Educators in Seattle are starting off the school year dressed for success.
In the fist action of this scale, many hundreds of Seattle teachers, counselors, instructional assistants, paraprofessionals, custodians, nurses, and other educators, will wear shirts to school on Wednesday, October 19th, that read, “Black Lives Matter.” This action is part of a Seattle Education Association sponsored day to draw attention to the school-to-prison-pipeline and institutional racism our society. Already over 700 educators and supports have ordered their shirts!
Educators at Seattle’s John Muir Elementary first conceived of this action and announced they would wear shirts to school on September 16 that read, “Black Lives Matter. We Stand Together. John Muir Elementary.” This was to coincide with an event to celebrate Black students that was organized by Black Men United to Change the Narrative. As third grade teacher Marjorie Lamarre told King 5 News at the time, “To be silent would be almost unforgivable, and I think we have been silent for almost too long.” Yet the forces of hate tried their best to silence the John Muir community as a white supremacist issued a bomb threat on the school and the event was officially cancelled. However, in a truly stunning show of courage, dozens of Black community members heeded the call of Black Men United To Change the Narrative and showed up to high five the students that morning and the John Muir staff wore the shirts anyway!
This bold action prompted the Social Equality Educators (SEE) to introduce a resolution at the Seattle Education Association to support John Muir and make a call for educators across the city to also wear Black Lives Matter shirts. The resolution reads:
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;
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.
Many educators will also use the day to teach about the ways institutional racism impacts education, our nation, and our world. There are also teachers around the country working to build solidarity actions in their city. Educators wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts on Oct. 19th are encouraged to gather together to take a photo and post at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1651069751869918/
Below is the press release for the press conference that will be held tomorrow to announce #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool
For Immediate Release: Monday, Oct. 10th, 2016
Social Equality Educators: http://socialequalityeducators.org/
What: Press Conference to announce unprecedented action by teachers in Seattle to affirm that Black Lives Matter in the public schools. Hundreds of teachers across the district to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school next week!
When: Press conference–Wednesday, Oct. 12th, at 4:30 pm. Day of Action Oct. 19th.
Where: Garfield Community Center, 2323 East Cherry St, Seattle, WA 98122
DeShawn Jackson: Instructional Assistant, John Muir Elementary
Sarah Arvey: Teacher Hamilton International Middle School, advisor for Hamilton Against Racism
Jesse Hagopian: Teacher, Garfield High School, editor for Rethinking School magazine
Rita Green: Seattle NAACP education chair
Donte Felder: Mentor teacher, Orca K-8
Kshama Sawant: Seattle City Council Member
Jon Greenberg: Teacher, Center School High, antiracist educator who was reprimanded for his courageous conversation curriculum.
And other community organizers and Black Lives Matter activists
In the first action of its kind in the country, hundreds of teachers, counselor, instructional assistants, office staff, and other educators, will wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Wednesday, October 19th. At the time of this release, already over 700 shirts have been ordered by educators in Seattle.
This unprecedented action by educators in Seattle has been organized to let the community know that Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools. On October 19, 2016, educators have planned a major action in response to the racist threats that John Muir Elementary School received on September 16. The staff of John Muir planned an event with Black Men United to Change the Narrative, teachers, administration, custodians and other faculty to wear Black Lives Matter shirts to schools that day. The building and district received threats of violence in an attempt to intimidate the educators, parents and students into not wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts or supporting their Black youth. Many of the staff and community members continued with the event anyway. Seattle educators want to ensure that these type of threats are not welcome or tolerated in our community.
Sarah Arvey, a teacher at Hamilton International Middle School, was inspired to begin organizing an action after students asked her if teachers at Hamilton would ever wear Black Lives Matter shirts. Arvey began to organize Hamilton’s staff and then went to present the idea to the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly. SEA unanimously voted to endorse a district wide demonstration of solidarity and affirmation that Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools to be held on October 19.
It is urgent for educators to stand up against racism in our society, city and schools. The Seattle school district has grappled with institutionalized racism and remains a district that is segregated, has disproportionate discipline rates for students of color, and struggles to close the opportunity gap. It is imperative to see that educators continue to fight for the rights of all students and communities, especially those that have a long history disenfranchisement. “For Black lives to matter, they also have to matter at school,” says Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School teacher and community organizer. “I’m proud of my educator colleagues across Seattle who voted unanimously at the union meeting to affirm our Black students who are confronted with a school-to-prison-pipeline, disproportionate discipline, a dearth of culturally relevant curriculum, and state violence.”
“We must be bold in addressing racism. If we meter our responses in catering to white fragility, we will always heel towards the status quo of white supremacy,” says Ian Golash, Chief Sealth High School teacher.
As Mark Lilly, Instructional Assistant and leader of Bembe Olele Afro-Cuban Dance Company, states, “This is our opportunity to leverage the power of public education showing the world community that when faced with oppression, social justice, right action and compassion are the chosen response.”
The message is more than words on a shirt. In addition to wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirts, educators are doing teach-ins, presenting Black Lives Matter Curriculum, supporting student activism and leadership, and organizing with community members.
The “Black Lives Matter to Educators” event will culminate with a rally on October 19th at Washington Hall (153 14th Avenue Seattle, Washington 98122) from 6-8pm. This event will feature educators, parents, students, and activists discussing their vision for supporting Black lives at school. The event will also feature, musicians, poets, and Grammy award winning artist, Kimya Dawson.