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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane mentor helps young women understand race and discrimination, find their voices

Jamie Stacy is a Spokane mom who is empowering young women toward their goals during this pandemic. She is the founder of SWAG (Strong Women Achieving Greatness.)  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As a Black woman, Jaime Stacy said she found her voice to speak out against injustice and discrimination when she became a mother. Now, Stacy is active in the Spokane Public School system after creating the Strong Women Achieving Greatness mentorship group.

“I would say that I was able to find my voice and to speak out when I became a mother, seems like motherhood brought a lot of that on for me,” Stacy said.

Stacy’s son is now 16 years old and recently had a successful kidney transplant.

“Having a son, really as a Black woman, it was scary for me,” Stacy said. “It was scary for me to think about having a Black son and what his interaction would be like with people who don’t value him as a human. That is when I believe I began to find my voice and find a platform to use my voice.”

At SWAG, Stacy helps middle and high school girls find their voice and provides them with a platform where their voices can be heard. It starts with “becoming comfortable with making other people uncomfortable,” Stacy said.

Often it’s hard to discuss issues of race and discrimination in person and on social media, Stacy said.

Earlier this year, Stacy was substitute teaching at Shaw Middle School during Black History Month so she decided to wear traditional African attire to school. She was shocked to find no mention of the month that is meant to highlight often overlooked parts of American history.

“There was nothing being presented in the school that even suggested that it was Black History Month,” Stacy said. “These kids are not aware. They’re not aware of the contribution. They’re not aware of the struggle of Black Americans.”

Heather Bybee, director of curriculum for Spokane Public Schools said there have been “several callouts” throughout the school year on the lack of diverse perspectives in SPS curriculum.

While resources and teaching materials are provided to teachers’ internal network for Black History Month, “how teachers utilize those varies from school to school.”

Bybee said the district did an audit of not only its curricular resources, but on what publishers are offering.

“What we learned is that we’re behind, but the publishers are really far behind,” Bybee said. “There are really narrow storylines.”

Bybee has worked with student groups, local teachers, and district administrators to rewrite the 11th grade U.S. History curriculum to be inclusive of diverse stories. The new curriculum is set to go before the school board in July.

Shaw Middle School is currently running a pilot program that differs from systemwide curricula, Bybee said.

Stacy asked the students if they knew who Harriet Tubman was. Not a single student could answer. So Stacy told them the history of the woman who worked tirelessly to help slaves escape after she escaped herself. Then the class created an acrostic poem using the word Black before Stacy let them “ask a Black person.”

“I gave them an opportunity to speak freely and also at the end of it I made myself vulnerable,” Stacy said.

The experience reinforced Stacy’s drive to help create change for her SWAG girls and to be available to allies seeking to make systemic change.

“We have allowed ourselves to maintain content that does not speak the truth,” Stacy said of largely leaving Black history out of the school curriculum. SWAG allows young women to ask those uncomfortable questions and speak freely when it comes to current events.

“We need to give a voice, platform and safe space where these kids can talk about these things that are happening in the world because we have not done a good job on educating them on the history of why these things are happening,” Stacy said.

With COVID-19, the end of the academic year, and civil unrest nationwide, it’s a stressful time for any teen girl. Stacy put together SWAG bags for the group members to help them practice self-care during this difficult time.

Last week, Stacy delivered 50 bags to participants at Rogers High School and Gary Middle School. This week she delivered to Shaw Middle School, where the girls will pick up their bags with lotion, nail polish and feminine hygiene products tucked inside. Stacy puts together the bags herself with donations from the community.

The SWAG group is open to young women of any race or ethnicity; however, many SWAG members are biracial. This can often leave girls stuck between two cultures, struggling to embrace their full identity, Stacy said. They may have a white mother but a Black father and struggle to express to a parent of a different race why something makes them feel uncomfortable, Stacy said.

“They don’t know why they feel this unsettled feeling,” Stacy said. “The girls will ask, ‘Miss Stacy, why do I feel like that?’ Because it’s a part of who you are.”

People in the world might just see them as Black, Stacy said.

“They don’t look at you and say, ‘Oh yeah, that one, she has a white mom,’ ” Stacy said. “For so long, you have identified with one side or the other.”

“For those young ladies they’re tired,” Stacy said. “They’re tired of having to constantly try to identify a part of themselves with a society that does not understand who they are.”

For years, many white activists and allies have asked Black people to educate them on the discrimination they face in America.

“Black people are tired,” Stacy said. “The same information that we can access, white people have access to that but now we have been given the task of educating white people.”

While it may be exhausting, Stacy said she takes every opportunity she can to speak up, something the SWAG girls witness.

“I think that the problem is that we haven’t spoke up for so long and people have existed in their own ideas and lived there,” Stacy said.

The key, Stacy said, is to have these “courageous conversations, gratefully and without ill intent.”

“If I can talk to other white people and say ‘Have the talk with your children about how you should treat all children,’ ” Stacy said. “Then I don’t have to have the conversation with my children at home about how to interact with people who don’t treat you well.”

“Black people are tired. The same information that we can access, white people have access to that but now we have been given the task of educating white people.”
Jaime Stacy
Founder of SWAG