- Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action (February 6-10) helps create a safe space to talk about race, racism, and other difficult topics in school.
- There's still time to plan events and activities using resources from NEA and Black Lives Matter at School.
Zellie Thomas has taught fourth grade math, in Paterson, N.J., for over a decade. But he does more than teach math. Thomas is an anti-racist teacher who stands with his peers, parents, and students to create a safe space to talk about race, racism, and other difficult topics in school.
And he uses Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action (February 6-10) to organize events that help him go beyond the basics of U.S. history and dive deeper into the lesser-known parts—centering on collective action to drive change for social and racial justice.
“Kids often think change only comes from a great person,” says Thomas. “They don't realize that it comes from ordinary people who are organized—and doing great things.”
He shares the examples of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, explaining that most people know about Martin Luther King: The boycott, speeches, and his assassination. “But what else do we know about the boycott? How did King and others organize people for over a year to not ride buses? Rosa Parks—as I was taught—wasn’t an old woman who refused to move out of her seat because she was tired. She was a seasoned NAACP organizer,” he says.
And it’s for these reasons and more that NEA continues to push school boards to adopt a more honest and accurate curriculum, using age-appropriate material that helps students understand their past, while preparing them for the future.
Educators have used NEA’s sample resolution and guidance to affirm the inclusion of all students, respect for educators as professionals, and support for a proven, research-based, and culturally responsive education.
“When we think about culturally relevant education, it’s not only talking about Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, or the other high-profile incidents that happened in other states,” explains Thomas. “It’s about being aware of the things that are happening in your own city, …and that racism exists even when viral content doesn't.”
Black Lives Matter at School
The goal of Black Lives Matter at School is to continue the ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation and impactful actions in school communities.
Since 2016, thousands of educators nationwide have shown solidarity in their pursuit for equity in education. Over the years, they’ve held teach-ins, presented age-appropriate racial justice curriculum, and organized with community members.
Equally important, educators get to hear directly from students about their school experiences.
“By listening to students, we—as educators—are able to make a choice: Are we going to hear about their experiences of injustice and then move on once Black Lives Matter week is over or are we going to help organize them to change our school and community for the better?” he asks.
For Thomas, his plans for the week of action are twofold.
On the one hand, he wants to show students how they’re connected to a global community while giving them the knowledge and tools to help change inequality. His main message: Small actions can also positively affect communities.
The second piece will be to explain, discuss, and challenge anti-Black racism. Thomas shares that while not everyone in his school building identifies as African American, there are many people with African ancestry—and colorism exists and is still a problem in many areas of society.
Colorism is a form of discrimination based on skin color, which often privileges people with lighter skin complexions within a racial group, positioning people with darker complexions at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. It's an example of how White supremacy can work amongst the members of a single racial or ethnic group.
“To be able to have these types of conversations with students will be powerful,” says Thomas.
Themes for the Week
Research shows that all students benefit when they’re taught a complete and honest account of history. And for educators who may not know where to start, offers guidance throughout the week. Here’s a breakdown of what’s to come:
MONDAY: Write Night with Free Minds Book Club
Writing workshop exploring the poetry of incarcerated youth, as part of our commitment to attend to systems and networks of care to make the domination, erasure, and dehumanization of Black life obsolete. Registration Link
TUESDAY: Celebrating Globalism and Collective Value Panel
Speakers from different countries will talk about the importance of valuing Black life and how it relates to us collectively, building authentic partnerships with all who support creating equitable school communities across the nation and around the globe. Registration Link
WEDNESDAY: HBCU (Historically Black College and University) Fair Youth Support
Learn a bit about the unapologetically Black history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and currently what they offer from students. Registration Link
THURSDAY: Imagination Lab Listening Project
A collective imagination exercise in which we open-heartedly dream up safe schools, communities, and futures. Registration Link
FRIDAY: Black Joy Party Connection Space
A space to be your authentic self, celebrate, and be in community! To collectively love and care for one another as extended intergenerational families. Registration Link