Liberated Village Festival Celebrates South End Students' Excellence
Updated: Jul 2, 2023
Edited by Gurjot Kang
Jordan Thomas, a ballet dancer a part of the Liberated Village and Wayne Bascomb Troupe, dances to Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” on May 13, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
Excitement and music swell from inside the Alan T. Sugiyama (ATS) High School at South Lake, Seattle. On May 13, teachers, families, mentors, and students gathered together on a sunny Saturday to celebrate the first Liberated Village Festival.
In front of the school, small local businesses and food vendors offered free food, provided by the Liberated Village, as a blend of modern-day hits and oldies music blasted from loudspeakers. The festival also featured dynamic dance performances and heartfelt film projects—all created by students from the Liberated Village.
The Liberated Village is an academy that seeks to address systemic racism and injustice in the education system by empowering BIPOC students in King County with programs and practices that promote collaboration, youth leadership, healing, and racial justice. Founded in 2022, the organization consists of 19 community-based arts and education programs like The Breakfast Group or Stemtac Foundation. These programs offer an influx of opportunities and career pathways to students in the South End.
Liberated Village is the brainchild of Yolanda McGhee, Project/Program Manager for Best Start For Kids—an initiative focused on improving “the health and wellbeing of King County’s youth, families, and communities.” McGhee was inspired to launch the academy after recognizing the need for a new approach toward local youth programs in the South End.
Yolanda McGhee speaks to festival attendees about the importance of the Liberated Village on May 13, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
“Our shared vision is we want to educate, liberate our scholars, [and] build a transformative educational system that works for our community,” said McGhee.
McGhee is adamant in stating that the success of the Liberated Village is made possible by the community’s emphasis on building lasting connections with the students. A scholar leadership committee and parent leadership committee exist to prioritize the most resourceful way to utilize grant money to benefit students.
Prior to the creation of the Liberated Village, 32 organizations were funded by a grant McGhee refers to as ‘1.0’, which was a trauma-informed grant that operated from 2018 to 2022. However, organizations within schools like Alan T. Sugiyama found this structure insufficient in meeting the holistic needs of their students. Upon hearing this feedback, McGhee returned to the drawing board to create an innovative budgeting method to meet the needs of BIPOC students.
“We’re doing liberation and healing because the community helped me change the name,” said McGhee. “And it represented, really, the work we’re doing. I’m being intentional about centering Black and brown children [and making sure] that organizations that look like that get the funding as well as [the ability] to serve their community.”
Performers of Wayne Bascomb Troupe invite attendees of the Liberated Village Festivals to dance on May 13, 2023, at Alan T. Sugiyama (ATS) High School. (Photo/GZR Photography)
The reevaluated grant, 2.0, is more geared to focus on addressing and dismantling the systemic racism BIPOC students face daily in classrooms, with an emphasis on the lessons and opportunities they may miss out on. The grant focuses on programs and practices that can begin the cycle of healing this wound of academic exclusion through a unified approach.
The grants’ balanced approach was showcased at the festival through the screening of the student's creative work, such as the film “Bully Story.” Produced by students from Kreative Collective LLC led by Dr. Anita M. Cal, an award-winning TV and film writer and producer. The youth film programs prioritize in “creating platforms to express the unique voices of BIPOC students’ and imperative to their self-confidence, cultural identity development, future success, and mental health to experience liberation and healing from systemic racism denying them the culturally impactful career of screenwriting and filmmaking.” The film follows a bullying situation that took place at a Seattle middle school, starring our protagonist Rose. Rose finds herself in a difficult situation after she sees students ridiculing her braids on social media.
The audience is introduced to supportive figures in Rose’s life who offer her advice, such as her mom, and mentors like Katreese from the Liberated Village. When interacting with Rose, Katreese immediately slips into the role of a big sister. Katreese goes out of her way to comfort Rose and rebraid her hair—a significant and culturally appropriate approach toward aiding Rose in her situation. As a result, the film emphasizes how a support system, like Liberated Village, can provide empowerment to the lives of young BIPOC students.
Through the film, “Bullying Story,” students were able to create an impactful piece of art that replicates the spirit of the people and resources that support them.
“If we know something is not working, do we continue to accept the status quo? Or do we have a bigger obligation to change things and do things in a more engaging way that’s going to [offer] more opportunities, more exposure, and not limiting their experiences,” said Dr. Joe Powell, Principal of ATS High School.
Dr. Joe Powell, principal of ATS High School, welcomes families, students, mentors, and community members to the first Liberated Village festival at ATS High School on May 13, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
Powell speaks from his own personal experiences. Growing up, Powell shares how school left him feeling unengaged and unprepared for life out in the real world. From that experience, Powell invested his time and energy into ATS and the ATS/ArtsEd Solutions, an arts and education program a part of the Liberated Village's many youth programs. ATS High School aims to “remix education” through its collaboration and internship programs with local art institutes like KEXP, The Seattle Rep, Paramount Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Ground Zero Radio.
These internships, programs, and activities are all managed by Steve Sneed, a teacher at ATS High School, who put together this year’s first Liberated Village festival. Sneed jokingly mentions that he was only supposed to teach classes for two days at ATS but found himself creating and then leading the ATS and ArtsEd solution program. Sneed arrived at ATS with over 40 years of festival management experience from his time at the Seattle Center, where he assembled 24 individual cultural festivals that are still ongoing. Sneed was excited to get involved with this program upon noticing a need for more festivals showcasing youth artwork, projects, and performances in South Seattle.
After taking inspiration from a youth art festival on the eastside of Seattle, Sneed pushed to create a similar festival for the South End scheduled for spring 2020. However, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was postponed. Luckily for Sneed, an opportunity rose again through this year's Liberated Village festival.
“What I’ve learned over the years is you have to infuse things with energy,” said Sneed. “People can’t deny the energy that was here and people who got to see the young students perform. [It’s about] just being here, what’s possible, and celebrating what we do.”
Student performers like Alex Phengphachanh, a senior at ATS High School, was able to participate in a dance performance with other students of the Liberated Village. Phengphachanh’s love for dancing shone brightly through his dedication. Every Monday and Wednesday, Phengphachanh practiced the choreography and even went above and beyond to incorporate his own dance style throughout the learning process.
Alex Phengphachanh performs with a group of students as festival attendees cheer on May 13, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
“[The dance] had a lot of energy, and my glasses dropped on the floor,” said Phengphachanh. “But, it was simply fun; it was really fun.”
Sneed’s local connections to existing art organizations and institutions allow him to build exciting internship opportunities for students to thrive and grow.
“I have an understanding of what they’re looking for,” said Sneed. “They want to make [a] change in the world. They’re looking for and seeking students of color for their creativity, their inventiveness, and all that they have to offer because of who they are.”
A connection to further explore and strengthen their creativity–that’s exactly how Phengphachanh got involved with Ground Zero Radio (GZR) to do more of what he loves: podcasts and gaming. As an intern at GZR, Phengphachanh spends every Friday at The Vera Project developing his gaming podcast, “Distorted Realm.” On his podcast, Phengphachanh invites friends and gaming professionals to share their love and connections toward specific games, while also competing with guests in a ‘1v1’ game.
The Liberated Village festival is the first of many events planned to celebrate youth art and creativity in the South End. The festival is a testament to a new era of local art centering on the work of inspiring young students, like Phengphachanh, who are able to thrive and further develop their talents through the support of community organizations like the Liberated Village.