Seattle-area students, teachers and parents are expected to join a cohort of thousands in cities across the country at rallies and other actions throughout the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action set for February 6-10.
The five days of activism will include a series of cultural events, protests and other actions to celebrate Black people and demand justice and equity within the educational system. A list of events can be found at linktr.ee/blmatschool2023.
Event organizers expect to see thousands in Seattle wearing BLM shirts to school – as a visual means of unity and of fighting back against attacks on critical race theory.
At a press conference on Monday announcing the week of action, local leaders of BLM at School and educators pledged to continue to teach intersectional lessons about the movement for Black lives, institutional racism, Black history and the continuing violence against Black people in America today.
A horrible context for needed action
“I just want to say one word about the context that we are in for this year’s week of action, because we just lost another precious black life to the brutality of police in Memphis,” said Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School teacher, movement leader and author of the book Black Lives Matter at Schools: An Uprising for Educational Justice. “The brutal beating and killing of Tyree Nichols is just an unspeakably horrific crime. We want his family to know that we educators will be teaching our students about who Tyree Nichols was in life, not just his death, and we will be teaching our students about police brutality.
“We will be teaching our students about the fact that 2022 was one of the deadliest years on record for police murdering people in this country,” Hagopian continued. “We will be teaching our students about where police came from in the first place, the fact that they originated out of slave patrols in the south, and out of strike breaking brigades in the north. We will be teaching the long history of police violence. And we will be allowing them to interpret what that means, and what that requires of us today, and allowing them to discuss and debate those issues.”
Hagopian called out one other point of context for the upcoming week of actions.
“We now have 18 states that have passed laws attempting to stop educators from being able to tell the truth in their classroom about structural racism, and sexism,” he said, calling those laws an “furious assault on truth.”
Student activists at the press conference reiterated Hagopian’s call for maintaining or building Black and ethnic studies programs in K-12 education, as Seattle Public Schools has committed to doing.
“Black Lives Matter at School and the week of action is important because we must demand to have our history, stories and voices shared,” said Seattle high school activist and organizer Anjali Dixit. “No one will do it for us, and we’ve seen the damage done to our communities without it. This movement uplifts joy, liberation, and reminds us why the fight is worth it.”
A movement launched in Seattle
The Black Lives Matter at School movement started in Seattle in 2016 at John Muir Elementary School. As the John Muir community prepared to celebrate the lives of Black students, the building was hit with a bomb threat.
“On the day that they were holding the event, there were bomb sniffing dogs going through the school because of the threats of white supremacists,” Hagopian said. “And to the great credit of Seattle educators, we didn’t allow that fear and intimidation to disrupt us.”
Thousands of teachers across the city wore Black Lives Matter shirts with a design that had been created for the John Muir celebration. They also taught lessons about structural racism.
Educators in Philadelphia followed suit, creating a full week of action for Black lives in schools and developing 13 teaching principles used by the movement today. Since 2016, numerous cities and towns across the U.S. have joined the effort. The Seattle Public Schools board has supported the local effort through resolutions passed each year since then.
SPS Board resolution in support of BLM at School Week of Action
A resolution in support of this year’s week of action was read into the January 18 school board meeting. District spokesman Tim Robinson said that it is awaiting the signatures of two student members before it will be released.
BLM at School Demands
Black Lives Matter at School has made four demands of educational systems across the country. They want schools and districts to:
- fund counselors, not police presence, in schools.
- end zero-tolerance discipline and implement restorative justice,
- hire more black teachers,
- mandate Black History/Ethnic Studies in grades K-12, and
During the Seattle press conference students and educators spoke about each of the four movement demands.
Kaley Duong, an activist and student at Edmonds Community College, told press conference attendees that moving schools toward a system of restorative justice rather than punitive discipline will reduce violence and increase understanding in schools and outside of them.
Youth deserve restorative space
“Restorative justice is not only when we have a conflict,” Duong said. “I see restorative justice as a practice where we can bring community together, where we can learn from each other and grow with each other. This is so important because youth, especially youth of color. They deserve to be in a classroom where they’re actually able to express themselves freely without feeling like someone’s judging them, without feeling like they have to shy away from the conversation, without feeling like they can’t talk about issues that are happening.”
“Counselors, not cops”
Alexis Mburu called for Seattle Public Schools to hire more counselors.
“Initiatives like hiring more counselors instead of on-campus police allow us to support Black youth and amplify their voices, rather than perpetuating practices that reflect the inequitable and unjust treatment of students of color,” said Mburu, a Seattle high school student, leader in the NAACP Youth Council, and winner of a Black Education Matters Student Activist Award.
The call to maintain and build Black and ethnic studies
Several people spoke about the need to build and maintain Black and Ethnic studies departments within the school district.
Said Duong “Ethnic Studies is more than just a class. It is the lives, experiences, and empowerment of students of color. It is essential for this to be implemented in all classes and in all schools.”
Ethnic Studies programs, from their inception, have sought only to make our institutions reflect the true complexity and beautiful diversity of life in the world,” said Seattle teacher Leena Jones. “Teachers of ethnic studies of black history and of similar programs are seeking to repair division. Crippling these programs dooms our youth to be ignorant and unprepared. It dooms educators to fail in our critical work of nurturing young people’s growth as they step out into a world that is both complicated, unfamiliar, and constantly changing.”
More black teachers needed
Activists at the press conference said BLM at School demand that Seattle Public Schools and other districts hire more black teachers remains unfulfilled.
According to data from Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 86.9% of Washington teachers are white while only 49.9% students are white. In Seattle 78.7% of teachers are white teachers, but only 45.9% of students are. According to the same data, 5.2% of teachers in Seattle are Black, while 14.9% of students are black.
13 principles of Black Lives Matter at School
Along with wearing shirts in support of Black lives during the week, local educators aligned with Black Lives Matter at School seek to teach lessons addressing the 13 principles of the movement for Black lives.
Those principles include; loving engagement; diversity; globalism; queer and trans affirming; fostering collective values; fostering intergenerational networks; supporting Black families and Black women in spaces that are family-friendly and free of sexism; misogyny and male-centeredness; and supporting the development of extended family or village network that care for one another. And, being unapologetically Black.
“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is an opportunity to ensure schools create a positive, safe, and supportive environment for their students, especially communities of color who have long been marginalized,” said Mburu.
More to do
Black Lives Matter at Schools activists say that while Seattle has a progressive reputation, racism is a problem here. Black students around the Seattle school district continue to face disproportionate discipline, they say, and Black teachers are being priced out of Seattle.
“Now is the time to listen to the youth and take action,” said Duong, who is a member of the NAACP Youth Council. “Black Lives Matter at School not only gives youth representation, but it is a movement that supports youth to learn and grow. Teachers, staff members, parents and the community can participate and support — especially district board members.”
February 6: A panel of educators and youth will focus a conversation on one of the education movement’s central demands: that counselors be hired to replace police that have been removed from schools in recent years. The event starts at 5 p.m. at Roosevelt High School.
February 8: Supporters of the Black Lives Matter at Schools movement will protest the Seattle Public Schools Board to demand that the district fully fund ethnic studies and hire more counselors. The rally begins at 4 p.m. at the John Stanford Center.
For a list of all activities planned for the week go to linktr.ee/blmatschool2023