#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool renews my hope for Seattle schools

Photos taken by Jason McGillie before school on Oct. 19


I’m particularly proud to call Seattle home this week.

Two thousand teachers in and around Seattle wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Wednesday, Oct. 19, part of a day devoted to activism in Seattle Public Schools and a week devoted to addressing the city’s widening opportunity gap. I love it.

In a city typically plagued by white-moderate passivity, and in a school district plagued by persistent segregation, disproportionate discipline and tracking, this loud, courageous call for racial equity renews my hope for change in our district.

“We must be bold in addressing racism. If we meter our responses in catering to white fragility, we will always heel towards the status quo of white supremacy,” said Ian Golash, Chief Sealth High School teacher.

It took an unusual level of conviction from a number of different people and organizations to make the Black Lives Matter At School event happen. The idea started with middle school teacher Sarah Arvey and her students acting in solidarity with John Muir Elementary, where threats and fear had marred a similar effort last month.

After Arvey proposed the idea, the Seattle teachers union voted unanimously to support the idea.

Then Seattle Public Schools held its ground in the face of more badgering and fear-driven responses from the community.

This week also gave us a beautiful example of what’s possible when we act on our common ground instead of bickering about our differences.

Charter school opponents and proponents wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Wednesday. Teachers who entered the profession through Teach For America and other similar alternative pathways voted unanimously alongside their traditionally trained teachers. The in-fighting was finally trumped. I love that, too, because ultimately, we all want the best possible schools for our kids. Let's not focus on the differences in our ideas of how to get there.

“For Black lives to matter, they also have to matter at school,” said Jesse Hagopian, who teaches history at Garfield High School. “I’m proud of my educator colleagues across Seattle who voted unanimously at the union meeting to affirm our Black students who are confronted with a school-to-prison-pipeline, disproportionate discipline, a dearth of culturally relevant curriculum, and state violence.”

Students were assured through actions and not just words that their teachers believe in them, that their teachers don’t view the plea for safety and equal rights that is “Black Lives Matter” as a threat. That's important.

“This is our opportunity to leverage the power of public education,” said Mark Lilly, instructional assistant and leader of Bembe Olele Afro-Cuban Dance Company, “showing the world community that when faced with oppression, social justice, right action and compassion are the chosen response.”