An Independent School • Grades 5-12

The following interview transcript is from a conversation between Takiyah Jackson ’96 and Lakeside magazine editor Jim Collins for "In Our Own Words," from the "Black at Lakeside" Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Lakeside magazine. Photo by Brandon Ruffin.

Lakeside Magazine:

Tell me about the community and neighborhood where you grew up, and what the transition was like going to Lakeside.

Takiyah:

I thought it was very interesting and intriguing, the whole process. I remember when my parents — I was in fourth grade — and my parents were like, "Oh, there’s a new school that we’re going to apply to. We think it would be great.” I trusted my parents wholeheartedly, so I didn’t say, “Why?” Or whatever. I was just like, “Okay, sure.” They were telling me that one of the phases of going to Lakeside is to go visit for a full day. So, I was like, “Wow, I think that’s kind of cool.” You get to visit and have someone take you around and be your guide and get a taste of what it’s like. When I went through that process, it gave me a chance, I think, to buy in. Versus sometimes I’ve worked in schools before, especially Seattle Public Schools, sometimes kids have trouble transitioning when you’re just going to get sent to a new school. You don’t know anything about it, you don’t know anyone, and you don’t know what you’re getting into.

I felt comfortable. Especially given that I grew up in the Central District of Seattle, which is my pride. I’m just so ... myself, along with all of my neighborhood mates, we are just so prideful of growing up in the 206 and growing up in the Central District of Seattle. Just because it was such a wonderful community; it was just so many kids and so much fun. It seems like everybody that I knew went to the school I went to, which was a private school called Zion Preparatory Academy. The joke in Seattle is like, “Every Black kid at some point in their lives went to Zion for at least one year." It really is true. Just because it was... an alternative to the public school system. It was actually the pastor of my church — which was called Zion United House of Prayer, his name was Eugene Drayton — who was just very advanced in the way that he was thinking about serving the community. He started his own school out of the church. And then it grew and it grew and it grew into a huge building over in Columbia City. It was just a place that community members trusted. It was a predominately Black school, almost all-Black school with Black teachers, Black community members that different parents knew. And then it turned into people would graduate from there and get older and have kids, and then send their kids there. It was really, really cool experience.

Coming from an all-Black neighborhood and all-Black school, my mom, she didn’t make a big deal about it. But she was like, “You know, the demographics are going to be a little bit different at Lakeside, and that’s okay. But it may be different than what you’re used to. We don’t know how you will be received. We have to be prepared that it may be the same and it may not be the same.”

When I went to visit Lakeside, I actually did not feel a lot of that. I definitely noticed that I was one of the few Black people walking around on my tour. But I didn’t feel any awkwardness about it. I felt a sense of belonging, I felt people were very welcoming. I felt very excited for the few Black people I saw. There’s a thing that we do, especially when we’re few in numbers as Black community members, where we look at each other with a certain look of excitement and acknowledgement and comfort. And even though I only saw like 10 Black people when I visited, I was like, “Okay, I feel like I have some support here.”

Also, I met Ms. Byrdwell, who was the music teacher and a Black staff member, on my visit. I connected with her as well. And then the principal was really cool, I think his name was Mister Finks. I was like, “Oh, the principal is really cool, too.” I was just really excited. Of course, when I was accepted, I accepted my position. I just thought it was a fun experience. Even though I realize now that it was not really far, but to go from the Central District of Seattle all the way out past Northgate, that’s a process. Because I used to walk three blocks to school for most of my life. So, that was an adjustment.

I thought it was really cool that we had a contract with Metro, because I was accustomed to students taking the yellow bus. And I was like, “Oh, this is so cool. I get to take a Metro bus that’s just for Lakeside students all the way out to school.” For some reason, I always thought that was really cool. Because neighborhoods were more demographically populated when I was growing up, my Central District was heavily concentrated with Black families. I know that Lakeside was busing students all over Seattle and beyond. My bus came through the Central District area and then it wrapped around down to the Waterfront like Madison, and then it went through like Broadmoor, Madison area, then we went down towards the Arboretum then up through where Seattle Prep is, and then we got on the freeway. Typically, your bus would represent where you were coming from. My bus was diverse, but also there was a good number of Black students that were getting on the bus and going home every day on the bus to Lakeside and from Lakeside.

The cool thing about that is we were together. I started my day in support, and I didn’t feel isolated. People could discuss similar experiences, and there was just a sense of community that I think made it easier for me to transition into a world where we were going to be spread out and be few in each of the classes we were in or the spaces that we were in. I just remember that as my initial transition, it being fairly smooth.

I started there in fifth grade; I was very young. I really thought it was cool the way that it was structured. I felt like at such an early age I had some trust and autonomy. Just the way that we had to move from class to class and having free periods… I was like, “What is a free period? At this age, I have a period where I don’t have to go anywhere?” Just the whole college prep mentality. I think we all did really well with that. Me being an educator now and having worked with fifth and sixth graders, I’m not sure as an adult that I would be like, “Let’s give them autonomy to do whatever they want for an hour.” I think it can be done, but I think it really needs to be carefully managed. It was really progressive in the ‘80s or whenever they started that process to be like, “And they also need time to have free time. And then they need to decide how to manage their time. If they want to get ahead on homework ...” Lakeside knew how to manage it.

With my friends that I talk to now, they say that I missed out on some of the stories that they tell about what they did during free time. I missed out on some of those. They were like, “You were always doing your homework because you were playing sports after school and stuff.” They said that during my free periods, I was diligent about doing my homework, even in fifth grade. Yeah, so I really enjoyed that. One of the things we talk about to this day, my friends and I, was having a snack bar that was open all day long. And on your free period, you could go grab some cookies and milk, which was my thing. I always grabbed three cookies and a milk almost daily. That was, for some reason, exciting and a piece of wellness for me. I thought that was super exciting that we could just look forward to doing that. Or just look forward to taking a break in the middle of the day.

I remember in our middle school before the new middle school was built, our middle school was on the other side closer to the street. There was a couch in the big lunch area and a stage. And we would just go up and hang out on the couch and just take a break and a breather that really helped us recharge and be present for the next subject. I was getting into basketball a little bit. I don’t know if Jamie and Jasmyn told you, but I ended up being really focused on basketball and ended up going to UCLA to play basketball. I attribute some of my growth to the free periods at Lakeside from fifth grade and beyond. Because I would start to go to the gym and use my free period also to work on some basketball skills.

Yeah, and I think the other thing that was really different that I thought was really cool in fifth grade is that we had our own checkbooks, and we had our own student bank accounts with Lakeside. And that we had to go to the bookstore and purchase our own books. And also, we could purchase school supplies and school t-shirts and different things like that. So, just introducing us early to kind of the high school and the college world was really exciting for me. Yeah, I was definitely coming in as a fifth grader even now knowing people, just really excited about all these new things that seemed really cool.

Lakeside Magazine:

This all sounds new and exciting to you as a fifth grader. What were some of the things that you struggled with, either that first year or later as you grew there?

Takiyah:

I would have to say that I had a fairly ... I would say I had a really good experience. Perhaps that was because of the intentionality around creating community for us. I don’t know what Lakeside had seen before I got there or what led to them creating the advisory groups. But that’s something that I think is really important. I didn’t really have a lot of trouble with anything. I think it wasn’t hard, but I definitely think as a fifth grader, my mom was like, “Okay, as far as time management, we need to be very intentional about your schedule. Because legend has it, that Lakeside has about three hours of homework a night.” And I was like, "What? For fifth grade? Why?"

And it was true. But I also found that, to your point, it helped us be very strategic about our free time. So, if I had two free periods in one day, I’m going to definitely knock out about 50 minutes of my homework before I get home. Because I know that I want ... I was always in different activities after school. And I needed to be able to manage it. So, I adjusted really quickly. I think it might’ve been difficult for one week, just adjusting to ... I think I was used to rigor, but not rigor at home to that degree and that many hours of homework. I think that was an adjustment.

And I think to a very small degree… I mean one of the things that helped me growing up is, although I was mostly in Black neighborhoods, I was always in activities that had a diverse range of students. If we look at the data, we probably were like 3% Black students at Lakeside when I was there, if that. So, the shock of that didn’t really hit me. But I noticed it. I noticed it. And of course, as a Black person, there’s just a certain amount of microaggressions that you have to experience. I think I didn’t have imposter syndrome, but others had some stereotypes of me. So, there was some stereotype threats going on about who we were, I think, just as black students coming into an environment that people weren’t used to seeing us. Just conversations around kind of how we were exceptions to the average Black person. Where we’re just like, “Everybody we know could come here if they wanted to or if they had the resources.” We’re not exceptional in that sense.

The difficult thing in fifth grade is to have conversations or to hear people say things where you’re just like, “Okay.” I don’t know if I want to go as far as calling it racist. But it was clear that a lot of kids there had not been exposed as much as I would have hoped to Black people. So, we felt that. And I think in the moment, I don’t feel like it was a source of stress. I still work with students now, college students, but people can reflect back and say that it was really stressful for them in a racial sense. And I don’t feel like I had that much stress. I think perhaps because of just my experience in the world, I just kind of was like, “Okay, this is just what happens.” It didn’t ruin my day or my experience. But I definitely noticed it and it’s definitely a conversation in retrospect that a lot of my peers still have about their experience.

Now that we’re where we are in the world and have had to endure so much, people do look back and say, “Wow, I wish there was more representation when we were there.” In the staff and in the student body. And also, while I’m so thankful that we had our community, those times on the bus where we would go home after something happened and everyone could talk and different things like that. I think that’s always a struggle for anyone who’s a representative of kind of a marginalized group to come into a space where you’re one of few. I think it says something to you when you step into a place that you don’t see a lot of yourself. It’s like, “Was this place built for me? Am I an exception?”

So, I think we dealt with that to a certain degree. But there were other things that balanced it for me. Also, I was very clear on the level of education that I was getting. So, I think in the back of our minds, we also had this trajectory like we are going to endure anything because we also want to have access to more opportunities. And this is one of the pathways to that.

Lakeside Magazine:

I’m going to read something to you that you said for California Magazine, for the article How to Make Black Lives Matter. I want you to think about Lakeside. You were looking at what Cal was like back in the 1920s. You said, “What did the university do to prepare for those students? How did they envision creating belonging? Or did they just say, ‘You’re here, so you have equal opportunity to thrive?’”

I think that’s a really interesting thing to ask about a school. How do you think Lakeside was doing in terms of making you feel like you belonged there, or making you feel like they were preparing you?

Takiyah:

I think that from what I saw, they probably were thinking about it more than others. Mind you, in the ‘80s, this whole conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice, that wasn’t a thing. People weren’t having meetings about, “How do we ensure that we create belonging for these groups that are small in numbers?” And I don’t even know if they had thought about, “Why are our numbers the way they are? We know that the Black students that come here thrive, or the other students of color. So, why are we so heavily concentrated on having white students?” I think there was a socioeconomic element to that. Right? But I think there was not intentionality about that until later. Until much later. Definitely not during our time.

But one thing I think they were intentional about is trying to match Black students with a Black advisory teacher, which again, that was the first thing that we started out in the morning. And it had nothing to do with academics. It was just like this is your check-in time. Everybody needs a person that has nothing to do with their classes that they can go to if something is going on. I always had a Black advisor. Because there was not a huge number of Black staff, so some of my friends didn’t get that. And I think that their experience was different because of that. Because again, the representation matters so much. And we say that at UC-Berkeley, too. If we saw more of ourselves in our classrooms, in the leadership positions, in advising, just all over, it would be a different experience for Black students.

For me in particular, I had Ms. Birdwell, who was a Black music teacher. I started my morning with her every day. And then also there was some intentionality about not doing the token thing. Where they weren’t trying to have at least one person of color in every group. They were actually intentional about putting a few Black students together and making sure that we had a staff member that looked like us. I had Ms. Birdwell during Middle School and then I had T.J. Vassar during high school. I think that, more than people know, is what’s so important just for me to feel comfortable and supported. And to know, even though I didn’t need to use it all the time, to know that that was a resource.

I think that Lakeside did a good job, and I’m assuming that they were intentional about it just from what I saw. But of course, I’m not privy to the conversations that they were having. But knowing the Middle School principal at the time, I believe that he had Black children, as well. We also felt some comfort in that. We were assuming, “He has to ...” We felt like he had a certain swag to him and that he understood a little bit. And seeing that he had a son, seeing that he had a Black child come up to school one day, we were like, “Oh! Oh my gosh, Mister Finks’s son is Black!” We were so excited. I think that was just a unique time. And not all Black students talk about Lakeside in this way.

Another thing that happened is, a lot of my classmates that were Black never finished out Lakeside, myself included. They all left before their lifer status. Some people are lifers. I started in fifth grade, so I could’ve been a lifer. But not many Black students were lifers. So, I think there’s something to be said about the exodus. Something was happening.

Lakeside Magazine:

Tell me more about that.

Takiyah:

I was just saying, something was happening where Black students were not feeling connected, supported for the amount they needed ... I would say the majority of students that I went to school with actually ended up not staying. Again, I definitely had friends from all identity groups. But my experience when I think about it as a Black student, I talk a lot about it as a Black student just because a lot of my time was spent with my Black peers, and peers of color. Sometimes not. But most of it was. That’s why the lens that I’m giving you is the lens that you’re hearing.

Lakeside Magazine:

What was your decision process like when you decided not to finish? You went through your junior year, and then left as a senior?

Takiyah:

Yeah, my experience was a little different than others. But for me, I had gone to private school first through fourth grade at Zion Prep Academy, pretty much all of my formal schooling. And then I went to Lakeside fifth grade through 11th grade, which again, my experience was pretty great. But also, being in the neighborhood and hearing about the school experience and the community experience of my peers that did not go to Lakeside... Some of them ended up going to O’Dea High School, but most of them went to middle schools around Seattle and then high schools. Our neighborhood school was Garfield. I felt like my experience was somewhat limited. I’m like, “This is great. I’ve been at Lakeside for seven years and I feel like something new...”

Once I got in high school and had the things that I had access to, I was telling my parents, “I feel like I’m prepared for college.” One thing I appreciated is how Lakeside had an option for students to go to another school for one year and the come back. Because going to your middle and upper school for eight years, and it’s a very small population with the same people. I think can make it difficult for you to grow in other ways. You know what I mean? And to meet new people and have different experiences. We got comfortable in the experiences that we had. And the environment was wonderful, but I felt like the world was bigger than Lakeside, but I didn’t know in what ways, because I had not seen the world. I’ve seen the Lakeside world, which is part of the real world. But there’s other parts of the real world that I wasn’t seeing, and I was hearing about. And I think part of me was like, “Before I graduate, I just want to have a taste of something else to mix with this."

I actually wanted to leave earlier, and my parents, more my mom, specifically, for some reason she was just like, “No, I don’t want you to do that.” And I was just like, “I feel like I’m prepared. Let me go and come back”" And then I think by that time, fortunately ... well, I would say, unfortunately, a lot of people were starting to know me as a basketball player. Lakeside was known for being excellent for women’s basketball. And then I ended up being one of the top players in the country from eighth grade on. So, people started to know me for basketball, which is so interesting. Because I actually never played basketball during middle school. At Lakeside Middle School, my friends were on the basketball team, and I would just go to their games and watch. I was a skier in middle school. I had aspirations to be an Olympic skier. So, I didn’t play basketball.

It’s funny to tell that story because everyone assumes that I’m just a basketball player, especially because of how my notoriety really elevated in high school in the newspapers and TV all the time. And then kind of the downside to that is people who didn’t know that I went to Lakeside since I was 11, they were assuming ... To this day, people are just like, “Oh, you must’ve gone to Lakeside in high school because you were so good in basketball. They probably recruited you there.” People still don’t believe it. I was like, “For your information, Lakeside was not recruiting basketball players in Middle School." It really just happened to be that people were good. And everybody that I went to Lakeside with and played basketball with, we were there since fifth grade. So, it’s like no, there’s no way that we can recruit ... We never had a new person come into the high school. I was like, “I’ve been going to school with these kids for three, four years.”

But me being a Black athlete, too, people still assumed I didn’t get in on my own merit and all this stuff. That’s kind of hard. It comes from all angles. Being good in basketball was somewhat difficult for me. Because people just wanted that to be my identity. And I was like, “No.” I was the kid in fifth grade studying during the free period and really serious. Again, to just put me in that box was difficult. So, I just wanted to do something different, and people were like, “But you just won the state championship. How could you leave?” And I was just like, “Honestly? You all just don’t understand. I like basketball, but it’s not my life. I don’t care if I miss out on the chance to win the state championship.” That’s just who I was as a kid.

But for some reason, my mom was like, “No, you can’t go.” So, I stayed at Lakeside, we win a state championship my junior year, like people wanted us to win another one, so we did. We actually went undefeated. We just went the whole year undefeated, and just went all the way through and won, and we were top-10 in the country, and it was awesome. So, people were just like, “Oh, now you have to stay at Lakeside.” And I was like, “No. I still feel like I’m missing something.” Coupled with that, I did have some experiences my junior year that were racially charged. Where again, I don’t know if it was because my identity or what — I’m not making excuses — but I did have some teachers who definitely were questioning my intelligence.

When I would produce really great pieces of work, some them were wondering if someone else had helped me, or if it was me who did it and if I really did that work. I think I had T.J. Vassar there to help me with one of those situations and to remedy it. But I think those are the types of things that were happening. Because I don’t know that there was intentionality around training teachers around all of these things and the students that were coming into their classrooms. So, I think that was kind of what sent me into, “Okay, I don’t want to deal with this anymore.” I always wanted to have a different experience anyways. I didn’t want to have to prove my intelligence in these spaces. I think that’s when I was just like, “I got to go.”

I convinced my parents, especially my dad that I just wanted to try something different. I didn’t know the process, though. At that time, Seattle Public Schools wasn’t just letting you choose your school. They were like, “A lot of our schools are full. You can sign up, and we’ll give you whatever’s available.” Again, people were assuming that there’s these schools that were recruiting me. I was like, “You have no idea.” Everyone thought I would get Garfield because I lived close to Garfield. But actually, the school that was open at that time and had space was Franklin.

So, the city was like, “You can go to Franklin.” And I also had just moved to the South End, my mom and I and our family, we moved to Lakeridge in the South End of Seattle, which was really cool. But I got assigned to Franklin. So, I ended up finishing my time out at Franklin, which I think was a really great decision. Because I just got to experience so many different things. Also, it was the first time that I’d been to school in a diverse environment. Remember, first through fourth grade, I went to an all-Black school. And then essentially fifth to 11th grade I went to an all-white school. So, Franklin was ... There were white students, but not white students all from the type of socioeconomic background that I was used to. That was diverse in itself. And white students who had really been around Black people their whole life. So, it was a different reception of me.

Then there was a lot of Black students, which I was really excited about. And then a lot of Asian students from all different backgrounds. Especially Cambodian, Vietnamese, Filipina, which again, the Asian students that I was used to being at Lakeside with were not from those backgrounds. Because they were more underrepresented in the spaces I had been in. I just had access to different teachers. I mean, the administrator at my school was Black. It was just a different experience. And I think I needed it. To this day, I tell people as a young person, I knew what I needed. And I felt complete. I felt great about what I got from Lakeside, but I also felt great about what I got from Franklin. And I really felt going into college that I was prepared now in a new way. I was happy about my decision.

There was a possibility that I wasn’t even going to get to play basketball, because they have these rules for transfers. So, I had to go through this whole process that they take you through with an appeal. They ask you ... Essentially, they’re trying to rule out that you didn’t leave one school to go to the other just to play basketball. But I was like, “No, I did not leave the top basketball school in the state and one of the best in the country to come to the school that finished last place last year in the league. No.” So, they were like, “Okay.” Ironically, my Franklin team actually went to the state championship in basketball. It was just a really funny thing.

Unfortunately, part of my story is that I did experience a specific incident that really made me choose if I needed to endure that. And I think Lakeside back then probably became aware that there needed to be some changes made. And definitely I know that they’ve made them. But I remember us putting together a whole student committee, essentially like a BSU back in the ’80s to say, “This is a great place, and also there are some things that we need to talk about.” A lot of my peers had similar experiences to me. Where it’s just like going into a class and turning out excellent work, and then being asked, “Did you really write this?” It’s like, “What? What do you mean did I really write this? I’ve been trained at Lakeside with the rest of these kids since fifth grade. Of course, I’m writing this type of work. This is how you’ve trained us to write.”

I wasn’t hit with that type of thing until I hit high school. And I think again, the advisory structure helped, and having T.J. Vassar, who was willing to confront people who were doing that to us, was really special. I think we were able to stay, because we knew we had someone in our corner. But I think at a certain point, people were like, “Maybe I don’t have to deal with this.” Again: that was one of the reasons, it wasn’t the only reason. It was that, coupled with wanting to have just some different experiences.

I think I would do it the same, if I had to do it over again. I mean, I was pushing to leave early and come back. But I actually thought it was really special to be a senior at Franklin, too. Just the activities and programming are a little bit different. There’s a lot of school pride in both places, but I definitely grew up going to Garfield and Franklin’s football games. One year I was in the Franklin yearbook when I was at Lakeside because I was at the football games all the time. But I think there was something special to be a part of it too, to be a senior and to be a part of the community love and the pride. Generations of pride too. To this day, there’s a Franklin family and a Garfield family of connections. I think I would do it all over the same. And I’m so thankful for both experiences.

And also, I’m happy to hear that in its evolution, that Lakeside in a way was paying attention and listening to what was happening, and tried to interrupt. Again, there was an exodus. I don’t know that that’s still happening. But to look at who started there and who finished, the retention. I think that having someone like Jamie and Latasia and different people there ... I think the things that they’re doing now probably started from the experiences that we were having.

Lakeside Magazine:

I want to ask about the work that you’re doing now, which has components of DEI, social justice, and restorative justice. Is there anything, looking back, that you’re committed to and carrying forward because of what you experienced at Lakeside?

Takiyah:

Yeah. Yeah, I think my experience at Lakeside gives me kind of an advantage in the work that I’m doing now. Because Lakeside and UC-Berkeley are very similar. If you look at the demographics here, it’s a very similar place to how Lakeside was in the ’80s for me. Again, you hear me use the word belonging a lot. That essentially is the heart of what I’m trying to do at UC-Berkeley: to create an environment where people feel like they belong. And that requires a lot of different things. It requires looking at your population of students. Because any time that anyone steps into any environment, if you don’t see people that look like you, then you wonder what the organization, institution, or school’s values are, and who they value.

I think my experience at Lakeside has helped me to say, “We know how we felt. So, I can only imagine how Black students at the college level feel when they’re 2% of the population.” What would it be like, half of your day, to be taught by people who look like you? And then to get messages from a chancellor who looks like you? Or to be able to have affinity groups that are intentionally put together, where people aren’t afraid to say, “Okay, the Black students are going to meet.” Why is that important and why should everyone be having conversations to understand why that’s important?

Some of those things were missing at Lakeside. But again, I think in the time that we were in, no one was doing that. And I think Lakeside was thinking about it more than others. But we’re still working on that. It’s 2021 and we have to have these conversations at the number one public university in the country. So, I think that the experiences being very similar helps me to do my work. Some of my successes at Lakeside help, and then some of the struggles at Lakeside help me do my work now. Because I can 100% understand what students are talking about. And I can also help people who don’t understand, understand. Because I’m not just representing what students are telling me, I’m representing my own story, because I’ve gone through it as well.

The same thing is happening to Black students on college campuses. Their work is being questioned, and they’re brilliant. If you get into UC-Berkeley, you should be there. It’s hard to get into UC-Berkeley, just like it was hard to get into Cal. To still make all of those achievements and to get to that point and then people to question if you were intelligent enough to do that type of work — that kind of thing is still happening. So, when students tell me that, I’m like, “I know. I know, and I’ve been there, and here’s what we can do." Then I can put on my T.J. Vassar hat. I remember what was so helpful to me and why it’s so helpful to sometimes rock the boat and to create discomfort and to confront the situation. I learned a lot at Lakeside from being able to have Black role models to model certain things that I am now doing.

My good experiences were impactful, and my negative experiences were impactful. And now I’m utilizing them to try to create something special for our students. I think the goal that I hope Lakeside is working on is not just creating belonging, but creating an environment where all students can thrive. And that requires an equity lens and a justice lens. You have to address the reasons why people haven’t been thriving, and be very intentional, strategic about it. I think Lakeside and UC-Berkeley probably are working on some of the same things and can continue to grow in some of the same areas.