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Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action

Maiya and Mary
As we flip the page on our Google Calendars, we are grateful for the collective community strength that endured January, and now we look ahead to a new month. February begins with the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. The Black Lives Matter at School movement began in 2016 in Seattle. By the 2017-2018 school year, multiple cities, including New York, planned a national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. MCS began participating in the Week of Action that first year, with several MCS teachers serving on the steering committee. We invited speakers, hung up beautiful posters with illustrations of the 13 guiding principles, and developed lessons for children of all ages to learn about the principles and discuss how we can work toward social justice and equity. 5-6s teacher, Laleña, wrote a version of the guiding principles for young children (which has now evolved into a book, “What We Believe”).

This year, the national movement has expanded to a Year of Purpose, inviting educators to focus on one of the guiding principles each month and participate in various days of action. As stated on the national Black Lives Matter at School website, “The centerpiece of the Year of Purpose is asking educators to reflect on their own work in relationship to antiracist pedagogy and abolitionist practice, persistently challenging themselves to center Black lives in their classrooms.” The work to center antiracist pedagogy and abolitionist practice is challenging and ongoing. While the very founding of MCS speaks to these ideas and all MCS educators are committed to this work, we are part of a nation-wide educational system that was created to maintain the status quo and often inured to the insidious ways this system maintains social boundaries under the guise of normalcy and tradition. We are also pushing against the daily obstacles of time, space, and busy New York City lives, as well as the significant trauma of the pandemic, political unrest, and discrimination. It takes incredible effort to make space for creating lessons and experiences that teach children about social justice, and it is imperative that we find ways to make that space. It also reminds us, as Shani, 6th grade teacher, often says, that rest is a radical act. That rejuvenation is needed to create space to imagine what social justice education looks like for ourselves and our students and to envision the world as it would be if every child participated in an antiracist education.

During the Week of Action, from February 1-5, we will recommit to finding that space. Different classes will participate in different ways, and you are also welcome to participate at home. Here is the New York City Week of Action calendar of events. If you are a social media person, there are daily prompts to respond to on social media (the NYC steering committee asks you to please tag @BLM_edu_ny, @BLMatSchool, and #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool). 

In the Upper School, the 7th and 8th graders have chosen Black Lives Matter for their annual activism project. It is the first time ever students made a unanimous decision about the focus of their work for the year. They have developed workshops to teach younger students about the movement and the Black Lives Matter at School demands and will be visiting classes throughout the week. We have also invited a series of speakers to come share their work with students:
  • Najha Zigbi-Johnson ‘09, Director of Institutional Advancement at The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, will speak about her experience creating a freedom school seminar while at Harvard Divinity School.
  • Sophia Morel ‘94, Senior Director of Education, Career, and Enrichment Services, will speak about her work at The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES).
  • MCS Alumni Panel: Anti-Racist Student Activism - Alumni who participated in anti-racist movements at Beacon High School, Little Red Elisabeth Irwin School, and Ethical Culture Fieldston School will share their experiences. Probable panelists include Malia Sardinha ‘17, Myles Dawson ‘17, Cal Gelernt ‘16, and Maya Barbosa ‘15.
  • Deidra Fogarty, Founder of Black Girls Teach, will speak about starting her organization and the work they do to “support and cultivate the unique teaching perspectives, practices, and experiences of Black women as educators.”
  • Deirdre Hollman, Former MCS parent and Founder and Creative Director of The Black Comics Collective, speaking about creating a forum that “celebrates cultural diversity in comics and amplifies the awareness of black comic creators to the communities that crave them.”
 
You can also learn more about ways to participate in Black Lives Matter Week of Schools from the following resources:
 
 
We look forward to listening to children’s voices and ideas as we participate in the Week of Action and sharing stories from the week along the way.
 
Warmly,
Mary and Maiya
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