by Ari Robin McKenna
On Monday, January 24, the NAACP (NYC) Youth Council released its plans for the fifth annual Black Lives Matter week of action at school, January 31-February 31. 4. The event brought together community members and local media and featured educators and students speaking about the increased importance of the week in 2022, the continued relevance of the national movement’s demands and a timeline day-to-day activities of the week.
Moderated by Seattle King County NAACP Education Chair Rita Green, the event began with author and ethnic studies educator Jesse Hagopian providing historical context for this year’s week of action. Hagopian said Seattle teachers will teach classes next week on structural racism, intersectional black identity, black joy and the struggle for black freedom, and he then compared that learning to the recent Washington House Bill 1807. (in committee last Tuesday) which he said is intended to prevent teachers from “teaching the truth”.
HB 1807 was introduced in the state legislature by Rep. Jim Walsh of the 87% white 19th district — which runs along the coast below the Olympic Peninsula to the Oregon state line — and would have an impact on statewide education policy, including districts with diverse student bodies.
Although the bill’s stated goal is the “protection of quality civic education,” it would make it illegal to require any educator to receive professional development that addresses racism or sexism. structure of this country. Drafted as if promoting civic engagement, the bill then prohibits awarding academic credit for “political activism, lobbying, or efforts by a student to persuade” any member of local, state, or government. federal “to take specific action by direct communication.” Joining 36 other states with similar bills – 14 of which have passed – HB 1807 joins Washington State’s HB 1886 in seeking to discourage or ban the theory criticism of the race HB 1807 specifically mentions two sources: The 1619 Project and the book of Ibram X. Kendi How to be an anti-racist.
About HB 1807, Hagopian said flatly, “It’s only fitting that the bill is 1807, because that’s about the year they want us back to.” When you think about the fact that that year  that’s when black people lost the right to vote in New Jersey, that’s the kind of empirical fact that frightens what I call “uncritical race theorists,” and we need to make sure that students learn the truth.
Hagopian describes national attempts to shut down “truthful teaching of American history” as part of a historical flaw. “Of course, this is not the first attack on black education. It has truly been a permanent feature of American society. Hagopian cites anti-literacy laws designed to ban black people from reading in 1740, the more than 600 black schools that were burned down by white supremacists during Reconstruction, and the Liberty schools burned down during the Civil Rights Movement, concluding “And now they’re trying to burn down anti-racist pedagogy…any progress on racial justice will be met with a backlash from white supremacy. That’s what we’re seeing right now, because in the past year, the Black Lives Matter at School movement has tripled in size across the country.
Hagopian then reminded listeners that the national movement started here. “[The] The Black Lives Matter at School movement began in Seattle in 2016… at John Muir Elementary School when a white supremacist issued a bomb threat against a primary schoolhe said with a sharp tone in his voice, “simply because educators wanted to wear shirts that said ‘Black Lives Matter at School’ and affirm the lives of their black students. »
The four national demands of the Black Lives Matter at School movement are:
- End “zero tolerance” discipline and implement restorative justice.
- Hire more black teachers.
- Mandate Black History and Ethnic Studies in the K-12 curriculum.
- Fund advisors not cops.
Alexis Mburu, Vice President of NYC, high school student at Foster High School and frequent emerald contributor, drove home the demand for more black teachers. “I go to school in Tukwila, which many people know – or have heard – as one of the most diverse school districts. There are over 80 different languages; there are so many different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, etc. among the school population. However, I, as a black student, have never been taught by a black teacher.
Mburu went on to extrapolate from his personal experience: “When I am taught by someone who understands exactly my way of speaking, my way of thinking, where I come from… There is nothing that can replace that feeling, and that effectiveness in teaching… When we have students of color who are only taught by white teachers, there is actually a lot of harm, because not only do teachers of color understand the cultural dynamic between students , but when we have white teachers, there is often a lot of miscommunication, misunderstanding…higher discipline rates…punitive interactions between teacher and student because of this cultural misalignment.
Rena Mateja Walker Burr, vice president of NYC and a senior at Cleveland STEM High School in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, spoke about the need to make black studies and ethnic studies mandatory. Burr described how a lack of representation in school curricula, combined with negative media portrayal of black people, impacts many black students. She also described how implementing a Black and ethnic studies curriculum would be a meaningful action. “It’s so important that these are implemented because not only do students need to see themselves represented, but they also need to learn their history. Right now all the curricula we learn are very whitewashed and come from a very Eurocentric base…we’re not being taught our true history…My peers still sometimes have a mindset that they think they have to stick to the stereotypes and they’ve acted a certain way, because of what’s constantly perpetuated in the media, what’s constantly being said when we constantly have white professors who have a lot of implicit biases and don’t don’t know how to treat students of color. It’s a problem, and it constantly hurts us to be in an environment that isn’t even meant for us… Actions speak louder than words, so implement these things [Black studies and ethnic studies] rather than just putting up a sign saying Black Lives Matter or just saying, ‘We’re here for your sanity’, but actually taking the steps to implement that into our program, and making sure that we feel safe at school is actually the action we want to see as young people.
Martha Gyay, NYC member and student at Meadowdale High School in the Edmonds School District, spoke about the request for funding from counselors rather than cops. Gyay said that like many other students of color, she doesn’t feel safer when the cops are around, but quite the opposite. “I fear for my life every time I see a cop.” Gyay doesn’t think it makes sense to assume that students of color are “comfortable in a learning community with cops.” “You don’t put a child who is afraid of clowns in the same room as clowns… School is supposed to be a safe place,” Gyay says.
Meanwhile, counsellors, Gyay continues, “just do a lot more… I feel like kids will definitely be safer if they know they have someone they can talk to comfortably.” Gyay clarified that BIPOC counselors, in particular, are needed to make BIPOC students feel fully understood.
Finally, Bruce Jackson, an educator at Aki Kurose Middle School, a member of the Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN) leadership team, and an active member of the Seattle Education Association (SEA), spoke about the intersection of COVID- 19 and school safety. “A third of Aki Kurose’s families are multi-generational,” Jackson said. “A student at my school thinks he killed his grandfather because he brought COVID home with him. I want to teach, but I don’t want to be the teacher who comes in and infects his students and makes their students home and infect their parents How do I gain the trust of my students when I don’t trust the safeguards I need to know are in place?… It is important that we start to listen and restore trust in our schools.
The fifth annual Black Lives Matter week of action at school begins Monday, January 31. the week. Interested readers can click on the following links to register for these events:
- Monday January 31 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.: Forum on youth leadership and launch of the Week of Action
- Tuesday, February 1 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: The roots of our young people teach
- Wednesday, February 2, 6-8pm: The State of Ethnic Studies in Washington State with WAESN
- Thursday, February 3, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Young, Gifted, & Black Student Talent Showcase Facebook event. This youth registration form can be used by any young person interested in showcasing their talent.
- Friday, February 4, 6-8 p.m.: Statewide Youth Walkout – At the Intersection of Race and COVID
For more detailed descriptions of each event, see the WAESN Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action page and the Puget Sound Black Lives Matter at School Facebook page. You can also find information about local BLM events at school here.
Additional educational resources:
For Emerald coverage of the latest Seattle Black Lives Matter during school action weeks, visit the following collection of articles.
Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, NY; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, WA before moving to South Seattle. He writes on education for the Emerald. contact him here.
📸 Image courtesy of Black Lives Matter at School.
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