This week we don’t have the luxury of silence.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) at Schools Week of Action kicks off this week, the same week the Super Bowl reignited the controversy about players kneeling for the national anthem. Basking in the glory of victory, it was appropriate to see some of these warriors of the football field take a stand against the hurtful words and policies spoken and enacted by our highest elected official by announcing they would not visit the White House as is tradition after their victory.
(It’s worth noting that Philadelphia, along with Seattle, is the epicenter of BLM at Schools Week of Action.)
Instead of going to the White House, why not visit some of the traditional public and public charter schools in D.C. to advocate for justice? These players would be welcome to visit my school anytime. Perhaps this could even become a new tradition for athletes who do not wish to implicitly endorse the racist agenda of those in political power.
If Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, and Torrey Smith came to Washington, D.C. schools this week, there would be plenty to talk about. Over 100 schools in D.C.—including my school and my son and wife’s school—have endorsed the Black Lives Matter at Schools Week of Action. The list of schools that have endorsed the week of action is impressive.
Showing Our Students We Value Them
Now in its second year, the Black Lives Matter as Schools Week of Action is gaining momentum by spreading from just two cities (Seattle and Philadelphia) to seven cities that now include New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Chicago.
The Black Lives Matter at Schools movement shows our students that we value them by teaching about the Black Lives Matter Movement and its demands for our students and teachers of color. The nationally endorsed curriculum includes links to articles and essays that can be used to facilitate classroom discussion.
I have pledged to demonstrate the love and value I have for each of my students (all of whom are African American) by teaching the facts about how our young people of color are more likely to receive violent treatment from police, suspension from school for similar infractions as their white peers, and other issues related to justice and equity in our schools and communities.
As you may have guessed, however, these students have taught me just as much. I have committed to teach the lessons, but the real value comes not just from an information dump about the 13 principles or the #LastWords of so many lives of color lost at the hands of police. That’s not how real teaching and learning works. The real value comes when we have discussions where we both learn how to value and hear each other.
Courageous Conversations About Race in Schools
The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) has done its part to jumpstart more of these valuable conversations by recording the wisdom of some of the strongest civil right educators in the classroom today: Josh Parker, Nate Bowling, Lee-Ann Stephens, Tom Rademacher and others. The videos, called Courageous Conversations About Race in Schools, are resources for jumpstarting real discussions about equity.
These conversations are valuable not just to have in the classroom or the teacher’s lounge, but with neighbors, fellow churchgoers, and those on your pick up basketball team at the gym on the weekend. We need these conversations to allow us to look straight at the facts. If we do, we cannot help but conclude that we need to make a change.
I have the privilege of hosting the poet Derrick Weston Brown, a poet who speaks truth in his writings, in my classroom next week. His poem, “Bell Canto,” is a thoughtful musing on Sean Bell and his life that ended at the hands of police in Queens, New York in 2006. The night before his wedding, he and his two friends were shot 50 times. Three of the five officers went to trial. All were acquitted.
Derrick’s poem has been a useful dialogue starter for me and my students in and out of the classroom.
The poem starts off:
Your mind wants to believe
It was a misunderstanding…
But truth suffers no allowances.
The poem has done what all good literature does in the English classroom. It has emboldened students to talk about those they know who have been treated unfairly by unjust authorities. It has made us all more vulnerable. It has allowed us to hold each other a little closer. It has enabled us to know a little more about truth.
If you can’t dedicate this week to Black Lives Matter at School, maybe you can find time next week or next month. Spending one week of the year seems slight. Be the change in your community by having these conversations every day. The truth demands it.