This year marks the second national Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action. What began in 2016 as a one-day celebration of black student’s lives in Seattle, one year later was turned into a week-long curriculum based on the 13-principles of Black Lives Matter by educators in Philadelphia. Last year over 30 cities and hundreds of schools brought the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action to their students and this year we are looking to expand to even more cities. As a member of the national steering committee, I spent the last few months working with educators across the country to build this national movement. Together we have created a curriculum for grades K-12, hosted two webinars to inform the public about the week of action, and provided support to educators and activist across the country who recognize the need for a national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. As I reflect on our work, I am reminded once again why this movement must begin in the early years with all young children.
In DC, I was fortunate to join a group of early childhood educators exploring anti-bias literature for young children. The DC Area Educators for Social Justice is a project of Teaching for Change created to develop and sustain a collaborative of social justice educators in the DC metro region. The DC Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action is organized by the DC Area Educators for Social Justice and other local community partners. Members of the ECE anti-bias leadership group are also part of the Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action, leading our work to focus on bringing the week of action into early childhood environments. As we thought through developmentally appropriate ways to teach young children about race and diversity, I am reminded of why the focus on the 13-guiding principles are so important.
Black children learn what it means to be black in America through a narrative of slavery, freedom, and the struggle for civil rights. And non-Black children learn to think of Black people as only having a history that stems from the same. How can we expect Black children to develop strong identities when the foundation we teach them is packaged in oppression? How can we expect non-Black children to see Black people as equals when the Black history they learn paints them as victims of racial oppression? The 13-guiding principles of Black Lives Matter have nothing to do with slavery and oppression. During the week of action, students learn the values of restorative justice, empathy, loving engagement, diversity, globalism, trans-affirming, queer-affirming, collective value, intergenerational, Black families, Black villages, Black women, and unapologetically black. This is the foundation all Black children need to develop a positive identity of self. And this is the foundation all non-Black children need to develop positive respect for Black people.
Every non-dominant racial and cultural group has experienced some type of oppression. And at some point, students must learn this history. But should it be the first thing they learn? Do young Jewish students learn about the horrors of the Holocaust in preschool? Or do they develop a positive foundation and pride in their Jewish identity before learning about the historical oppression their people suffered? If the answer is the latter, then I implore you to recognize young black children deserve the same. And yes, positive racial identity development begins at home, but it cannot flourish without support from the educational environment. I call on early childhood teachers across the country to accept the responsibility of bringing the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action to your students. For more information including access to the curriculum resources and student creative challenge, please visit www.blacklivesmatteratschool.com