“There’s a brilliance that happened in the past, brilliance that’s happening today as I watch you, and the brilliance that will happen in the future under your tutelage. Because you have the ability. The Youth Policy Council is creating leaders.” – Wesley Saint Clair
When Living Well Kent’s Youth Policy Council hosted a virtual Black History Month showcase in February, they did not want to focus on Black struggle, but rather celebrate Black brilliance—and they wanted to make sure that local politicians and others involved in community engagement celebrated alongside them. The young people’s work led to an invitation to present at the Best Starts for Kids Summit this week.
Interspersed throughout the presentations on Black heroes across time like Phillis Wheatly, Claudette Colvin, Marsha P. Johnson, Mohammed Ali, Levar Burton, Lebron James, and Lupita Nyong’o were guest speakers who included Kent City Council members, King County Council Members, and the Kent Chief of Police.
The speakers largely addressed the importance of civic engagement, especially for Black community members. For example, Clifford Cawthon is a political science professor at Bellevue College and a former journalist shared Shirley Chisholm’s famous quote about being the first Black woman elected to Congress, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Kent City Councilperson Awale Farah said of his decision to leave his engineering career for politics, “I ran as a Black man from Africa, as an African American, as a Muslim American… all of those titles I carry with me.”
Wesley Saint Clair, former King County Juvenile Court judge who serves as the Chair of the King County Superior Court, took multiple years away from his work in the juvenile justice field when he became disillusioned with the structural racism present in the legal system.
“When I quit I was asking myself ‘maybe I’m the bad guy?’ but I found a way back to do something different within the system. My voice needed to be heard, and not a voice of complicity… I took advantage of my position and created a foundation for changes, a place for conversation to say ‘we need to do better,’” said Saint Cair.
He stressed that fellow guest Pam Jones, former Juvenile Director at the King County Department of Adult and Youth Detention, was his, “true hero, as she works within systems to articulate there’s a need to do better.”
All of these Black leaders were able to draw a clear line between the policy and systems work they do, the on-the-ground changes we need, and that the leadership of Living Well Kent’s Youth Policy Council showcases how young people are at the forefront of thriving communities.