Every year in the US, the month of February is regarded as Black History Month, dedicated to highlighting and honoring Black people through their achievements and contributions. This year especially has been an essential time in the fight for racial equity. In Fremont, racial justice protests at the Fremont Police Headquarters attracted many residents, notably Fremont Mayor Lily Mei. At every level, people ask themselves how they can be a part of the solution to racism. In July of 2020, FUSD students started a campaign to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from FUSD schools at the district level. Power Week, a week of events led by a collection of Washington students, is Washington High School’s way of honoring Black History Month through fun and informative events. During this week, Washington Juniors Dana Mirghani and Minnah Awad organized various efforts to spread awareness of Black Americans’ issues and how people of all races can be influential allies for them.
The first day of Power Week was an event to support Black-owned businesses. WHS Amnesty International, a club on campus, compiled a list of restaurants, cafes, and products in or around Fremont that were Black-owned. In an interview, Mirghani and Awad shared how they went to Hippie’s Brew (a coffee shop in Union City), Haleluya (an Ethiopian restaurant in Fremont), and Target (at Target, products such as cookies from Partake Foods or makeup from Beauty Bakerie are made by Black-owned companies). Both encouraged people to make this a year-round habit, saying, “This isn’t limited to one day, and it’s not a trend either.”
Mirghani discussed the racial wealth gap, saying, “A huge thing people don’t think about is systemic racism, like how things such as redlining cause Black people to be poor in certain communities. People often say, ‘Why don’t Black people work harder?’ but it’s not that easy. Everything is pinned against them. Think about Black people applying to school or a job interview.” Awad added that “It’s imperative to support Black-owned businesses to highlight that [inequity].” To conclude the day’s events, WHS Amnesty International created a video of various Huskies buying from Black-owned businesses.
On Tuesday, many support clubs from around campus came together at the United Students Panel, where organizers taught attendees about Black peoples’ influence in history, Hip-Hop, speeches, fashion, inventions, and more. Women’s Empowerment, Amnesty International, Black Student Union, Gay-Straight Alliance, and African American Male Focus Group all led the panel together. Mirghani illustrated how “Coming together as clubs, focus groups, and as a school was vital. We all agreed that relying on the American school system to learn about Black history is not enough. There’s a lot more to Black people than MLK, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. There’s also more to Black people than their struggle for civil rights, and we should focus on their contributions, like their music, fashion, etc.” Awad explained that “The reason why Black people’s influence has been suppressed in history is because of white supremacy. It dates back so many years, and everything eventually leads back to white supremacy. That issue divides people of color, and it has a lot of power because that’s what the world revolves around.” Mirghani added that “I think the way people view Black people is very one-dimensional. People say the way we dress is ‘ghetto’ or ‘aggressive,’ but once a white person does it suddenly, it’s fashionable or exotic. For some reason, when Black people do things, it is looked at a certain way, but once a white person does it, it’s a completely different connotation.”
On Wednesday, Black Washington alumni participated in a panel to share their experiences at Washington and what they have been doing since graduation. The board essentially answered the vital question: What does it mean to be a Black student at Washington? Mirghani shared her experiences, saying, “When I first came to Washington and started becoming friends with people, I found out I was mostly everyone’s first Black friend. People made generalizations about me based on Black culture. They would come and touch my hair, ask me whether my family ate fried chicken or drunk Kool-Aid, and sometimes even say the N slur. The Black experience at Washington is very different than any other race because it’s hard for us to find that sense of community that other races do.” Awad added that “If you look at the numbers, there are 70 Black people at Washington – 3.4% of the student body. Living in the Bay Area, we pride ourselves on being diverse, but we aren’t. Black people are leaving [Washington] year by year.” Both discussed small steps people could take in the direction of racial equity, stating, “People don’t realize the implications of saying the N-word. That word can cause physical and mental harm, and there is a gruesome history behind it. If you respect me as a Black person, you will not use this word unless you’re Black.”
On Thursday, a representative from the NAACP shared with students what the NAACP is and its impact on ensuring civil rights for all. Awad illustrated how the NAACP affects everyone, saying, “They have had such an impact fighting for the rights of Black people in America, whether it’s the desegregation of classrooms or their work fighting for all of us.” Mirghani added that “Black history is American history, and the NAACP representative showed us that by talking about what actions the NAACP has taken in the past and will take in the future.” Both argued that hearing from someone who works (daily) to advance racial equity and knows the subject was essential for students.
Finally, on Friday, Washington students were encouraged to wear all-black clothing as part of a symbolic Black-Out Day. To encourage participation, Washington ASB provided spirit week points to those who dressed up. Mirghani and Awad observed the role of art and activism in protest, saying, “Even just symbols of coming together are significant. Historically, protests have generated significant change, and unity in fighting for civil rights is a major reason why we’ve made progress. Wearing all black means more than just a color. It shows how we’re all doing it for the same purpose.” Awad added that “Art is its form of protest. The Harlem Renaissance, etc., all show how sometimes people just get tired of fighting and want to express their emotions in other ways.”
As a personal experience, Mirghani and Awad shared how Power Week was both fulfilling and interesting for them. But beyond just the identity of being Black, both highlighted that it was important to look at people through other lenses as well. “Dana and I are also Muslims, so all these factors are part of our identities and we’re reminded of that at school. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia… these are different things that all kind of feel the same. Intersectionality is important in understanding people, because my experience as a Black woman is not the same as of a white woman.” Mirghani added that “I’m very proud of my intersectionality, but being judged on many different factors can be hard. Hearing things like ‘you speak too white,’ it’s hard to not feel like you’re what people want you to be.”
Both Power Week leaders did face some challenges along the way, especially those brought about by the events’ virtual nature. “There was a lack of opinions in general, and a lot of people just wanted to stay neutral. It was good that the school initiated this, and Mr. Moran approached us initially to see if we could organize the week. We just wish that more people in the school would participate.” Awad added that “It was disheartening to see so many teachers just never speak about Power Week or Black History Month in general.” But the online format of Power Week had some benefits too. Awad expressed that “Being online meant we could invite a lot of alumni to speak, and also to have someone from the NAACP to come as well. We’ve never had a Black Alumni Panel or NAACP Presentation so having these events for the first time was pretty special.”
As Mirghani and Awad detailed, being a Black student at Washington can be a difficult experience with unique challenges. Washington High School was named after a slave owner, and that legacy points to how ingrained racism is in many aspects of society. They added that “It just shows how mindless we can be sometimes, and it’s similar to how we still have statues of Confederate leaders up in the US. It’s a little hypocritical, saying that we’re an open-minded school while our name doesn’t represent that.” Events like Black History Month and Power Week are not just important on a national scale but also spread awareness on the issues Black people face locally. Whether it’s understanding the NAACP’s role in civil rights, talking to Black Washington Alumni about their life experiences, or buying cookies from Black-owned businesses, these personal, small actions contribute to a larger fight for racial equity. There are also other steps we can take to involve others in our pursuits, like having a conversation with a friend to stop saying the N slur or donating to a racial justice charity. As Washington looks back on a successful week dedicated to highlighting the life experiences of Black Americans, students can look forward to how they and the people around them can take action to further racial equity. Power Week will return next year in 2022, and the hopeful return of school to in-person learning will bring new and exciting activities to the week of events. It is Mirghani and Awad’s hope that events such as these lead to progress and eventually fulfill the nation’s dream of racial equity for all.