Meet the 2019 “Black Education Matters Student Activist Award” winners: Youth leaders of an uprising for racial justice!

By Jesse Hagopian – Re-blogged from I Am An Educator

At the first NAACP Youth Coalition Racial Justice Conference on Saturday, ethnic studies teacher Jesse Hagopian and Superbowl champion/bestselling author Michael Bennett presented the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award (BEMSAA) to three of the most dynamic and powerful changemaking youth in Seattle.

The 2019 BEMSAA award winners are:


Rena is an NAACP Youth Coalition leader  and one of the most outspoken leaders for ethnic studies and the Black Lives Matter at School movement.


Khabirah founded the Black Student Union at Madrona Elementary School and has served as the Garfield High School BSU president for the past three years. She has been a relentless advocate for Black students and lead many struggles for racial justice and initiatives to promote Black excellence.


Cece serves as the Nathan Hale’s representative on the NAACP-Youth Coalition and has been a leader in the struggle for ethnic studies and for the Black Lives Matter at School week of action. Cece has also recently finished a documentary about the struggle and promise of ethnic studies in the Seattle schools!

The Black Education Matters Student Activist Award (BEMSAA) offers a $1000 package to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrates exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice, and against institutional racism.

Michael Bennett gave Rena the special Pennie Bennett award in the name of his mother saying,

“My mom worked in the school district for the last 30 years…Me and Jesse have been friends for a while and I wanted to be able to create an lasting award for Black education and give out an award out every year to represent what my mom believes in…My mom was looking at all the things you were doing and she said, that girls is amazing! And I’m lucky to be able to give this award to Rena!”

“I am so proud of this year’s winners of the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award,” said BEMSAA director Jesse Hagopian. “They have all contributed greatly to undoing institutional racism in the schools and have demonstrated brave leadership in struggles for social justice.”

Past award winners have been among the most impactful student leaders in Seattle, including leading mass walkouts against president Trump’s inauguration, leading the successful movement for ORCA transportation cards for Seattle students, leading whole teams to take a knee during the national anthem, launching the NAACP Youth Coalition, leading movements for food justice, and more.

Ifrah Abshir , 2016 winner of the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award, created this video to tell the 2019 winners what the award ment to her.

The BEMSAA award was started with funds Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian received in a settlement after suing the Seattle Police Department and the City of Seattle when he was wrongfully assaulted by a Seattle Police officer.


On MLK Day 2015, Jesse Hagopian was pepper sprayed in the face by a Seattle police officer without provocation. The incident occurred not long after Hagopian gave the final speech at the MLK Day community rally.

Visit to learn more about the award or to nominate a youth leader.

Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the director of the “Black Education Matters Student Activist Award” and the co-editor of the new book, Teaching for Black Lives.  You can follow Jesse on Twitter or on his website,

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