Picture of a smiling young woman.

Solyana Mesfin

Today, Sept. 22, 2021, a fellow student of mine was killed and another injured as they waited for their bus to go to school.

First and foremost, my deepest condolences are with the loved ones of Tyree Smith and of those who were injured. The events that occurred this morning radiated throughout the halls of our school. It was a moment where our students were able to empathize with victims of violence.

Kentucky was saddened by the news today and our school community heard from so many across the state who shared our grief and prayers for the families. But those affected need to receive one of our most genuine forms of empathy, and that’s through advocacy.

This is not an issue within our public school system alone, this is a community-wide issue that affects our schools. So far this year, 21 children and teens have been killed in Louisville. That’s more than all of the children and teens killed in 2020, when 16 young people lost their lives. Countless others have been wounded or witness to the violence.

We cannot continue to believe that the troubles in our communities don’t play a role in our schools. Our students’ safety is measured through governmental policies put into place, and whether or not those policies are effective are witnessed within our school systems. Eliminating this issue requires an effort on all fronts. As we address this, individual institutions have to take accountability for what resulted in this incident and must have a willingness to reimagine their structures.

Eastern High School’s Black Student Union convened today, a space where students can be vulnerable in discussions about systemic issues, in and outside of school. Our ongoing emotions prevented us from addressing today’s incident during our meeting. Our inability to speak, speaks volumes on its own. We are tired of witnessing these countless attacks on our community, especially on those our age.

The expression of emotions is not something we take lightly and we will continue to work on establishing avenues of support for our Black students. We must turn those feelings into action. Moving forward, Tyree Smith will be the propeller in our work to effectively combat youth violence. We encourage you to do the same.

If we want to end youth violence within our schools, we must do more than simply establish a police department in our school. We must listen to our students who are most affected by this senseless violence, provide a safe space for them to be vulnerable and promote and support student-led work toward preventing violence in the first place. We must reshape our policies so all affected stakeholders can work collaboratively.

Keeping us in the dark and creating assumptions about our lives will only provide an avenue for something like this to happen again. Question your school’s approach, get in contact with the correct staff, propose ideas, bring along others, join meetings, develop strategies and get the message across.

This isn’t an easy process, but it’s crucial to the well-being of our students and our futures.

Solyana Mesfin is a senior at Eastern High School (Jefferson County). She also is a member of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council and serves as the ex-officio student member of the Kentucky Board of Education.