and injustice whence it sprouts! I never thought an award like this would be presented to a person like me, from an institution such as the University of Washington because although the world seems to love the positive and beneficial changes that have resulted from people like myself and those I work with; it also seems to shun and disavow the very necessary actions we sometimes must take.

However, not all of us have merely social constraints to worry about as risks, some of us are subject to institutional power. This is true regardless of whether it is a university or a government that is the focus of protests of injustice. However, it is these threats that most concern me because it questions our ability to provide security for ourselves and our families, and that kind of power can be utilized to coercively silence people into abject conformity and adaptive preferences. This is why it is vital that we stand together applying our skills and positions multilaterally with a multiplicity of tactics to achieve both positive and beneficial change for all of our people.

So, I encourage, and I implore you all to not sit idly by while injustice occurs to anyone, anywhere. Because as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Receiving this award and what was required for that to come about shows me that a and reveals that a broad cross-section of people from across the spectrum want to both see and feel positive change and are making a declaration in support of the work we are doing.

Lastly, and I will leave you with this because it is what guides my actions and comes from a person I hold in the highest regard as a warrior and advocate for the cause of justice and equity; Assata Shakur:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

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Prison Divestment

A public institution that only has about 3% Black folx as undergraduate students also has investments in prisons, while the school to prison pipeline is syphoning P.O.C. and Black children into incarceration by the thousands each year. There is a major inconsistency here. The University of Washington claims to have a Racial and Equity Initiative and, to be open and accessible to everyone and yet it is profiting and benefitting from the same system that permitted and promoted the executions of:

#MichaelBrown #TrevonMartin #EricGarner #RekiaBoyd #FreddyGrey #SandraBland #CheTaylor #JohnTWilliams #EmmittTill #MalcomX #MLK #FredHampton

What they tell us is that they do not know if it is financially responsible for them to divest from prisons and what we are telling them is that financial responsibility does not matter in this case; social responsibility does.

Stand with us! SIGN THIS PETITION! Get involved. Do something. And don’t just let the world and I justice continue unchecked either because you think you cannot make a difference or because you do not think it concerns you. It does concern you and you can make a diffetence. You are a fully rational human being with the agency to help shape the world around you.

I am counting on you. We all are.

#PrisonDivestment

#BlackLivesMatter

Petition:

https://www.change.org/p/university-of-washington-divest-uw-s-endowment-from-prisons-and-reinvest-in-survivors-of-incarceration?recruiter=52405116&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_facebook_responsive&utm_term=mob-xs-share_petition-custom_msg&fb_ref=Default

Song About the Prison Industrial Complex (History

A Prisoner on the Streets of America

I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.

I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.

I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.

Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.

Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.

If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.

While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.

I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.

During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.

In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).

Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.

At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.

In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.

During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.

The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.

My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.

The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC).  I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC.  But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.

Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation.  With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.

Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.

I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.

Speech Delivered to Governor Jay Inslee November 16, 2015

Speech to Governor Inslee Nov. 16, 2015

Before beginning I must first acknowledge that we are on stolen Duwamish and Salish land.

 

Second, I would thank you for making the time to visit us at the University of Washington Governor Inslee.  There are myriad pressing issues you could have selected to devote your time to, but you have chosen to invest your time with us and your concern and interest has not gone unnoticed.  Thank you.

 

Today I am going to speak on issues of equity and how they pertain to the qualities and characteristics of the kind of Board of Regents members we desire here at the University of Washington and why.  Equity is not blind it is very intentional and it differs drastically from equality. Equality as I have come to understand it is like placing everyone from different socio-economic, racial, gender, and citizenship status backgrounds on the same starting line. On the one hand this would seem just and fair because of the concept of equality, but what it lacks is an understanding of preexisting conditions for some that translate into unfair advantages for others. Many of the non-white students here at UW are also first generation college students, which may mean that our families do not possess as much disposable income to assist us in times of need, or that when it comes to academic concerns or administrative issues they are unable or incapable of helping us. Gender is a fluid and evolving concept of identity, but one thing that is certain is that when a student does not fit into a particular definition of gender they face discrimination and marginalization. And citizenship status can often pose an almost insurmountable barrier to affording tuition or other helpful resources, regardless of the reasons a particular individual’s status is in question. These preexisting conditions and many others can make admittance into and successful completion of university programs difficult, if not, nearly impossible for many. Merely placing everyone on the same starting line is simply not enough. On the other hand, equity seeks not to establish a similar starting point rather it seeks to garner similar outcomes regardless of preexisting conditions.

 

Last week students from universities across the country staged demonstrations in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri who were protesting racial injustices and unfair responses from their administration. The demographics of University of Missouri are not unlike University of Washington, which is also a predominantly white institution; black students make up roughly eight percent and three percent of the undergraduate populations respectively. Earlier this year the students of the University of Washington staged what has been reported as the largest demonstration on campus since the 1960s when we declared a State of Emergency because of the racial and class disparities on campus, and walked out on February 25, 2015. During that demonstration we were subjected to racial epithets and as a result of further reprisals intent to silence our people through violence, which went unpunished, we determined it was necessary to challenge the unjust system of impunity with further demonstrations, much the same as the students at the University of Missouri.

 

These demonstrations are part of a much larger national struggle challenging the racial and class inequities and injustices within institutions such as law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, and education that reemerged onto the agenda of the general public with the Black Lives Matter movement. Police brutality and murder by police officers are major problems because they equate to state sanctioned violence against the people, which is extremely problematic because this violence is perpetuated in the name of and purported to be for the benefit of society. We are members of this society and this treatment is disreputable, and repugnant, humiliating and dehumanizing. Moreover, police brutality, which is nothing new to poor and minority communities is but one of the many factors that constitute the negative preexisting conditions that layer and stack upon each other to consolidate into a system of oppression and inequity.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is also a major factor contributing to the racial, class, and ethnic disparities that confront many of our communities. People of color and those with mental disabilities are three times more likely to be disciplined while at school. From the ninth grade onward, one suspension or expulsion makes a student over fifty percent more likely to wind up in juvenile detention. Once in juvenile detention they become seventy-five percent more likely to end up in the adult penitentiary system and, once in that system they are more than eighty-five percent likely to return. Many people equate these statistics to inherently ‘bad’ youth, but Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, reveals that there is just as much if not more crime committed by white people. And one of our very own professors at the University of Washington, Katherine Beckett, the author of Making Crime Pay, has shown racial profiling is real and a serious problem even here in Seattle. So, it is not the case that students and people of color are ‘bad,’ but it is the case that we are being punished at disparaging and unfair rates.

 

The prison industrial complex is an institution grounded and founded upon extracting profit from slave labor. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which supposedly outlawed slavery made one exception in the case of a person being convicted of committing a “crime.” That short clause provided justification for the creation, expansion, and explosion of the prison labor system. It began with convict leasing to plantations and mines that used to be worked by slaves, and now the prison industrial complex produces products that range from military equipment, to furniture, to home appliances and Correctional Industries’ website looks like any other online shopping website where people can purchase products. More troubling is the relative monopoly that Correctional Industries is granted by Washington State Law. RCW 39.26.251 states that all state agencies which include both universities and colleges must purchase the products made by Class II type prison labor. What this all equates to is an inequitable system of oppression entrenched in our largest and most prestigious institutions, which forms many of the preexisting conditions that stack and layer upon one another to create an inequitable system.

 

I was the president of my high school and the treasurer of North Seattle College and I used to be a business owner and helped the Department of Planning and Development of the City of Seattle revise it Job Order Contracting, so I am very familiar with bureaucratic governmental organizations. I was also part of the Divest UW coalition who for three years negotiated with and challenged the Board of Regents until we won a divestment from coal fire power earlier this year. I was also part of the team that helped draft and pass the City of Seattle City Council Resolution 31614: “Zero Use of Detention for Youth” in Seattle on September 21, 2015. What has been a consistent pattern is the nearly ubiquitous feeling that we as people are not being heard by the representatives that are supposed to be working on our behalf. Our UW President, Ana Mari Cauce, has done a lot to shift that phenomenon and also to address the racial and equity issues at the university, but we must do more. Although, I do not agree with all of the capitalistic and profit driven motives of the institution, I do understand that the university is operating within a capitalist system. Nonetheless, I and the many people I represent find it deplorable to be dehumanized and objectified, being reduced to dollar signs. When a human being is “thingified,” as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, it dissolves one’s perception of their moral culpability to that individual and that is problematic. We need some Board of Regents members who are not the heads of major corporations, who are leaders in marginalized communities and can represent our concerns. We need Board of Regents members who have a firm understanding of how interlocking and intersecting forms of systemic and structural oppression function to foster inequitable conditions for many people. So that when we bring our grievances we feel heard, are heard, and our concerns are responded to appropriately and in a timely manner. And most importantly, we demand that we are respected as Human Beings.

To Stand in the Shadows and Follow in the Footsteps of the Greats

Since, I was first introduced to the concept of making a pilgrimage to the South following in the footsteps of the Freedom Riders and Voting Registration activists, I have been incredibly excited to go to the very places where our liberties and freedoms were fought for and won.  I fully understand that racial and political climate is not the same today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, but to feel the same weather, to walk some of the same streets, to see some of the same buildings and landscapes will help to make the stories more tangible to me. I have also just received notification that voting for all equally is still being challenged in Alabama: According to “Raw Story,” in the counties where 75% or greater of the registered voters are non-white citizens they will stop issuing driver’s licenses. This is a problem because photo identification is required to vote in Alabama and this will potentially bar people in those counties from voting. So, although the situation is different there are also more than remnants of the Civil Rights Era for us to learn from and participate.

Without question, the component of this adventure that I am most apprehensive about is all the cushy, emotional, touchy, feely stuff that has become such a norm at all of our meetings; and we are going to be on a bus together for over a week where I am sure this will be an expectation. I do believe that these types of experiences have their place, but because I have been so active in fighting an unjust system and in reactive modes of operation wherein I have had to silence or hide my emotions, this is somewhat difficult for me. On the one hand, it often feels like a waste of time to me, especially, since there are battles that I believe need to be fought. For example, while we will be on this pilgrimage the budget hearings for the City of Seattle will be going on and will be determining how much money is allocated for alternatives to incarcerating youth; a struggle that we have been waging for quite some time. Or in other cases, such as, people dying from police brutality, when responses to the unprovoked and unjust violence are necessary.

In my brain and the way that I have been thinking for so long, getting mushy and emotional has not been a high priority. However, I have also been coming to realize the importance of building community and that requires a deeper and more personal characteristic to our and my relationships. This is something that I have been watching emerge in the pilgrimage group. So, although, it is uncomfortable, I am beginning to see that it has advantages and is something that I have needed for much longer than I would care to admit. That however, does not change the fact that the emotional stuff on the bus is what I am least looking forward to during our pilgrimage.

I have never been to the South and as a result, I have never had an opportunity to experience being immersed in the Southern culture I have heard so much about. I mostly hear negative opinions about the South, but here and there brilliance has shined through the reports I have received. I am hoping that our short time will broaden my perspective about a people and a place I have never experienced firsthand. I do so loath forming opinions about subjects based on other people’s perspectives; it feels too much like rumors too me to fully trust.

With a host of friends, I will have the opportunity to meet some of the people who fought and won some of the rights we have today, and that many take for granted. I will get to listen to their stories firsthand, be able to feel their emotions, see their expressions, and share new and old experiences with people that I look up to and will stand with if the opportunity ever arises. We will be exploring the South for a little more than a week, getting a crash course in challenging the government and culture, seemingly against all odds. The harsh reality is that many were lost during the struggle and so that will be part of the learning as well, as some of those horrible stories are relived. But, we cannot forget the stories and the lives of those who gave so much to ensure a brighter future. All of this will inform and shape how I make decisions in the future and I am going down there with space prepared in both my mind and heart, so that I can carry as much back with me as is humanly possible.

Today we are confronted with a form of segregation and apartheid that is similar, but at the same time vastly different from Jim Crow because in the mid-20th century, the segregation was up-front and in people’s faces, but today it is behind fences and cement walls. The language that is used to justify the system of oppression has also evolved, but the feelings that gird them have remained somewhat consistent, however hidden them may seem to be. Challenging the system and the ideologies also seems to have changed because as the people have learned from the Civil Rights Era, so has the government and the people in power who wish for the system to remain the way it is; who protect the status quo. Our identities are much easier to track down and our relations much easier to flesh out today than in the 1960s because of the advent of social media so, it is not as easy to remain off the radar of programs or organizations like the COINTELPRO or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), respectively. However, the risks do not seem very much different than what the people we are going to meet were faced with, namely, restrictions on their life, liberty, and quality of life. I am hoping to learn how they managed to keep up their strength and dedication in light of the omnipresent, impending doom that always loomed right around the corner. I would love to learn just how they were able to motivate people and how they were able to overcome the petty difference that arose between the people. I especially want to learn how they addressed the class issues both within and without the Black communities they engaged with and how they were able to reconcile those differences.

To accomplish learning these things it will require that I neither, climb into my social shell, nor that I cling to it, but instead that I set it aside and expose myself to the uncomfortable emotional and intellectual experiences on the bus and at our stops along the way. Otherwise, I will not be able to engage in the conversations where such questions may be asked and lessons learned.  It is a small price to invest to gain access to a wellspring of knowledge and wisdom. Who knows, I may even make a few life-long friends along the way and stretch my conception of community all the way to Alabama after this trip.

Report Back From Kingian Nonviolence Training in Rochester New York: School 17

When Jonathan “GLOBE” Lewis invited Cynthia Wanjiku and I to join him in Rochester, New York for a Kingian Nonviolence training of the administration, teachers, and students of school “17,” I was both skeptical and nervous because I have never conducted a training like this before. I questioned what it is that I have to offer given that I had not completed the training myself nor had I read all the material. However, as I completed the readings I began to see why Globe selected me; it was because I am an activist and I also practice many of the principles that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed, and I also share many of his thoughts—though less developed. I was full of fear about how helpful I could be to the students, but I was also excited to work with a group of youth who were interested in solving the problems they were confronting in their schools and lives.

On July 6, 2015 Globe, Cynthia and I began the workshop with 14 other participants at 9 am in the morning and began with introductions. The young people in the room did not reveal their full personalities until we had established relationships with them. They were very cautious when it came to participation, especially when it involved speaking in front of the group, which included their teachers and principal. It seems, and this is only conjecture at this point, that they were dealing with some previous traumas associated with their identities and feeling empowered to shape the directions and outcomes of their own lives. Ironic, but not surprisingly, in the beginning of the first day the teachers answered for the students, even when the questions were directed at the students themselves.  Since we were attempting to engage with the students, get to know them, and to identify how they felt and thought about the situation and conditions at their school, this was particularly problematic. It seemed as though the teachers who were present did not trust that the students were capable of answering the questions we posed or at least not to their satisfaction. Regardless of what the reason for this behavior was, it nonetheless, silenced the students and invisibilized their experiences.  Violence does not have to be physical; it may also be psychological, emotional or intellectual. Being silenced or invisibilized can be interpreted as violence when considered through this lens and it is my opinion that the dynamics of this relationship was part of the harm leading to problems in the school’s environment.

None of what I have stated is intended to suggest that the teachers were not well intentioned. Quite to the contrary, throughout the course of the two days that we spent with the faculty and administration of School 17, it became readily apparent that they had devoted their entire lives to ensuring the success of their students. In fact, that is precisely why the teachers devoted themselves to participate in the two-day training. Most of the teachers expected to learn how to create a safe learning space for the students by participating in the training, and one of everyone’s core values was to have a safe community. The first major shock to the teachers and the administrators was that they shared many values with their students; students they thought they knew. This did not stop them from speaking for the students, or from occupying much more space than any student, but it did begin to bridge the chasm that had separated the two parties. I think the values exercise we introduced was the first major step the teachers and students took to healing their relationships and working toward reconciling the grievances they had toward each other.

Globe made it clear that the similarities in values between parties and individuals who knew each other or not prior to the training and across the world, all tend to share a few of the same basic values; the most common being honesty.  What this did was shatter the isolated and individualistic perspective that both the students and the teachers shared, both among themselves and among communities far and wide. The power in this recognition is the realization that began to settle in that they were not in a relation with some distant other, but rather, with people just like them; furthermore that they were and are on the same side. Immediate to the group at hand, the students and teachers began to wrestle with the realization that they were and are on the same side and share common objectives. This was the next step in the reconciliation process and the healing of their relationships.

In the space of an hour I witnessed two groups of people who entered the room as opponents in creating a safer learning environment begin to join forces. I have never witnessed such a transformation in people; it was inspiring. I also saw the power of shared values and ideals. We humans love to categorize and compartmentalize everything because we have an intrinsic desire for order, but we so often prejudge wrongly, and fail to dig deep enough beneath the surface of a person to discover how much we have in common. Young people are too often disregarded as if they do not have the sense necessary to form complete and complex thoughts and analyses, as too immature to care about sophisticated issues, and as not being intelligent enough to be worth an adult’s time to form a deep and meaningful relationship with. It was a true pleasure to watch this pattern come to an end before our eyes as the teachers and administrators truly began to see the similarities they shared with their students.

The student-teacher relationship is of course not the reason that our crew was invited to Rochester, but rather, the inner-school violence that has been pervasive, and while we did address some of those concerns through the training, much of our attention was focused on healing the relationships between teachers and students. The reason for this focus on relationships pertains directly to the method by which the problems will be solved; primarily through the collective and inclusive actions of both teachers and students. The two groups will have to work together, top-down and bottom-up, if they intend to heal the culture at their school.  It is beyond question that adults have had vastly more life-experiences than adolescents have had, but that in itself does not discredit the very real experiences that the youth have had. Nor does it diminish the very real opinions and feelings that the youth have about the experiences they have had. However, it also does not mean that the youth do not have anything to learn from their teachers. I think Globe put it best, “We are all human beings. No one is better or more important than any other human being.” So, in terms of working together to solve the issues with violence that School 17 is having, the two groups have to be able to respect and value the opinions and feelings of each other to come to satisfying conclusions and plans of action that will be acceptable and beneficial to all.  This is why much of our training focused on the healing of relationships between the students and teachers who were present.

Through conducting the nonviolence training an implicit agreement formed that became explicit by the end of the second day that it was this particular group of teachers and students who would be leading School 17 into a nonviolent future. This however, was not so apparent when we began the training on Tuesday morning. As a matter of fact, even though they all provided the expectation of achieving a safer learning environment for the students and teachers, most of the participants looked and emanated the feeling as though none of them really wanted to be there. I think this may have stemmed from a mild skepticism that this training would actually prove to be helpful to them. Many of the teachers have been teachers for years and have attempted countless methods to earn the respect and trust of students to minor avail. Given that, it may have seemed like another ditch effort, like it was just one more plan that was destined to fail. For instance, one of the teachers had resorted to bribing his students with chocolate to get them to conform to school standards and to garner information about violent incidents that had occurred. This threw up all kinds of red flags when he mentioned it, but none of us were really quite sure what was wrong with it at the time. It seems problematic and like a failure in the teacher-student relationship that has not developed, wherein respect is earned by the teacher. It also seems that it was sending the wrong message to the students about how to solve problems. Notwithstanding those concerns, the point is that many methods had been attempted to solve the problems to no sufficient conclusions and I think they were skeptical about the training because of it. At the same time however, they were all desperate enough to show up and invest their time. So, it was really encouraging to watch as their eyes began to light up at the potential of what Kingian Nonviolence could do for their school community. One teacher who was about to retire revised his decision and declared that he would remain with the school for another five years to see the program through. That decision was made at the end of the training though.

When we walked into the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence on Tuesday morning the teachers were having a tense discussion among themselves about what names to write on their name tags. There was a separation between teachers and students that the teachers wanted to maintain and it seemed that the threshold of their relationship was maintained by the distance the use of their last names created; as if being referred to by their first names by the students would have somehow undermined their authority. One teacher even asked Globe what names they should write on their tags, to which Globe remarked, “Whatever name you are most comfortable with,” and the teachers all selected their surnames. Thus maintaining the hierarchical structure and holding the students at a distance and valued as less important. It was a strange dynamic to watch unfold and the first sign that there was conflict in the student-teacher relationships. It seemed that the teachers, although, proclaiming that they wanted to know the students better, did not want the students to know them much deeper than that they were their teachers.

Fortunately, the second exercise was designed specifically for people to get to know one another on a much deeper level than simply their names. There were five questions that each participant had to answer about themselves: name, family, favorite childhood game, dream vacation, and expectations for the nonviolent training. Then, each participant was asked to report the answers of their partner while the audience was to maintain eye-contact with the person not speaking. The entire group was able to get to know more about the other people in the room than they knew walking in. It also bridged some of the chasm the teachers wanted to remain in order to distance themselves from their students. This was the third major step towards reconciling their relationships that occurred during the training.

Looking back on my own experience growing up and going through school, I do not remember knowing anything personal about my teachers and I also remember never forming any deep relationships with any of them either. And as I consider that now I wonder if that is part of the reason that school never meant very much to me. I am now a student at the University of Washington and again I am confronted with another alienating environment wherein it is very difficult to form relationships with my professors and I am reminded of my experience at North Seattle Community College and I feel a dramatic difference in how welcome and empowered I felt there. There is definitely something important to forming and maintaining deep and personal relationships with those who are charged with instilling in us principles, morality and intellect. If it is important to me as an adult to feel valued by my professors, then I know it is important to teenagers to feel valued and important to their teachers, especially given that they are in their formative years constantly questioning who they are and where they fit in this world of ours.

The first day ended on a tense note because everyone knew that we were only going to be there to conduct the training for two days and it did not seem like we had gained much ground. Cynthia, Globe and I discussed how the second day of training should proceed that first night. Globe was put into the position of revising the training because not only did the students not want to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, but neither did the teachers and principle. It was troubling to hear an entire room of people who claimed to be interested in finding a more equitable and just means of organizing their school not desire to learn from one of the great reconcilers, but we made do with what we had to work with. We agreed that it would be best to focus the second day of training on helping the group to form their own plan of action based on the principles of nonviolence presented to us by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So, the first thing we did on the second day was introduce the group to the principles of nonviolence, and then we set them to work on devising and working through problems together.

We observed a dramatic contrast on the second day that none of us expected, the teachers began to respect the students’ opinions. I am sure this had at least in part something to with the space that Globe made for the students to express themselves because the teachers were made to listen and through this discovered that the students had some phenomenal ideas. When the teachers began to observe that the ideas their students were generating about how to solve the problems School 17 was having were better and more engaging than their own, they began to listen more intently and to occupy less space in the conversations. In the span of two days the group transitioned from not believing they had anything in common, to seeing that they shared the same set of core values, to listening to the youth, and eventually to teaming up with the youth and even following their lead on some particular things.

The harm that Globe, Cynthia and I were asked to come in and provide training for was the violence in School 17 and what the training actually focused on was the violence implicit in the teacher-student relationships. It is my belief that it will not be possible to solve the problems of violence in the school without solving the problems of violence in their relationships. In the scope of two days, much reconciliation had been accomplished between two groups who thought they were in competition with one another, but discovered that they both had and have the same goals and, are now working together. This of course is just the beginning of a long process of healing and when the classes begin in Autumn and the pressure is on to maintain order within the school setting, the situation may yet again devolve into a separation of the student and teachers. I am nonetheless hopeful because the students led the way to forming a top-down, bottom-up committee composed of both teacher and students that will continue the lines of dialogue between both parties. It is my belief that the most fundamental factor and component of any healthy relationship is communication and as long as communication is functioning then healing may continue to prosper. The conflict resolution inherent in Kingian Nonviolence is paramount to healing those relationships and all the students and teachers who have formed this core group that are intent on leading School 17 into a nonviolent way of life and community have also decided to carry forward the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into the school to the rest of the students, teachers, janitors, custodians, councilors and members of their community.

Healing tends not to occur overnight, but sometimes there are leaps and I believe that is what we were witness to in Rochester, New York earlier this July. I recognize and want to stress that this is but a beginning and that there is a long road ahead of them to completely healing their relationships. I am however very encouraged to know that there is still hope for our sisters and brothers and to know that we are not alone in the struggle for peaceful and satisfying resolutions of our differences. Lastly, it is encouraging to know that as difficult as it is to set aside our differences and our preconceived notions, that it is nonetheless possible to do so when we are motivated to work toward a brighter and more just future for us all.

Vigil for the Students Murdered in Kenya

The speakers in this video provide a much more complete description of the atrocity that occurred so, I will not attempt it. Save to note that 147 innocent students were murdered because of their religion and ethnicity. At the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington of the United States we have students from all over the world on our campus, many of who are from Kenya or nearby.

Being so far away and not able to contribute physically to condoling the families and friends impacted by this tragedy, and also feeling the need to mourn together the loss of so many, our students and community members hosted a vigil on Thursday April 9, 2015 in Red Square.

It is my sincere hope, that you both watch and listen to what is shared in this video, letting the truth and the reality sink in because we as a people who share this world must find a way to overcome our differences and, to live together with both tolerance and love.

“The World We Want” by Sarra Tekola & Renaissance (((Music Video)))

And this is the video that we put together. Initially, it began as a project for a competition at the University of Washington, and although, it will still be submitted, as we began constructing the project we realized the potential for helping to make a real difference. We are both seniors at the UW, both musically inclined, both activists with a heart fro justice and a sustainable planet. Everything just fit together. I am also a photographer, videographer, producer, studio technician, poet, spoken word artist, and so much more. So, in the short time period we had to get this accomplished, I threw everything I had into this with Sarra, including the kitchen sink. It was simultaneously, both the hardest and most rewarding project that I have ever been part of.

Climate Change is all the more pressing at this particular junction in time, in Seattle specifically because Shell Oil is planning to bring a seafaring oil rig through Seattle’s harbor, which will serve as a lay-station as it forges its way to the arctic to drill for oil. If this occurs, then the dreaded two degrees of change the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 360, Rising Tide, and a host of others have been warning about will be crossed. This will doom the planet to catastrophic failure. Hence, the “Draw The Line” logo. We are standing up and yelling NO!!!

We hope that this song and video will cause you to consider what is happening and to foster some creativity on your part to learn more if you are not already hip to the situation.

Peace & Love

~Renaissance

Further Readings:

We Have A World to Win written by Jess Spear

Rude Awakening written by Renaissance

The Capitalist Dilemma written by Renaissance

State of Emergency 02/25/2015 University of Washington

On February 25, 2015 the students at all three campuses of the University of Washington (Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma) declared a State of Emergency because of the ethnic and cultural disparities within the institution. Hundreds of students gathered after walking out of their classes and submitted demands to the administrations of the University. In addition, to the mere volume of students submitting these lists of demands, there was also national media coverage of the demonstration, and the social media sites went haywire with commotion both positive and negative. Three important things to take note of; (1) it cannot be argued that the students do not have broad support, both among the cohort of students, and among the administration, faculty and staff; (2) there can be no question about what it is the students want because our demands were listed in written form and submitted, as well as being posted on line; and (3) it would be foolish and an awful public stain for the University of Washington not to address these demands and to publicly acknowledge that it has, given the attention it has all ready received.

Out of 29,468 students at the University of Washington in 2014 there were 11,947 students of color, and only 1, 026 Black students. That means the Black students at a state institution only composed 3.4% of the population. At the same time, there were 4,115 faculty members, but only 70 were Black, which is 1.7%. KIRO 7 Eyewitness News, bless their hearts (not really), attempted to demean and discredit the concerns of the students and the demands that we were making by showing to the public that last year the University of Washington admitted 216 African American students, up from the previous year’s 181 African American students enrolled for Autumn quarter. Their attempt to demean our concerns only exposes the problem, on a campus of nearly 30,000 the UW admitted only 216 African American students! However, the tone in which KIRO 7 used when reporting these facts implied to the public that they did ‘not believe’ the students should be upset about these data points and statistics. Excuse me if I don’t start licking your boots and shining your shoes like a good house Negro, remaining silent, praising the fact that the knife has been pulled half out the back of our people. The fact remains that I-200 and the repealing of Affirmative Action has caused a harm to our entire community, not just the Black community.
It is troubling at best, and damaging and disparaging at worst that people who after harboring generations of hatred and oppressive sentiment against people because of the color of their skin or cultural backgrounds, all the while institutions and the principles that ground them were being developed and indoctrinated, believe that the hatred and oppression has disappeared from these institutions In the few short years since the Civil Rights Era and the Post-Colonial Movement.

#BlackLivesMatterUW Undergraduate Demands

I-200 became part of Title 49 RCW Labor Regulations, and in particular, RCW 49.60.400 wherein in states; “(1) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” If this were a statute that the state and it’s institutions were really beholden to, then we would not be witnessing the discriminatory and preferential treatment of People of Color being funneled through the public school systems into prisons via The School-to-Prison Pipeline. Minority students are approximately 75% more likely to be suspended or expelled from school, for the same offenses that White students are not suspended or expelled for. Of that population whom is sent from school, they are also approximately 75% more likely to wind up in the Juvenile detention centers, and 85-95% more likely to wind up in the adult penitentiary system, and thus reduced to slaves. Furthermore, the State of Washington has the forth largest prison factor system in the United States run by Correctional Industries (C.I.), and all state agencies are required by law to purchase goods (particularly furniture) from prison labor. This reveals a critical economic interest and motivation to warehouse people in prisons for insanely cheap or free labor, and historically the people in this county that this status has been relegated to are Black people. In addition to this, the Supreme Court in, McKlesky v. Kemp 1986, ruled that it was Constitutional for law enforcement and prosecutors to practice discriminatory discretion in the investigation, apprehension, conviction and and sentencing of people. And lastly, in the R.C.W. 49.60.400, subsection (4) (b), it states that the non-discriminatory and non-preferential treatment specified in subsection (1) does not apply to law enforcement. Thus, pulling all of these components together, with both the historical and recent experiences of such things as Stop and Frisk, which we know specifically targets minority communities, reveals that I-200 only applies to anything that would be to our benefit and that it’s true purpose is to not make things equal, but rather to prevent us from escaping the New Jim Crow, the contemporary slave trade.

These are the conditions that initially led Outside Agitators 206 (OA206) to declare a State of Emergency at the University of in collaboration with many of the students and organizations on the campuses. From there, this became the people’s movement, OA206 set the stage and swept the path clear for the people to represent ourselves; much like Frederick Douglass advocated oppressed people do. The students ourselves compiled our lists of demands and we submitted them to our respective administrations together, standing in unity. In classic fashion, the Seattle Police Department showed up in riot gear, as they do to every thing when the hash-tag #BlackLivesMatter emerges in an assertion of values and rights. It must be noted at this point, that many of the administrators had the student’s’ backs and interests in mind. The administration told the police that they were to stay away from the student’s and to allow us to exercise our 1st Amendment Rights, and that is precisely what they did. Now, it could be asserted that this was a move to avoid a scandal, and I am sure that played into it, but I am hopeful that many of our faculty and administration are as interested in having more diversity and equity on campus, as we are. A public display of support came from UW Seattle’s Interim President, Ana Mari Cauce on a FaceBook post “Was able to join students briefly at #BlackLivesMatter# rally. Very proud of the way they are shining a light on the continuing inequities and discrimination that remain. We need to work together to make the world a better place for ALL of us!” This gives me hope. The people who we look to for support are coming out and are using their privileged positions to help those without those privileges to gain fair and equitable treatment. It gives me hope that we can make a difference. It gives me hope that what we are doing is reaching people and activating them.

At the end of our March and submissions of demands at the rally and speak out in front of Gerberding Hall where the President’s office is located in Red Square, a young man proclaimed as he grabbed the megaphone that he had “been awoken” by the days events. This is something that happened over and over again with countless people. He didn’t know quite what he wanted to say or how to say it, and he was trembling in front of the massive crowd, but he just knew he could no longer remain silent. I also heard it said that many people did not know there were as many Black students on campus as were in the march. At one point, while leading the chants, I glanced over the heads behind me and could not see the end of the procession, all screaming “Repeal I-200, Pull our kids out the jails, give them educations, See how this nation sails!” This could be heard echoing off the buildings and reverberating through classrooms and many who had not initially walked out, did so because they were compelled to be part of a historic moment. There is something liberating about doing what is right. There is something liberating about knowing you are not alone. This is true regardless of whether you are a student, a faculty member, a staff member, or an administrator. We are all members of an institution where we are outnumbered and it is sometimes difficult to stand alone, to speak up, to stand in opposition of what we clearly and blatantly know to be wrong; if it is not downright impossible. However, part of the beauty of yesterday was both the revelation and display that we are not alone and that the few brave souls that had the courage to initiate the stand, no longer have to go at it alone.

Mara an Outside Agitator said something very important, “Your degrees will not set you free” at the last rally of the march. This was shocking to many in the crowd because we have been indoctrinated to believe that earning a degree is the end game, as if we have finally arrived at our destination. However, as can be evinced by the faculty and administrators who have had their hands tied working in an institution that (dis)functions on discriminatory practices, that is not the way it is. She continues, “It is good that you are protesting here on campus, but we will not find liberation until you go to the places and work with the people who are most marginalized,” arguing that the privilege we gain by earning these degrees places upon us a responsibility to use that privilege to make sure that others whom are less privileged are not marginalized. Then she drops the C-word, CAPITALISM, which is at the heart of this struggle and marginalization, and the reason there are such disparaging statistics at the University of Washington, the reason why there is a School-to- Prison Pipeline, and why People of Color are relegated to being slaves of the system. We cannot have CAPITALISM without racism and for just so long as we remain within the system, we are complicit in the oppression that is happening to our people. The people, the students were shocked and awed because they thought we were there to challenge the system. Well, Mara hit the nail on the head, we are that system and that means we have to challenge ourselves as well as our institutions.

In closing this short thought about yesterday and why I believe it was important, I just want to acknowledge all the beautiful and amazing people that came together to make yesterday happen and our objectives to be executed well. I will not name them all, but will give a special shout out to Nikkita and Sarra specifically for standing shoulder to shoulder with me out front. Outside Agitators 206 for initiating this demonstration, bringing us all together, and making sure that we could and did stand up for ourselves. The Black Student Union and African Student Association for all their hard work and help in spreading the word, for keeping us together on campus and for holding down space. And all the countless people who both organized and participated in the submission of our. This is The Peoples’ movement and these The Peoples’ demands; and none of this would have been possible if we did not all come together to make this happen.

Now that the demands have been submitted, we have to ensure that our demands are met. So, watch the feeds because our next steps will be posted soon and you will all be called upon to do what you can to guarantee that equity fills the University of Washington and floods into the rest of Seattle

Rape Culture at the University of Washington

We have been addressing the discriminatory institutional practices of the University Of Washington, but we also have to address the culture. In particular what I am concerned about is the “Rape Culture” that I have been hearing about.

(1) Yesterday, from some very credible sources I discovered that the UW Medical facility (world renowned) does not have what my sources called Rape Kits that will help women that have been raped. The story that was shared with me is that a woman was raped somewhere in the University district and she went to the medical center to receive medical care and they told her that they did not have what she needed to receive assistance and they advised her to catch the bus and to head to Harborview.

First of all, it is hard enough for a woman to admit that something as atrocious as rape has occurred to her, but then to also turn her away at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Northwest is a problem that needs to be remedied; immediately!

(2) I sit in many circles on the UW campus and every week I hear about how the people in or are associated with the fraternities at the University of Washington Seattle campus are giving them drugs to make raping them easier. However, you do not just have to trust the accounts that I have heard from trusted sources (though you should) I also have supporting evidence:

http://dailyuw.com/archive/2015/01/16/news/attempted-rape-following-fraternity-party#.VPCxfvnF-So

http://dailyuw.com/archive/2015/02/23/news/sexual-harassment-awareness-rise-uw#.VPCze_nF-So

The problem with the second report is that they are calling the drugging of women and the attempted rape of several women #SexualHarassment, that is an assault and battery with the intent to cause serious damage that will potentially be internalized for a life-time! Sexual Harassment is cat-calling, is whistling at women as they pass through the campus, it has nothing to do with the intent to commit rape. And what the university is proposing be done is to increase the awareness of sexual harassment…

No! These people need to be charged with attempted rape! These people need to be expelled from our school and their Fraternity needs to be shut down! For so long as the University of Washington does not sanction and pursue prosecution of the individuals responsible for this type of behavior, for just that long does our university condone and sanction this behavior, and is complicit in the misogynistic ideologies that permit rape and in the rape culture on campus.

Now is the time to act and get these people who are harming women off our campus!

Now is the time to make sure that the resources are available for those who are sexually assaulted on or near our campus!

Now is the time to make the University of Washington safe for all of our people!

#UniversityOfWashington #UW #Seattle