Bringing Black Lives Matter into the schools

October 19, 2016

Over 2,000 Seattle educators have ordered Black Lives Matter shirts to wear to work on October 19, in an action endorsed by the city's teachers union, school board and NAACP. On his I Am An Educator blog, Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle high school teacher and editor of the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, published an FAQ about the #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool action, written by fellow teachers.

ON OCTOBER 19, 2016, hundreds of Seattle teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses, instructional assistants, librarians and other educators will be wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school in an unprecedented action called "Black Lives Matter At School."

Already, some 2,000 shirts have been ordered, and many of these educators will also be teaching lessons that day about institutional racism. Educators at Washington Middle School and other educators from the Social Equality Educators have compiled this list of answers to frequently asked questions about this unprecedented action.

HOW DID the October 19th Black Lives Matter At School event get organized?

IN MID-September, two Seattle elementary schools decided to have African American men from their communities welcome students to school with greetings and high-fives. Teachers planned to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts. One school, John Muir, received a bomb threat from someone opposing the event. Although consideration was given to canceling due to safety concerns, the event was held anyway without any problems.

Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian (right) speaks about anti-racism in school curricula
Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian (right) speaks about anti-racism in school curricula (Venice Buhain | The Seattle Globalist)

In an act of solidarity, a few days later the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly passed a resolution unanimously supporting the schools and their actions, and encouraging all schools to participate in a day of solidarity on Wednesday, October 19:

Whereas the SEA promotes equity and supports anti-racist work in our schools; and,

Whereas we want to act in solidarity with our members and the community at John Muir who received threats based on their decision to wear Black Lives Matter t- shirts as part of an event with "Black Men United to Change the Narrative"; and,

Whereas the SEA and SPS promote Race and Equity teams to address institutionalized racism in our schools and offer a space for dialogue among school staff; and,

Therefore be it resolved that the SEA Representative Assembly endorse and participate in an action wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts on Wednesday, October 19,2016 with the intent of showing solidarity, promoting anti-racist practices in our schools, and creating dialogue in our schools and communities.

On October 8, the Seattle Public Schools noted the event on its website, and stated:

During our #CloseTheGaps kickoff week, Seattle Education Association is promoting October 19 as a day of solidarity to bring focus to racial equity and affirming the lives of our students--specifically our students of color.

In support of this focus, members are choosing to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, stickers or other symbols of their commitment to students in a coordinated effort. SEA is leading this effort and working to promote transformational conversations with staff, families and students on this issue.

We invite you to join us in our commitment to eliminate opportunity gaps and accelerate learning for each and every student.

WHO HAS endorsed this Black Lives Matter At School event?

THE EVENT been endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, Seattle PTSA Council board, The Seattle NAACP, Diane Ravitch (former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education), Dr. Wayne Au (editor at Rethinking Schools and professor at UW Bothell) Carol Burris (Executive Director of the Network for Public Education), and a growing list of academics, organizers and activists from around the country.

WHY ARE school teachers and staff participating?

WHEN PEOPLE know that something is wrong, they often try to change it through social movements. Black Lives Matter is a social movement for racial justice in 21st century United States. Every individual chooses how they show their support of the movement. Some teachers want to be publicly supportive, others would rather be private.

ISNT' THIS a political action, and do political actions belong at school?

THIS IS a consciousness-raising event. School is part of society, students and staff are part of society, and so what is happening within our society deserves and demands our attention. This is a "teachable moment" for the Seattle Public School community.

HOW WILL this event help promote racial equity at our school?

RACIAL EQUITY will never be a reality unless people are willing to talk about it. This event provides an opportunity for conversations that can help our school move toward racial justice.

HOW CAN I show my support?

STUDENTS AND families are welcome to participate at school on racial equity activities in these ways:

1) Wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt or sticker on October 19th. Contact your school to find out what is happening there on the 19th.

2) Parents and educators, here is list of age appropriate resources you can use to teach about racial justice.

3) Attend the Black Lives Matter At School rally/forum/show organized by Social Equality Educators on the evening of October 19 at Washington Hall at 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

WHY CALL attention to Black Lives when all lives matter and when there are other groups treated unjustly in our schools and country?

OVER 50 percent of the Seattle Public Schools' student population is non-white students. The call of All Lives Matter is often used to brush aside the concerns, which led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last two years. In some cases, it reflects the universal consciousness and awareness that many members of the younger generations have come to embrace.

However, until the lives of people of color are treated with equal value by the society, the call for all lives to matter rings hollow. By all measures, African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos, are treated unequally by our society fifty years after the passage of major civil rights laws.

This inequality can be found in incidences of police brutality and killings, imprisonment rates, repeated studies of job and housing bias, health care, and access to quality education resulting in the school to prison pipeline. Black students in the Seattle Public Schools are suspended at four times the rate of their white peers. Until we are treated equally, we must all raise our voices or be complicit in the racism.

ISN'T THE Black Lives Matter Movement only about police killings?

NO. THE origin of the hashtag "#BlackLivesMatter" is in the killing of Trayvon Martin by a vigilante and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential a new social movement. Several years later, unarmed African American Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Then videotaped killing of Eric Garner in New York City helped ignite this movement nationally.

Repeated cases preceded these, and have followed them. Protest actions have been led by BLM activists in hundreds of U.S. cities. But this movement is not only focused on police accountability. This summer, a platform was written under the Movement for Black Lives, advocating economic justice, political empowerment, community control of policing, reparations to the Black community, and for education justice.

The platform writers represented over 50 organizations. BLM activists have also joined with the thousands of Native people and their supporters in their stand for the environment at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

WHY DO some educators' t-shirts include the symbol of a raised fist?

THE RAISED fist has been used by organizers to symbolize solidarity in struggles for racial justice, social justice, labor rights, and human rights for a very long time. It has been used to support such diverse struggles as organizing for workers' rights in 18th century France, organizing for labor rights internationally in the early 20th century, organizing against fascism during the Spanish Civil War, and--most relevantly--organizing for civil rights and racial equity in the United States since the 1960s.

By wearing the raised fist, Seattle educators are demonstrating their solidarity with struggles for racial equity in Seattle schools and U.S. society as a whole. We are also acknowledging the ongoing legacy of struggles led by communities of color, in particular Black Lives Matter and other movements for racial justice in the United States.

WHAT DOES the hashtag #sayhername mean?

THIS HASHTAG was called for in May 2015 to call attention to the Black women and girls who have been killed by the police. This includes the case of Sandra Bland, an Illinois woman who was arrested over a traffic stop in Texas, and died in police custody, hanging in her cell. Black women are outnumbered by white women 5 to 1 in the United States, yet are killed by police in nearly the same numbers.

The statement challenges us to recognize the intersectional nature of oppressive systems including racism and patriarchy and to value and make visible the lives and struggles of black girls and women.

First published at I Am An Educator.

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