Minneapolis school launches 'I am' campaign to promote confidence

Kindergarteners and first graders at Friendship Academy of the Arts charter school marched along 38th Street in Minneapolis as part of the schools new initiative to promote confidence. (FOX 9)

A south Minneapolis elementary school is hoping to inspire some of their youngest students to make their voices heard. 

Friendship Academy of the Arts charter school Executive Director Dr. B. Charvez Russell and his staff have renewed focus on how recent events, such as the Derek Chauvin trial and the Daunte Wright shooting, are impacting their smallest learners.

"We have been going through a lot here in Minnesota with all the recent events," said Russell. "Our students are experiencing what we are experiencing and when we talk to them about it, they have such a negative view of themselves. They view themselves as less than. They view themselves as being targeted by the police. I’m talking young students that are thinking, 'My skin is bad.'"

There are 280 students at Friendship from kindergarten through eighth grade. Of the student population, 96 percent are Black, 2 percent are Latino, 2 percent are white and 80 percent receive free and reduced school lunches. 

The new "I am" campaign aims to change the narrative and build confidence for all. 

"We are about affirming who you are and how that intersects with other cultures in such a diverse area," said Russell.

Thursday, kindergarteners and first graders at Friendship Academy took to the streets, inspired by the recent walkout by high school students across the state. Bearing signs that stated "I am smart" and "I am beautiful," they walked along 38th Street. Russell believes fostering future leaders is part of careful watching how quickly perspectives can change.     

"When you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, common thing they say: police, firefighter," said Russell. "But if we don’t watch it and don’t work at changing the narrative, then we will have less kids that aspire to be protectors of our community."

"We don’t need our kids growing up thinking, police are the enemy, but that’s the feeling - I have to protect myself against these people killing us," he added.