Black History Today: Joshua Fields, embracing change as a vulnerable leader

Black History Today: Joshua Fields, embracing change as a vulnerable leader

Change is inevitable and it’s uncomfortable. Yet many great minds have lamented that the toughest change is of one's self. It’s been often stated before that one must “do their own work” before they can truly be in service to others.

The mission of doing your own evolutionary work while simultaneously helping others and organizations evolve is a skill set all its own — one which Joshua A. Fields executes masterfully.

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Guest Post: As the single parent of a Black child, I don't get to take a day off from racism

By Jefflin Breuer

I have two children.

My first-born is a girl and white like me. We had so many conversations about rape culture, misogyny and feminism, and I tried to share every piece of advice I knew about how to protect herself, what to watch out for, and how to be strong and hold her ground. I could give her this advice because I lived in the same shoes.

My second-born is a boy, and he is Black. Actually, he's white, too, but no one will see that. I have raised him nearly exclusively on my own, and even though he’s only six, I have already had to navigate difficult and frightening situations with him.

holding hands black and white.jpg

He knows, for instance, as a six-year-old, that the police are not there to protect him and that he isn't allowed to play with toy guns — ever. He asks anyone who will listen if they believe Black Lives Matter and why.

My son started public school this year. I have read so many things about the preschool-to-prison pipeline. I dropped him off and couldn't help but think I had just given him to the system that wants to harm him. A system that will view him, because of his skin, as more violent, angry, loud and dangerous than his white classmates.

Of course, the beliefs embedded in the system are filtered out as the beliefs of individuals. I have already had to defend my small son at public parks when white parents have asked me how old he is, and then asked me why he seems so “aggressive.” Like he’s a dog.

He has been called the “N-word” more than once on public transportation by older white people. I have been told by older white folks that he will need "more direction and discipline" than other children. I have been told that he is a statistic and that if I don't raise him “right” he will be another Black man lost to the judicial system.

I am a white woman raising a Black child. I cannot relate directly to the discrimination he will face. I can't tell him how to fight something I haven't ever had to fight. I can’t help him understand something I don't fully understand myself.

I can’t even fully teach him the beauty of the way he looks because when he thinks of beauty, he thinks of me or the other white members of my family. He has asked me when he will turn white because he's afraid to grow up to be a Black man. Why? Because, he told me, he knows that Black men get killed by the police.

When Trump got elected, I cried, and my son again asked me when he would turn white. He cried too. Shaking, he asked me why people let Trump win when they knew he was not a nice man.

What could I say?

I try my best to shield him from the news and from my concerned conversations. I try to protect him so he can have the privilege of being a little boy who isn’t burdened by worry, but the world keeps reminding him of reality.

We used to commute every day, taking the light rail to northeast Seattle. One day, a Black teenage boy happened to board the train alongside us. We rode for a while, and then the transit police got on. They made a beeline for the kid who was now sitting near me and asked him if he had paid his fare. He hadn’t. The transit cops called the police.

The young man was clearly afraid. I offered to pay the missing fare, but the transit police refused, more interested in punishment than justice. A man on the train joined me in standing up for the young man and called the transit police out on their obvious racism. They hadn't targeted or confronted anyone else, just that one Black kid.

My son knew what was happening and why. I didn't have to tell him. He understands that men in uniform, without warning, came for that kid because he is Black. He understands, as I do, that this is the world we live in and right now, and that it's only getting worse.

I understand the struggle through my child, understandably nervous every time a uniform appears. Every time the doors open on the light rail. I see the people I love fighting for their right just to be here, struggling for every breath.

And I understand that being the parent of a Black child means that I am torn in two. The part of me that wants so desperately to protect his innocence and nurture his optimism has to take a sad backseat to the part of me that needs desperately to keep him as safe as I can.

The reality is that no matter how overwhelming, no matter how terrifying, we don’t get to take a day off from racism. Even on the days when I am just an exhausted single mother. Even on all the days when my son is just a six-year-old little boy. His skin is never going to turn white, no matter how many times he breaks my heart wondering if it will.

I take comfort knowing he isn’t alone. I can’t go through his struggle for him, but I can stand with him.

So can you. Please do.

 

Jefflin Breuer is a parent, activist and possible space-alien living in Seattle. Her interests include witchcraft, feminism, antifa and civil rights activism, among whatever other things she has time for.

An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

"This sounds a lot like nitpicking from the sidelines. It’s all too easy and all too common for folks to stand by, knowing something is unjust -- such as the unjustified and unpunished murders of Black men and women by police officers, or the violent danger that comes with branding Black teenagers as criminals, or the unfair treatment Black kids are receiving in our schools and courtrooms -- and then judge the particulars of the people who chose to take action.

Supporting Black Lives Matter helps all gaps because it acknowledges injustice and seeks to change it. Nitpicking Black Lives Matter supports injustice by taking the side of the oppressor.

Remember, there is nothing violent hidden in the phrase 'Black Lives Matter.' There is nothing inherently threatening about it. It doesn’t suggest that Black Lives Matter more than any other lives, or that they matter at anyone’s expense."

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Why does skin color matter, asks a white Laurelhurst Elementary parent. Let's discuss.

KUOW’s Isolde Raftery wrote something recently that Seattle needs to hear. Maybe all “liberals” need to hear it.

Please just give it a quick read. I’ll wait.

 

 

Done? Thanks.

So, you just read Raftery describing the backlash in some of Seattle’s “whitest, most affluent corners” to the day last fall when a couple thousand of the city’s teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. She shares snippets of emails from parents expressing fear and anger to their school leaders, and it paints a pretty intense picture of what is actually happening inside the minds of so many “good” liberal parents.

Seattle is plagued by the privileged white moderate, the wolf in liberal clothing who has all the right yard signs and claims all the most inclusive beliefs, but whose actions reflect fear, privilege and an urgent need to not feel upset. Stephan Blanford, the only true voice for equity on the Seattle school board, calls it “Seattle’s passive progressiveness.”

“We vote the right way on issues,” Blanford told Raftery. “We believe the right way. But the second you challenge their privilege, you see the response.”

Honestly, reading the emails, most of these parents just sound scared and confused. They genuinely don’t understand the impetus and the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I’m going to do my best to answer their questions, starting today with this one:

 

Wrote a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary: “Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.”

 

Dear Laurelhurst Parent,

Skin color is important because our weird society -- yours and mine -- has made it so. People who cannot pass for white, which is itself a social construct and not an actual race, have always been treated differently in America. Always, up to and including today. Slavery was replaced by Jim Crow, which was replaced after the Civil Rights Movement by the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of our Black brothers and sisters.

Did you know that Native Americans were not legally allowed to practice their traditional religious ceremonies in the U.S. until the ‘80s? We’ve been doing our best as a nation to eradicate their culture from this land as well as their bodies, from the genocide of “manifest destiny” to the shame of our state-sanctioned brutality at Standing Rock.

We have a president now who is encouraging hate and discrimination against immigrants of any origin, but especially against Mexicans and Muslims. Did you know that a mass grave filled with bodies of immigrants was found in Texas a few miles from the Mexico border? The state said it found “no evidence” of wrongdoing.

On a level that is super local to you, Seattle Public Schools discipline Black students at a disproportionate rate -- so much so that the federal government had to come down on them a few years back. The district still shamefully boasts the nation’s fifth-worst achievement gap between Black and white students, and similar gaps exist for all non-white student populations as well as for low-income students regardless of race.

The Black Lives Matter movement started after a teenage boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white guy for the crime of wearing a hoodie while Black. It has been sustained by continued police violence against innocent Black men and women, with police officers continually acquitted.

So, because it sure seems like our society doesn’t actually believe that Black Lives Matter, people felt the need to say it. It’s not that white lives don’t matter. America already obviously values white lives. White lives and white safety are not particularly at stake here. Black Lives Matter mentions color because it has to.

The next time you invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., I suggest you better familiarize yourself with his beliefs and his non-whitewashed legacy. Start here: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Have you ever read it?

Please do. If you have anything you’d like me to read up on, please pass it along. Then let’s talk. What do you say?

 

Best,

Matt

 

Up next, from Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood:

“What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?”

Stay tuned.

Bree Newsome reminds us that modern activism demands 'radical faith' in confronting age-old problems

Two years ago this week, Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole on the South Carolina state house grounds and physically removed the Confederate flag that still flew more than 150 years after the end of legal slavery.

It was a brave thing to do, inspiring in its simplicity and its directness. I’ve thought of it many times since when problems have started to seem overwhelming. Is there a way to cut the crap, climb the flagpole and just take down the problem?

Newsome came and spoke at a UW event called “Tearing Hatred from the Sky: An Evening with Bree Newsome” back in February, and I was lucky to be in attendance. Here are three memorable lessons from that night:

 

“In the biography for social change-makers, you’ll find that there’s probably some moment in their life where they had a shift in their consciousness. If you’re an activist, you can probably point to that point in your life.”

 

I think this is an important, rarely discussed truth that most activists have in common. Something along the way wakes you up — a moment in time, an event or series of events that literally activates you. It’s a personal thing, an individual transformation on a fundamental, often spiritual level. Afterward, nothing is the same.

 

 

“I was on my sofa just trying to figure out, can I go down there and just hop the fence? I didn’t know how to climb. I had no climbing skill yet at that time. That’s just how strongly I felt that the statement needed to be made of how unacceptable it was for this flag to fly.”

 

This represents another universal truth of activism: that it’s often driven by an irrepressible urge to do something impossible. The key here is that Newsome knew what needed to be done. She knew that flag needed to come down, so she set about to figuring out how to do it. It’s within each of us to do what needs to be done. We just have to decide to do it.

 

 

“There was a time when the idea of a United States without slavery was inconceivable. You have to understand, that’s part of why our nation had a civil war over this issue because it was the economy. There were people who could not conceive of how you could have a prosperous United States without chattel slavery. And the only reason that we are sitting here today in this lovely space with all these lovely faces as we are, is because there were people at that time that had faith that things could be different. In order for the future to be better than it is now, we have to have that same kind of radical faith today.”

 

There was a time when not enslaving people for financial gain was a radical idea. What about our time will people look back on with disbelief?

The truth is that we may have to change everything to solve anything that’s plaguing our nation right now. But don’t lose hope. Remember that the economy is an idea, but people are real. Capitalism is a concept, but liberation is a state of being.

Be brave. Today’s radical is the leader whose courage we honor tomorrow. Have faith in your vision for the future.

Hate has no home in the 98118

I'm back home again in Rainier Beach after a whirlwind six-day trip to and from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, and I'm filled this week by appreciation for my neighborhood.

The 98118 zip code is known to be "the most diverse zip code in the nation," and that diversity is reflected in the messages on the yard signs decorating the blocks.

In just driving a few minutes around our neighborhood with my sons, we found more signs demanding social justice and declaring solidarity than we had time to photograph. Here are just a few:

"Black Lives Matter"
"Silence = More Deaths"
"Stop profiling Muslims."
"Refugees are welcome here."
"No matter where you're from, we're glad you're our neighbor."
"Here we believe love is love, no human is illegal, Black lives matter, science is real, women's rights are human rights, water is life, kindness is everything."

 

These are bold words sending powerful messages at a time when we need them most. What messages are you sending?

What messages are you seeing around you? Do you have photos to share?

 

#BlackLivesMatter
#NoDAPL
#WaterIsLife
#ScienceIsReal
#NoMuslimBan

With largest #NoDAPL camps evacuated, Standing Rock picks up the pieces

I drove back to the #NoDAPL camps at Standing Rock this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with Morton County Law Enforcement issued a deadline of 2 pm Wednesday (Feb. 22) to clear the Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin), which sits on contested land, as well as Rosebud camp and part of Sacred Stone, both of which are (were?) on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but below the flood plane.

I wanted to be present for the deadline, to do what I could to help, and right at 2 p.m. I found myself in the Oceti camp in a pickup truck trying to find two kids who we’d been told needed to get out (and they did).

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by  Matt Halvorson .

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

 

The strange thing, though, was that the police were not particularly aggressive in clearing out the camp. They arrested either nine or 10 people Wednesday, depending on which report you read, and I’m told that something like 50 more were arrested the next day when the police came back through and fully cleared the camps.

The police tried to intimidate and definitely inflicted some physical injury, but all in all, the eviction was surprisingly peaceful. It only takes one police officer responding with too much force too quickly, or one person reacting too strongly to seeing his grandmother being handled by the police for violence to erupt and turn a situation like this into a disaster.

Instead, it was peaceful-ish, as policing goes. Or if peaceful isn’t the right word, well, nobody died. The police were not startlingly violent toward the water protectors who chose to stay in camp and pray until the end, which is what I was afraid of. But then, the #NoDAPL movement has never been characterized by fatal violence.

Set aside for a moment the grotesque images of water cannons, rubber bullets and explosives used by police in riot gear in Standing Rock.

During the protests in Ferguson of the past few years, militarized police frequently shot real bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters and occasionally killed them. Even when the PR risk should have steadied their trigger fingers, fatalities were commonplace. On the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder, for example, St. Louis Police shot and killed another young black man during that night’s protest.

In Standing Rock, on the other hand, through more than 10 months of steady demonstrations and consistent police confrontation, not one water protector was killed. The police inflicted serious injuries and committed atrocities, but everyone survived.

This has been on my mind for months but hasn’t been something I’ve known how to talk about, partly because I was in Standing Rock bearing witness to much of the police violence that has made the news. And it was painful and traumatic and frightening. But I also made an appearance in Ferguson, and I know that the stakes were more immediate there, though no higher in the long run.

I don't know what it means. Our government and law enforcement certainly have a deep and storied history of killing indigenous people. They just haven't done that in Standing Rock yet, even as they're doing it elsewhere. Maybe it just means that our oppression of people of color has been tailored to each specific community.

Whatever the case, just as happened on Dec. 4 last year when the Army Corps under the Obama administration denied the easement needed for Energy Transfer Partners to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is a time of change and transition for the #NoDAPL camps. Roughly 600 people remained in the camps from mid-December through mid-February, and only a handful of reinforcements arrived this week.

Now many of them are heading home. Many more are staying and continuing the fight on the ground in North Dakota, and a group of committed indigenous activists have promised to continue finding new sites for prayer camps to continue if needed. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who owns the Sacred Stone land and founded the original camp last April, has vowed to maintain a community on her own land as well, come figurative hell or literal high water.

And everyone who is leaving is leaving profoundly changed, it seems, carrying with them a sense of invigorated spirituality and an empowered sense of capability and responsibility to stand up more fiercely than ever to injustice.

Perhaps my greatest takeaway has been the interconnectedness of movements that had remained, until now, disparate. The issues being raised by #NoDAPL water protectors, indigenous rights advocates, environmental activists, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrant rights groups, education advocates, workers' rights groups and countless others are all symptoms of the same disease, branches of a tree whose trunk contains the sickness of capitalist greed, colonial entitlement and systemic inequity.

I see the possibility for enormous breakthroughs as our passions are shown more clearly to have a common enemy, and as it becomes harder to ignore that our own liberation is dependent on our neighbor’s.

We’re all in this together — even the police officers and DAPL employees who are following orders in order to maintain an income they’re afraid to lose. Even Trump and everyone who voted for him. We are protecting this water for everyone. We are shouting for everyone’s sake that Black Lives Matter -- not just for the Black men and women who face the greatest immediate risk -- because no life is truly valued by a society that declares some expendable. We are demanding equitable access to high-quality public education because its absence leaves a cavity in our country and our communities.

No matter what you hear in the mainstream media, the #NoDAPL movement isn’t ending. It’s just shifting, dispersing, expanding. Water falls from the sky as millions of individual drops, but those beads of water don’t remain separate. They can’t help but combine, to join together as they touch, and in doing so, to become a roaring, powerful body of water.

We, too, seem like millions of individuals, but we come from the same source, whatever that is. We are intrinsically connected. And when we act out those connections, they deepen, and we awaken the potential of our unified power to overwhelm the hate and division that plagues us now.

In Trump's America, we're all activists all the time — not just on MLK Day

Martin Luther King Day is a reliable source for inspiration every January. It’s like the activist’s New Year’s. Just about everyone goes out — even lots of folks who wouldn’t normally — and things seem possible and fresh and worth dreaming about.

Particularly striking this year was the intersectionality on display at yesterday's MLK Day march from Garfield High School to downtown Seattle. “Black Lives Matter” was sort of the grounding principle of the event, but woven in seamlessly were protest signs and chants tied to Standing Rock and the #NoDAPL movement, opposing Muslim registry and urging resistance to Trump.

We will face another challenging year together in 2017. Unlike any I’ve ever experienced, I’m quite sure.

If you thought last year was crazy, think about the implications of this woman's sign:

IMG_5819.JPG

Days before the inauguration, we have many, many people filling the streets of many, many cities advocating resistance to our President-elect. And not just because we want different things or have different political ideals. This resistance is being shouted into existence out of fear and shock and desperation and self-defense.

We’ve elected a leader whom a LOT of people — intelligent people — believe to be a fascist posing a serious threat to our “democracy.” A startling number of people believe he represents a force to be opposed, and I think there’s good reason to be scared. Trump is a bad guy in the Lord Helmet or Dr. Evil mold — stupid yet sinister. You can never really let your guard down.

I think that sentiment, the idea of “resisting Trump,” in some ways encompasses everything. It gets at the root of the issue for once.

An inequitable public school system is a symptom of an inequitable, racist system of government. Poverty and gross income inequality are symptoms of our savage, discriminatory capitalist system. They aren’t themselves the source of the sickness.

We know our systems are fundamentally flawed. To continue on this way is akin to tirelessly treating every individual symptom of a disease without ever acknowledging the disease that continually births the symptoms. We don’t worry too much about alopecia until the cancer is gone, you know?

So, I hope we continue to see and create this intersectionality all year long. I will not truly be free until all my brothers and sisters share the same privilege that I do. My liberation is tied up in everyone else’s.

Standing Rock and Ferguson, Flint and Charlotte, Seattle and Chicago and New York and everywhere else that someone has been resisting, these are the front lines. They are the front lines not of individual, separate wars, but of different battles within the same desperate struggle against American hate and blind capitalism.

It’s only appropriate today to refer back to someone who has talked much more eloquently about all this than I ever will:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate:
only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
From ‘Where Do We Go From Here?” as published in Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 62.

 

Remember: Martin Luther King, Jr., was just a man. He was a man who lived an unusually bold, unusually brilliant life, and his work has made life better for every person in this country. I believe that. But he was also just a father and a son, a husband with a profession. 

We’re all just people, and no one else can do this work for us. It may threaten our comfort and our safety and our lives, but if we are to live out the values that we all so fervently and social-medially supported yesterday, we will have to be bolder than we are used to being, too. We will have to use our fear and our discomfort as torches lighting the pathway to our courage. It will take everyone’s love to drive out this much hate, and everyone includes you.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, but it will be a hollow gesture if we don’t spend the rest of the year backing it up with more bold, loving action in the name of equality.

Resist Trump. 

SPS put Emerson principal on leave after visit from school board rep

Last week was an exciting week in Seattle Public Schools. The city's teachers boldly came together to declare that Black Lives Matter, igniting support from the district and the community.

That all overshadowed a difficult week at Emerson Elementary, however. Parents were informed last Sunday (Oct. 16) that second-year principal Andrea Drake would be going on leave, and it's not clear if or when she will return. For now, Drake will be replaced on an interim basis by Barbara Moore, who will presumably do for Emerson what Frank Robinson did for the Washington Nationals a decade ago: come out of retirement to sleep-lead through a transition.

This is from the email to families from Kelly Aramaki, executive director of schools for SPS' southeast region:

“I am writing to let you know that Dr. Andrea Drake, Emerson's Principal, is currently on leave. During her absence, Ms. Barbara Moore, retired principal of South Lake High School, has graciously agreed to step in as acting principal. Ms. Moore is one of Seattle's finest leaders and will be a strong and steady support during this time. Ms. Moore and Ms. James, Emerson's Assistant Principal, will be working closely together and with the staff to ensure that everything moves forward smoothly. Your child's learning is our number one priority.”

As I understand it, Principal Drake did not volunteer to take a leave of absence. Seattle School Board member Betty Patu visited Emerson recently and met with some teachers. I don't know what exactly Patu was told or what she discovered, but something about the conditions at Emerson prompted Patu to go directly to Aramaki, who saw fit to place Drake on leave.

Drake had reportedly mismanaged the levy process as well, but whether or not there is any substance to that rumor, Drake’s brief tenure at Emerson has been far from smooth.

My son goes to Emerson. Principal Drake took the helm just prior to the start of the 2015-16 school year, and from one parent's perspective, the school has languished in low expectations for its students ever since. Last fall's curriculum night, for instance, was far more focused on the importance of attendance and uniforms -- essentially showing up and wearing the right clothes -- than anything academic, let alone anything rigorous.

Last summer, state superintendent Randy Dorn changed Emerson's designation from a "priority school," which it had earned due to persistently low test scores, to a "superintendent intervention school." This change gave the school's teachers an option to stay at Emerson or leave to pursue other positions within the district. Almost every teacher left.

Working conditions at the school seem to have remained unkind to its teachers this fall. Emerson still does not have a teachers union representative.

When SEA voted unanimously to wear custom Black Lives Matter shirts on Wednesday, Oct. 19, teachers at Emerson asked to take part. Principal Drake's response to her staff’s request to participate was a firm "NO." Then she explained herself by telling her teachers that "all lives matter.”

She’s entitled to her beliefs and her own ideology, but if that’s the culture being established at my son’s school, then I appreciate the change of leadership. It’s not that I take issue, necessarily, with this particular example of upheaval at Emerson.

I take issue with the larger pattern of constant turnover and consistent underachievement at the school. I take issue with the fact that we have every reason to believe this will just keep happening.

So, Barbara Moore becomes Emerson's third principal in three years and its fourth in the past five. For the most part, our neighbors with access to other schools will continue exercising that option and avoiding Emerson altogether.

And who could blame them?

The building is home to some excellent, dedicated teachers and support staff, but they need more help. Emerson is also home to a few hundred beautiful little kids and their families, and we’re depending on our leaders in the district and on the school board to step up and give our kids the education they deserve — or at least something equivalent to the education most students on the north end are already getting.

It seems clear that our state superintendent (Dorn), our region’s ED with SPS (Aramaki) and our locally elected school board rep (Patu) are all well aware of the problems at Emerson.

Our leaders know that our school is failing us. This is, in theory, why we elected them, why our taxes pay their salaries. They are our advocates, a mouthpiece for the students and families in the communities they serve. And they know that our kids are being treated inequitably.

So, what’s going to be different this time? What will be done to change Emerson’s future and give our kids access to the education they deserve from their neighborhood school?

 

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool renews my hope for Seattle schools

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool renews my hope for Seattle schools

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.

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More students need to hear their schools boldly declare that Black Lives Matter

Last week, an extraordinary event was planned at South Seattle's John Muir Elementary  to publicly declare that Black Lives Matter. The event was then “canceled,” however, after the school and the district received at least one threatening phone call.

Paige Cornwell summed up the situation in an article in the Seattle Times last Friday evening:

“The elementary school had scheduled a celebration called “Black Men Uniting to Change the Narrative,” where more than 100 black men would gather outside and greet students as they walked into the building, with the goal of dispelling stereotypes. A similar event was held at South Shore K-8 (another south-end public school) last school year.
Teachers had planned to wear shirts that featured the school’s name along with “We Stand Together” and “Black Lives Matter.” Several local news outlets published stories about the teachers’ plans, which were then picked up by conservative national news outlets such as Fox News, Breitbart and the Daily Caller.
On Friday morning, several people still showed up and high-fives students as they arrived. Meanwhile, at Leschi Elementary, community members and teachers high-fives and cheered for students who were walking into the building. Lesch teachers wore shirts that said “Leschi (Hearts) Black Lives.”
John Muir received at least one threatening call related to the event, district spokesman Luke Duecy said. The district decided to cancel after consulting with Seattle police and the district’s safety and security staff.
At least one local story included a parent who said he wasn’t informed about the shirts, and that he had concerns about it. John Muir PTA President Amy Zern said all parents were informed, and that the community had embraced both the event and the teachers’ plans.
“There was a plan in place to discuss this in an age-appropriate way, and in our community, there’s been nothing but support,” Zern said. “It’s awful to see this reaction.”
Parents saw that there was a lot of “national hatred” in comments posted on stories about their school, she said.
About half of John Muir’s 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade are black. About 20 percent are white, and 10 percent each are Hispanic, Asian or two or more races. The school sees its diversity as an asset, Zern said.
“My white child is absolutely ready to embrace the idea that some folks are not being treated the same as some other folks,” she said. “It’s not a surprise to her 9-year-old mind. She sees it.”
 

I asked my biracial 8-year-old, Julian, what he would think if teachers at his school wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts. Would it be a good thing? A bad thing? Doesn't matter?

“Good,” he said. “It would just be cool to see that they would actually care, and we could know that.”

Jason McGillie lives in Rainier Beach, and his son, Fenix, was a second-grader at SouthShore last year and is now a third-grader in his first year at John Muir. Jason dropped his boys off during SouthShore’s “Changing the Narrative” event last year. (For context, Jason is white, and his wife, Reese, is black.) 

“I was walking on air for the next five hours just from the positive energy and from having gotten to see it happen,” he said. “Just being able to drop the kids off and see the looks on their faces, it was really, really cool.”

When he saw a flyer for this year’s event at John Muir, he posted a photo of it on Facebook and started spreading the word about this amazing thing that was about to happen again. And then he found out it was canceled. He said the kicker was a surprisingly emotional automated message that went out to the school’s parents.

“You could tell that she (John Muir Principal Brenda Ball Cuthbertson) was just barely keeping it together. She was obviously distraught, just emotionally distraught,” McGillie said. “It was intense. If you had no heart or soul at all and didn’t care about it one way or another, you would still be like, ‘She’s going through something. That is awful.’”

When Reese and Fenix pulled up to the school Friday morning, they found a large group of black men at the school anyway, in spite of the "cancellation." Most of the teachers in the school still wore their Black Lives Matter t-shirts as well. It became an act of courage as well as a celebration of community.

 

One of the Catch-22s of parenting is how ultimately separate we are from our kids. We love and feel for them with such intensity, but in the end, Julian isn’t me. Zeke isn’t me.

And there will always be ways that we are different. It’s beautiful, mostly. They are these mysterious gifts that slowly unwrap themselves over time, revealing new and fascinating parts of themselves and their thoughts and their quirks.

It also means there will always be things I don’t know or fully understand about them. As a white parent to biracial kids, it’s hard sometimes knowing that my kids and I will always know a different racial identity, that there will be a huge part of their everyday experience in this country that will always be unavailable to me, for better or worse.

And so it’s especially strange to think that one of the ways I can’t be there for my boys is that I can’t reflect back to them a face that looks like theirs. I mean, on the one hand, we look alike. Zeke is pretty clearly my son, and you need only talk with Julian for a few seconds to know we’re so connected. But this same phenomenon is only deepened with Julian, who isn’t my biological son, even if we’ve been together since before his second birthday.

There’s power in my sons knowing strong, proud black men, and there’s power in my sons seeing men who look like them in ways I don’t doing something bold like this. And it’s a power they need to experience and that I can’t directly provide them.

There’s similar power in all the students regardless of their race having that experience at John Muir and at SouthShore, seeing black men in a positive, non-stereotyped, momentarily non-racist light. To see them celebrated and celebrating.

As Jason described it, “this is informing [Fenix’s] worldview in a way that is not the norm and is certainly not the narrative,” even if Fenix himself can’t articulate or necessarily even notice the powerful effect.

But instead of celebrating the beauty of a school as intentionally inclusive as this, we have another example of a fear-driven response to a proclamation that Black Lives Matter. That should not be a controversial statement, and it isn’t the opposite or antithesis of anything good. It is just a true statement.

My sons’ lives matter. My partner’s life matters. My father- and brother-in-law’s lives matter.

The lives of the men who showed up at John Muir Elementary on Friday matter, and their presence in the lives of those kids, that matters, too. I can't applaud long or loudly enough the courage they showed in being at John Muir last week in spite of it all, and the same goes for the teachers and staff who still wore the shirts.

The phrase -- the very idea that Black Lives Matter -- is one filled with love and compassion. The response is too often grounded in fear and shows up as a quick retreat to less controversial ground that doesn’t risk the safety and comfort of white folks.

Maybe more shows of bravery and solidarity like this can start to change that narrative, too.

Seattle City Council is trying to sneak in a vote to build a military police bunker

The Seattle City Council is trying to squeeze through a sneaky little vote to build America's most expensive police precinct in north Seattle. 

City Council members -- including Tim Burgess, it seems -- have maneuvered to schedule a vote for Monday, when Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a hero for marginalized communities who opposes the proposition, will be away. The vote -- set for two days (!) from now, on Aug. 15 -- would approve a $149 million budget to build a bomb- and ballistics-proof bunker, diverting scarce public dollars to support the further militarization of police even as we fight nationwide for demilitarization and humanization of law enforcement.

The north precinct is in need of renovation, but this is an ill-advised project to begin with. As with all police measures, and especially those with militaristic aspects, this will disproportionately impact kids and families of color. They need your voice. Here's how to do your part:

  • SHOW UP on Monday, Aug. 15, and voice your dissent to the council.
  • Email the city council now -- especially councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez, Bruce Harrell, Lisa Herbold, and Rob Johnson -- and demand that:
    • 1. Black lives, and lives of people of color generally, actually begin to matter in Seattle when it comes to city policies and projects;
    • 2. The city council either vote against the resolution being pushed in favor of allocating $149 million to the police bunker, and/or call to postpone voting on the resolution until Councilmemeber Sawant returns;
    • 2. The city council access and use the Racial Equity Toolkit before any further action is taken in favor of the bunker, as a process exists that the council is NOT following at this time;
    • 3. The city council not make any money allocations at this time. The community is forced to wait until September-October of each year to present any funding requests, often much smaller in scale. The Seattle Police Department should never have priority over the community;
    • 4. They defund this bunker project completely. There are viable public safety alternatives that cost far less in taxpayer dollars and Black lives.

The Privilege of Ignoring Race

A year ago today, I was out in Ferguson.

Two years ago today, Michael Brown had been dead for a day, murdered on Aug. 9, 2014. A few weeks later, I wrote this. This seemed like a good time to take a second look at it.


I have read and heard and seen a lot of people saying a lot of different things about race in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy — some compassionate, some ambivalent, some ignorant. This is something true:

I took this picture this morning. Then Lindsay told Julian about Michael Brown, about who he was and what happened to him. She told him about how most police officers are people to trust, but that sometimes they make mistakes. She told Julian that it isn’t fair, but that sometimes he will need to be extra careful as he gets older because of the way he looks — that he will have to be that much more careful to stay out of trouble, to stay away from what looks like trouble, to stay in after dark, because it’s a matter of safety. She told him about having called to check in with his uncle Spencer a few days earlier, about asking Spencer if he was safe in L.A. and if he was being careful. She asked him if he understood. Julian asked a question or two, Lindsay answered, and then it was done.

This is what all this means to me:

Some have argued that the Michael Brown shooting isn’t about race. Many others have at least wondered. As you may know, I am white. I can tell you from experience that it is a privilege to ignore race. It is a privilege to be able to wonder whether or not this tragedy is a racial issue. It is a privilege to not have to start poking tiny holes in your six-year-old son’s bubble of innocence and sweetness in the days before he starts kindergarten.

We had conversations about race in my family when I was very young, too, and most of them were also very direct. Most of them even acknowledged the presence of danger and the possibility of violence. I vividly remember getting a version from my dad in elementary school of what his dad had told him as a kid: that there aren’t many good reasons to fight, but that if he heard anyone using the N-word at school — or using any other slur, or using anyone’s race or gender to hurt them or make them feel small — he had better step in and put a stop to it or come home with a bloody nose for having tried. That might not exactly fit with Dr. King’s belief in non-violence, but the message was clear: This is important. Not only do we not tolerate hate or racism, we will actively fight it. It’s a family value.

There is a subtle-but-important difference between these two sets of conversations, though. My parents (also white, coincidentally) chose to have these conversations with me and my siblings. They encouraged us to choose to stand up against blatant racism and hate. But I was not the target in the hypotheticals. I was on the sidelines. The guns wouldn’t have been aimed at me, so the conversation was different.

Lindsay and I talked with Julian this morning because he won’t have a choice. Julian needs to hear this, because he cannot choose out of his skin color or his black heritage. I can choose into the conversation, choose to step into the conflict. Julian does not have that privilege. He is about to start attending public school in a district that has recently been under scrutiny for disciplining black boys much more frequently than any other group. He will be stereotyped, he will too often be seen and heard through a racial lens, and he cannot avoid it. He cannot choose a different path. Before long, he will be, say, 10 years old and tall for his age. Soon after he will be a teenage boy of color living in a major city. He won’t have the privilege of staying on the sidelines when a police car drives past the park where he’s hanging out with his friends after dark. He won’t have the privilege of deciding it’s not about race when he makes a mistake and gets caught. And Lindsay and I, as parents, don’t have the privilege of giving him an option. We don’t get to decide whether or not he’s ready, because he has to be ready, because he has to stay safe. Because someone will call him a horrible name, and someone will treat him differently — probably unintentionally — because of how he looks, and because at some point, someone will view this sweet, loving kid as more of a threat, and he needs to understand what’s happening if he’s going to stay safe. He has no other choice.