It was here, at Garfield High School in 1961, that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech on his only trip to Seattle.
So it was only logical that on Saturday, nearly 60 years later, the school would be the starting point for the Seattle Children’s March, a milelong protest inspired by the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, when thousands of kids skipped school to protest racist institutions and segregation.
“It is not about us adults,” said Toyia Taylor, an educator and motivational speaker who spearheaded the event with youth. “We cannot lead the way because we have already tried and we have already failed.”
The children at Saturday’s march, which wove through the city’s once predominantly Black Central District, did not face violent reaction from police while they demonstrated, unlike like their counterparts in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama. But they were connected, through the ages, by the same urge to start a revolution after bearing witness to racism and police brutality.
Desi Maher, 13, who’d been out protesting late last month, said kids belong in this movement because they can face violence at the hands of police, too.
The police deploy pepper spray and tactics to disperse crowds, they do so without knowing if children might be present, he said.
“If my Blackness is threatening, I will never truly be unarmed to them,” said Desi.
Desi and other youths read 10 demands to the large crowd gathered at the start of the event.
Along with police accountability reforms, many of the demands are what Seattle’s civically engaged teens have spent years calling for: more Black teachers, an end to the King County youth jail, equitable school funding and a stronger youth voice in government decision-making. (Demand eight, for example, asks the city of Seattle to create a paid youth council that would work with local governments to inform decisions about youth criminal justice and more racially inclusive curriculum in schools.)
Speeches and performances focused on the wisdom of community elders. The protest’s logo was a Sankofa bird, a symbol from the Akan people of West Africa, a reminder to look to the past while moving forward.
As they made their way to Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, the march endpoint, students weighed in on what needed to change.
“The police need to be nicer and nonracist,” said Luella Ducksworth, 10. “We need to be heard so that when we get older, we can live in a safe community.”
For parents like Faiza Mohamed, the protests are serving as a teaching experience in the middle of a pandemic when schools are closed. Mohamed said she wants her sons, who are Black, to know how to advocate for themselves and fight injustice.
Her 3-year-old son Zahir, seems to be picking up those lessons already. He stood on a corner on 14th Avenue, holding a mini megaphone, leading dozens of adults in “Black lives matter” chants.