“A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”

Keeping youth engaged through screens can be tough. But during a recent youth program webinar in which themes touched on being authentic, accountable and showing up for oneself — cameras were switched on and the chat box lit up.

“The students were eager to join in—it was a real conversation, not just answering when called on,” said youth instructor, Seth Walker.

A screen shot from AAMA’s webinar, summer 2021 where Ajala Wilson leads discussion.

The speakers who inspired this were from Seattle Public School’s African American Male Achievement (AAMA) program, which aims to “connect more Black male students across the district to share experiences, participate in affirming curriculum that addresses stereotypes and focuses on their cultural identity, and elevate their voice.”

Unfortunately black students often face obstacles like discrimination and racism in schools. Research has shown this manifests in a variety of ways: from misdiagnosis of learning disabilities, or teachers or counselors who fail to challenge students or to assign them to advanced classes, or hand out unjust disciplinary actions, which can have far-reaching consequences.

ReWA’s youth program manager, Kimberly Lee, said, “Refugee or immigrant youth not born in this country, or whose families come from diverse cultural backgrounds, may unfortunately face similar obstacles in school due to their bi-cultural experience.”

“Refugee or immigrant youth not born in this country, or whose families come from diverse cultural backgrounds, may unfortunately face similar obstacles in school due to their bi-cultural experience.”

– Kimberly Lee, Youth program manager

Ajala Wilson-Daraja is a 19-year-old Eastern Washington University student who is interning with Seattle Public Schools with the AAMA program. He said he recently led a discussion on racial equity at a teachers’ conference in Eastern Washington, so he was eager to engage with ReWA youth.

First, Ajala outlined some principles of success:

  • A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” This means, speak up and ask for what you need.
  • “The lazy hustler won’t get bread.” To reap the rewards, you have to work hard.
  • “Your network is our net-worth.” The people around you –friends, family, teachers and mentors–can influence your success at school and in life.
  • “Be patient with yourself.” We all go through communication challenges, be confident in yourself.
  • “You are the One of One.” This means, there is only one version of you. We all live Life in our own unique way–and that is as it should be.
William King, AAMA facilitator, led youth through a workshop online last summer where they discussed overcoming obstacles.

During the virtual discussion, some students admitted that they get teased for their level of English, or sometimes for having an accent.

Lee responded, “You might be afraid to speak up in class but the more you speak out, the more confident you grow. After a while you won’t even notice the hecklers anymore. Use your personal power to build your confidence instead of adding fuel to the wrong fire.”

Lee said ReWA’s Youth program worked with AAMA to foster cultural awareness in curriculum planning and classroom engagement in order to promote systemic change in our communities one conversation at a time. Lee said, “It’s important to honor experiences of Black and East African students and provide forums where students could speak out about their experiences, and learn how to navigate U.S. cultural norms.” Lee added, “Despite the inevitable obstacles in life, if youth are committed to positive personal development, gaining confidence and a deep commitment to self-knowledge and self-worth, they can achieve whatever they put their minds to. We are all about expanding the vision of our youth to dream big and believe they can live those dreams!”

“I learn so much things…. how I can change my life, and if I want to know myself I have to talk with myself. And if I know myself, it is easy to change.”

ReWA youth

[box]ReWA’s Youth program engages youth with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) projects as well as workshops in leadership and storytelling.[/box]