2022 Amazing Kids - Portland
School: Lincoln High School
WHY SHE IS AMAZING: Casey organized an educational component for her peers at school during Black History Month and has created a school club and social media page for Black students to connect and share their experiences.
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PORTLAND TEEN FINDS VOICE IN EMPOWERING OTHERS
In 2020, something changed in Ja’Niah Casey. She stopped being the shy girl who mostly kept to herself.
With a deadly virus sweeping the world and a national uprising of calls for racial justice, Casey found her voice.
“During the summer of 2020, I had the opportunity of speaking at a local protest right by the waterfront downtown,” Casey recalled. “There was an incident at my school I wanted to speak on.”
That same year, she got involved with Fridays 4 Freedom, a local Black youth-led community organization advocating for racial justice.
Casey is now a senior at Lincoln High School in Portland.
Speaking in front of people was never her forte, but she says the Black Lives Matter movement and Fridays 4 Freedom have empowered her and helped her empower others.
“I get a lot of anxiety around it,” Casey said of speaking in public, “but when I’m passionate about anything that has to do with Black lives, I speak on it. I believe if it wasn’t for me joining Fridays 4 Freedom, I wouldn’t be myself today.”
Casey lives in Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood but attends Lincoln High School downtown. Her high school is much less diverse than her neighborhood.
Casey said she’d been subjected to racial slurs from other students, including the ‘N’ word. In 2020, she hit a turning point when she decided to address it by creating an Instagram account called Black at Lincoln. The account was meant as a space for Black students to share their experiences. Her first video, posted shortly after the murder of George Floyd, garnered more than 3,300 views.
“Honestly being part of that group has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and find my voice and support other people around me,” Casey said.
Since then, she’s used the account to post “28 days of Black stories” and other community resources.
She also formed a school club called Black Girls Rock, which she calls “a safe space for to share experiences.”
The Black at Lincoln social media account caught the attention of administrators at Lincoln High. Casey met with teachers and administrators and was eventually invited to present an educational slideshow about activism and the deaths of Black Americans killed by police and community members during a BLM week of action at Lincoln High. The presentation was shown to several classes on campus.
“We don’t really talk about Black culture at school, which is something I want to change,” Casey said. “We did all that work without (school) administration. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment. It took me maybe a year to have that come to life.”
She said the response from her peers was positive.
“Kids were writing on sticky notes what they learned and how they feel. It was surreal, because Lincoln is not diverse,” Casey said.
During the same timeframe, she and other Black students teamed up to create a memorial at her campus to Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old shot and killed in 2012 while walking in his Florida neighborhood at night.
She’s also found support among school leaders.
“Ja’Niah started the Black Girls Rock Club at Lincoln and was an incredible leader of this year’s BLM Week of Action and Black History Month activities,” said Peyton Chapman, principal at Lincoln.
“She helped create informational posters that served to teach our entire school community about BLM and helped create classroom peer-to-peer lessons to educate students in 9th-12th grades on critical race topics.
She has worked with school administration … and the LHS Alumni Association on a variety of projects to support (diversity, equity and inclusion) work. She is always looking for ways to improve the Lincoln community and connect students across PPS. She is a natural leader who models humility and always centers the work for the betterment of others.”