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Public school teachers Jesse Hagopian of Seattle and Cristina Duncan Evans of Baltimore discuss the Feb. 5-10 week of action aimed at bringing social justice into classrooms across the country.
Cristina Duncan Evans has been an educator in City Schools for 12 years and is currently an Elementary and Middle School Librarian. She is one of the founders of BMORE, which believes in organizing teachers to advocate for social justice and the schools their students deserve.
Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. Jesse is an associate editor of the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine and founding member of Social Equity Educators, and blogs at I’mAnEducator.com. He edited the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.
Educators in America know all too well that the school-to-prison pipeline is not just a political catchphrase. Those who work with students of color know this pipeline is as real as any other.
“It extends across this country,” says Seattle educator, attorney, and organizer Nikkita Oliver.
This is why from February 5 to 9 Oliver and thousands of educators around the U.S. will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school and teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional black identities, black history, and anti-racist movements for a nationally organized week of action: Black Lives Matter at School.
“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is about dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline,” says Oliver, “and creating a school-to-justice-pipeline for our youth.”
Educators in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in between will join this national uprising to affirm the lives of black students, teachers and families. The lessons that week will correspond to the thirteen guiding principles of Black Lives Matter:
Monday: Restorative Justice, Empathy and Loving Engagement
Tuesday: Diversity and Globalism
Wednesday: Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming and Collective Value
Thursday: Intergenerational, Black Families and Black Villages
Friday: Black Women and Unapologetically Black
“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is about dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline and creating a school-to-justice-pipeline.”
The Black Lives Matter at School movement started in Seattle last year on October 19, when thousands of educators wore shirts to school that said, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students did too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the often unrecognized state violence and assault of women in our country.
This action attracted national news attention, helping it spread to Philadelphia. That city’s Caucus of Working Educators’ Racial Justice Committee expanded the action to last an entire week last year with teaching points around the principles of Black Lives Matter. Educators in Rochester, New York also held a Black Lives Matter at School day in 2017.
This year, a national Black Lives Matter at School coalition came together to coordinate a unified week of action with three demands:
1) End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice
2) Hire more black teachers
3) Mandate black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum
The three national demands arose in response to political attacks on and systemic disadvantages experienced by black students and educators around the nation.
A recent study shows that low-income black boys who had at least one black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grade had a 39 percent lower probability of dropping out of high school than their peers who had no black teachers during those years. And yet since 2002, the total number of African American teachers has decreased by 26,000, even as the overall teaching workforce has increased by 134,000. In 2015, the Albert Shanker Institute reported a similarly stunning decline in the number of black teachers around the country. For example, in Philadelphia, the number of Black teachers declined by 18.5 percent between 2001 and 2012. In Chicago, that same figure dropped by nearly 40 percent. And in New Orleans, there was a 62 percent drop. As Mother Jones reported:
“In each of the nine cities the Albert Shanker Institute studied, a higher percentage of black teachers were laid off or quit than Latino or white educators. . . . Countless black principals, coaches, cafeteria workers, nurses, and counselors have also been displaced—all in the name of raising achievement among black students. While white Americans are slowly waking up to the issue of police harassment and violence in black communities, many are unaware of the quiet but broad damage the loss of African American educators inflicts on the same communities.”
Since 2002, the total number of African American teachers has decreased by 26,000, even as the overall teaching workforce has increased by 134,000.
As scholar Terrenda White has detailed, one of the factors in the whitening of the teaching force is corporate education reform programs like Teach for America. “What happened in New Orleans, for example, is a microcosm of this larger issue where you have a blunt policy that we know resulted in the displacement of teachers of color, followed by [Teach for America’s] expansion in that region,” White told another of The Progressive’s Public School Shakedown fellows, Jennifer Berkshire, in 2016.
In addition to systemic pushout of black teachers, there is a similar large-scale pushing out of black students from schools. Black students are over three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school. Black girls, in particular, suffer the most disproportionate disciplinary measures: they are seven times more likely to be suspended than white girls, and not because they are even charged with misbehaving more often.
These statistics are why the Black Lives Matter at School movement is demanding an end to so-called zero tolerance discipline practices that are fueling school pushout, and a rapid implantation of restorative practices that help to build community so students can solve conflicts. As education outlet Rethinking Schools editorialized back in 2014:
“There are a number of models of restorative practices, but they always start with building community. Then, when a problem arises, everyone involved is part of the process…. shared values are agreed on. Then questions like these are asked: What is the harm caused and to whom? What are the needs and obligations that have arisen? How can everyone present contribute to addressing the needs, repairing the harm, and restoring relationships? Additional questions can probe the roots of the conflict and make broader connections: What social circumstances promoted the harm? What similarities can we see with other incidents? What structures need to change?”
Beyond being pushed out of school, when black students are in class they are too often subjected to a corporate curriculum that obscures the struggles and contributions by people of color.
The McGraw-Hill textbook company was caught replacing the word “slave” with “worker” and placing the section on the transatlantic slave trade within the chapter on immigration—as if Africans came here looking for a better life. A textbook titled The Connecticut Adventure was removed from a Connecticut school district after a decade of use when it was revealed that it was teaching fourth graders that slave owners, “cared for and protected [slaves] like members of the family.” These kinds of distortions and whitewashing of curriculum are precisely why the Black Lives Matter at School movement is demanding mandatory black studies and ethnic studies classes for kindergartners on up to high school seniors.
When black students are in class they are too often subjected to a corporate curriculum that obscures the struggles and contributions by people of color.
Black Lives Matter at School has been endorsed by many luminaries in the struggle for social justice, including Opal Tometi (co-founder of Black Lives Matter), Jonathan Kozol, (author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America), and Michael Bennett (Pro Bowl defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks).
“I wholeheartedly support and endorse the National Black Lives Matter at School Week,” Kozol tells me. “At a time when all too many weary semi-liberals are willing to knock down the statues of racist figures from the past but not to change the racist systems that crush the souls and amputate the destinies of millions of black children in the savagely unequal public schools of the United States, it’s time to raise the stakes and bring the struggle back into the classrooms.”
Join us in this national uprising for racial justice in education. Because when young people are valued, proud of themselves, and aware of their history, well, then they will be equipped to remove the structures of racism and oppression—from Confederate monuments to rhetorical but very real pipelines—and build a better world.
Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies in Seattle, blogs at www.IAmAnEducator.com, and is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Teaching for Black Lives. You can follow Jesse on Twitter at @JessedHagopian.
Solidarity with Black Lives Matter at School Week: Nationally Renowned Antiracist Activists, Artists, Academics, Authors, and Athletes Speak Out!
We, the undersigned, are writing in support of a new uprising for racial justice that is being organized by educators around the country who have declared February 5-9, 2018, “Black Lives Matter at School Week.” Many thousands of educators will be wearing shirts to school that say, “Black Lives Matter at School” and will teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional Black identities, and Black history in cities all across the country.
At a time when the president makes openly racist statements about Africa, Haiti and El Salvador, it is more important than ever to support antiracist pedagogy and support Black students. In addition, in this era of mass incarceration, there is a school-to-prison-pipeline system that is more invested in locking up youth than unlocking their minds.
That system uses harsh discipline policies that push Black students out of schools at disproportionate rates; denies students the right to learn about their own cultures and whitewashes the curriculum to exclude many of the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color; and is pushing out Black teachers from the schools in cities around the country. That is why we support the three demands issued by the Black Lives Matter at School movement:
1) End zero tolerance discipline, implement restorative justice
2) Hire more Black teachers
3) Mandate Black history/Ethnic Studies, K-12
Show your solidarity during this week of struggle by wearing your Black Lives Matter shirt to school or to work.
Former Mexican American Studies Teacher, Assistant Professor, Language and Culture in Education, University of Arizona South
National Black Education Agenda, retired Math & Black History professor
Jose Antonio Vargas
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, filmmaker, and founder/CEO of Define American
Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell
Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), UIC
Pro Bowl defensive end, Seattle Seahawks
Curriculum Editor, Rethinking Schools magazine
Judith Browne Dianis
Executive Director, Advancement Project, National Office
Bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics
Professor Emerita, Lesley University; Senior Advisor Defending the Early Years
Oregon Writing Project
Human Rights Attorney and Assistant Professor, George Mason University
Eve L. Ewing
University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
Emcee Son of Nun, fmr. Baltimore City HS Teacher
City University of New York Graduate Center
Ibram X. Kendi,
Director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center and National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
Benjamin E Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership, Georgia State University, President, The Academy for Diaspora Literacy, Inc.
Columnist for The Intercept
Teacher, Author, of Shame of the Nation, Savage Inequalities, and the National Book Award-winner, Death at an Early Age
Member, Movement Of Rank-and-file Educators and Change the Stakes/NYCOPTOUT
President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
Assistant Professor, Swarthmore College, Dept. of Educational Studies, Prog. Latin American and Latino Studies
Executive Director, Teaching for Change
Musician, Rage Against the Machine, Prophets of Rage
Pedro A. Noguera
Distinguished Professor of Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
Alex Caputo Pearl
President, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)
Rethinking Schools Editor, Past President of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association
Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Services, Montclair State University
Organizer and curriculum writer, Zinn Education Project
Professor, Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
Assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University
Co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter; Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Jose Luis Vilson
Math Teacher, NYC Department of Education, Executive Director, EduColor
Associate Professor of Education, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of St. Thomas; Board of Directors, Network for Public Education
Video of Jesse Hagopian addressing the rally for Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick
On Sunday, September 17th, before the Seattle Seahawks first home game against the San Francisco ‘49ers, organizers from the NAACP and the Social Equality Educators (SEE) sponsored a rally in support of ex ‘49er Colin Kaeprnick and Seahawk Michael Bennett. The rally was coordinated with a national call to support Kaeprnick and featured Reshaud Bennett, Michael Bennett’s younger brother; Katrina Johnson, Cousin of Charleena Lyles who was killed by Seattle police; Nikkita Oliver, teaching artist, attorney, organizer and former mayoral candidate. Gerald Hankerson, Seattle/King County NAACP president; Jesse Hagopian, teacher, author, and editor for Rethinking Schools; and Dave Zirin, The Nation sports editor and co-author of Michael Bennett’s forthcoming book, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.”
Kaepernick and Bennett have been at the forefront of the rebellion for Black lives that has erupted in the NFL. It started last season when Kaepernick made the courageous decision to draw attention to police brutality and oppression by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Because of his willingness to speak truth to power, Kaepernick is actively being blackballed from playing in the NFL and no team will sign him.
Seattle Seahawks’ Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Michael Bennett has been one of the biggest supporters of Kaepernick and one of the most prominent NFL players supporting the movement for Black lives. Bennett sat during the national anthem during the entire preseason, and vowed to continue for the entire season, in an effort to highlight the unjust murder of Black people by police and the rising white supremacy that was on display in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On the morning of August 27th, Michael Bennett experienced police injustice first hand when a Los Vegas police officer put him on the ground and threatened his life. The incident occurred when a reported shooting on the Vegas strip led to many people running for cover, including Bennett. Instead of the police helping Bennett, video and photographic evidence shows that Las Vegas police targeted Bennett, put him on the ground in handcuffs while the primary officer took out a weapon and placed it near the back of his head. According to Bennett, the officer said that if Bennett moved, he would “blow [his] fucking head off.” Bennett was then put in a police car, and after a period of time let go without charges. After threatening his life, the Vegas police decided they would then attempt to assassinate his character by accusing him of lying about the events of that evening. But thankfully people are rising up to support Bennett. Dave Zirin recently published a letter of solidarity for Bennett that was signed by a couple dozen leading athletes, authors, artists, activist, and academics. The signatories included, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Colin Kaepernick, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Opal Tometi (Co-founders, Black Lives Matter), actor Jesse Williams. In addition, Seattle athletes and artists, Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and Macklemore, signed the letter. The September 17th rally for Kaepernick and Bennett swelled to some two hundred protesters who wanted to show their support because of all these two activist athletes have done to give back to their communities—and the people of Seattle have seen Michael’s efforts up close. Bennett supported and publicly endorsed the victorious movement for ethnic studies in the Seattle Public Schools. He supported the “Black Lives Matter at School” day initiative on October 19, 2016, showing up to speak about issues of race and education at the evening rally. Bennett has backed the Freedom School program at Rainer Beach High School, contributing financially and inviting the program to his training camp to speak with them about social issues and education. Bennett commitment to food justice has led him to start a community garden initiative at a Seattle Interagency school and the current youth jail. And Bennett helped organize a powerful solidarity rally with the family of Charleena Lyles to demand accountability for her death at the hands of Seattle police. It is because of Bennett’s unyielding contributions to the struggles for justice that the many protesters stepped into the street and marched to the Seahawks Century Link Field chanting, “When Bennett and Kaep are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”
Seattle educators demand justice for Charleena Lyles; pledge to rally and wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Tuesday
Seattle educators demand justice for Charleena Lyles; pledge to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Tuesday, join 5pm rally
- Charleena, a pregnant mother of four, was shot and killed by Seattle police in front of her kids
- Educators say a Seattle Public Schools parent was killed & they will stand by her family
- Some 3,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts on Oct. 19th—now they will wear them to school for Charleena.
What/Where: Seattle teachers and educators will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school, hold lunchtime speak-outs, and rally at 5pm at Magnuson Park. Then Educators will march to a 6pm press conference at the Brettler Family Place apartments where Charleena lived: 6850 62nd Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115.
When: Tuesday June 20th, 5:00pm educator rally, march to 6pm press conference with Charleena’s family.
Who: All Seattle teachers, educators, and families are being encouraged to wear the Black Lives Matter shirts on Tuesday in solidarity with Charleena’s children and family.
RSVP on the Facebook event page now!
Seattle, WA—On Sunday, June 18th, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was killed by Seattle police after she called them to her home for help. Police alleged she had a knife. She was killed in front of her kids, who had to be carried over her body to leave the apartment. Chrleena had children who attended two different Seattle Public Elementary Schools. Educators from those schools have been contacted.
“As a Seattle Public Schools parent, Charleena Lyles was part of our education family,” said Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian. “We are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Tuesday to show her children and her family that we grieve with them, we support them, and we will stand with them in Solidarity.”
Earlier this school year on October 19th, some 3,000 educators wore shirts to school that said, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds is families and students did too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the often invisible state violence and assault of women in our country.
On Tuesday, June 20th we are calling on all educators throughout Seattle to put those Black Lives Matter t-shirts back on, have a lunch time photo and speak out in every school, and then join an after school rally. Hamilton Middle School teacher Sarah Arvey, one of the organizers of the October Black Lives Matter At School event, said, “Charleena’s death impacts the entire Seattle Public Schools community. We wore the Black Lives Matter shirts in October that read, ‘We Stand together.’ Well, now it’s time to stand to stand together for a Black family that has been torn apart.”
The educator rally for justice for Charleena Lyles will start at 5pm in Magnuson park and then march to the 6pm press conference being held by Charleena’s family.
It was one of the most triumphant days of my life.
Thursday, June 15th was a day when I took the most painful moment in my life and used it to produce one of the most joyous days of my life. This was the day I had the honor to present the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to four incredible young changemakers in the Seattle Public Schools. The Student Activist Award fund offers a cash scholarship and community support to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice and against institutional racism. Our winners this year were Jelani Howard, Baily Adams, Precious Manning-Isabell, and Mahala Provost—young activists who you will undoubtedly hear much more about in the future as they continue to challenge racism and transform every institution they encounter.
Each student received $1,000 from the fund I started after winning a settlement when I was assaulted by a Seattle police officer. I won this settlement by launching a federal lawsuit against the City and the Seattle Police Department after being pepper sprayed without provocation at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle. While the officer who doused me with pepper spray, officer Sandra DeLaFuente, didn’t even receive a one-day suspension for assaulting me on the sidewalk, I was at least able to win some compensation that I could put to good use. I then partnered with leaders in the Seattle NAACP–education chair Rita Green and youth outreach coordinator Rachael DeCruz–to form a committee for finding and selecting leading student activists.
Joining us for the award ceremony were the Super Bowl champion Bennett brothers, Michael and Martellus–two of the greatest football players in the NFL and two of the greatest activist athletes in the world. Having these two celebrated athletes and powerful spokesmen for justice made the award ceremony deeply meaningful for all in attendance. Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett gave one of the awards in the name of his mother, Pennie Bennett, to Mahala Provost. Bennett said of this newly established award,
The Pennie Bennett Black Education Matters award is given in the name of my mother who, as an administrator and a teacher, has dedicated her life to changing the school system and her community. This award is presented to the most outstanding student changemaker for their work in the community and at school–and for believing that anything is possible and inspiring others to be different.
Provost won this award for her dedication to showing the power of STEM fields (winning seven gold medals statewide in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) and her activism for food justice with the organization FEAST, where she worked to eliminate food deserts and teaches about nutrition in communities of color.
Student award winner Precious Manning-Isabell is the president of the Black Student Union at Chief Sealth International High School and has been a leader on and off the campus. She helped to lead the Black Lives Matter At School day action at her school, as a cheerleader she refused to stand for the national anthem to raise awareness about racism and police violence, and she helped produce an award winning documentary, “Riffing on the Dream,” about race relations at her high school.
Award winner Baily Adams is the president of the Black Student Union at Garfield High School and has helped organize teach-ins, die-ins, know your rights trainings, and was leader in the Black Lives Matter At School event this year. When Donald Trump was elected president, Adams was one of the students who lead a walkout of hundreds of students out of the school, joining thousands of other students from all around the city in one of the biggest walkouts in Seattle’s history.
Jelani Howard is a member of the Garfield High School football team and helped lead the team in discussions about taking a knee during the national anthem, building on the example of Colin Kaepernick, to raise awareness around racism and police violence against people of color. The entire team agreed and their action–all season long–garnered national news headlines and inspired teams all around the city, state, and nation to follow suit.
Seeing the joy in the faces of the student activist award winners and their families that evening made me certain that pain I endured from being assaulted by the police was not in vain. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.” These students represent a new generation of young Black rebels who are expanding our understanding of the purpose education, refuse to accept a system that does respect their humanity, and are becoming truly powerful agents of change.
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.
Hundreds 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!
Many 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.
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.
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.
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: