The story behind the meme mocking Pepsi’s attempts to brand rebellion

On April 5, I woke up to find out I was a meme gone viral.

The hilarious meme by @ignant_ was in reference to the shameful ad that Pepsi produced—and quickly took down—depicting model Kendall Jenner diffusing tensions between protestors and cops by handing one officer a refreshing can of Pepsi. When the officer cracks open the can, the protestors are overjoyed and the officer gives an approving grin. Peace on earth prevails because of commercialism and sugar water.pepsi-ad_cop

PepsiAdProtestersHundreds of thousands of people have liked and shared the hilarious meme that mocks the ignorance of the Pepsi ad that was made from an image taken of me at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle.

But here’s what folks who shared the meme might not know about that photo: The image is a still taken from a video that shows me on the phone, walking on the sidewalk, when Seattle police officer Sandra Delafuente, totally unprovoked, opens up a can of pepper spray in my face. If only Kendall had been there with a cold can of Pepsi!

pepper_spray_HagopianMany people asked if the photo was real or photo shopped. It’s real. Too real. I wasn’t on the phone with Kendall, but I was on the phone with my mom giving her directions to come pick me up because it was my son’s 2-year-old birthday party later that day. That’s when a searing pain shot through my ear, nostrils and eyes, and spread across my face.

My mom soon arrived and took me back to the house. I tried to be calm when I entered so as not to scare my children, but the sight of me with a rag over my swollen eyes upset the party. I spent much of the occasion at the bathtub, with my sister pouring milk on my eyes, ears, nose and face to quell the burning.FacePeperSpray

In the aftermath, I filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department—which is under a federal consent decree by the Department of Justice because of its demonstrated excessive use of force—and I helped organize rallies and press conferences with other victims of police brutality.   This pressure helped Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability rule in my favor and recommend a one-day suspension without pay for officer Delafuente. Not much of a reprimand, but at least it was an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. However, Seattle’s chief of police, Kathleen O’Toole, directly intervened to erase that punishment. Maybe I should have tried handing her a can of Pepsi before I asked for justice?

After more than a year of stressful litigation, I reached a $100,000 settlement. This was in no way justice. Justice would have been making the officer who assaulted me account for her crime. But I was determined to make sure some good came out of the pain and I decided to use settlement money to start the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to honor Seattle youth in who pursue social justice and and organize against institutional racism. Nominations for this year’s award are currently open. I gave the first three awards out last year to some incredible young activists:

  • Ifrah Abshif, whose work founding the Transportation Justice Movement for Orca Cards—secured travel funding for all low-income Seattle Public School students who live more than a mile from their schools.
  • Ahlaam Ibraahim founded the “Global Islamophobia Awareness Day” event at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
  • Marci Owens has been a healthcare and Black lives matter activist and is transgender student who has become a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community

We need to support young changemakers like these because commercialism won’t save us. Corporations like Pepsi will always be in the business of trying to brand rebellion and profit from protest. But while they shamefully try to get their conglomerates “in the black” off of the image of the Black lives matter movement, we will be building that movement and fighting for a world where the wealth is used for the common good.

But for now I’m just glad that one of the most painful moments of my life has been turned into stinging satire that makes me laugh out loud.


Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine.  He serves as the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog,  www.IAmAnEducator.com.

Ethnic Studies Now!: Seattle students ask, “Why aren’t we learning this in school?”

By Jesse Hagopian

First published by The Progressive magazine.

From disproportionate discipline rates to its hyper-segregated schools, Seattle is a tough place to be for students of color. The city has an alarming pattern of segregation both between and within schools, and when the district was investigated by the Department of Education, it was found to suspend black students at four times the rate for white students for the same infractions.

In response, the NAACP, in collaboration with numerous education and social justice organizations, has launched a new ethnic studies campaign. “We have to get rid of this white supremacy,” Seattle NAACP Education Chair Rita Green told the Seattle Times in January. “Ethnic studies is learning about the other cultures within your building.”

The benefits of ethnic studies programs are numerous.


A recent study of San Francisco students conducted by researchers in the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that attendance increased by twenty-one percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by twenty-three. There were positive effects across male, female, Asian and Hispanic groups of students, and especially for boys and Hispanic students. The study also found significant effects on GPA specific to math and science.

As Jon Greenberg, Seattle social studies teacher, member of Social Equality Educators, and a leading organizer in the ethnic studies campaign recently told NPR, “The level of engagement goes up astronomically when you’re talking about issues that affect a lot of students’ lives.”

And benefits of ethnic studies go far beyond academics. Many of the discipline problems in the classroom stem from students who are disengaged with the curriculum and don’t see a connection to their lives. These students often act out and are quickly labeled disobedient—but maybe that disobedience is better understood as resistance to a whitewashed curriculum that doesn’t speak to the problems and issues those students face. As one student testified at a recent school board meeting, “Europeans did not ‘discover’ the land, they stole it from the indigenous natives that were enslaved and killed by white settlers.” When basic truths like these are disguised in a curriculum, students learn to not trust their education.

Ethnic studies programs, coupled with restorative justice approaches to discipline, can reduce suspension rates and help students realize their potential. By teaching students about the history of systemic oppression and the struggles against it, such programs can empower students to become change agents in their schools and broader society.


The social and academic benefits of ethnic studies were on full display in the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, which boasted the highest graduation rates and college acceptance rates for Latino students in the district. It was shut down in 2010 by anti-immigrant Republicans who sought to deny Latino students access to information about their heritage. The educators and students of the MAS program launched an inspiring campaign to defend their community and curriculum—as documented in the excellent film “Precious Knowledge”—resulting, ironically in a blossoming of Mexican American studies programs in high schools across the country.

After a major campaign, a bill was signed into law in California in September 2016 ordering the creation of a model ethnic studies course for state high schools. The Portland school board voted in May 2016 to require high schools in that city to offer ethnic studies classes by 2018. In the 2014-15 school year, a group of teacher librarians in the San Francisco Unified School District created a Black Lives Matter online resource page for teachers to use in the classroom. This collection includes grand jury documents, poetry, videos and graphics, readings, and lesson plans and activities for students of all ages.


The push in Seattle to combat institutional racism in the schools erupted in Seattle with the unprecedented #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day, organized by the Social Equality Educators and supported by the Seattle Education Association, on October 19th, 2016. Some 3,000 educators wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school and many taught lessons about structural racism, the history of struggles against white supremacy, and other ethnic studies curriculum. Since Seattle’s mass action, the Black Lives Matter At School movement has gone national with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, New York, taking up similar actions to publicly declare the value of their black students.

At a Seattle School board meeting on March 15, dozens of educators, parents, students, and community members rallied to support ethnic studies, with signs reading, “Tell the Youth the Truth,” and “White Privilege is Your History Being Part of the Core Curriculum and Mine Being Taught as an Elective.”

One young Asian American woman recounted a program she participated in called “Seattle to Selma,” designed to augment the standard curriculum to give students a deeper understanding of the black freedom struggle. “One of the critical questions students kept asking,” she told the school board, “is why aren’t we learning this in school?” Raising her voice she continued,

All students—if given the chance—can benefit socially and academically if their scope of racial and civil rights history is expanded. When research has proven ethnic studies increases achievement, attendance, the number of credits students of color take, why wait to close Seattle’s unacceptable racial disparities? With ethnic studies, students at all levels learn not to blame individuals, but understand societal structures. Students learn to effectively navigate difference and understand the diverse cultures of our district. Seattle Schools can fundamentally affirm and empower more students to become agents of change.

May her words signal a new ethnic studies uprising to help combat misunderstanding, fear, and hate in our schools and in our society.

——-

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine.  He serves as the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog,  www.IAmAnEducator.com.

“Turning the Streets Into Our Classroom”: Vote for May Day Strike!

dearbornPublished by The South Seattle Emerald

by Jesse Hagopian 

By Wednesday this week every school in Seattle will have held a union vote to decided if our Seattle Education Association (SEA) should go out on strike on May Day—International Worker’s Day—to demand full funding for education, to support our immigrant students, and to defend union rights.

I am voting yes!—and I hope that the rest of the educators join me in authorizing this walkout for the schools our students deserve.

Here in Washington State, our state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that our state legislature was in violation of the state Constitution’s “Paramount Duty” to amply provide for education.  The court has fined the legislature and found them in contempt of court for failing to support public education.  And yet we have seen our legislature continue to funnel money to the wealthiest corporations in our state, giving away billions in tax breaks to Boeing and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich.  Washington State is one of only a few states without an income tax and ranks dead last with most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The year 2017 was the final year that the state Supreme Court gave the legislature to fix the funding problem and it is clear that the legislature has no plans to start following the law anytime soon. ft-teachers-washington

We have tried emailing, calling and asking nicely for the legislature to follow the law and fund education. That hasn’t worked.

Now it’s time to show the collective power of labor.  We held a one-day walkout two years ago as part of a rolling strike wave across the state to pressure the state legislature. That was an important action that raised awareness, brought families into the streets with teachers in a common struggle, and gave teachers a glimpse of their power.  But this one-day strike has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the last because the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution calling on all the locally affiliated unions to go out on May Day. As the Seattle Weekly reported,

SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.

Many unions are looking to the SEA to see if we strike. If we do, others could follow and it could become a mass outpouring of labor solidarity that truly has the power to shake up the one percent and their political representatives in the legislature and make them heed our demands for education and union rights.

In addition to the urgency around education funding in our state, the May 1st Coalition in Seattle has called on workers to strike for immigrant rights on May Day, and there will be a massive outpouring of humanity at a rally that day to stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. All the anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportations are demoralizing our students, splitting them apart from their families, and leading to hate crimes. Moreover, there is a push by the Trump administration and within the federal government to ratify anti-union, so-called “right to work” legislation, that would gut union protections.

I am voting to strike because I believe we as educators should join the struggle for immigrant rights and I see that as a vital component to a better education system.

I’m not content to teach students about the mass strikes and boycotts of the past that won social programs and the right to unionize–I know we actually need to bring back that history and make it real for our students by demonstrating what it looks like in practice. I’m ready to make the streets my classroom on the first of May and teach a lesson about union power and collective struggle that the rich and powerful won’t soon forget.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Has Been Confirmed; And the Resistance Has Too

rally_undocumentedstrudents_

Students in Seattle take part in a walkout on November 14th, 2016, following the election of Donald Trump. (Photo: mitchell_haindfield_/_Flickr)

Betsy DeVos–platinum card member of the 1% and leading corporate education reformer–was voted in today by the Senate as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  With the vote deadlocked at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence, cast his vote for Ms. DeVos and announced that President Trump’s nominee for education secretary had been confirmed.  As I explain in this interview with journalist Sarah Jaffe, Secretary  DeVos has no experience with public schools besides trying to get rid of them with privatization schemes.

But while DeVos has been confirmed, so too has the resistance. Parents, students, educators, and their unions are organizing grassroots movements that have the potential to defend and transform public education.


Posted as part of Interviews for Resistance at http://www.sarahljaffe.com on January 31, 2017

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series, we’ll be talking with organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.

Public schools have been a bipartisan battleground for years now, with teachers unions taking attacks from elected officials at all levels as part of a broader movement to “improve” education by handing control over to private companies. Donald Trump’s nominee to run the education department, Betsy DeVos, is a stalwart of this privatization drive, never having met a public school she liked (and barely, as many have pointed out, having met a public school at all, since she neither taught in any nor attended them nor sent her own children to them). But teachers around the country are organizing against privatization, and gaining support from parents and students. We talk to one of those teachers, Jesse Hagopian.

Hagopian teaches high school in Seattle and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. He is also active in his union with the Social Equality Educators.

Sarah Jaffe: The school where you teach in Seattle, Garfield High School, has had a lot of activism from students, as well as teachers, in the past, hasn’t it?

Jesse Hagopian: It has a legacy of activism. It was the school where Martin Luther King spoke when he made his only visit to Seattle. Graduates of our school founded the first chapter of the Black Panther Party outside of California, here in Seattle. It is a legacy we are proud of and that we are seeing revived.

Earlier this year, our football team (the entire team) took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police abuse. Then, it spread to the girls’ volleyball team and the girls’ soccer team and the cheerleaders, even the marching band. Everyone was taking a knee to raise awareness. Then, after Trump’s election, there were some five thousand students across the district, or more, that walked out, including large numbers at the school. It is exciting to see a new rebellion amongst young people today.

I have been hearing from teachers who are having a hard time figuring out how to talk to their students about Trump’s election. Can you talk a little bit about what it is like being a teacher in this moment, talking to your students about what is going on?

The first example I want to use is from my son’s school. The day after the election a young Muslim girl came in and she hadn’t yet heard that Trump won the election, so she found out there at school. When she found out, she fell to the ground and was pounding her fists into the ground and crying. She was just terrified about what could happen to her and her family — whether they would be split apart — [and] fears of violence. I am so proud of what my son’s teacher did. She decided right then and there to gather all of the classes at the grade level and bring them together, and all the families who were there for drop-off, and hold a discussion, allow kids to discuss their fears and their thoughts and let them know that this is going to be a safe place for them.

That is an example that I try to use, to have my classroom be a place that facilitates dialogue, that allows the kids to discuss the fears and anxieties that they have when they hear Trump’s plans for banning Muslims, for deporting immigrants, all of his atrocious sexual assault exploits, his fear-mongering and hatred and bigotry of all kinds. The students need a place to talk about it. I try to facilitate that, as well as letting them know my classroom is a safe place. On the door, all the teachers on my hallway have put up signs that say, “This is a safe place for our students and a place where we will oppose homophobia and sexism and racism and xenophobia and Islamophobia.” We want to communicate that message clearly with our students.

Then, we also have to do it in the curriculum. It is so critical that our curriculum is talking back to the textbooks, which too often just glorify American history without engaging kids in critical thinking about the real challenges and forms of structural oppression that have been perpetuated throughout US history. We have to allow them to dig into the curriculum and into the history to figure out how we arrived at a moment like this. It’s really crucial to helping support them right now.

The Seattle Education Association had a strike fairly recently and I believe one of the issues at stake there was racial justice, in particular, in the schools.

Absolutely. Last year we went on strike for five days. One of the main demands was about having racial equity teams in every school. The district opposed us and didn’t want to add any racial equity teams. We wanted them in every school building. By the end of the strike, we had negotiated 30 racial equity teams across the district, which was really critical to advancing social justice education in Seattle for a number of reasons.

One, it brought us together with the community. Some of the key leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement signed onto a letter supporting our strike because of our desire to fight for racial justice in our schools. Then, this past fall, this October, we were able to build on that victory. We actually built a monumental action. It was called Black Lives Matter at School Day. It started with a few teachers, but it mushroomed into an action [where] some two thousand out of five thousand teachers in Seattle wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. Many hundreds of teachers taught lessons about structural racism and the Black Lives Matter movement that day.

It really helped to expose the fact that there are a majority of us in the school district that see a much bigger purpose for education than just preparing our students for a low-wage job or shipping them through the school-to-prison pipeline, that we want education to be about empowering our students to create a better future.

The Seattle strike was one of several teachers’ strikes in recent years. Can you talk about what has been going on among teachers’ unions nationally and the challenge to the attacks that public schools have been facing?

The assault has been brutal on teachers’ unions across the country. It has been bipartisan. It happened with an increased strength against our unions under George W. Bush with the No Child Left Behind act. It only accelerated under Obama and his Race to the Top scheme that would further link teacher evaluations and pay to test scores, destabilizing the work force.

Now, we just see the attack unabated with Donald Trump’s new proposed Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, and we know that everything she has in store for our schools is absolutely wrong and we have to build a vigorous opposition to her.

I think that this attack is so strong because the richest 1 percent in this country know that teachers unions are the biggest unions left in America. They are one of the most concentrated sources of organized labor. They have the ability to really transform the labor movement and our communities, to make ties with parents, students and teachers, and because of that source of strength they have also become a target.

When Betsy DeVos was nominated I was struck by the fact that she is a figure that is very closely associated with school vouchers, which in recent years had kind of fallen by the wayside in favor of this really big bipartisan push for charter schools. Can you talk a little bit about those two things and these waves of privatization?

I think privatization is the central aim of the corporate education reformers. The Democrats, over the last eight years under Obama, had worked very hard to give charter schools a liberal gloss and make them seem as if they were part of a civil rights movement to rescue inner city kids, Black and Brown children, from a failing school system, when in reality these charter schools often underperformed the public schools. They function to siphon off money from the public school system to privately-run schools.

They often have some of the most draconian discipline policies. We have seen that Black and Brown students are suspended at much higher rates in charter schools, from recent studies. These schools were just the opposite of what the Democrats had promised, but they were able to cobble together a coalition for a while of people across the political spectrum who were advocating for these schools as an alternative to what they called “failing public schools.” I think that action really laid the groundwork for what we are seeing now, with the revivals of vouchers, which are just another strategy for privatizing public education, giving kids a limited amount of funds to use to go to any school they want rather than actually investing in the public schools and making every public school a quality one with the resources it needs to succeed.

We live in a country that can find trillions of dollars to bomb people all across the world and can find trillions of dollars to bail out the banks that sabotaged the global economy, but when it comes to our kids’ education, they want to try to do it on the cheap. They want to actually try to make money off of it rather than fully invest in the schools that we would need to help our kids succeed.

When Trump announced Betsy DeVos, I said, “She has no idea what is coming her way,” because the movement around public education has gotten so big and so strong in the last couple of years. I wonder if you can talk about the way that students and parents and teachers are really coming together to fight for community public schools.

Absolutely. That is really what we need. The advantage that people like Trump and the rest of the 1 percent have is their immense wealth. The advantage we have is our numbers. Those numbers are really visible around education, because it draws in so many diverse groups together in one place. It brings together labor with parents from all different backgrounds, and students. It has been a source of power for community organizing and social justice initiatives around the country.

In Chicago, I think they have brilliantly organized social movement unionism strategies. They have organized the power of labor to get behind community issues. Then, community groups have come and supported them when they are on strike. And with our recent action here in Seattle with the Black Lives Matter at School Day, it just took us all by surprise. When we passed the resolution in our union to wear these shirts to school we thought maybe a few dozen social justice teachers would wear these shirts and teach lessons. Then, the orders went through the roof and families began setting up tables at schools with materials out front to pass out to other parents about how to talk to your kid about race. We had a wonderful evening forum that was packed out and displayed the talents of our youth. I think that action is one that can be replicated around the country and already has been.

Last week, the teachers in Philadelphia launched Black Lives Matter at School Week. The whole week, they had a different theme every day, within the Black Lives Matter movement, to highlight the different intersectional identities within the Black community and teach lessons and hold dialogues around those actions. That has already been a powerful example of bringing together families and labor in a common struggle.

I could see this type of movement flowering across the country, especially as police brutality continues unabated. The next time we see a horrific murder of a Black or Brown body, I think it will further convince educators in other cities that we need to transform our schools into sites of resistance to everything that Trump stands for. I really hope that is where our movement can go, because Trump emblazons his name on everything he owns. He has the Trump Towers, the Trump golf courses, the Trump Hotels. I would like to see our schools become public sites of resistance to all the bigotry that he stands for. The school reader boards here in Seattle said “Black Lives Matter” at many of the schools on our day. I think if we keep at it, we can help to transform our schools to become these sites of resistance.

Do you have specific tips from the work you have been doing in Seattle for educators in other places who want to start talking to people in their community, their students and their students’ parents, particularly around issues of racism, but in general around the issues that their communities are facing?

One is, for fellow educators, it is really critical to form a caucus inside the union to gather together like-minded social justice advocates and begin to present your ideas to the broader union, to help make your union strong enough to fight back against the privatization attacks and to help raise social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. Oftentimes, beginning with a study group is a good way to go, getting a book to read. In Chicago, the social justice caucus that won the election and took over the union began by reading Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. It was just a small study group and now they have quite a bit of influence in that city.

Right here, we recently held a study group on Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s book From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation. Finding a book that can bring people together to discuss their ideas and then talk about how we want to implement them in the union is critical.

Then, I think picking a couple of key issues that you can organize around that will bring in parents, students and teachers. Here in Seattle, one of the main issues that we are rallying around right now is the fight for Ethnic Studies. I would add Gender Studies, as well. I think in this time where our president disparages Black Lives Matter, where our president is an open sexist and a proud sexual assaulter, I think we need to teach our kids the truth about the contributions to this country of people of color, and of women, and the struggles that they have been through. We are launching an initiative with the NAACP here in Seattle to demand that every school include Ethnic Studies. A recent study out of Stanford showed huge benefits academically, for Ethnic Studies programs, in raising graduation rates. I really think that is something that needs to take off across the country.

Betsy DeVos has not been confirmed yet. Even some of the Democrats within Congress who have rubber-stamped most of Trump’s other nominees are saying that they are going to fight on hers. People who are following that, what can they do?

We need to fight as vigorously as possible against her confirmation because she has absolutely no idea what she is doing with public education. She never went to public schools, her kids didn’t go to public schools, her only association with the schools is her attempt to privatize them with her foundation. During her confirmation hearing they asked her questions about her family foundation because her family foundation has given millions to the Republican Party, but even more despicably, has funded things like gay conversion therapy, which is a pseudo-science that is an absolute atrocity in the way it psychologically abuses LGBTQ youth. She has no business being anywhere near a public institution that is meant to nurture all of the kids in the United States.

I think that we have to raise public protests. We have to agitate in our unions to make sure our unions are vocally opposing this and letting the politicians know there will be consequences if they vote to confirm her. Joining local rallies and demonstrations against her confirmation is really important.

Lastly, how can people keep up with you?

My website is IAmAnEducator.com. They can follow the work I do there or on social media. Most importantly, I think getting a subscription to Rethinking Schools and bringing social justice lessons into your classroom is the best way to stay connected to the movement.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast.

Philly Educators Launch Black Lives Matter At School Week

Philly Educators Launch Black Lives Matter At School Week

phillyblmatschool

Today, educators in Philadelphia are launching the Black Lives Matter week of action, continuing to build the Black Lives Matter At School movement that has now reached school districts across the country. During this week-long campaign, teachers will dedicate more instructional time to issues of racial and social justice, diversity, and community building.

The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool movement erupted in Seattle on October 19th of this school year when thousands of educators wore Black Lives Matter Shirts and many held discussions and taught lessons about institutional racism.   Now the Philly Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee has organized a powerful week of action to address the many intersectional identities within the Black community.

Here’s a list of the week’s activities and themes:

Jan. 23: Restorative Justice, Empathy, and Loving Engagement
A city-wide event starting in the classrooms, where all schools and educators are encouraged to allocate at least an hour of their school day/lesson plan for educating and empowering students on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jan. 24: Diversity and Globalism (#EthnicStudiesPHL)
This first official meeting will create a work plan for educators and encourage the exploration and expansion of ethnic studies in the Philadelphia area. It will be held at 5 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Green, 1701 Green St.

Jan. 25: Transgender-Affirming, Queer-Affirming, and Collective Value
This event – titled “How to Bridge the Gap Between Parents/Families and Schools” – will be held as a town meeting at City Hall. Organizers say it will be a community conversation about the present disconnect and growing gap between parents and school staff.

Jan. 26: Intergenerational, Black Families, and Black Villages – screening of the movie 13th
The movie focuses on how the U.S. criminal justice system has unjustifiably and unequally imprisoned African Americans through the 13th Amendment, which made slavery and involuntary servitude illegal “except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After the movie screening, there will be a talkback discussion regarding intergenerational communities and the disruption of the Western nuclear family.  This event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at Edward T. Steel Elementary, 4301 Wayne Ave.

Jan. 27: Black Women and Unapologetically Black
A panel will discuss “Beauty, Society, & More” and the effects on Black girls and women. This event will start at 5 p.m. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, 3700 Walnut St., Room 203.

Jan. 28: Conversation & Closing Panel Discussion
After screening clips from the movies Pariah and Moonlight, there will be a conversation about LGBTQ people’s lives as they relate to the film and the Black Lives Matter movement. This event will be held from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Ritter Annex at Temple University

The closing panel will discuss “Next Steps: How Does the Work Continue Beyond Black Lives Matter Week?” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Temple, Tuttleman Learning Center, 1809 North 13th St. 

Black Lives Matter Week is co-sponsored by the Teacher Action Group Philadelphia and is also endorsed by many education organizations, including Parents United for Public Education, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Children’s March, Philly Socialists, Teachers Lead Philly, Youth United for Change, and United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators (UCORE). Organizations that support these invaluable school and community dialogues can sign up to endorse here.

In addition, dozes of scholars and professors have signed on to a statement of support for the Philly Black Lives Matter At School action. You can read the statement below and if you are a professor you can add your name by visiting their website.

Academics Sign Statement of Support for Black Lives Matter Week

We, the undersigned professors and scholars, publicly express our support for and solidarity with teachers and community members and their January 23-28 action in recognition of making Black Student Lives Matter in our schools.

We believe that these goals are vital for educators, parents, students, and all communities in order to…

  • create a space for introspection and dialogue around the 13 guiding principles;
  • build deeper connections between educators, parents, students, and community organizations;
  • stand in support of national organizing supporting Black Lives Matter;
  • empower students and student groups to play a leading role in this week and moving forward.

As this work continues beyond January 28, we support the Racial Justice Statement written by the Caucus of Working Educators, which asserts that “purposeful action needs to be taken in order to eliminate the adverse outcomes derived from perpetual structural racism evident in public education.”

This ongoing work will promote equality; the value of human life; and educational, political, and social justice.  It requires us to develop the knowledge and actions necessary to eliminate the barriers that structural prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and bias create in Philadelphia and beyond.  We are committed to teaching, learning, and culture in our classrooms that reflect these missions and goals, and to our role in building the leadership of our students to live by them.  The survival and empowerment of all communities demands this.

Signed,

Rhiannon Maton, Ph.D., Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Mark Stern, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Amy Brown, Ph.D., Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Sonia M. Rosen, Ph.D., Arcadia University School of Education

Camika Royal, Ph.D., Loyola University Maryland School of Education

Imani Perry, Ph.D., J.D. Princeton University Department of African American Studies

Kathleen Riley, Ph.D., Department of Literacy, West Chester University

Casey Bohrman, PhD, MSW Undergraduate Social Work, West Chester University

Seth Kahn, PhD, Department of English, West Chester University

Katie Solic, Ph.D., Department of Literacy, West Chester University

Kristen B.Crossney, PhD, Department of Public Policy and Administration, West Chester University

Gabriel A. Piser, PhD, Ohio State University

Tabitha Dell’Angelo, PhD, The College of New Jersey

Jill Hermann-Wilmarth, PhD, Western Michigan University

David I. Backer, PhD, West Chester University

Laura A. Roy, Ph.D., Penn State Harrisburg

Erin Hurt, PhD, Department of English, West Chester University

Craig Stutman, PhD., Department of Liberal Arts,

Delaware Valley University

Timothy R. Dougherty, Ph.D., Department of English, West Chester University

Edwin Mayorga, Ph.D. Dept. of Educational Studies and Program in Latin American & Latinx Studies, Swarthmore College

Miriam Fife, Ed.D.

Kira J. Baker-Doyle, Ph.D. Arcadia University School of Education

Jessica A. Solyom, Ph.D., Center for Indian Education, Arizona State University

Benjamin J. Muller, Ph.D., King’s University College at Western University (Canada)

Chonika Coleman-King, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Bruce Campbell Jr., Ph.D. Arcadia University School of Education

Erin Whitney, Ed.D., School of Education, California State University, Chico

Susan Bickerstaff, Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Katie Clonan-Roy, Ph.D., Colby College

Jerusha Conner, Ph.D., Villanova University

Jill E. Schwarz, Ph.D., The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)

Anita Chikkatur, Ph.D., Carleton College, Minnesota

Kim Dean, Ph.D., Arcadia University

Rick Eckstein, Ph.D., Villanova University

Ali MIchael, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Kelly Welch, Ph.D., Villanova University

Shivaani Selvaraj, D.Ed., Penn State Center for Engaged Scholarship, Philadelphia

Amy Stornaiuolo, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Sukey Blanc, Ph.D., Creative Research & Evaluation LCC

Vicki McGinley, PhD, Department of Special Education, West Chester University

Rob Connor, PhD, CSA

Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, Ph.D., Professor and Former Founding Dean, School of Education, Arcadia University

Brian Lozenski, Ph.D., Educational Studies Department, Macalester College

Kathy Schultz, Ph.D. Dean and Professor, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder

Jonathan Shandell, Arcadia University

Dean J. Johnson, Ph.D., Peace and Conflict Studies Program, West Chester University
Dean Rachael Murphey-Brown, PhD, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University

Lan Ngo, PhD, Critical Writing Program and Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Jessica Whitelaw, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

Ashon Crawley, PhD, University of California, Riverside

Shaleigh Kwok, PhD, Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Rochelle Peterson, School of Education, Arcadia University

Keely McCarthy Ph.D.,  Chestnut Hill College

Kathy Hall, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Marc Meola, MA, MLS, Community College of Philadelphia

Jamie A. Thomas, PhD, Dept. of Linguistics, Program in Black Studies, Swarthmore College

Steven Davis, PhD, Dept. of English, Community College of Philadelphia

Anna (Anne) Ríos-Rojas, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Encarna Rodríguez, Ph.D., Saint Joseph’s University

Monica L. Mercado, Ph.D., Department of History, Colgate University

Debora Broderick, EdD., Chester County Intermediate Unit

Chandra Russo, PhD, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Colgate University

Ali Stefanik, SERVE 101 Coordinator, Office of Student Engagement, Philadelphia University

Sally Wesley Bonet, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Emily A. Greytak, PhD.

Danny M. Barreto, Ph.D., Colgate University

Rosemary A. Barbera, Ph.D., MSS, Lasalle University

Rachel Throop, Ph.D., Education Studies, Barnard College

Caitlin J. Taylor, Ph.D., La Salle University

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ph.D., African American studies department, Princeton University

Cheryl A. Hyde, PhD, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Jessie M. Timmons, LCSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Mansura Karim, LSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Emeka  Nwadiora, LLM., MED[c]., MSW., PhD., JD., PhD/DSW, College of Public Health, Temple University

Adam Miyashiro, Ph.D., Stockton University

Susan Thomas, PhD, International Studies, American University

Miguel Muñoz-Laboy, DrPH, MPH, School of Social Work and College of Public Health, Temple University

Debora Kodish, Ph.D., Philadelphia Folklore Project, retired

Dana Morrison Simone, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Delaware and West Chester University

Lauren Ware Stark, MA, PhD Candidate, University of Virginia

Richard Liuzzi, Ed.D. student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Martha Carey, PhD, Urban Education, Temple University

Jen Bradley, Ph.D., Educational Studies, Swarthmore College

Susan L. DeJarnatt, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Ryan Villagran, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Katie Pak, Ed.D student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Jody Cohen, Bryn Mawr College

Anne Pomerantz, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Len Rieser, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Sherisse L. Laud-Hammond, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Ryan M. Good, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor, Temple University

Monica L. Clark, M.S., Ph.D. Student & Undergrad Gen Ed Instructor, College of Ed, Temple University

Maia Cucchiara, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Urban Education, Temple University

Stephen Danley, DPhil, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Rutgers-Camden University

Juliet Curci, PhD, Temple University College of Education

Elaine Leigh, Ph.D. Student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Lynnette Mawhinney, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

 

The Power of declaring #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool

ghs_blmThe hallways of Seattle schools were packed as always on Wednesday, October 19, but the difference was that thousands of teachers, students and staff were wearing similar t-shirts affirming Black lives. The Black Lives Matter at School day originated among teachers committed to social justice and was ultimately endorsed by the teachers’ union, the NAACP, the Seattle Council PTSA, and event supported by school district.

Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and editor of the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, answered questions from Brian Jones about how the day came about and what can come of it in the future.  This interview was first published at Socialistworker.org.

—-

Brian Jones: THE WEDNESDAY of Black Lives Matter at School was pretty special. How did your day start?

Jesse Hagopian: IT WAS an incredible day–like none I’ve ever experienced before. It started with getting dressed and putting on my own Black Lives Matter shirt, and my older son’s shirt, and then my 3-year-old’s shirt.

I began by taking my second grader to school. We get to school, and on the front door is a letter from the school’s PTA stating why it fully supports teachers wearing BLM shirts to school.

That put a smile on my face that only got bigger when I opened the door and saw all the faculty in the building wearing BLM shirts. And then the principal wearing a BLM shirt. And then the school counselor wearing the shirt.

I talked to my son’s teacher about the plans for the day, including showing the students a picture of Colin Kaepernick and asking them what they thought his “taking a knee” protest was about. So I knew right away that this was going to be much bigger than just wearing a T-shirt–that the lessons were going to be deeply meaningful to challenging injustice. It was really breathtaking from the beginning.

Then I went to drop off my younger son at pre-school, and all of his pre-school teachers were wearing the BLM shirts. It was just a celebration. We were all so thrilled that we could come out and say what we all believe, and not be afraid.

Brian Jones: YOU WROTE on your blog that this has never happened in an entire school district. How did the Black Lives Matters At School day spread to more than 2,000 teachers?

Jesse Hagopian: IT STARTED with a couple of brave elementary schools, Leschi and John Muir, which at the very beginning of the school year wanted to have a celebration of Black lives by having African American community members come to the schools and celebrate the students on their way in by giving them high-fives, and then holding dialogues during school.

At John Muir Elementary, a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative helped organize the action, and teachers designed a Black Lives Matter shirt. The media got a hold of the design, and they freaked out, attacking these teachers for having the audacity to declare that their Black students’ lives are important.

Then some hateful individual made a violent threat against the school, and the school district announced it was going to cancel this celebration of Black lives at John Muir.

But to the teachers’ and the community’s great credit, they carried on–many of the teachers wore their shirts and many of the community members showed up anyway. It wasn’t as large as it would have been without the threat, but these teachers showed real bravery.

Those of us in the Social Equality Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file organization inside the Seattle Education Association, reached out right away to those teachers and invited them to our meeting to share their story.

People were so moved by their work that we decided we needed to show solidarity, and that the best way to do that wouldn’t be to just pass a resolution saying we support them, but to take it a step further and spread this action to every school.

When we brought it to the meeting of the union’s Representative Assembly, we weren’t sure what to expect. But we’ve been building SEE for a long time, and we’ve built up a lot of respect and credibility. So when my colleague Sarah Arvey, one of the leaders in SEE, put the resolution forward to spread the action to every school, a couple of us spoke to it, and it passed unanimously.

That was the first thing that caught me off guard. It was a sign that this was going to be a significant event.

blmshirt_2-jpgWe went to work on a couple designs for shirts teachers could order. The first was a version of the shirt that John Muir wore–it was designed by their art teacher, Julie Trout, and featured a tree and the words “Black Lives Matter. We Stand Together.” The second design also said “Black Lives Matter,” but featured the solidarity fist and added “#SayHerName,” the hashtag created in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death to highlight police violence against women.

After that, we moved on to figuring out how to organize a t-shirt distribution operation for an entire city–thousands of shirts of various sizes had to be ordered and distributed.

But over the course of the next few weeks, we ran out of our orders for more than 2,000 t-shirts. Plus many schools made their own t-shirts. So when you factor in the number of parents and students wearing their own shirts, many thousands of educators and public school families made this declaration to affirm Black lives.

Brian Jones: SEATTLE TEACHERS have been through a few struggles in the past few years, whether it’s the MAP test boycott or the strike at the start of school last year. I’ve heard you talk before about how these mass collective struggles are really the best teacher of all–about how people change in moments like this. Does that apply here?

Jesse Hagopian: IT REALLY does. It’s incredible to see the transformation that people go through when they take these bold steps and struggle collectively.

At Garfield High School, the faculty voted unanimously several years ago to refuse to administer the MAP test, and then we were threatened with suspension without pay, but the school district ultimately got rid of the test altogether. The lessons of that emboldened the staff over the course of the past two years in ways that I’ve only read about class struggle teaching people their own power.

When they threatened to get rid of a teacher at Garfield a couple years ago, the entire building emptied out to rally and say we need more teachers in the building to lower class size, we refuse to allow the district to remove a teacher. And we won that battle.

But you saw these lessons spill out across the whole Seattle School District in the strike last fall, when the union stood up to fight for an end to standardized testing in our evaluations, largely inspired by the actions of the MAP test boycott–but also more recess time for kids, and race and equity teams in every building.

lowellreaderboardI think it was social justice teachers in the union demanding that race and equity teams be part of the contract fight–introducing a discussion about the necessity of educators to confront institutional racism–that laid the groundwork for this incredible day we had of Black Lives Matter at School Day.

Brian Jones: I KNOW the SEE caucus has been putting out some specific ideas about further demands to make about changes in the schools. What were some of these?

Jesse Hagopian: WE’VE BEEN working for some time on issues of undoing institutional racism in our schools.

One issue where we would like to go further in this new moment is trying to end disproportionate discipline in Seattle public schools. The Department of Education came in and did a study that shows Black students are suspended at four times the rate of white students for the very same infractions in Seattle schools.

So we would like to fight for an end to zero-tolerance discipline and move toward restorative justice practices, which instead of pushing kids out of school actually try to solve the problems that they face.

We want an end to the rigid tracking system that has so deeply segregated our schools and classrooms, largely excluding Black students and other students of color from advanced classes.

We also think it’s vital that Black students be able to learn about their own history–their struggles and their successes. And we want to have a new fight for ethnic studies programs in our schools.

Those things were really validated when we had an evening rally as the culmination of Black Lives Matter at School Day. It was standing room only and packed to the rafters with families who came in their BLM shirts to hear from a wonderful lineup of performers and activists and organizers–and, most importantly, students.

We held a roundtable discussion with students from several high schools and middle schools, and they really laid out what the problems are–the way racism manifests in our schools, the steps they’ve taken to challenge this, and what they would like to see different in the schools. A lot of what they expressed were problems that SEE has been working on.

So I imagine we’re entering a new era in Seattle around education. Our city will never be the same, because we have an emboldened core of teachers and students and parents who I think will be more readily mobilized around these kinds of issues.

Brian Jones: I SAW that the Garfield High School football team was making headlines for kneeling during the national anthem, following the example of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and you mentioned that students spoke out at the forum at the end of Black Lives Matter at School Day. So there’s already a pattern of students in Seattle, and at Garfield in particular, taking a lead on these issues. What do you think comes next?

Jesse Hagopian: THE FIRST thing to say is that critics of our movement say “don’t politicize the school”–but the students are already talking about the BLM movement every day, in all of our school buildings. And they’re taking action, whether it’s on the football field or the volleyball court or at rallies.

They’re having deep discussions about the systemic inequalities, the realities of racism that they face every day–and then they get to school, and they’re supposed to stop talking about the issues that matter most to them.

That’s a bizarre disconnect. School is supposed to be a place to talk about the things that matter most, and now they’re being allowed to do that. So I think that a lot of what the teachers did in wearing that shirt was inspired by the actions of students who are protesting all around the city.

The most powerful experience of the day for me was the rally we had at Garfield. On the steps of our school at lunchtime, we had a speakout, with the coaches and the counselors and the teachers and many students on the steps. People were sharing why they wore the shirt, and I saw one of my colleagues, Janet DuBois, with tears streaming down her face.

She beckoned me over, and she asked me, “Should I tell everybody?” I knew exactly what she was referring to because she had revealed this secret to me a year ago, but hadn’t told anybody else.

So right there, in front of all the media assembled to document our rally, and in front of all the students and staff, she let everyone know about the pain she’d been carrying for years because the police had murdered her son in a city in the south of Washington state. She had to leave the teaching profession for many years until she could bring herself to come back. When she did, she got a job at Garfield, but nobody knew about that trauma she was dealing with.

If nothing else comes out of the Black Lives Matter at School Day, at least this wonderful educator won’t have to suffer with that pain by herself–now, she has the support and solidarity of her community.

I think it was one of the most incredible moments of my life to see somebody look around and have an entire faculty wearing BLM shirts–and feel like in that moment she could finally tell her truth.

I hope this action spreads across the country so other communities can experience the power of collectively declaring, “Black Lives Matter!”

Transcription by Sarah Levy

 

What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party—but Should

 bpp_logo_50anniv-315x300

By Adam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian, first published at the Zinn Education Project

Fifty years ago this month, the Black Panther Party was born. Its history holds vital lessons for today’s movement to confront racism and police violence, yet textbooks either misrepresent or minimize the significance of the Black Panthers.

bpp_newspaper_collage-501x550The first issue of the Black Panther newspaper, which at its height had a weekly circulation of 140,000 copies, asked, “WHY WAS DENZIL DOWELL KILLED?” Helping Dowell’s family demand justice in Richmond, California, was one of the first major organizing campaigns of the Black Panther Party. Anyone reading the story of Denzil Dowell today can’t help but draw parallels to the unarmed Black men and women regularly murdered by the police. The disparity between the police’s story and the victim’s family’s, the police harassment Dowell endured before his murder, the jury letting off Dowell’s killer, even the reports that Dowell had his hands raised while he was gunned down, eerily echo the police killings today that have led to the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yet when we learn about the early years of the Panthers, the organizing they did in Richmond—conducting their own investigation into Dowell’s death, confronting police who harassed Dowell’s family, helping mothers in the community organize against abuse at the local school, organizing armed street rallies in which hundreds filled out applications to join the party—is almost always absent. Armed with a revolutionary socialist ideology, as the Panthers grew, so did what they organized around. They fought in Black communities across the nation for giving the poor access to decent housing, health care, education, and much more.

This local organizing that Panthers engaged in has been erased in the textbooks, yet it is precisely what won them such widespread support. By 1970, a Market Dynamics/ABC poll found that Black people judged the Panthers to be the organization “most likely” to increase the effectiveness of the Black liberation struggle, and two-thirds showed admiration for the party. Coming in the midst of an all-out assault on the Panthers from the white press and law enforcement, including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s claim that the Panthers were “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” this support is remarkable.

The Textbook Version of the BPP

A few of the major textbooks don’t even mention the Black Panthers, while most give the organization only a sentence or two. Even the small number that do devote a few paragraphs to the party, give little context for their actions and distort their ideology.Textbooks often associate the Panthers bpp_sicklecellenemiatesting-335x224with violence and racial separatism. For example, Teacher Curriculum Institute’s History Alive! The United States reads,

Black Power groups formed that embraced militant strategies and the use of violence. Organizations such as the Black Panthers rejected all things white and talked of building a separate black nation.

While ignoring that the Panthers believed in using violence only in self-defense, this passage also attempts to divide the Panthers from “nonviolent” civil rights groups. The Panthers didn’t develop out of thin air, however, but evolved from their relationships with other civil rights organizations, especially the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The name and symbol of the Panthers were adopted from the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), an independent political organization SNCC helped organize in Alabama, also called the “Black Panther Party.” Furthermore, SNCC allied with the Panthers in 1968 and while the alliance only lasted five months, it was a crucial time for the growth of the Panthers.

The passage from History Alive! also incorrectly paints the Panthers as anti-white, erasing their important work building multiracial coalitions. Most famously, Chicago Panther leader Fred Hampton organized the Rainbow Coalition including the Puerto Rican Young Lords and the Young Patriots—a group of poor Southern white migrants. The Black Panthers helped the Patriots set up their own community service programs. In California, the Panthers made an important alliance with the mostly white Peace and Freedom Party. The Peace and Freedom Party ran Eldridge Cleaver for President in 1968 in an attempt to provide an antiwar, anti-racist alternative to the Democratic Party. An editorial in the Black Panther explained: “The increasing isolation of the black radical movement from the white radical movement was a dangerous thing, playing into the power structure’s game of divide and conquer.”

Some textbooks erase the socialist character of the Black Panther Party. Holt McDougal’s The Americans, reads, “Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded a political party known as the Black Panthers to fight police brutality in the ghetto.” While the textbook later acknowledges other things the Panthers advocated, by reducing the reason for their founding to fighting police brutality, The Americans profoundly diminishes the important ideological basis of the party. More clearly than any other national civil rights organization, the Panthers linked the fight against racism with the fight against capitalism. As Newton explained in The Black Panther, reprinted in The Black Panthers Speak, “We realize that this country became very rich upon slavery and that slavery is capitalism in the extreme. We have two evils to fight, capitalism and racism. We must destroy both.” The Panthers understood that Black people could not achieve socialism on their own and their work building multiracial anti-capitalist coalitions flowed from that analysis. In fact, the Panthers developed an education requirement for joining the party that consisted of reading 10 books relating to Black liberation and socialism.

Several textbooks also blame the Panthers for the end of the Civil Rights Movement, while ignoring or downplaying the role the FBI played in destroying the party. In a later section in The Americans, the authors write, “Public support for the civil rights movement declined because some whites were frightened by the urban riots and the Black Panthers.” What textbooks like this fail to mention, is the decline in public support was a result of the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of the FBI. According to scholar Ward Churchill in Agents of Repression:

. . . the Black Panther Party was savaged by a campaign of political repression, which in terms of its sheer viciousness has few parallels in American history. Coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation . . . and enlisting dozens of local police departments around the country, the assault left at least 30 Panthers dead, scores of others imprisoned after dubious convictions, and hundreds more suffering permanent physical or psychological damage. Simultaneously, the party was infiltrated at every level by agents provocateurs, all of them harnessed to the task of disrupting its internal functioning. Completing the package was a torrent of “disinformation” planted in the media to discredit the Panthers before the public, both personally and organizationally, thus isolating them from potential support.

With minimal and problematic coverage in the history textbooks, there is little curriculum for teachers hoping to provide students with the crucial history of the Black Panther Party.

Teaching the Panthers Through Role Play

To try to give students a fuller picture of the party’s history, we wrote a mixer activity in which each student takes on a role of someone who was in or connected to the Black Panthers. The roles give students a thumbnail sketch of that person’s biography along with details that help illuminate aspects of the party. We tried to emphasize why people joined the Black Panther Party. For example, the role of Kathleen Cleaver begins:

As a young Black woman growing up in Alabama in the 1950s, you wanted to challenge injustice. You were inspired by powerful women leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). . . . These women were creating a social revolution in the Deep South and all worked with SNCC. . . . In 1966, you went to organize in SNCC’s New York office and then to Atlanta. You had joined SNCC at the time it took up the slogan “Black Power,” and you saw the Black Panther Party as taking the positions SNCC was headed toward. . . . You decided to move to San Francisco and join the Panthers.

Students also meet Ruby Dowell, Denzil Dowell’s sister who joined the party after the organizing the Panthers did in Richmond.

We also tried to highlight the repression the Panthers faced along with some of the lesser known, but important stories of Panther community organizing. The role for Lumumba Shakur, founder of the New York Black Panther Party chapter, explains how the entire New York Panther leadership was arrested on flimsy evidence. The role continues:

. . . you spent two years in prison while the trial proceeded. You organized prisoners to fight for better living conditions and at one point took control of the jail from the prison guards. You demanded and received bail hearings for every prisoner. Hundreds of prisoners were released as a result of the new hearings.

Students also encounter Panther allies in the Young Patriots, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords. They also meet Panther “enemies” like FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Los Angeles police officer Pat McKinley.

bpp_communityschool_1972.jpg
Children at the Intercommunal Youth Institute.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the Panthers we tried to highlight was their role in the struggle for anti-racist education. In Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, historian Donna Murch details how the Panthers had their origins in “Agitation for Black Studies courses and debates about the ‘relevance’ of education,” and describes the membership of Panthers as “Composed largely of Southern migrants under 25, including many students recruited from local high schools and community colleges. . . .” The Panthers were formed out of a study group at Oakland’s Merritt College. The Panthers’ belief in the need for an education beyond what was being taught in the school system led them to develop a network of liberation schools for youth.

We hope the mixer we wrote, Wayne Au’s lesson on the Panthers’ Ten Point Program, and Ursula Wolfe-Rocca’s lesson on COINTELPRO, can be starting points for educators who hope to arm a new generation with the story of the Panthers. As the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party draws new attention to the organization, these lessons should be just a few of many to come that help teachers and students explore this rich—and too often ignored—history.

Adam Sanchez, Zinn Education Project Organizer and Curriculum Writer | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryJesse Hagopian | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryAdam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian are editors of Rethinking Schools magazine. Sanchez teaches at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, and works as curriculum writer and organizer with the Zinn Education Project. Hagopian teaches at Garfield High School in Seattle, and is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing (Haymarket Books, 2014).

Editor’s note: The mixer role play will be posted on the Zinn Education Project later this school year.

Garfield High School Goes on Bended Knee for Black Lives

bendedkneeblacklives

Garfield High School’s football and volleyball team pictured with the faculty and administration.

By Jesse Hagopian, first published at The Progressive.

The Jocks.The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.

But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in black communities across the country is just such a peril—and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem—is just such a hope.

On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines around the country. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time Magazine that featured Kaepernick on the cover CBS news came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”

It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against black people, and an affirmation that black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released,

“We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.”

And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system.  Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the bulldog scholar athletes aren’t having it.

Here is the teams’s six-point program to confront injustice and oppression:

1. Equality for all regardless of race, gender, class, social standing and/or sexual orientation—both in and out of the classroom as well as the community.

2. Increase of unity within the community. Changing the way the media portrays crime. White people are typically given justification while other minorities are seen as thugs, etc.

3. Academic equality for students. Certain schools offer programs/tracks that are not available at all schools or to all students within that school. Better opportunities for students who don’t have parental or financial support are needed. For example, not everyone can afford Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees and those who are unable to pay those fees, are often not encouraged to enroll into those programs. Additionally, the academic investment doesn’t always stay within the community.

4. Lack of adequate training for teachers to interact effectively with all students. Example, “Why is my passion mistaken for aggression?” “Why when I get an A on a test, does the teacher tell me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could pull that off.’”

5. Segregation through classism.

6. Getting others to see that institutional racism does exist in our community, city, state, etc.

The rebellion didn’t stop with the Bulldog’s football team.

The Garfield High School girls’ volleyball team all took a knee. At the following football game, the marching band and the cheerleaders joined the players on bended knee for justice. At the homecoming game—a space that is more associated with mascots and rivalry then with protest and solidarity—Black Student Union members lifted a sign during the national anthem proclaiming,

“When we kneel you riot, but when we’re shot you’re quiet.”

The sign references death threats directed at Kaepernick as well as cowardly wishes of harm made against the Garfield football team for their actions. One Black Student Union officer told me:

“The anthem doesn’t represent what is currently happening in the U.S. and what has happened in the past—from slavery to police brutality and mass incarceration. Don’t be mad at us for protesting against these issues, be mad at the people who caused them.”

Our school has a long tradition of combating injustice. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s only visit to Seattle he delivered his speech at Garfield High School. One of the young students at that speech was Aaron Dixon, who would later see Stokely Carmichael go on to graduate from Garfield and help found the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Since my time returning to teach at my alma mater I have seen Garfield continue this tradition. In 2011, Garfield high school students lead a walkout against the state legislature’s plan to cut $2 billion from healthcare and education.  In 2013, the teachers voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, helping to ignite a national revolt against high-stakes testing in what commentators have called the “Education Spring.”

When a grand jury failed to indict Darrin Wilson for the murder of unarmed African American Michael Brown, the Garfield BSU lead a walkout of some 1,000 students, joining with the NAACP rally, and help launch the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle.  In January of 2015, Garfield High School’s Quincy Jones Auditorium (named after our celebrated musician alum) was packed with some 600 students, parents, and community members to hear from political sportswriter Dave Zirin and the legendary 1968 Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos—the Black track star who joined teammate Tommie Smith in raising his fist to the sky during the medal ceremony playing of the national anthem.

All of these events have aided struggles for social justice and have made Garfield a truly fulfilling place to work. But the solidarity exhibited this fall has stirred the deepest emotion in me. This moment was made possible by remarkable support from coaches, educators, counselors, mentors, and administrators.As head football coach Joey Thomas said, “One thing we pride ourselves on is we have open and honest conversations about what is going on in this society.  It led kids to talk about the social injustice they experience.” Garfield High School principal Ted Howard also gave his support in a statement that read,

“The Garfield High School Football Team has taken a powerful, united stance with the hope of being a catalyst for positive dialogue and change. The youth and their coaches have put a great deal of thought and heart into their decision to take a knee at their games… I ask our community to support our young people, our team and our leaders.”

One teacher organized the Garfield High School staff for a photo to publicly demonstrate solidarity with the football and volleyball team.  As the players approached, the staff broke out in cheers and applause that sent my heart soaring.

And the work continues.

At Garfield this year, educators started a new initiative to combat racial segregation between honors and regular humanities classes by un-tracking 9th grade classes.  The Seattle Education Association recently resolved to endorse educators across Seattle wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school.

Great teachers are important.  Yet as history has shown, struggle is the greatest teacher of all. The lessons this movement has imparted on young people today have been truly revelatory.  As a member of the Garfield girls volleyball team recently expressed to her teachers:

“I was taking a knee for all of my fallen brothers’ and sisters’ lives who have been taken due to racial injustice and have been taken well before God called them home. I also took a knee because I don’t need to gloriously praise a flag that only seems to praise one class and race.”

Jesse Hagopian is the Seattle Fellow for the Progressive Magazine, a social studies teacher and Black Student Union advisor at Garfield High School, and the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

Thousands of Seattle teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. Here’s what it looked like.

The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool event in Seattle yesterday was breathtaking.

Never before in the country has an entire district of educators risen up to declare that Black lives matter. It’s hard to even put into words the power of this event. It has been reported that 2,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school across the district–in fact, the number was much larger than that.  That is the number of shirts that were ordered from the Social Equality Educators, however, many schools made their own shirts. Families made buttons and distributed them to schools.  Some parents set up informational booths in front of their school with resources for teaching about racism. There was a joyous atmosphere around the city.  Many educators around the city took the day to teach students developmentally appropriate lessons about institutional racism and hold dialogues about Black lives matter.

There is so much work left to be done to make Black Lives truly matter at school. But at the rally for Black lives at lunchtime at my high school, Garfield, something happened that let everyone know that change is already happening.

One of our teachers, Janett Du Bois, revealed to everyone in the middle of our rally that the police had murdered her son a few years ago. No one at our school knew about this. It was in that moment of seeing everyone wearing  Black Lives Matter shirts that she found the strength to tell her story. Her bravery to go public with this has changed Garfield forever.  I am so glad that she no longer has to suffer alone with the pain. Here is a short news story that doesn’t do her full speech justice, but will give you a glimpse: http://www.king5.com/news/local/seattle/2000-seattle-teachers-to-wear-black-lives-matter-shirts/338419052

ABC provided national news coverage of our day and the amazing evening rally: http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/seattle-teachers-bring-black-lives-matter-school-42942387

Here is a link to some of the best photos taken of the day from a Seattle Public Schools parent, photographer, and author Sharon Chang: https://sharonhchang.com/blacklivesmatteratschool/

Below are just some of the photos of schools from around Seattle who participated in #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool:

“We’ve got your back”: These luminaries for social justice support the hundreds of Seattle educators wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Oct. 19th

jc_supportsblmatschoolWith over 2,000 Seattle educators now having ordered “Black Lives Matter” shirts to wear to school on Oct. 19th, #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day is shaping up to be a historic demonstration. In addition to wearing the shirts, many educators will also use the day to lead discussions about institutional racism and what Black Lives Matter means. This action has been endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle council PTSA board, the Social Equality Educators, and the Seattle NAACP. In addition, over 200 scholars from around the country have issued their support in a collective statement of solidarity.

Now some of the country’s preeminent activists, racial justice advocates, and authors, have added their voice to the calls of support for this unprecedented action!

Seattle teachers who choose to wear T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and “We Stand Together” have our full support. In the United States today, we cannot do enough to affirm and support our black students. Seattle’s teachers are not only well within their right to exercise freedom of speech by wearing such T-shirts, they are making an important gesture of solidarity — one that gives us hope for the future.

Seattle teachers: we’ve got your back!

Signed,

John Carlos was was the bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics and raised his fist on the podium with Tommie Smith, in what became an iconic protest of racism in the U.S. Today, he is an author, human rights activist, and speaker.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is Professor Emerita at Lesley University where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the University’s Center for Peaceable Schools. Nancy is the author of five books and numerous articles and op-eds on media and technology, conflict resolution, peaceable classrooms, and education reform. Her most recent book is called Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids.

Noam Chomsky is a Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media.

Melissa Harris-Perry hosted the television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on MSNBC. She is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center.

Joyce E. King was voted president the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the leading organization of education scholarship in 2013. A visionary teacher and scholar, King is the author of several books and has served since 2004 as the Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership and Professor of Educational Policy Studies in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University.

Jonathan Kozol received the National Book Award for Death at an Early Age, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Rachel and Her Children, and countless other honors for Savage Inequalities, Amazing Grace, The Shame of the Nation, and Fire in the Ashes.

Etan Thomas, has made his mark far beyond the boundaries of his 11 years in the NBA. In 2005, Thomas released his first book, a collection of poems called More Than An Athlete (Haymarket Books) that set Thomas apart as “this generation’s athlete with a moral conscious and a voice.”

Opal Tometi is a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and is credited with creating the online platforms and initiating the social media strategy during the project’s early days. She serves as the executive director for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).

Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker, and media publisher whose work centers on the changing American identity. He is the founder of Define American. In June 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant.

Dave Zirin was named one of UTNE Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World,” he writes about the politics of sports for the Nation Magazine. Author of eight books on the politics of sports, he has been called “the best sportswriter in the United States,” by Robert Lipsyte.

%d bloggers like this: