By Jesse Hagopian, educator at Garfield High School
A new uprising for racial justice is being organized by educators around the country who have declared February 5-9th “Black Lives Matter at School Week.” Educators will be wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school and teaching lessons related to the movement in cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle, L.A., Detroit, the Bay area, and beyond. This national mobilization is a completely grassroots effort organized by educators and their social justice caucuses. They have issued three national demands for the movement:
- End Zero Tolerance and Implement Restorative Justice
- Hire More Black Teachers in Our Schools
- Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated in K-12
In addition, educators in Seattle added two more demands: Fully fund and detrack our schools. Educators will teach about different themes from the Black Lives Matter platform each day of the Black Lives Matter at School Week. A growing number of prominent activists, scholars, and educators have endorsed this action, including #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Opal Tometi.
This movement started in Seattle last year when John Muir Elementary wanted to have a celebration of Black lives by having African-American community members come to the school to celebrate the students on their way in by giving them high-fives and then holding dialogues during school. A group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative helped organize the action. Teachers designed a Black Lives Matter shirt. When word reached the media about this action, John Muir received many racist messages attacking educators for having the audacity to declare that their Black students’ lives are important. Then a hateful individual made a violent threat against the school. In response, the school district announced it was going to cancel this celebration of Black lives at John Muir.
But to the teachers’ and the community’s great credit, they carried on–many of the teachers wore their shirts and many of the community members showed up anyway. It wasn’t as large as it would have been without the threat, but these teachers showed real bravery.
Those of us in the Social Equity Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file organization inside the Seattle Education Association, reached out right away to those teachers and invited them to our meeting to share their story. People were so moved by their work that we decided we needed to show solidarity. We agreed the best way to do that wouldn’t be to just pass a resolution saying we support them, but to take it a step further and spread this action to every school. When we brought it to the meeting of the union’s Representative Assembly, we weren’t sure what to expect. But SEE put the resolution forward and it passed unanimously.
The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool movement erupted in Seattle on October 19th, 2017 when thousands of educators 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 invisible state violence and assault of women in our country.
This action attracted national news. It spread to Philadelphia when social justice educators in the Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers expanded the action in Seattle to last an entire week. Educators in Rochester, NY held a similar action.
Seattle’s Black Lives Matter at School action led to the formation of a successful campaign for Ethnic Studies in the public schools and has helped inspire educators around the country to teach against anti-blackness. Join the movement this year and fight for a world where our schools support our Black families and educators.