D.C. Schools Teach Black Lives Matter

by: Aya Elamroussi Special to the AFRO
/ (Courtesy Photo) /

“What color is innocence?” asked a student in 11th grade as she drew pictures with crayons and markers. She and five other students were in English class when their teacher, Topher Kandik, told them to draw four images to represent four statements and phrases he said out loud. Later at the end of the activity, Kandik revealed that the phrases were the last words Black people said before they were shot and killed by police officers.

Schools around the country participated in Black Lives Matter (BLM) Week of Action in Schools. The week, which takes place during Black History Month, is designed to highlight institutional racism, Black history, and identity and social justice issues through lessons and conversations in the classrooms.

Lead Teacher Jay Banks reads a fictional tale of an enslaved family to second graders at DC Scholars Public Charter School in South East D.C. Students asked questions like, “What is a plantation?” throughout the reading. (Courtesy Photo)

The first BLM Week of Action in Schools in Washington, D.C., was spearheaded by two non-profit organizations, Teaching for Change and Center for Inspired Teaching, along with educators and community members.

Kandik, an English teacher at SEED School in Southeast D.C., taught a poem titled “Bell Canto,” by Derrick Weston Brown, a Black poet and teacher. The poem was about Sean Bell, a Black man shot and killed by police in New York City the night before his wedding.

“It’s tough for a White teacher to be talking about these things especially,” Kandik, who identifies as White, told the {AFRO}. “Sometimes there’s resistance. But once the dust settles, people want to talk. And it has opened up lines of dialogue in a really positive way.”

Kandik also teaches an AP Language course that focuses on texts by Black authors. “The content starts with Fredrick Douglas and Henry Jacobs, and it moves through African-American writers up ‘til now,” Kandik said. He added this course is meant to highlight Black writers who are especially marginalized in AP courses.

Kandik was named the District’s teacher of the year for 2016. He is also on the planning committee for BLM Week of Action in Schools and helped design the curriculum for grades pre-K – 12.

Second-graders in DC Scholars Public Charter School in Southeast D.C. participated in the BLM Week of Action in Schools through a reading about slavery. “How do you think the children would feel hearing that their mother had been sold?” teacher Jay Banks asked the all-African-American class midway through the story. “And when I say sold that means she remains a slave, and she’s being sold to a different slave owner to go to a different state. And most likely when that happens, the families will never see each other again.”

Banks said that implementing BLM in her classroom has been both refreshing and a little bit of a struggle because the topics are new to the kids. “But it’s also good because they have so much to say . . . To make them well-rounded people and to let them know about their culture is super important to me. Once they’re introduced to it, it becomes extremely important to them,” Banks told the AFRO.

Banks is a lead teacher to second-graders. She did an exercise in her class showing students different types of families. She said when her students see something new and different, they laugh. “So, then we had to shut everything down and be like, wait a second. The world around you is full of people who are different from you . . . we all have things that are different about us that make us unique and beautiful,” Banks said.

Banks added that teaching kids about diversity and identity is important because it teaches them that negative portrayals of them aren’t true. “There are so many stereotypes that they’re going to have to battle, especially being young Black children.”

But an African-American teacher and parent in Prince George’s County Schools, which also participated in the inclusion of Black Lives Matter into the curriculum, didn’t support the week, Fox5 reported. The woman told Fox5 she doesn’t believe in the 13 principles the BLM Week of Action in Schools is based on, which are diversity, restorative justice, unapologetically Black, Black families, Black women, Black villages, globalism, loving engagement, empathy, queer affirming, transgender affirming, intergenerational and collective value.

The teacher, who remained unnamed, told Fox5 that her kids attend a public school in Prince George’s County, and she doesn’t want a teacher teaching her kids about “Black Lives Matter.”

Banks and her co-teacher, who are both Black, are clear with their students about the situation of Black people in America. And since their class is entirely African-American, they’re able to teach the students in a more personal matter about the issues that affect them all.

“For Black people specifically, we can’t be sheltered. We are bombarded with images and with stories about what is happening to our community” Banks said.