Community: Meet Priyanka, an Educational Activist in Bellevue, WA

Interviewer: Freya Gulamali; June 10, 2020

Written by: Priyanka Mukhara; Founder @ Education for Equality (IG: @educationforequalityusa)

Priyanka is working to launch a petition to incorporate ethnic studies into BSD curriculum (Priyanka Mukhara).

Can you tell us about yourself and your work?

Sitting at home, quarantined with no one but my family in sight, I was starting to get tired of doing nothing. With my summer opportunities wasting away, internships canceled, and volunteer jobs nowhere to be found, I knew that my lack of involvement in the community had to be changed. I just didn’t know what to do, and how to do it. That’s when I turned on the news on May 31st, to find that the streets of Seattle, just a couple miles away, were spilling over with riots, protests, and demonstrations for Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. Then I knew that it wasn’t that I should have done something, but that I needed to do something to help.

"Then I knew that it wasn’t that I should have done something, but that I needed to do something to help."

Physical involvement was out of the question; my parents wouldn’t let me go to any of the protests downtown, so I went on my Instagram, to see my homepage flooded with infographics and petitions about Black Lives Matter and the tragedy of George Floyd. I realized that I didn’t have to do anything in person, because the virtual BLM movement was just as strong.

I thought about things I could do with the virtual platform. A couple hours of brainstorming and a deep dive through Instagram later, I finally landed on an idea. I saw a petition demanding changes in a school district to address and educate students on systemic racism and create district standards addressing issues of racial inequality and historical oppression of the Black community. I immediately drafted my own petition, and in a couple of hours, I had released it on my own Instagram for the Bellevue School District.

As soon as I had released the petition, I was overwhelmed with support, with over a thousand people signing within the first 24 hours. I was legitimately glued to the screen for the first 40 hours of the petition launching, my eyes red, not enough time to eat or even sleep.

But things didn’t pick up as I had hoped. Though I got positive feedback and admirative DMs the first day, the second and third day brought little support, and a lot of backlash. The first hateful DM I got stressed me out for hours. I drafted out responses and counterarguments against all the racist points made by the people who messaged me, but to no avail. The conversation dragged on for hours on end, and I made no headway in my arguments. I ended up crying, exhausted, and with nothing left to do besides block the person who had messaged me.

The days dragged on with even more hate. Some people called me a snowflake or a stupid liberal, but others used words much more harmful as they touted #asianlivesmattertoo and All Lives Matter in my DMs. Racist slurs entered as names into the petition, threats messaged to me, and I started losing the enthusiasm and positivity I had on the first day. I spent a day closed off, watching TV and staying locked up in my room, frustrated and upset. It didn’t seem like I was going to get out of the slump as readily as I had imagined.

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As of June 14th, the Bellevue School District petition has over 1,477 signatures (Priyanka Mukhara).

But one day, as I opened my laptop to regroup the measly number of signatures I had gained, and finish moping over the new racists in my DMs, I realized something. Though I had gotten around 100 racial slurs, threats, and DMs, I had gotten so much more of something else. At that time, 1,500 people had signed the petition, cheering me on, and truly believing that I could accomplish our goals to better our schooling system and learning environment for generations to come. And I realized that those 1,500 people held much more power than the lesser 100.

"And I realized that those 1,500 people held much more power than the lesser 100."

So I picked up my feelings, and decided that I had to keep fighting for change, because the hate that I had received was ultimately insignificant in the face of the oppression that Black people had faced in this country for hundreds of years. If I wanted to make things better for these people, I needed to deal with meaningless messages on Instagram, and do my best to make changes that would help uplift younger generations. I created an Instagram account, starting a movement deemed #educationforequality in order to inspire other high schoolers across the nation to petition their own school districts to make the same changes in curriculum, catering towards POC and addressing systemic racism. So far, 9 school districts in states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Washington have started petitioning their school districts. I hope that in the next two years, that number can change to hundreds, or even thousands, of passionate high schoolers looking to make changes where it matters. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m glad that I could at least inspire a couple thousand people to stop and think about Black Lives Matter, not as a trend or an internet fad, but as a movement that demands lasting change for all of American society.