A Hellgate High School senior has earned a trip to the White House as a "Champion of Change" for her work in preventing school bullying and violence.
Iko'tsimiskimaki Beck - you can call her "Ekoo" - is a Blackfeet tribal member who spearheaded a program in Missoula's schools to train and teach students about anti-bullying techniques and to fight racism.
"One issue that has always been a focus of my family is racism," said Beck, a 4.0 student who has applied to Harvard University and plans to study neuroscience and neurobiology. "My grandfather worked with Martin Luther King Jr., so my family has always told me about racism and I've always known about the inequalities in our society."
Last year, Beck was the recipient of a grant from America's Promise Alliance, a nonprofit group founded by Gen. Colin Powell in the 1990s. The group sponsors and funds programs to improve graduation rates, student health and educational excellence.
Working with the Missoula branch of the National Coalition Building Institute, Beck founded her "Inspire to Lead" program, which has trained high school freshmen about responses to bullying and racism in their schools, and also founded anti-bullying "Respect" clubs in Missoula's middle and elementary schools.
Beck, whose father David Beck is the chairman of the Native American Studies department at the University of Montana, has been involved with NCBI and anti-bullying efforts since the seventh grade.
Even with all NCBI and others' efforts, she still sees incidences of racial bigotry, as well as homophobia and cliquish hatred among her fellow students.
"I see it in all schools," said Beck, who has worked with NCBI programs across western Montana. "There's a lot of homophobia and there's a lot of racism toward Native Americans particularly, but also all minorities and even income groups."
Beck arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and planned to spend Thursday meeting the 10 other Native American student leaders chosen as "Champions of Change." The 11 will also attend the White House's Tribal Nations Conference on Friday as well as get a personal tour of the White House itself.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.