A group of teachers in several schools across the U.S. city of Philadelphia have designated this week “Black Lives Matter week,” bringing the anti-police brutality movement into their classrooms, teachers told The Inquirer.
“Saying Black Lives Matter, for most of our students, is not a controversial statement,” Charlie McGeehan, one of the Black Lives Matter week organizers and a teacher at a school in North Philadelphia, told the newspaper Thursday. “It’s an affirmation.”
The organizers are members of the Caucus of Working Educators, a group within the city’s teachers’ union. While they did not know how many teachers are participating in their effort, they said that related events and lessons took place in at least 100 schools, which is a small portion of all the city’s schools.
At least 72 percent of students in the Philadelphia school district are Black or Latino, and so the teachers feel the subject is relevant to their experiences and identity.
"I'm planning to have them get out what they already know about Black Lives Matter and what questions... they have and seeing if we can spend this week in advisory having that conversation and exploring some of those questions that they have about Black Lives Matter," McGeehan told the News Work news outlet in another interview Thursday.
Shaw MacQueen, a teacher at an elementary in southwest Philadelphia, said his students have been bringing up the Black Lives Matter movement in class over the past few months. “The students see whether we mention it or not,” MacQueen told the newspaper. “They watch things, they see it online, they experience it themselves.”
He said his young students had questions about why it was founded and who was funding it, which to him meant they were “not just blindly accepting things. That’s what the district wants us to do: to produce critical thinkers.”
Teachers participated in different ways with some mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement just once in their class and others incorporating it into their lessons throughout the week. Others wore pins and shirts in solidarity with the movement.
As part of the activities, the Caucus of Working Educators have also invited American Football player Malcolm Jenkins, an African-American supporter of Black Lives Matter who serves as safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, to participate in a Saturday closing panel discussion at Temple University.
"If you ever want to change your environment or a system, you first have to be educated on how that system works," Jenkins said in a statement regarding his participation.
"That's why I am on the journey that I am now learning the inner workings of systems that have been set up to disadvantage minorities, especially black people … That's why I am vigilant in my efforts to support and empower people of color."
The action comes a few months after at least 2,000 Seattle teachers sported Black Lives Matter shirts at schools across the city in October as part of several rallies under the banner of “Black Lives Matter at School.”
The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of a viral hashtag with the same words following a jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
It has since evolved into a movement against police killings of Black people, particularly following the high-profile cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
Since its early stages, the hashtag faced a backlash from conservative voices that argued that focusing on Black lives meant that other lives were less important.