How do teachers feel about acts of violence that result in the murder of students of color? Besides parents, we make the greatest investment in the nation's youth. We nurture them. We watch them grow. We set them on the path to realize their dreams and send them into a world where their race still invites acts of suspicion and brutality. We have wept silently and individually for so many you like Michael Brown. The nation needs to know how we feel.
- Dr. Yohuru Williams
I'm too emotional to think clearly but I've begun a gathering. I'm gathering articles, pictures, and links to discuss Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I'm going to address this the first week of school. When we are going over the rules, behavior, and expectations. I will touch on the very real truth that what my brown and black students do in public can and is perceived as worse than what any other teen does.
The school itself feels like a prison. They come in late to first period due to snafus with metal detectors. Walking down the hallway in a multi-school campus building has them accused of “trespassing”. Trying to explain that the bathroom on the floor was closed, gets them yelled at for “talking back”/ situations are escalated. The student is documented and then put into the system. This is in a school. I am tired of my students being criminalized. The environment is oppressive.
Working in the Bronx, I've written letters of recommendation and character witness letters. Students have hopped on the back of a bus in a rush and been roughly pulled out by the collar by officers. Arrested or detained for some perceived offense. Brought into the system. They have cried in my classroom. I have felt helpless. Does anything I do in my classroom even matter when a police officer can justify unjustly harsh treatment, violence, injury, and death of a student by saying he felt threatened, or the student resisted?
Hence, the gathering. The printing, The compiling. I will waste the ink in my printer. I will stand at that stupid broken copier in the hot office, where the smell of the polluted creek behind the school sneaks in and copy each page one by one. To reach each student one by one, I have become convinced of the need for stand for justice even in small ways to change the culture of fear and violence. Will you stand with me?
- Aixa Rodriguez
I took the day off yesterday. I made a purposeful decision to ignore the internet yesterday, no Facebook, no twitter, no internet news. I did not have any communication, except with my children. I was due for a day of spending time with some very wonderful friends, listening to live music, and celebrating the life of one of (in my opinion) the greatest guitar player of all time. Then I woke up today and reality hit, and it hit extremely hard. I experienced a quick drowning feeling in the realization that, even though my life may have been good for a day, other people were living in a nightmare.
When I signed on again, I soon learned about the unjustified murder of Michael Brown. Reading his story, as a mother, I have been extremely upset at the thought of the possibility of dealing with such a trauma. Like Michael, my own boy is eighteen, having recently graduated from high school as well. These are the thoughts that kept running through my head, haunting me, as I was out running errands this morning.
But what are the chances that MY son would be a victim to such a violent crime, perpetrated by the police, the very people that are duty-sworn to “serve and protect?” You see, my child is White. We live in an average suburb. He has access to a car to get him from point A to point B. The truth of the matter is, while there is still a chance of him falling victim to a violent crime, the chance of that crime being committed by the police is practically slim to none.
Reports say that Michael Brown was shot as he was walking from his house to his grandmother's house. I began to wonder, “ What would life be like, living with the constant underlying fear, the knowledge that our “protectors,” the police, are a possible threat when my child walks down the street?” Would I have been able to take a day off to spend it with friends yesterday? Would I have been able to tell my children that they needed to remain home, inside, where it was safe all day until I returned home? I would never be able to force my children to become prisoners of their own home. But essentially, isn't that what is being done to the thousands of minority children and families that live in fear that one day their child could be another Michael Brown, another Trayvon Martin?
It is time to call out these crimes against teens of color, against our students that are constantly living with this fear in the back of their minds. Every day of their lives, they come to school and, as teachers, we try our hardest to create safe learning environments to teach state-mandated curriculum. But what are we really teaching them? Are we really teaching them about life? About the injustice that our own society perpetrates upon them? Are we teaching them about how to speak out and rise up against that injustice? Are we standing up for them in the sense that we are speaking out about these crimes, demanding that they stop?
I think it is time for all teachers to take a moment and reflect upon what our students really need from us. So, teachers, the next time someone tells us they don't want us to show our students how to think for themselves, just simply tell them, “You know what? Reality bites.”
- Melissa Tomlinson