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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Roosevelt Alums Work To Promote Racial Equity, Provide Scholarships For Disadvantaged Students

Joe Hunter, Co-founder of Roosevelt
Alumni for Racial Equity (R.A.R.E.)

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

Alumni of Roosevelt High School have come together in an unprecedented manner to promote racial equity at the school by establishing Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity (R.A.R.E.), a group of Roosevelt High School graduates who aim to support Roosevelt’s students of color and economically disadvantage students and to promote a more racially inclusive academic atmosphere.

In the aftermath of the civil rights movement segregation was thought to become a thing of the past as society began working towards equity in education, employment, voting, housing and other citizen rights that were not afforded to African Americans.

Joe Hunter, a retired regional manager for JC Penney’s, and Tony Allison, a retired international business executive turned educator, are co-leaders of RARE. Both graduated from Roosevelt in 1971 and are looking to help provide opportunities for current students at the school.

With that in mind, RARE is launching two projects that advocate for racial equity and provide assistance to students of color at the school. The first project is the James A. Davis, Jr. annual scholarships. Named after James A. Davis Jr., a voluntary racial transfer student at Roosevelt High School from 1968 to 1971, where he became a leader among his peers. Davis served as senior class vice president, was a leader in Junior Achievement, played varsity football, and played clarinet in the marching band. At Roosevelt, Davis was known for reaching across racial lines and participating in meaningful relationships with all students, no matter what their backgrounds. The second project is the production of a documentary film, Roosevelt High School in Black and White, that highlights the far-reaching impacts of desegregation through busing, historically and today.

This idea of educating and supporting racial equity in today’s classrooms was born out of two experiences: The Voluntary Racial Transfer Program of the 1970s – a program where Seattle Public School (SPS) students volunteered to attend schools outside of their neighborhood to enhance the racial balance throughout Public Schools, which later morphed into SPS’ Mandatory Busing policy –and the murder of George Floyd murder.

“I was in high school and I was pretty excited about Black students transferring out to Roosevelt,” says Allison, who is White. “You have to remember things were changing. It was just in 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Vietnam War, I was just starting high school. So, the whole atmosphere was about change and of course we look at today’s events — George Floyd, Black Lives Matter.”

During their initial meeting the men reminisced about their shared past and discussed the events of the presents and how it was affecting them.

“Tony and I knew each other and played basketball together for three years at Roosevelt, along with several other classmates from that time and we got together and just talked,” says Hunter. We talked about the incident with George Floyd and other racial incidents and just the racial environment in America today.”

Through this collaboration the need to help young people, particularly students of color and the economically disadvantage at Roosevelt High School was cultivated.

In October of 2020, they began raising money for the scholarship fund, and to date they have raised approximately $142,000.

“The goal of the scholarship is to raise 250,000,” says Hunter. “We want to offer two $5000 scholarships annually to students of color, economically disadvantage students at Roosevelt.”

According to Roosevelt Principal Kristina Rodgers, members of the school’s extended community are both delighted and encouraged about RARE’s efforts in promoting racial equality.

“I’m both delighted and deeply moved by the creation of RARE,” says Rodgers. “The perspectives that RARE participants gained from their years together at Roosevelt five decades ago, and from their diverse lives and careers since then, are invaluable to our students today.”

Pam Walters Eshelman, a member of the class of 1975 and president of the Roosevelt High School Foundation, agrees and says it will help fuel positive discussions on issues of race and equity.

 “I have no doubt the documentary film, “Roosevelt High School in Black and White,” will be a profound and welcome contribution to discussions of racial equity issues at Roosevelt High School, its community and beyond,” says EshelmanThe film’s producers, Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity, are working hard with great care to assure the film will illuminate historical and contemporary issues of race, using personal perspectives based on interviews with Roosevelt alumni, students and teachers. The film promises to be a great teaching and learning tool, and it’s wonderful the Roosevelt High School will be the owner of the film for future generations of Roosevelt students.”

Allison believes this is just the beginning of a very impactful initiative and hopes that their efforts become an example that others will follow.

“We are working to bring about equity in racial relations,” says Allison. “We are working to address equity for the economically disadvantaged and students of color at least at Roosevelt but I would like to see RARE as an example throughout the school districts, an example to other schools.”

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