This evening, African American students from more than 30 schools across Puget Sound will come together to celebrate their graduation from high school and highlight the achievements of black youth in the Seattle area.
The graduation, hosted by the community group Africatown, aims to “lift up their brilliance and resilience as the most valuable asset we have,” organizer K. Wyking Garrett says.
“Black youth in the United States are the subject of many statistics that paint a bleak picture and negative outlook with respect to their place in our society,” he says, “yet the majority still continue to demonstrate tremendous resilience and move towards success.”
A recent Stanford study of student achievement in 200 of the largest schools in the U.S. found black students in Seattle are performing, on average, one-and-a-half grade levels below the national average, placing them three-and-a-half grades below the averages of Seattle’s white students. This so-called “achievement gap” has been attributed to many factors, including fewer resources at home and unfair treatment from teachers. The event at Africatown seeks to write a new narrative, one to compete with the one we all know, one which seeks to acknowledge the students who have fought hard to earn their diplomas despite the obstacles in their path, organizers say.
In conjunction with the graduation, King County Executive Dow Constantine has proclaimed June 24 to be “Black Graduation Day” in the county.
The Africatown event will feature speakers from Seattle’s black community including WELL project founder Yoli Chisholm and community organizer Willie Jimerson Jr. Also Featured will be performances by Otieno Terry and Youth Poet Laureate Leijah Farr. The celebration seeks not only to congratulate recent graduates for their accomplishments but to also mark the event as a rite of passage from youth to adulthood, as is the tradition of many African cultures.
Mara Palmer, Africatown board member and project manager, says in the future she hopes that the celebration will include scholarships for new graduates in their academic pursuits, as well as expand to include middle school and college graduates from all over the state, praising black achievement in various levels of education.
The graduation event will take place 5-9 p.m. at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144.