On November 15, the Director of the Cultural Studies Program, Karyn Hollis, hosted Tamara Anderson, Chris Rogers, and Ismael Jimenez to discuss their book, Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice on Villanova’s campus.
These three educator activists talked about the Black Lives Matter at School’s Week of Action, which has now been brought to over 40 cities and improved more inclusive education nationwide. Established in 2016, the Week of Action began in Seattle when thousands of educators and students came to school in “Black Lives Matter” shirts. Their message inspired members of the Caucus of Working Educators’ Racial Justice Committee nationwide, including Philadelphia.
The teachings of the Black Lives Matter at School movement are guided by 13 principles, including restorative justice, loving engagement, unapologetically black and queer affirming.
Educator activists were already laying down the groundwork in Philadelphia in 2015. Jimenez, a co-founder of Philly Black History Collaborative says that beginning with a “neo-liberal attack on education” during the school year of 2014-2-15, many schools in the Philadelphia school district were closed, and 95% of the students affected were African American. This caused the Caucus of Working Educators to create a Racial Justice Committee within their organization. Jimenez stresses the importance of asking “what is identity within a white supremacist construct?”
In the fall of 2018, the Racial Justice division began having public meetings where they would discuss the history of racism, colorism, hierarchy and enslavement.
Jimenez told the audience how leadership of the Caucus was taking credit for the work being accomplished by the Racial Justice division, which was primarily “labor being done by black women”. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the groups split, and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee became its own organization.
While Dr. Anderson, a current professor at West Chester University, believes folks should be appreciated for their ideas, especially those who are marginalized, she is wary about individuals who are eager to take ownership of their own ideas.
“We have to be very careful with territorialism,” Anderson said. “It’s a very white supremacist idea. A lot of people built [Racial Justice Organizing Committee] and gave us this material with grace and integrity.”
Rogers shared that he “started working with curriculum thinking of policy demands and authentic relationships that educators wanted to build by black-led organizations.” He believes that “we are living in the largest protest moment in history,” meaning social justice mobilization is easier now than it ever has been.
According to Rogers, classrooms need to become a platform to experiment and build on the 13 guiding principles of Black Lives Matter at School.
“There’s so much manifestos and literature that are not seen as educational materials but need to be seen as such,” Rogers said.
He stresses the importance of curating reading materials on the Black Panther Party, mass incarceration, police abolition and other literature that is integral to learning and understanding African American history.
“It’s only through conversation can you change people’s minds,” Anderson said.
By creating entry points into the conversation about African American curriculum and anti-racist training, the panel members are hopeful that change is possible.