This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Seattle Medium through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.
By Airik Myers, The Seattle Medium
Local justice advocate and student leader, Jala Ward was recently awarded a National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) Activism & Advocacy Scholarship by the NSHSS. This scholarship recognizes students who have shown a passion for social, political, and civil change, and taking action in their communities. Ward, from University Place, was one of five students in a pool of over 200 who were selected to each be awarded a $1,000 scholarship.
Last year, Ward, who is now a freshman at Colorado State University, along with a group of fellow students at Curtis High School formed the first-ever Black Student Union (BSU) in the University Place School District.
“We just felt like there needed to be more of a diverse representation among the students,” says Ward, who served as vice president of the BSU. “There was a lack of representation surrounding us. As a result, we came together to meet with our principals, insisting we create a Black Student Union [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 going on surrounding the culture in the United States,” added Ward. “We went to a predominantly White high school, and we felt like our voices weren’t [being] heard and there needed to be some sort of representation there. So, we spoke to our vice principal, who’s also a Black woman, and she gave us the resources we needed to start the club.”
Ward played an instrumental role in laying out the framework for Curtis’ BSU and also helped the newly formed organization in rapidly navigating the hurdles that came about due to the spread of COVID-19.
According to Ward, establishing a new organization during COVID did have its challenges, but ultimately organizing in a hybrid environment helped them bond and engage with one another in ways that were very productive.
“As a group, we had to find new and exciting ways to make our virtual meetings interesting, which we accomplished by allowing an open dialogue, coming up with activities people could participate in online, hosting safe in-person meetings, and even playing games virtually,” Ward explained.
As a result of their efforts, one of the major highlights of the BSU’s first year as an official organization was hosting the school’s first-ever Black History Month assembly, which also was the school’s first virtual assembly.
“Our school also [didn’t have] a Black history month assembly, so after we created the BSU, we as a club spearheaded creating a space for a Black history month assembly,” says Ward.
“Although everything was virtual, we still spent a lot of time creating it,” Ward continued. “It did really well, and a lot of district members and administrators came and watched it. It really created a big impact on the school.”
In addition to the Black history month assembly, members of the BSU spent time virtually reading books to elementary school students in the district every day, and worked with school administrators to address issues of racial equity and culture.
“We did readings of books about young Black kids for the younger schools,” Ward said. “And we talked a lot to the district and administrators at our school about racial equity and what we could do differently in schools regarding curriculum [surrounding] culture [and] things like that. I think those are the things I would probably say I’m most proud of.”
In terms of her future, Ward is committed to making meaningful change in her community and trying to positively impact as many people as possible. She says that she plans to become a lawyer because she wants to continue her “work in helping misrepresented communities and people of color.”