Jesse Hagopian (center) with his son and his son’s 4th grade teacher on “Black Lives Matter Day” in Seattle schools. Courtesy of Jesse Hogopian.
By Marcha I. Chaudry
Last week, more than 2,000 Seattle educators wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school to call for equity in education and to assure their students that “Black lives matter in Seattle public schools.” NEA EdJustice’s Marcha I. Chaudry interviewed activist and Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian, one of the lead organizers of the day.
How have the students been responding to #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool?
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Positively. The student activism is what helped inspire our educators. The students have been thriving with social activism this year. For example, our football team was one of the first in the entire country to take a knee during the National Anthem. Their action spurred our girl’s volleyball team to also take a knee during the national anthem. Then, the marching band joined and the cheerleaders joined for Black Lives.
I think we’re seeing a level of social protest that we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s really exciting for me to see the kinds of things that I only heard my parents talk about in the struggles of the ’60s and ’70s.
As an activist and educator do you think teachers have a duty to be leaders in social movements?
Yes, I knew that simply teaching lessons inside the classroom was not enough to help students become what I know they could be. I think if we educators really want to achieve the goal of supporting youth, we are going to have to figure out how to challenge structures of racism and inequality and work collectively towards that.
What are the future goals you have for #BlackLivesMatterAtSchools?
The nature of the system is deeply segregated in Seattle: Black students are suspended at four times the rate as white students for the same infractions. The advanced classes are overwhelmingly white.
The rally is just the beginning of a much broader struggle to make Black Lives Matter in school. It’s going to take concerted effort by parents, students, and educators together to challenge those systems. We would like to expose some of the problems and begin a dialogue about:
- eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline
- the underfunding of public schools
- ending institutional racism in our schools
- getting rid of disproportionate discipline in our school systems
- requiring ethnic studies classes in high school