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Treehouse to launch racial justice, equity campaign with virtual event Tuesday

People draw messages with chalk in an intersection that saw clashes between police and protesters just days before in the so-called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Treehouse, a local nonprofit devoted to helping kids in foster care, focused on education and transitioning into adulthood on a path to independence, will launch a new initiative Tuesday with the first in a series of four discussions about racial justice and equity.

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The virtual event will feature speakers, such as former Governor Gary Locke, and Secretary of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, Ross Hunter.

The idea is to highlight for people the issues that are confronting youth in foster care in the education system, according to Lisa Chin, CEO of Treehouse.

“At this moment in time, the forces of racism, the issues that have led to all the social uprisings over the past year, are completely differentially impacting our youth who are experiencing foster care, and they have no one to speak for them,” Chin explained.

“Because we see this and we serve over 8,000 youth in the state of Washington, we know that it’s our responsibility to help bring these matters to light and educate and hopefully unify the rest of the community, especially those who serve our youth, and the systems that they are interacting with,” she added.

Chin says the goal here is simple, “to be an educational, informative series of events that will help evoke change within Washington state’s foster care system, as well as within the education system.”

She says the conversation is so important at this moment, in part because the Superintendent of Public Instruction has set as a goal that by 2027, 90% of youth in Washington will graduate high school.

“That is a phenomenal goal. Treehouse has said that we’re going to match that goal, we want 90% of youth experiencing foster care to graduate from the education system as well. The problem with that is that right now, the numbers are atrocious. I mean, we barely have, for the non-foster care population, a 75% graduation rate,” Chin said, adding that on top of that, the barriers kids in foster care face are astronomical.

“People of color or who are in foster care, the barriers are pretty high, well-documented and significant. For example, … youth of color are disciplined and expelled at much higher rates, than non youth of color. The youth in foster care are disproportionately youth who are people of color as well, you know, the issues go far beyond just the education system,” Chin said.

“When you look at the issues that are embedded in systems now we’re talking about systemic racism, and now we’re talking about equity as a way to really give every child a chance to succeed, as opposed to knowing that the system is going to conspire to make some children with certain traits fail, and when our kids step into a system that is designed to segregate and fail some of them, then what happens is they are the ones who fall out of society. They’re the ones who go to jail, who die, who are thrown away, and we can’t have that happen,” Chin added.

But in order to change any of that and make a better society for all of us, she says there must be a discussion and acknowledgment that there are differences.

“Equity is all about understanding the differences, understanding the embedded prejudices and racism that are in the systems that are designed to serve all children. And then design systems that look at our differences as types. In other words, how can we harness the different cultural perspectives? How can we look at racial diversity as a strength and build an education system and a system of foster care that pays such good attention to these issues that it draws on them for the strengths that they present,” she explained.

The idea behind the virtual discussion starting Tuesday is to educate others, especially when it comes to the discussion about ending systemic racism.

“It’s about systems that were built that depending because of your race, or because of your sexual orientation, the system is built to just assume that you’re not worth it, you’re not worthy. It’s not built for you, it’s to exclude you,” Chin explained, adding that this is what people mean when they talk about privilege – not wealth or stature of any kind.

“By looking at things through an equity lens, looking at the characteristics that everybody has, whether it is a gay person who is white, or a straight Black person, there are inequities that are built into the systems, the education system, and our schools as well our foster care system that are designed to keep those people from succeeding,” Chin said. “And that’s what we’re really talking about. That’s why it doesn’t feel like a privilege for somebody to say, ‘Well, I’m going to school, I’m working just as hard as someone else.’ But the real privilege is that someone can say ‘I’m going to school,’ while someone else gets to say, ‘I’m going to school, but it’s already stacked against me.’ So it’s hard to see that person who’s going to experience a deficit versus someone who’s experiencing what they think is a normal experience that that’s a privilege. But that’s what we’re talking about.”

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Chin says it’s crucial that we have these discussions if we’re going to actually make progress in ending systemic racism, closing the achievement gap and the graduation gap, and all of the other things that really impact people’s lives to truly make a difference in our society.

The event is scheduled for May 25 from 2-3:30 p.m. It will be free and virtual. Register here.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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