The Capitol building in Olympia was nearly at capacity with youth from various school districts around the state for African American Legislative Day on Monday.
The purpose, Federal Way Council member Jesse Johnson said, was to get the youth engaged with their local community, learn more about African-American history, and learn how they can be involved with issues such as homelessness.
During a poster-making session in the House rules room on the bottom floor of the capitol, middle and high school students focused on important, controversial issues impacting the community today such as Black Lives Matter.
One chant the youth made to go along with their posters was “Young Black Lives Matter.” Another was “Stop the selfishness, help end homelessness.”
Johnson said more than a day to reflect on African-American history and meet with state legislators, it was a day to learn how they can help combat issues like these in their community, even if those issues don’t affect them personally.
Homelessness is a controversial issue in Federal Way, and the impact on youth is enormous. Johnson said of the number of homeless youth in Federal Way, 80 percent of them are youth of color.
A member of the Federal Way Youth Action Team, Bobby Jennings brought his children to the event to help inform and encourage them to participate in important policy and civil rights discussions.
“… Teach them to utilize their voice for policy and affect change,” Jennings said.
Gabrielle Prawl, creative and art director for the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) Seattle, had a large hand in helping setting this up for the youth, Johnson said.
Prawl said this year the goal was to help youth put their voice down on paper, which is what they worked on during the poster-making session.
Since the theme was “Build-A-Bill,” she said, they asked youth what they saw as problems and what potential solutions were.
“These were later presented to the Lt. Governor and we will follow up with the youth with instruction on sending their ideas to their legislators,” she said.
Prawl said youth advocacy has always been very important to her.
“They truly get into it and are very honest about what they feel needs to be fixed.” she said. “It can be extremely difficult for adults to even get to the table of discussion on big issues but our youth tend to think of it in much simpler terms – this is not working so let’s do this instead. We wanted to encourage that freedom to voice and take action.”
During the event, Prawl said one of the most touching things she experienced was a group of young girls who asked her how to continue the homeless discussion.
They themselves had been homeless and they wanted their peers to have a deeper understanding of it, she said.
“This young lady said, ‘I want people to know it’s OK to be homeless and you can get out of it,’” Prawl said.
That was really powerful for her to experience, and she said wisdom like this might continue to go unnoticed if important discussions continue to exclude youth.
APRI Seattle works with numerous organizations that align with the vision of social justice for a working people, Prawl said.
African American Legislative Day is a joint partnership between the APRI organization and the Washington State Christian Leadership Coalition. Each year organizations come from greater Seattle, Pierce County and as far out as Spokane, she said.