We The Youth: Pierce County Students Talk Race Equity and Gun Violence
While Seeds of Peace has been convening students for years, this town hall held a certain promise: that their voices would be heard by local adults who have the power to help them make tangible change.
Pierce County youth gathered earlier this month to talk about safety and race equity atALMA Tacoma for a “We The Youth” town hall organized by Project Teens Across Tacoma (Project TAT). Project TAT is part of a Pierce County youth leadership program called Seeds of Peace which holds spaces for youth to speak on relevant issues, and supports and connects young people across Tacoma. Youth ranging from incoming high school freshmen to returning college students held powerful discussions around gun violence and equitable access to education and wrote letters to future generations of students.
“I feel like we’ve kind of been excluded and we haven’t had the chance to speak on issues around gun violence and racial equity in our schools. I’m really glad we were able to come here today and speak on issues that impact us,” said Heaven Galvan, a Seeds of Peace youth leader who graduated from SAMI this year.
Using discussion prompts around racial equity and gun violence, youth talked about their schooling and where they believe changes need to be made.
Cultural Relevance and Racial Equity
One point of agreement among the youth participants was that students are in need of culturally relevant, student-led, and emergent learning opportunities. Several students shared that the antiracism curriculum they were taught is outdated and lacking, and that treating all local high schools as a uniform entity, despite their unique demographic bodies, has created an environment where minority students don’t see their experiences and cultures reflected.
“If it’s somewhere like Lincoln, somewhere that’s predominantly in minority, I feel like we should learn more about our history and that our curriculum should be a little bit more catered to who is actually at the school.”
Nearly every student said they’d thought about dropping out in the last two years, as they felt unprepared and unsupported in their abrupt return to the classroom. They also agreed that additional support around mental health would be invaluable.
“A lot of people weren’t prepared to come back to school in general. They threw us all in the fire and said ‘start raising grades’.”
“All of us are having breakdowns. We’re having panic attacks. We have no support.”
Many youth at the table spoke up against standardized testing, saying that it is not reflective of how well students do in the classroom or designed with all students in mind. They shared that sometimes teachers can’t cover all the test material, that preparatory classes cost too much, and that balancing a competitive course load with so much going on in the world is difficult.
“[Standardized tests] don’t mold to how the student learns or how they put their stuff down on paper.”
“What does college preparedness even mean? To me it’s just analogous to privilege.”
Many of the students agreed that while they feel relatively safe at school, they’re frustrated by the pressure placed on them to defend themselves. One student carries pepper spray and a baton, another witnessed a drive-by with a classmate, and several said they have an “if I die, I die” mindset.
“Is my life or the life of others in danger right now? The fact that we even have to go into that mindset is frustrating for me.”
One student handed out ice cream at an elementary school the day after the Uvalde shooting. When a balloon accidentally popped, every child flinched. Several students echoed having experienced this type of trauma, and said they worry for younger students, who missed crucial time to develop social and emotional skills during COVID lockdowns.
While youth at the town hall agreed gun violence is both a policy and a people issue, they voiced frustration over the power structures in place that seem unmotivated and uninterested in enacting stricter policies around gun violence.
Dear Children of the Future
Participants ended their town hall in reflection, writing letters to future generations of children.
The discussions held and letters written at this town hall are just the beginning. Seeds of Peace youth leaders will be joining Fahren Johnson at Greentrike in July to debrief and speak directly to changemakers in our community. Follow Seeds of Peace on Facebook and Instagram to stay in the know!
By Becca Schrack|2022-07-26T13:31:21-07:00June 29th, 2022|Articles|Comments Off on We The Youth: Pierce County Students Talk Race Equity and Gun Violence