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Asuka Conyer: Artist, Activist, Leader (3/11/19)

Asuka Conyer By Community Relations Intern: Tristan Johanson (North Thurston ℅ 2020)

As president of SPSCC’s Black Student Union, Member of River Ridge High School’s Black Student Union (BSU), EDGE dancer, and owner of the online art business Calixstix, Asuka Conyer has a lot on her plate, but that doesn’t stop her from taking a stand for herself and others. The River Ridge Junior has been speaking out on issues such as cultural awareness, sexual harassment, and conquering the greater issues in our communities for over two years -  and she doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.

More than slavery

Growing up, Conyer knew very little about her black culture. In elementary and middle school, she didn’t see a lot of black students. The only African-American cultural education she and her classmates received was the same “monotonous speech” about Martin Luther King Junior. It wasn’t until she became a student at River Ridge that she discovered she wasn’t alone. Her sophomore year, Conyer joined the BSU and so her journey to self empowerment began.

She states, “Within the BSU, students learn so much more than the stories of MLK and Rosa Parks. We learn about the thousands of activists who lived then and now. We learn more than just the victimization taught in lessons on slavery. We learn to be proud of our heritage, to be proud of the things that people before us fought for, and to continue to fight for those things.”

The BSU students visit elementary schools in the district, teaching the younger generations that being black can be empowering. “We want them to understand who they are at a much younger age so they don’t have to wait ‘til they’re high schoolers to find that voice,” said Conyer.

The voice she is referring to is the voice to speak out on issues that students see and experience in their daily lives. It took two key events in her life to turn a meek, passive little girl into the fighter that she is today: the district vote on a potential name change her eighth grade year, and her discovery of the BSU. “The name change vote gave me the chance to lead a group to fight against a movement we did not believe in.” It was this leadership that allowed her to discover who she wanted to become. The BSU gave her not only the foundation to become that person, but also the platform to speak out.

“She’s there. There’s no way you can miss her.”

When asked about any influential activists she looks up to, Angela Davis was her inspiration. “I love her image as a person because you never really see her as being weak, or you never really see her as this pushover,” Conyer said. She does not want to feel like she can’t speak up and she wants to make sure that others are able to speak up as well. “She empowers me, not only as a black activist, but her personality… she lets me know I am always able to put my voice into a conversation without the fear of tackling these taboo conversations, and being able to just put myself out there.”

“Behind every voice is an actual student, and behind every student is a story.”

One project Conyer has taken upon herself is uncovering sexual harassment cases within schools. A few months ago, she put a survey out on her Instagram to gauge the severity of the situation and received astounding results. Many people reported having been sexually harassed recently or having experienced it on campus, however very few filed reports of such occurrences. Those who did file reports felt as though little or no action was taken to correct the behavior. Conyer is making moves to collect interviews from students all across the district, over 500 of which are still waiting to be gathered. These will all be presented in a proposition to the school board to change how schools deal with harassment. Conyer believes that every voice deserves to be heard, that every story should be told, and that these stories of sexual harassment “are all the stories that we’ve missed.”

A woman at work

Conyer has two ideas of work; her future career, and her current business. Though she has a distaste for them, Conyer hopes to become a lawyer in order to face the skews in our judicial system head on. She hopes to leave high school in pursuit of a much bigger issue to tackle. “If I’m going to be so judgemental over the law system, I might as well go in and educate myself as much as I can and become [a lawyer].”

Her current business, an online art company called Calixstix, is something she believes will continue to grow throughout her life. Not only is it an outlet for her art, it is also a way to gather funds for nonprofits she believes in. Seventy five percent of the profits she receives from the shop go to support LGBTQ+ issues, the local women’s shelter, and other BSU chapters.

Both jobs are centered on aiding others and ensuring that voices are heard and needs are met. She refused to sit and watch injustices in the world around her. Asuka Conyer hopes to continue to bring about awareness to the many cultures in our community, awareness to sexual harassment, and to ensure that future generations are better off than those of the past and present.