By David Sheridan, photo above courtesy of Saint Paul Federation of Teachers on Facebook
The Twin Cities had never seen anything like it. Hundreds and hundreds of teachers and education support professionals marched through downtown Minneapolis at rush hour, chanting, “We want justice, we want peace, from the schools to the streets!”
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They carried signs reading “Teachers4blacklives” and “Justice for Philando,” referring to Philando Castile, an African-American school cafeteria supervisor, beloved by the students at J.J. Hill Elementary, who was shot dead by a policeman after a routine traffic stop.
When the police ordered the demonstrators to clear the street, 21 of the protesters sat down on the pavement. They included educators and community activists as well as people from the faith community. They were handcuffed and arrested by the police.
One of the 21 was high school English teacher and secretary of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers Kimberly Colbert. NEAEdJustice caught up with Ms. Colbert afterwards to talk with her.
NEAEdJustice: Why did you and so many of your colleagues take part in this demonstration?
Kimberly: We marched to remember Philando Castile, our student, our co-worker, our union brother. The killing must stop. But it won’t stop until we get to the root cause of these deaths, a racist system, which not only harms and kills, but which profits from that harm.
(Castile had once been a student at St. Paul’s Central High, where Kimberly teaches and where the teachers have a motto, “Once you’re one of our kids, you’re always one of our kids.”)
NEAEdJustice: Why did you commit civil disobedience at this stage in your life as a social justice activist?
Kimberly: This wasn’t my first demonstration, but it was my first time getting arrested. I’m glad I did it. The time was right. I wanted to make a statement. I’d seen other educators who had engaged in civil disobedience, educators like Rodney Ellis, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators, who was arrested during the Moral Mondays movement, and they inspired me.
NEAEdJustice: Do you have any regrets?
Kimberly: None whatsoever. I was the last of the 21 to be handcuffed and led away by the police. So I sat there in the street for quite a while, and during that time, I felt so much love coming from the demonstrators. It was hugely affirming.
NEAEdJustice: This demonstration also raised the issue of who profits from racial injustice. Why?
Kimberly: We can’t just focus on the police. It’s important to take a systemic approach and follow the money, whether you’re fighting school reform or the mass incarceration of people of color or police violence. Who is profiting from racial injustice? Well, the for-profit prison industry for one. And the big banks for another. They cover the bonds that cities use to pay off those big financial settlements to the victims of police violence. Our message to U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo was stop profiting off the lives of people of color.
NEAEdJustice: What’s the takeaway from this experience?
Kimberly: Well, first of all, there are more educators out there who are social justice activists than you might think. After Philando’s shooting, many locals from around the country contacted us to express their solidarity and asked what they could do. Secondly, when educators march with groups such as Minneapolis Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, it sends a powerful message that we care about their kids and our community.