AFT celebrates Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action

AFT teachers and school staff are busy with a flurry of activity this week, Feb. 6-10, as they celebrate the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. Literally wearing their beliefs on their sleeves, they are donning T-shirts proclaiming the value of Black students and educators; attending webinars to learn how to detect under-representation or misrepresentation of Black history in social studies texts, and how to teach about enslavement and resistance; and encouraging students to express their own pride of ethnicity and race.

Members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers
Members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers

“Black Lives Matter at School Week recognizes the systemic issues that our students of color go through,” says Joel Richards, chair of the Boston Teachers Union Black Lives Matter at School committee, which has queued up a host of activities for the week. “It’s also an affirmation that tells students, ‘We’re fighting for you.’ And it’s a call to action.”

BTU offered a BLM toolkit, held a session to share resources through its ethnic studies committee, hosted a film screening, conducted a workshop on BLM principles and how to advocate for them, and organized art and essay contests for students. Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union hosted a virtual student panel on reimagining school safety, exploring the demand to end zero-tolerance discipline policies and implementing restorative justice systems and funding for “counselors, not cops.”

Other educators are displaying book collections featuring Black excellence and Black history, creating student art displays and hosting writing workshops and book signings.

Nationwide events are being hosted daily on the Black Lives Matter at School platform: Monday through Wednesday, virtual sessions included one on poetry from incarcerated young people, a discussion of equitable school communities across the globe and an informational fair about historically Black colleges and universities. Thursday features an exercise in imagining safe schools, communities and futures; on Friday, a “Black Joy Party Connection Space” will encourage participants to celebrate their authentic selves.

Many of the actions follow the demands of Black Lives Matter at School. They are:

  • End zero-tolerance discipline policies and implement restorative justice practices;
  • Hire more Black teachers;
  • Mandate Black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum; and
  • Provide funding for more counselors, not cops.

We know that Black lives matter all year long, and that’s why we love the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action: It takes the tight and intentional seven-day focus on Black students and educators and extends it out into a “year of purpose,” with tools to work with year-round. AFT affiliates are amplifying the concept.

UTD officers: from left, Vice President Antonio White, President Karla Hernandez and Secretary-Treasurer Mindy Grimes-Festge
UTD officers: from left, Vice President Antonio White, President Karla Hernandez and Secretary-Treasurer Mindy Grimes-Festge

Throughout February, T-shirts sold by United Teachers of Dade will not only help celebrate Black History Month but also raise money to combat legislation limiting the way Black history and life is taught in public schools. United Faculty of Miami Dade College is hosting a panel discussion about the film I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary based on the work of James Baldwin. The United Federation of Teachers in New York City has compiled an entire collection of Black History Month resources and is screening a film as part of a series.

And, of course, the AFT has continued to act on its commitment to Black lives, celebrating Black History Month by looking back and looking forward, and continuing to build its rich collection of resources on Share My Lesson, updating it with new professional development workshops as well as lesson plans and classroom materials.

Ultimately, the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action will extend into public education every week, every month and every year, by bolstering educator knowledge and moving policy toward a more equitable and just educational system. Because Black lives matter, always.

[Virginia Myers]