Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why Educators Must March on MLK Day / Why We Must Continue the Work on Tuesday

On the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday this year, I am going to be out in the streets of Philadelphia with thousands of other folks, raising the issues of economics, education, and police oversight – indeed, continuing the work of the Civil Rights movement.

I will march as white woman who is working to dismantle racism and white supremacy in my life, my community, and my work.

I will march as a friend, community member, and comrade to many people of color who are at the frontlines of the current moment, leading the struggle for human dignity, survival and community-determination that has lately been manifest in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

And I will march as an educator, who works with students of color in the public schools of our city, and sees the “fierce urgency of now” alive in my students’ demands to receive the type of quality education that they deserve.

Tomorrow I will be out in solidarity with my students -- many of whom are unjustly profiled and mistreated by the police in our city; have parents who work 2 or 3 jobs, but barely make enough to cover all of their family’s expense; and are robbed of realizing their fullest potential or actualizing their life dreams, because our so-called leaders have criminally left their schools underfunded and deprioritized.

I want to urge all of my fellow Philadelphia educators to be out tomorrow at the MLK Day of Action Resistance and Empowerment.  To join in what is expected to be the largest demonstration for MLK Day in Philly’s history. 

And then, on Tuesday, I want to urge all of us to dig in and do the collective work it’s going to take to make the march’s vision, unity and demands real. 

Let’s start in our classrooms.

We need to fill the gaps in our own knowledge (about race, the prison industrial complex, unions, community organizing, the work of ‘average people’ in the Civil Rights movement, etc.), so that we can be the teachers our students deserve.   So that they can learn their community’s histories and have their own stories at the center of their curriculum.  So that we can provide actual responses to the questions burning in their hearts about why the world is so unjust, why they are feeling so afraid, what we can actually do to change these oppressive systems that feel so crushing all around them.   

We need to not be afraid of breaking down injustice in our classrooms, of confronting the realities of white supremacy and institutionalized racism that yet pervades our society.  It is our responsibility to provide that language and lens to our students so that they can speak and theorize about their own lived experiences in a way that is connected to larger concepts and history.

And, speaking to my majority white colleagues, I want to urge all of us to do some important internal work to confront racism: to investigate our own lives, to look at the blindspots we have because of our white privilege, to push our own thinking about race and racism, to interrogate our unquestioned takes on the world, and to acknowledge those moments where we let our stereotypes propel us instead of working to truly understand our students.  And then, let’s talk about this more together.  Let’s push each other to deeper levels in our practice.   Let’s become the educators our students truly deserve. 

And, then, let’s move beyond our classrooms.

We all know that our responsibilities as educators don’t end when the 3:04pm bell sounds.  Similarly, our work for justice has to extend beyond the school doors. 

It’s time for us to join in the movement work that is taking shape in our city.

To see true racial, economic and educational justice, we’re going to have to fight against corporate dollars, entrenched politics, and closed minds.  This means that we’re going to need to join each other more than ever.  We need to recognize that our power comes from the strength of the web of relations we are building across this city, and put in the work to build those connections.  Workers, parents, students, people of faith, community members, and educators must continue to build toward the unity felt at tomorrow’s MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

Another world is possible and necessary.  I am inspired by the movement that is growing throughout this city, this country. 

Fellow educators, I am excited to do this work with you. 

Here are some links: