Student Praises Orji, from left, adviser Bea Sawyer-Bennett and student Confidence Orji with the Black Student Union are among those who are planning a march on May 20 to raise awareness of the struggles in the community near Thomas Jefferson High School. RAECHEL DAWSON, the Mirror

Thomas Jefferson Black Student Union to host peaceful march to connect community, combat struggles

Jamarkus Springfield saw the crime.

He saw drug deals on South 288th Street.

He saw thefts at Safeway, the 7-Eleven and the Subway on Military Road South.

He heard about the August 2016 murder behind Villa Capri apartments, not to mention a shooting that occurred a week ago at a busy intersection nearby.

But, most importantly, the Thomas Jefferson High School English teacher and co-adviser of the school’s Black Student Union, felt the crime. He felt how it was impacting his community.

“Seeing these things, this stuff needs to stop,” Springfield said. “Someone should be able to advocate.”

The 2010 Todd Beamer High School graduate said he has been on both sides of the spectrum – growing up on the streets before becoming a teacher and coach.

“I felt obligated to be that advocate for 288th Street,” he said.

With the goal to promote awareness, connect the community and provide resources for personal struggles, Springfield and the high school’s Black Student Union came up with the idea to hold a peaceful march, panel discussion and resource fair, which will take place May 20.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. with a gathering at South 288th Street and Military Road South starting with opening words, slam poetry and prayers. The march will then take place from 12-12:30 p.m. leading to Thomas Jefferson High School, where participants will convene for a panel discussion on overcoming struggles. A resource fair is scheduled to open at 2 p.m. with the event ending with a free airing of the movie, “Hidden Figures” at the school.

Bea Sawyer-Bennett, co-adviser for the Black Student Union and discipline coordinator at Thomas Jefferson, said the event is needed because of the disconnect she’s seen in the community.

“I’d love to see this community wake up,” she said. “I’d like to see the students here wake up and begin to start participating in this because it’s not just a one culture thing or a one race thing. It’s an everybody thing. If you’re not being educated, or if you’re not being fed, or you’re not participating in the growth of your community, then you have no one else to blame but yourself when your community is rundown.”

Sawyer-Bennett said she’d like to see more after-school activities for students and more affordable day-care options for parents. That way, she said, students wouldn’t have to run home to babysit their elementary school-age siblings. She also suggested job creation that allows parents to be with their children.

City spokeswoman Cathy Schrock said the Federal Way Police Department has worked to address crime in the northern part of Federal Way, with increased patrols in the area. Last year, crime had increased by 5 percent in the first quarter compared with 2015. This crime is down by 8 percent in the first quarter.

“The downward trend in 2017 is a direct result of directed patrols at locations where violent crimes have occurred, and identifying problem homes or apartment complexes that house residents that are in violation of King County Housing Authority rules, resulting in evictions,” Schrock said. “The crime totals for the entire city are also trending down, approximately 4 percent.”

Because Thomas Jefferson High School is outside city limits, in unincorporated King County, safety in the area requires coordination between the King County Sheriff’s Office and Federal Way Public Schools, which has a dedicated school resource officer at the high school.

With a stronger police focus on crime, the city is re-engaging a committee, as well as residents in north Federal Way, to move forward with an already-approved Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area plan using Community Development Block Grant funds.

“The plan was developed for the community to collectively design and implement programs and projects assessing the needs of the north Federal Way area,” Schrock said. “The first steps being taken toward plan implementation are a walking survey of the community and establishing baseline data.”

At Thomas Jefferson High School, the Black Student Union is advocating for a deeper look into the causes of individual struggle rather than systemic trends.

Sisters Praises and Confidence Orji, a sophomore and junior, respectively, at Thomas Jefferson, are both running for the Black Student Union’s office. They say not only does lack of community involvement affect their peers’ lives, but that awareness is key.

“I got interested and I got this passion for this project, mostly to help the students that don’t have that much community help or even parental help, to tell them that they’re not alone,” Praises Orji said. “Yeah, you’ve been through all this, but we are here. We are your community.”

Confidence Orji said the march means a lot to her because she doesn’t want the crimes in north Federal Way to go unnoticed and ignored.

“I just really think this march could bring awareness to what has been going on in our community, as a whole,” she said.

Praises Orji said she disagrees with the concept that a person needs to fail before getting help. A mostly straight-A student, Praises Orji said she was having personal issues this year and it was affecting one class subject. Instead of getting the help she needed, she was told she would have to fail in order to switch the course.

“Then I realized that happens everywhere,” she said, adding that many have only gotten help because they’ve failed. “The people that are helping them now actually saw they were failing, and that’s when they decided … that ‘I need to help them.’ I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Springfield said learning about individual struggles is what the march is also about.

“Struggles without resources become a long-term problem,” Springfield said. “That’s why we have people out here shooting because they had a struggle that was never met, and now they’re out here shooting people.”

The group hopes parents, students, City Council members, business people and leaders of local organizations will attend the march, listen to concerns and come up with creative solutions. They are also still in need of several items, such as balloons, signs, food and agencies who want to set up a resource informational booth.

“I grew up community-raised, as far as everyone in the community always fed each other,” Springfield said. “We always threw block parties, rent parties and things like that to help out each other. We grew up like that, so I feel like that’s how I was raised, and why should I stop now that I’m an adult? I should still carry on those traditions of taking care of community, especially where you live.”

For more information on the event or how to donate, contact bsawyer@fwps.org or jspringf@fwps.org.

 

CrimeReports, a website that tracks various crime, calculated 734 incidents of crime – 140 violent, 560 property crimes and 33 affecting the quality of life – in the northern part of Federal Way within the last six months. Courtesy of CrimeReports.com