'It takes strength to love. It takes courage to love'
Kamiak graduate headlines MLK Jr. assembly at Olympic View Middle School
Last updated 1/25/2023 at 11:52am
Josh Binda is living the dream.
In 2021, the Kamiak graduate made history by becoming the youngest African American elected to political office in Washington state when he won a seat on the Lynnwood City Council.
Known for his social and racial justice activism, Binda helped organize some of the protests in the Pacific Northwest, including in Mukilteo, following the death of George Floyd in 2020.
As part of his Love Conquers All Tour in which he is scheduled to speak to about 20,000 students in 13 schools, Binda was the featured speaker at Olympic View Middle School's annual Martin Luther King Jr. assembly Thursday, Jan. 12.
The assembly also included performances by the school's choir, orchestra, and jazz band.
Students also reenacted pivotal moments in the civil rights movement during a presentation titled "Civil Rights Good Trouble Frozen Tableau." In a frozen tableau, students made still images with their bodies to represent a scene.
The images included Rosa Parks' refusal to give her seat to a white passenger on a bus, the raised fists protest by Black track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics, to the kneeling protests by former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Binda was moved by what he saw.
"I just want to say from what I've seen so far, I'm just really proud to be part of this community," he said.
Binda mentioned his role in the protest held in Mukilteo and related it to the still images reenacted by the students.
"The aftermath of (the protests), in a way, is what you guys are presenting here in school," he said. "It's so cool."
Binda told students that his journey to being elected to the Lynnwood City Council was a bumpy road with its ups and downs.
Binda's parents are from Liberia, a country in Western Africa. A civil war ravaged the county, and the Bindas migrated to the United States after winning an international lottery. They settled in Rhode Island, where Binda was born.
"So, I'm a first-generation American," he said.
But life in Rhode Island was tough for Binda and his three siblings. Crime was rampant and gang violence commonplace. Binda admitted he got involved in activities, he shouldn't have – fights and getting suspended from school.
"I grew up in the projects," Binda said.
At 14, Binda's father moved to Washington for a new job, and the family decided it would be a good idea for Binda to have a change of scenery at a pivotal point in his life.
"I packed up my stuff and moved to Washington," he said.
The difference was striking. Binda went from a community predominantly Black and Latino to one where the population was largely white and Asian American.
Binda also found a community he was proud to call home.
"That's the one thing I'll say about Mukilteo to you guys. You've been so welcoming, so open, and it's been really cool to grow up here."
The stark contrast in life in Rhode Island compared to Washington helped to spark Binda's interest in becoming a social justice activist. It was as if he came from two different walks of life.
"I saw the disparities. I saw the differences," Binda said.
Binda became involved in activism because he said he wanted to make a difference. At 23, Binda had done that.
But he wanted to make clear to students that the reason he's been successful is because he took action. Everyone has dreams for the life they want to live and believes in those dreams.
"I've realized over time in order to truly accomplish your dreams, you have to become the dream and not just believe in it," Binda said.
It's not just believing that you can become a great athlete, it's about you putting in the work to become a great athlete, said Binda, a standout football player and track and field athletes at Kamiak.
Binda said two words – "action" and "execution" – helped transform his life.
"Through action and through execution we can go from believing in our dreams to becoming our dreams," he said. "There's a difference between believing and becoming."
The way to take action is to focus on the little things, Binda said. He noted how a little thing can fuel an entire movement.
Binda cited the simple actions of Rosa Parks, who by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus, helped ignited the civil rights movement.
"She did something that brought her from believing in this dream to becoming it," Binda said. "And that's why she's talked about to this day. That's why she's remembered.
"And it comes through action and execution. And it comes through your daily interactions with each other. It comes through when you see something that looks wrong and you say something. Just stepping up to being that voice."
Binda also urged students to remember that King responded to hate with love, a concept Binda could not relate to when he was younger.
When King led peaceful protests at an all-white restaurant, he was yelled and screamed at and spit on by people.
"MLK still chose love," Binda said. "And in those moments, people had to still decide to choose love. And I think a big thing he emphasized was loving your enemies."
The loving actions by King and others in the civil rights community led to the successes.
"It takes guts to love. It takes guts. It takes strength to love. It takes courage to love," Binda said. "As I've gotten older and I've seen how the world works, it makes more sense to me now why you need to operate that way."
The power of love and positivity became clear to Binda after a random encounter with a former classmate.
When Binda was attending Kamiak there was a hallway on the third floor called the "high five" hallway. When students walked by and saw someone coming in the opposite direction, they were supposed to give them a high five.
"It's a small gesture of positivity," Binda said.
Binda knew this quiet student, who probably was viewed by many of the other students as an outcast. Binda had third period English and Steven (not his real name) was in a nearby class.
After third period, the two would cross paths. Trying to be nice, Binda gave Steven a high five and a quick "Have a good day" before heading to his next class.
Five years later, Binda was shopping at Safeway when he bumped into Steven. The two caught up on each other's lives before Steven asked if he could be honest with Binda for a second.
"He said, 'Look, I just want to thank you.' And I was like, 'Thank you for what?'" Binda recalled. "And he said, 'I just want to thank you for just being a light and showing positivity and love to me every single day you saw me."
Binda said he didn't know what Steven was talking about – he had barely spoken with him. Steven explained that during this particular season of his life he was in a really dark place. Steven said he was depressed and had suicidal thoughts.
"You showed me that small gesture of kindness," Steven said. "It just really gave me hope. It really gave me light in those moments in my life. So I just want to thank you."
Binda urged students to have compassion for each other. He noted that people in his own life showed him love and helped keep him going through some tough times.
"At the end of the day, everybody in this room has got something they're struggling with every single day. It is so important to be with kindness because you never know what someone's going through."