Kahsai Speaks on Diversity and Equity at MIHS

Kahsai+delivers+his+speech+to+the+Mercer+Island+School+Board.+Photo+Courtesy+Brooks+Kahsai.

Kahsai delivers his speech to the Mercer Island School Board. Photo Courtesy Brooks Kahsai.

Brooks Kahsai, Photography Editor

This article is a pre-spoken speech given by MIHS Junior Brooks Kahsai, the MIHS Islander’s photography editor and the public relations coordinator for the MIHS Black Student Union. Here is a transcript of his speech on increasing Mercer Island’s focus on diversity and equity at last Thursday’s school board meeting:

Hello, my name is Brooks Kahsai, and I am an MIHS Junior and the Public Relations Coordinator for the Black Student Union. Today, I’d like to discuss with all of you the aftermath and impact of this past Black History Month Celebration on the Island. I’m proud of what the MIHS Black Student Union was able to accomplish in February at the high school, and I’d like to thank the MIHS administrators for allowing us to take the wheel on celebration responsibilities. There were many highlights, starting with our webinar on the 3rd, during which we partnered with local affinity groups to explore the history of redlining and residential covenants in the Greater Seattle Area. We also partnered with 88.9 the bridge to hold Black Music Matters, a month-long celebration of black musicians on our local radio station for which a black artist was played from a selection of 300+ songs once an hour. Toward the end of the month, there was also a day set for international black cuisine to be sold at our school cafeteria, and our school band played music for historic black figures. Lastly, I want to acknowledge the success of the 21-day racial equity challenge, which received a lot of recognition and support from families across the Island on social media.

 I believe Black History Month this year was more successful than it’s ever been before; that said, this shouldn’t be as far as we go. As the PR Coordinator for BSU, I facilitate comments and constructive criticism from students and teachers at my school, and while there has been a lot of praise, there have also been complaints about staff and teachers alike. I won’t name names for professionality’s sake, but the staff community at MIHS has been divided on how to approach Black History Month, along with the MI community in the collective. I am not saying there has not been support, but the level of commitment and initiative to explore Black curriculum has been limited and inconsistent. In my personal experience, I’ve had teachers commit and have us research black figures in history and allow debates in class time, and in other classes, there has been almost no mention of black history month at all. The sheer amount of social media backlash in lower grade level schools like IMS where the curriculum has been deeply disappointing, not even considering the words that were said. Advertisements for MIHS BSU events were mostly left to me, the surrounding student clubs, and the few teachers who took it upon themselves to reiterate our announcements on the regular. 

My point is that while there was a decent amount accomplished, hurdles were jumped to accomplish all of that, and that shouldn’t ever be how it is. To prevent it, I think our best course of action is to integrate the black history curriculums of all the schools so that we can oversee what is being taught during Black History Month, and we need the support of the board and the MI community to do that. I’m not saying that we need to give in to our concerns and end all of this, I’m saying that we need to get over ourselves and have the conversations that need to happen to ensure that students at our schools are well informed in these matters, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they may be. This is the world we are going to enter sooner or later, and we are supposed to be an example of diversity and equity amongst staff and students. This is a test to that pledge, and I say we commit to that now more than ever.