More than 2,000 people marched from Stearns Wharf to the Santa Barbara Police Department in a student-led protest Sunday against police violence and institutional racism.
A week later, high school students in Santa Barbara are picking up more support in their fight against racial injustice.
The protest was led by two San Marcos High School students — incoming senior Talia Hamilton and incoming junior Shakir Ahmad. Shakir said they were inspired by the turnout at the Black Lives Matter Santa Barbara protest at the County Courthouse.
“We just decided that there were things we could do as students to try and fix things in our community as well,” Shakir said. “It’s important for the students to speak up and have their voices heard because we are the next generation, and if we can step up now we can make it better for the generations after us.”
On top of being a leader of the current student movement, Shakir is a founding member of the Black Student Union at San Marcos, an AAPLE Academy member, varsity basketball player and was recently elected as a student board representative for his school. He also founded the Keep Your Head Up Organization, where he goes and talks to elementary school students about injustices that occur because of people’s race, religion and sexual orientation.
The day following the student-led protest, students laid out a list of six demands that they would like to see the Santa Barbara Unified School District change.
The demands include: having the district declare racism a public health emergency, reallocating funds to rehabilitation and mental health services for at-risk youth as an alternative to probation or juvenile hall, implementing equitable hiring practices to recruit culturally competent teachers of color to teach ethnic studies courses, and defunding any contracts the school district has with the SB County Sheriff and Santa Barbara Police Departments.
Shakir told the News-Press that he hopes the demands will help different ethnicities learn more about themselves as well as educate other races or ethnicities about one another.
In addition, another student demand is to have the SBUSD publicly condemn the school to prison pipeline.
Shakir said that by condemning the pipeline, their goal is to try to “fix the issue instead of trying to work around the issue.”
To show support for the students’ demands, just under 60 high school teachers from San Marcos presented a statement to the school board during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“The teachers and staff of San Marcos High School want to publicly declare our support and pride for our students who led and participated in the Black Lives Matter march and demonstration on June 7 and for all those who continue to stand for racial equity and social justice,” the statement reads. “Our calling as educators demands that we speak out in solidarity against the disproportional brutality and violence Black Americans experience in our nation because of systemic racism and white supremacy. Our teachers and staff commit to recognizing racial bias and furthering difficult conversations around race in order to advance the process of healing.”
San Marcos Ethnic Studies teacher Nicole Powers said the statement was a way for the district to understand that teachers are supporting the students in this movement and that “it’s clear that they need the support of the teachers and the community so that it is clear to the district that it is not just a small group of people who want change.”
In addition to the teachers from San Marcos, many other teachers from different schools as well as parents and community members stepped up during the school board meeting and voiced their support for the students.
Shakir told the News-Press that it was “great to hear” that many of his teachers are supporting their efforts to make the local school system more inclusive and culturally aware. He also said that “the more we have on our side the better.”
On Monday, Shakir and a group of student leaders plan to meet with some members of the school board to go over their list of demands.
Although the meeting will be small do to social distancing guidelines, school board President Laura Capps told the News-Press that she looks forward to the meeting Monday and that it won’t just be a “feel good meeting” but a “meeting to take concrete action and plan for actual action on their demands at our next school board meeting.” She also said how much respect she has for how well the students handled themselves at both the protest and the school board meeting and that she shares their desire in improving their education.
Although they are waiting to see what the school board does, Shakir said that he thinks “[they] are moving in the right direction” and he is confident that going forward the students will continue to create change by making their voices heard.