This article is part of a series produced by The Seattle Medium through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaboration of 10 black-owned media outlets across the country.
By Airik Myers, The Seattle Medium
A local justice advocate and student leader, Jala Ward was recently awarded an NSHSS National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) Activism and Advocacy Fellowship. This scholarship recognizes students who have demonstrated a passion for social, political, and civil change and who have taken action in their communities. Ward, of University Place, was one of five students out of more than 200 who were selected to each receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Last year, Ward, who is now a freshman at Colorado State University, along with a group of other Curtis High School students, formed the first-ever Black Student Union (BSU) in the University Place School District.
“We just felt there needed to be more diverse representation among the students,” says Ward, who served as BSU’s vice president. “There was a lack of representation around us. As a result, we came together to meet with our principals, insisting on the creation of a union of black students [at Curtis High School] to foster a safe space for black students.
“Me and my friends, [who are] all black women, were really inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and everything that was happening around culture in the United States,” Ward added. “We went to a predominantly white high school, and it felt like our voices weren’t [being] heard and there had to be some sort of performance there. So we spoke to our assistant manager, who is also a black woman, and she gave us the resources we needed to start the club.
Ward was instrumental in setting the framework for Curtis’ BSU and also helped the newly formed organization quickly overcome obstacles that arose due to the spread of COVID-19.
According to Ward, establishing a new organization during COVID had its challenges, but ultimately organizing in a hybrid environment helped them bond and engage with each other in a very productive way.
“As a group, we had to find new and exciting ways to make our virtual meetings interesting, which we accomplished by enabling open dialogue, offering activities people could participate in online, hosting in-person meetings safe and even while playing games. virtually,” Ward explained.
Thanks to their efforts, one of the major highlights of BSU’s first year as an official organization was hosting the school’s first-ever Black History Month assembly, which was also the school’s first virtual assembly.
“Our school too [didn’t have] a Black History Month assembly, so after we created the BSU, we as a club spearheaded the creation of a space for a Black History Month assembly,” says Ward.
“Although it’s all virtual, we still spent a lot of time creating it,” Ward continued. “It went really well, and a lot of members and district administrators came and watched it. It really had a big impact on the school.
In addition to the Black History Month assembly, BSU members spent time virtually reading books to elementary school students in the district every day and worked with school administrators to address issues of concern. racial and cultural equity.
“We did book readings on young black children for younger schools,” Ward said. “And we talked a lot to the district and to our school administrators about racial equity and what we could do differently in the schools in terms of the curriculum. [surrounding] culture [and] things like that. I think those are the things that I would probably say I’m most proud of.
As for her future, Ward is committed to making meaningful change in her community and trying to positively impact as many people as possible. She says she plans to become a lawyer because she wants to continue her “work to help underrepresented communities and people of color.”