Standing on the steps of Central Plaza, senior Molly Izer spoke about the need for racial equality throughout the community of Sandy and the United States. Senior Josiah Rothwell, Izer, and senior Jake Billard came together in a fight against racial inequality in June, but since they formed Students Advocating for Equality also known as SAFE, their staff has grown to about eight people.
“Overall as an organization we aim to serve as a group of passionate student leaders who hope to improve our school and community by working alongside legislators and educators alike. We stand for equity and equality on ALL fronts, and will continue to advocate and work until our school is a safe place for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, as well those who belong to religious, gender, or other minorities. All students deserve to learn in an environment that is safe,” Izer said.
Rothwell, Izer, and Billard decided to start SAFE after discussing the disappointing lack of equality throughout the United States and especially in Sandy. They decided to fight for and with students of minority groups. As young leaders in the community, they used their voices to fight for what they believe in.
“Progressing and fighting with SAFE has taught me that I have far more power than the world has led me to believe. Growing up I was taught, both by peers and adults, that being both young and Mexican gives me no value. I was taught that the world would not listen nor would care about my words, and therefore I could not make change. The movement for equal rights and the formation of SAFE have taught me that although I am young, I am capable of great things. And together, we are capable of anything,” Rothwell said.
Izer is President of the National Honor Society, Aquanauts Captain, Speech and Debate Captain, and a Band Council Chair. Rothwell is this year’s ASB President. Billard is Speech and Debate assistant captain, Choir co-president, Drama council PR Vice President, and ASB member-at-large These platforms gave them an opportunity to speak up and be heard.
“We all hold significant leadership roles in the student body, and thus decided that it was our moral responsibility to use our platforms to better our school before we graduated,” Izer said.
Since their formation back in June, they have held many peaceful marches and open mics, spoken with the city council, held many discussions with community leaders, and worked closely with State Representative Anna Williams to discuss the inequality that they see on an everyday basis at SHS.
“In early July, when I first heard about the work that SAFE was doing through a member of the Oregon Trail School Board, I was excited to give them a platform to talk about the issues they were confronting. When I invited them to present to a group of constituents at one of my digital town hall events, I was frankly blown away with how effective they were at advocating for this important cause. While I intended to give them three to five minutes at the beginning of the event, they were so compelling and provoked such great conversation that their cause ended up being the main topic of discussion for almost the entire hour,” State Representative Anna Williams said.
Williams has helped spread the word about SAFE and support them in their fight for racial equality.
“I did my best to amplify their message as they continued to make waves through larger and larger platforms, including an appearance on OPB’s Think Out Loud. I sent supportive statements and emails to several people who could address these issues, including local elected officials in Sandy, school board members in rural Clackamas County, and other legislators,” Williams said.
One of the many things that they have accomplished is starting a petition to ban the confederate flag. This petition has over 6,700 signatures in just four months, but before SHS could make any rule or punishment the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) did. The confederate flag and all other “hate symbols” such as swastikas and nooses were recently banned by the ODE in more than 1,200 public school buildings throughout Oregon.
“I wish I could say I’d played a role in the Department of Education passing their rule banning symbols of hate in Oregon schools, but that was just a fortunate matter of coincidental timing. Still, I applaud the new rule, and I will be supporting legislation to codify that rule in the state statutes. I even put a SAFE student in contact with the legislator who’s sponsoring that bill, and I look forward to working with them to ensure that it passes in the 2021 session, as well as continuing to support their cause however else I can,” Williams said.
While this ban was a huge win for SAFE staff and minorities as a whole, there is still so much more work to do. The fight for equality is an ongoing effort.
“The fight for equality at our school is an unending battle, and we all must help in any way we can. If you see the problem happening to someone else, speak out and be the change that you want to see. And in addition, it’s okay to make mistakes, we only ask that people be self reflective and evaluative. We hope that our peers will never willfully try to negatively impact anyone, and always strive to improve how they treat others,” Billard said.
SAFE will continue to fight and raise awareness about inequality throughout Sandy and Oregon. They hope to give every student an opportunity to thrive.