Video of Teaching for Black Lives Book Launch: “It really touched my heart more than you will ever know.”

Town Hall Seattle recently sponsored the Seattle book launch event for the new Rethinking Schools book, “Teaching for Black Lives,” at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts CenterT4BL_BookCover.

It was a sold out forum and turned out to be a wonderful celebration of Blackness, resistance, and pedagogy. It was a special night for all of us editors of Teaching for Black Lives–Dyan Watson, Wayne Au, and myself–who got to come together in celebration of the work we had done to create this book. But the highlight of the evening was the Garfield High School students who opened the event. Their poignant descriptions of institutional racist schooling, coupled with their appreciation for the transformative power of the lessons in Teaching for Black Lives, was truly moving for me.

Janelle Gary, in what I would consider the best praise the book has ever gotten, ended her speech to the assembled audience saying:

There’s this quote on page 10 of Teaching for Black Lives: “Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of the few students in class or few teachers in school that this history represents.” And that stuck out to me the most because…I felt alone and I felt like none of my teachers were going to be able to relate to me. And just reading that in the book really lets me know that I wasn’t crazy.

So I just wanted to thank Mr. Hagopian, and I want to thank everybody who’s here. This book is amazing…if you haven’t read it yet, please read it. And if you have, read it again and suggest it to someone because it really touched my heart in a way more than you will ever know. Thank you.

Below is the video of the Town Hall event–featuring the wonderful speeches of Garfield student leaders from New Generation Janelle Gary, Chardonnay Beaver, Ke’von Avery–followed by an edited transcript of the Janelle’s presentation. I hope this book event inspires you to work to dismantle institutional racism in education and teach for Black lives!

 

 

Janelle Gary’s speech on “Teaching for Black Lives.”

I went to Madrona K through 8, and I started there in kindergarten, which is a majority African American school. Administration was Black. Most of the kids were Black. And having that experience I was just like, “Oh, Seattle is just Black,” because that’s all I’ve seen my whole life. So I didn’t really know…

And so I went there kindergarten through eighth grade. I was basically here in the district watching the change of gentrification and watching how my school was changing a little bit. But it still stayed majority Black through eighth grade.

And once I got to high school, I was in this program called Y-Scholars, which was for Black students who were going to the AP program and honors program. And so I will never forget my first day my freshman year. It was my honors world history class. And I walk in and the only thing I see is just a bunch of white faces and just one African American male. And I just remember my eyes just looking dead straight at him, and he really wasn’t looking at me. I could tell he knew the kids from the school prior that he went to ’cause other middle schools had that honors program, but unfortunately Madrona didn’t.

So it was my first time walking in cold with the honors and AP, so I had no idea what it was going to be like. And so immediately [I was] intimidated because they were using vocabulary words that I never even had to use…[And I hadn’t] learned about code switching yet because I was already around my own people, like I said, my whole life.

So once I got there, immediately I was intimidated, went straight down to the Y-Scholars room, and I remember talking to the Y-Scholars counselors and telling them, “You’ve got to switch me with more people in Y-Scholars.”

Two days later, I got into a new class and I saw more Black faces. Chardonnay was is there, and she went to Madrona as well. So automatically, I was like, “Woo-hoo.” It was great. But there was still that intimidation in the back of my head because a lot of these kids had a head start, which I didn’t. And it didn’t make me feel capable, and just being a different skin color and some of the vocabulary that they still even use in AP is shocking…hurtful and degrading. So a lot of the times, I found myself not wanting to raise my hand [even] if I knew the answer, or maybe my sentence wouldn’t make sense to the other kids because I was using slang. And so there was just a lot of intimidation.

And so then, junior year, I was blessed and I was fortunate to have Mr. Hagopian who went to Garfield High School [as a student] and teaches there now. And I remember hearing about him my freshman year, BSU [Black Student Union] was really big, and I was like, “Okay. I’m going to get involved.” And so I walk into his ethnic studies class where you learn about the master narrative, and I realized right then and there–just in the first day of learning about the master narrative–how my whole life I was taught a master narrative along with everybody else.

So when I got into the group New Generation, everyone was thinking, “Oh, I’m educated on everything,” all this about Black lives and stuff. At the end of the day, I don’t. I’m still trying to undo the system and undo the master narrative that I was taught just like everybody else. So when people or teachers or even people like peers come up to me like, “Can you help me with this? Can you teach me this?,” I’m still trying to undo myself.

And most of the education that I’ve learned is just, to be honest, learning through social media. Not everybody and every school district’s blessed enough to have somebody like Mr. Hagopian that’s right in their school that wants to learn and wants to teach people their background and history, not only just racism but sexism as well that’s also coming with the African American community a lot because Black women don’t really get their credit.

There’s this quote on page 10 of Teaching for Black Lives: “Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of the few students in class or few teachers in school that this history represents.” And that stuck out to me the most because…I felt alone and I felt like none of my teachers were going to be able to relate to me. And just reading that in the book really lets me know that I wasn’t crazy

So I just wanted to thank Mr. Hagopian, and I want to thank everybody who’s here. This book is amazing…if you haven’t read it yet, please read it. And if you have, read it again and suggest it to someone because it really touched my heart in a way more than you will ever know. Thank you.

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