Seattle students mark Black Lives Matter at School Week

Signs held by Youth NAACP Coalition mirror their demands, including “I need teachers who look like me!” and “Ethnic Studies for all!” (Photo by Chloe Collyer)

Seattle schools celebrated the first week of Black History Month with “Black Lives Matter at School” week. The series of educational events has become an annual celebration since 2016. A coalition of activists, educators and students have organized lesson plans and classrooms become filled with discussions and activities, all inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter at School week got its start several years ago, when John Muir Elementary and other Seattle elementary schools invited Black men in the community to give high-fives to students as they arrived in the morning. Teachers across the district wore Black Lives Matter shirts in solidarity with the occasion. The event grew into a national movement.

This year, one such discussion took place in Jon Greenberg’s 12th grade civics class at The Center School, discussing the effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter movement and oppression.

“I don’t think it’s that people aren’t seeing it,” student Mariam Kanajomo said during the class. “Black people are dying on TV. All the time. Honestly I think they [white people] feel less empathy towards black people.” The classroom murmurs and nods their heads.

Although not all the students agreed on the effectiveness of the BLM movement, there was a consensus among the young adults that Black lives deserved more respect than they currently receive.

Jon Greenberg, of The Center School, directs attention to the board during a class discussion on race and civics. (Photo by Chloe Collyer)

Race and education are important aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, and students, parents and other community members have brought this theme to recent school board meetings. In recent years, groups such as King County NAACP Youth Coalition have demanded changes to the Seattle Public Schools system, including making ethnic studies a requirement for graduation, ending “zero tolerance” discipline and hiring more Black teachers.

“Students of color deserve teachers of color,” said Laveer Brown of Franklin High School and the NAACP Youth Coalition.

It’s clear students have a lot to say about how their education is being offered.

A student at The Center School reflects on a worksheet during a Black Lives Matter lesson. (Photo by Chloe Collyer)
Teacher Stephie Cristol’s high school English class watches a documentary on Huey Newton and the Black Panthers during Black Lives Matter at School week. (Photo by Chloe Collyer)
Members of the Youth NAACP Coalition hold protest signs outside of a Seattle School Board meeting. (Photo by Chloe Collyer)