We Gotta Do Something About Those Radical Black Lives Matter Folks!

After the initial launch of the Black Lives Matter concept to raise awareness of the systemic oppression and racism that was killing Black people through state sanctioned police brutality and extrajudicial murders, the movement expanded.

Black Lives Matter lost some potential allies when they expanded the platform to take a more holistic approach to resisting and informing communities-in particular, white people- about what was actually happening and the duplicity of the justice system in America.

There is a backlash against schools supporting the politicization of students. In Arizona and several other places, there are measures to restrict schools’ opportunities to teach and address social justice issues. The consequence could include slashing 10% of the district’s budget if they offer social justice courses.

Wow. How dare schools really provide a platform for educators to help students navigate the systemic oppression that has deep roots in the racist, misogynist mindsets of founding members of America. Politicians frequently call themselves as champions of “preparing engaged citizens”, so the hypocrisy of Arizona’s politicians is at least consistent. The younger generation may not know this, but this is the same state who didn’t want to embrace the Dr. Martin Luther King federal holiday.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, several schools continue to help students navigate the complexity of their feelings, help them to elevate their voices, and resist oppressive state sanctioned policies.

Some say schools are not the proper venues to teach social justice issues. they’re wrong

Some would say schools and classrooms are not proper venues for social justice talk. However, to not expose students to lessons that capture the complexities, the injustices, and the necessary work they will have to confront as youth and as adults is irresponsible.

To kick off the Black Lives Matter Week of Action, Shoemaker students heard from a “former” Black Panther Party member and a current Black Lives Matter and activist. These types of conversations are necessary in order to meet our mission of ensuring students have the academic and personal skills necessary to navigate the world and pursue their dreams.

The Caucus of Working Educators, a part of the Philadelphia Teachers Union, is organizing this week and has provided resources and rationale. “…we would like to take this opportunity to actually create a space for introspection and dialogue, deeper connections between educators, parents, students and community organizations […]”

Schools across Philadelphia are following Seattle’s lead in demonstrating a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter week. Earlier this year, teachers across Seattle Public Schools wore “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts in a show of unity. They shared that they wanted to “highlight problems black students face as a result of institutional racism, such as lower graduation rates and higher suspension rates than white students.”

Of course, there is pushback. Anytime you demand justice, people will reject that ask. Some try to conflate the myriad issues at hand. While the Jewish Voice for Peace has consistently supported the BLM movement, there is a Zionist organization that balks at schools in Philadelphia who are working to have Black Lives Matter week.

Black Lives Matter isn’t racist, your policies are

Some falsely claim that Black Lives Matter is a racist organization, and this week of united activism violated School District of Philadelphia’s policies. They would prefer the platform remained focused solely on police brutality (and likely be addressed outside of school), but that is a part of a larger racist construct.

And, while I have taken issue with some stances of the Black Lives Matter national organization-at times, the youth led movement of BLM appeared dismissive of our freedom fighting forefathers- my school is supporting Black Lives Matter week. Unifying around issues and resisting the de-humanization of our people – many who look like our students – are vital. An education that is divorced from the realities of inequity and injustices perpetrated by our state is no education at all. It is, in fact, a continuation of state-sanctioned injustice.

At the end of the day, there would be no need to call for attention to the Black lives matter if they weren’t being snuffed out by systemic racism and oppression. We will know Black Lives Matter when policies reflect and are implemented as if they do.

For those who want educators who care about these issues to be silent, silence the movement by making the changes necessary so that all lives (actually) matter. That’s something you can do.


Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.



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