With the recent news in our country regarding racial oppression, particularly against Black and African American communities, our team at After-School All-Stars Puget Sound (ASAS) felt it was imperative to open up dialogue with our students and create a safe virtual space for them to reflect, voice, and discuss their feelings. Through our virtual programs, our staff have created a class called “Your Voice Matters” to discuss important topics with our students, including identity, bias, discrimination, racism, equality vs. equity, institutional racism, structural racism, and more.
Our students have been engaged, perceptive, insightful, empathetic, brave, and resilient throughout our discussions and dialogue. Some of our student and staff comments have included:
“They call it the land of the free when people are still being racially oppressed. There are people out there being killed just because of their race.” – Ranjot
“I’ve been staying away from social media because it’s very overwhelming to me. I’m not really going on it and I’m feeling a little scared.” – Paytin
“Be proud of who you are or where you come from because you are unique and different. Be proud to be brown. Your culture is beautiful. We are more similar than different. There is good out there and there are people that love you and appreciate you” – Ms. Daisy
“I think history is just repeating itself.” – Vung
As 82% of the participants in our programs are youth of color, ASAS Puget Sound understands the unique position and responsibility we have to uplift our students’ voices, create safe and brave spaces for them to share their feelings, and surround them with mentors that intimately understand their circumstances, fears and frustrations.
ASAS Puget Sound stands firmly against racism, social injustice, discrimination and oppression. We remain committed to providing programs that keep youth safe and help them to succeed in school and life. We will continue to educate youth about the power of their voice, while empowering them to use it. We also recognize there is much work to be done in our local communities and country.
We believe #BlackLivesMatter. We will listen to our youth. We will empower them to make a difference and inspire change in our country. We will be standing beside them.
During unprecedented times, we must demand unprecedented change.
As former President Barack Obama explained, “When there is despair, look at what youth are doing”.
For families that give it their all every day and work hard to provide their kids with enriching opportunities they themselves didn’t have growing up, the time after school is often left in question. After-School All-Stars (ASAS) Puget Sound fills a void in the lack of resources for youth and their families by offering a safe, productive space during the critical hours directly after school. With programs like DJ/music production, cooking, sports, dance and more, students at Dimmit Middle School get to take a moment to be themselves, be kids, and learn something new.
So was the case with a group of middle school boys, notorious for getting themselves into trouble. These boys soon found themselves engaged through ASAS’s Sports as a Hook initiative, where they got to channel their energy into sports. After being in the program for about a year, the school saw a change in their behavior as they demonstrated increased attention and engagement. Through their involvement in ASAS’s sports program, these boys were able to apply their practiced teamwork skills and discipline in the classroom.
ASAS Puget Sound has also been serving students at Meeker Middle School since Fall 2016. Located in Renton and surrounded by diverse communities, students of Meeker Middle School have a variety of interests and passions that ASAS Puget Sound loves to nurture during the hours after school. For instance, ASAS’s hands-on cooking program encourages every student to try different foods from around the world and share new recipes with their families at home. For students more interested in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), ASAS’s DJ/music production program provides them with an opportunity to learn music theory and gain self-esteem through performance and collaboration. Enrichment courses like these allow students at Meeker to find and exercise their passions. For Malia, this includes social justice and service-learning. As a National Youth Advisory Board member and driven leader, Malia rallied her fellow peers in ASAS’s Community Leaders program to join her in a fight to address the Flint water crisis. These students partnered with the cooking program to organize a bake sale, which raised funds to support children affected by the water crisis. Malia ensured the funds were donated in time for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to secure a match. Her grassroots activism is indicative of the spirit and drive needed to make a positive impact.