In January of 2015, Jesse Hagopian gave the final speech at Seattle’s Martin Luther King Day rally. Not long after, he was pepper-sprayed in the face without provocation by an officer of the Seattle Police Department. Jesse was on the phone with his mother at time of the assault, coordinating a ride to his then two-year-old son’s birthday party. The incident was captured on video by an onlooker. Jesse then filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department and reached a settlement over the incident, using the proceeds to start the “Black Education Matters Student Activist Award” (BEMSAA). While Jesse is glad the money from the settlement could be used to support youth activism, he has stated that the settlement does not represent justice given that the officer who pepper-sprayed him did not even receive a one day suspension for the assault.
The Black Education Matters Student Activist Award gives recognition, support, and a $1,000 award to student leaders in the Seattle Public Schools who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, class exploitation and other forms of oppression—within their school or community. Over the past two years, seven Seattle Public Schools students have been honored with the award.
The BEMSAA board is made up of local educators and activists from Seattle. The Award has been generously supported by former Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett and Grammy award winning artist Macklemore.
For a full list of previous award winners, please visit the Award Winners page.