Young adults in Snohomish win national award
SNOHOMISH — After George Floyd’s murder, young adults and teens under the name Generation Justice organized daily protests and a large Juneteenth event at Snohomish High School. The documentary “What Happened on First Street” examined life in Snohomish for non-whites, for good, bad and, on May 31, 2020, ugly.
Earlier this month, the National Education Association awarded Snohomish’s Mahllie Beck, Drake Wilson and Carolyn Yip with its Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award at a ceremony in Chicago.
Each said they’re humbled to win, but emphasize their activism work was meaningful advocacy for generations to come, not to grab accolades.
“The award goes to show the impact of young people in our voices and how young we are and how close we were to the education system,” Wilson said in an interview.
The youth carried the weight of Black Lives Matter protests on their shoulders, it was said.
Generation Justice wound down its operations by summer’s end, giving the school district a list of changes for strengthening education. Ultimately, the Snohomish School District agreed to implement many of these.
The group’s lasting impact is how it influenced and inspired changes toward “anti-racism work, equity, and celebrating different cultures and prioritizing diversity,” its cofounder Beck said.
“What Happened on First Street” is now available for anyone to watch at www.whofs.org
Yip and Wilson said they hope residents in other small towns can use the film to empower themselves by seeing the lived experiences in Snohomish addressed racism. They hope it is shown in schools as a teaching tool toward hard conversations about racism.
“You’d be surprised how many students can relate to our stories, and I think it would create profound change within different schools,” Beck said.
The first showings deliberately were curated events with discussions on race afterward. Hundreds attended and paid attention. They didn’t want to simply release it to be thrown into a void, Wilson said.
“From the feedback we have received so far, I think it helped to wake up residents in Snohomish who simply haven’t been exposed to or had the same experiences as the individuals in the film,” Yip said.
Resident Carol Robinson suggested documenting the protests.
It grew after dozens of interviews. One-and-a-half years later, their slick five-part, 70-minute film debuted.
It gave voice to what could have been lost.
On May 31, 2020, when real riots were going on in major cities, a hoax claim Snohomish would see rioters at first prompted downtown shop owners to stand watch to ward problems away. The claim, though, was utilized as the backdrop invitation for a group of people openly carrying guns to fill up First Street, including members of the Proud Boys. Some stuck around acting as armed “town guards” for days. A large splinter group of protesting students came down from Second Street to march through First Street on June 1, and there was a flare-up which resulted in a Snohomish teen being knocked unconscious after being punched by a 38-year-old Snohomish man (police determined it was self-defense.)
Upheaval followed, including the city’s then-police chief being removed.
Today, the city has a new mayor.
“Sometimes I feel as if people forgot about what happened on First Street, and I think that’s why the documentary is so important. It’s something that shouldn’t be swept under the rug, or hidden. It was intense for (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) residents, it was terrifying, unsettling, and almost half the city tolerated it.”
The national award came by a nomination by Snohomish teacher’s union president Justin Fox-Bailey, who was also interviewed in the film.
The documentary arrived in the thick of the 2021 city elections, but the release timing was coincidental, not political, Wilson said. Yip and Wilson produced it with what spare time they had while pursuing college degrees and holding jobs.
Yip, a Glacier Peak High graduate, designs websites for functionality and user interactivity. Wilson, a Snohomish High graduate, is a content specialist at a public relations firm. Beck, a Snohomish High graduate, is a mixed media artist and muralist. All graduated respectively in 2016.
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