Hundreds of Seattle Public School teachers planned to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts and incorporate lessons on racism into their classes Wednesday as part of an event organizers say is unprecedented in the racial equality movement.
More than 2,000 Black Lives Matter t-shirts were ordered in the district to participate in what Garfield High history teacher Jesse Hagopian called a “consciousness-raising” event.
“Racial equity will never be a reality unless people are willing to talk about it. This event provides an opportunity for conversations that can help our school move toward racial justice,” Hagopian wrote on his website.
The day of #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool will include a rally at Garfield’s 23rd Ave campus and culminate with an event at 14th and Fir’s Washington Hall with Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett and a performance by Kimya Dawson and others. Other schools in the region, including some elementary schools some outside the state, were participating and posting pictures of teachers wearing Black Lives Matter shirts on social media.
While the Central District high school has a long history of social activism and has been the site of numerous Black Lives Matter marches, the protest movement has not been a major presence inside the classroom. In September, the Garfield football team made national headlines when they kneeled for the national anthem before a game as a protest against racial inequality.
Hagopian is also the advisor for Garfield’s Black Student Union and a co-founder of Social Equality Educators, an organization within the Seattle teacher’s union that helped organize the event. The idea for #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool came after teachers at John Muir Elementary cancelled a black empowerment event in September after threatening phone calls were received by the school. Teachers had planned to wear Black Lives Matter shirts while a group called Black Men Uniting to Change the Narrative greeted children.
Mayor Ed Murray voiced his support Wednesday for teachers bringing Black Lives Matter into the classroom. “I stand in solidarity with the 2,000 Seattle teachers who held ‘Black Lives Matter’ rallies and activities today,” he said in a statement. “Raising awareness of the need to address educational disparities is more important than ever.”
Coinciding with Wednesday’s event is Seattle Public Schools’ #CloseTheGaps campaign, which seeks to draw attention to the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Seattle has the fifth-largest gap in achievement between African American and white students among the nation’s 200 biggest school districts, Murray said.
While many Black Lives Matter marches have taken place on Capitol Hill, CHS recently received a note wondering why the neighborhood appeared to have a relative dearth of signs supporting the movement. We may be seeing some more after Wednesday.