Do Black lives really matter in your school?

This week was an important one.

It was Black Lives Matter at School’s Week of Action, a week where schools and educators really have to wrestle with what it means to value Black lives.

The conversation about whether Black lives in particular should be valued separately really should no longer BE a conversation.

If the idea that Black lives in particular need to be protected offends you…

If somehow America’s history (and present) traditions of racially fueled violence specifically directed at Black people has escaped you…

…you’re not paying attention.

Please stop talking and start listening.

Black Lives Matter at School is a logical extension of the national Vision for Black Lives

However, as we in education are still working to raise individual and collective consciousness around what it means to inspire students to enact change, it follows that in many schools, the Black Lives Matter at School week of action was completely ignored.

In lots of minds, and lots of communities, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been twisted and flattened and altered to mean, “Nobody else’s lives matter,” and “We support public acts of violence and destruction,” and “We agree with killing police officers to get back at them.”  Most often, this line of thinking belongs to people living in geographic, cultural, or thought silos.  They do not educate themselves about any other perspectives or associate with people who might actually have experienced trauma from a racially motivated act of violence or daily micro-agressions. They do not deeply connect with people outside their sphere of familiarity or comfort.  They do not have conversations with the goal of listening to understand, rather than react.

Educators know that one single thought can change the entire world.  It all begins within.  However, the excuses I most often hear for not bringing the vision for Black lives into school is that, “Politics and social acts of resistance don’t belong in school,” and “I don’t want to bias my students with my viewpoints,” “It’s not in my curriculum” and “I’ll get fired if I do that.”  To each of these I statements I would ask, “If your school isn’t a place where you can inspire and empower students to change the world, what ARE you doing?” Failing to shift our thinking, and to educate ourselves and our students about all sides of the vision for Black lives has serious consequences.  I should not have to assert that my life matters, or shove to make myself visible–but I do.

Excuse making and failure to affirm and value Black lives in particular is one way the system and those within it dismiss and further marginalize the oppressed.  This is the soil in which minds that nurture seeds of racial violence germinate.  Such violence becomes justified and permissible in these minds when the people on whom the violence would be enacted are objects, or strangers about whom our children know virtually nothing real–nothing true.  The fact that someone isn’t holding a torch or a sign saying, “White is right” doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for creating the circumstances we currently find ourselves in.  We know that suspension and expulsion rates disproportionately affect Black students, as do zero-tolerance behavior policies that lead directly to the school to prison pipeline.  We know that Black and ethnic studies classes do not exist in millions of schools, and that fewer than 2% of all educators are Black males.  These are just a few examples of the actual truth behind the fake school integration we have accepted for so long as “good enough”.  Raising our students in such environments is a dangerous game–one people of color always end up losing.

So what did last week look like in Room 4?  Let’s break it down with student voices/work:

Monday February 5th#BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement

Reading discussion/seminar “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (More on how I do my seminars later, but here is a screenshot of the Google doc I had for the students to do a back channel conversation while the inner circle was having their fishbowl conversation).  This lesson might have fit the Friday theme better, but we read four poems last week, and students voted on the one they wanted to discuss this week, “Girl” won.

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Read aloud + discussion and writing about Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin 

How is empathy a seed of social action?  This is what Jailin has to say…

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Tuesday February 6th: #BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Diversity, Globalism

Students started working on contributions to a Google folder envisioning a future where Black lives matter in all schools.  Their work is in response to the prompt “In a school where Black Lives Matter we…..”

This was one of my favorite pieces by my student Jason R.

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and a poem from Adriana F.

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AMAZING panel Tuesday night from Youth African-American and Latinx Leaders.  Check it out here:

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Wednesday February 7th:#BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme –Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming

We still needed to work on projects from Tuesday, so we did.  However, we had time for a quick conversation about trans women being women too, and I pulled this quote from How We Get Free: Black Feminism and The Combahee River Collective

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We will definitely return to this topic and day as I love Audre Lorde’s poetry and essays. They have a permanent presence throughout my class, not just this week.

Thursday February 8th#BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Intergenerational, Black Families, and Black Villages

We heard Matt de la Peña reading his book Love

in this YouTube video which was amazing.  I love bringing picture books into the high school classroom.  I never have students not enjoy them.  I also love having authors read to the kids–it’s a winning combination.

After, we spoke about non “traditional” schemas for love and students did a little writing about what love looks like in their families and cultures.  This is one of my favorite topics to explore, and next week we’ll be returning to it for students to write definition essays (the second round–they did the first ones just before break).  I always love the lesson where we talk about what it means to have a Black or Mexican mama. We will also talk about Black families…the ways they are depicted, and the way it feels to actually be a part of one.

Arianna said it best:

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And here is how our children say they feel love…

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Friday February 9th: #BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Black Women, Unapologetically Black

So for the millionth time, I’m definitely over people saying, “I don’t see color,” when the fact that I am Black and a woman, and a Black woman doesn’t escape anyone.  I’ll just drop this here in case someone has been living over a rock and missed this simple explanation.  Saying you don’t see two of the most OBVIOUS things about me is

A) not true


B) implying there is something wrong with these traits.

I talk more about how to affirm (read – not traumatize) Black women and girls (and really all people) within the school system in my post #BlackGirlMagic if you’re curious/interested.

Given that I worked a 12 hour day Thursday with conferences and all that…and because I love doing #HipHopEd and because it’s Beyoncé, I had to go with some #Lemonade for ALL the reasons.  If you haven’t seen it yet or taught it in your class as visual rhetoric/storytelling, I really don’t know want to hear it, at this point.  Shout out to the homie @heatheryreads for the GENIUS Google drive folder that we share with all the goodies for teaching Lemonade.  I will be using it forever.


Two things:

1) Shout out to the homie @misskubelik for sending me her ARC of The Poet X by @acevedowrites !!  This is all I have wanted since November when I missed the giveaway while I was running around #NCTE18 like a crazy woman.  I cannot wait to read it.  It feels like it was made for me, and me for it.  This may have been the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life, if I’m honest, since there were no books written in poetry (which is a cornerstone of my private life) with girls who looked like me on the cover when I was coming up/learning to read.

Revelation: Students will be working on a dope ethnography project for argument/synthesis with The Poet X and Electric Arches as mentor texts.

2) I cannot WAIT for my students to meet @getnicced on Monday–especially my young Black women.  I don’t have enough words to describe my state of mind about this visit.  I know it’s going to be an emotional journey and I’m all the way ready for it.


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A word…

The majority of this post has been dedicated to AP English Language and Composition students and their work, but a very special THANK YOU goes out to Jason Reynolds for his book Long Way Down.

We read the book straight through while listening to the Audible audio version.  The children were captivated.  We were sitting in a circle, so I could see all of their faces and as any Lang Arts teacher knows, there is little better than experiencing a book you love anew with children you love.  There is just nothing like it.  I am so lucky to be able to have that experience on the regular.

One of my students, Oscar A. is such a joy to experience new things with.  When we went to see the play Macbeth at the DCPA I was probably more entertained by watching his reactions to everything that I was watching the actual play.  He is absolutely incredible and he LOVES hip hop, so I know I can count on him to be all the way in when we do #HipHopEd


He hates to read.  He has admitted it many times.  I’ve been his teacher for two years, so we struggled through the books for AP Lang last year and now he’s taking two concurrent enrollment English classes as well as AP Lit from me–so issalot of reading.

I really don’t have words to describe watching him read Long Way Down, but I can say that it was everything that makes this job so magical.

When we finished reading it, he had the following things to say:

“This is the best book I’ve ever read.  Wow.  That book was so dope.  It was beautiful.  I don’t like reading.  This is a book I actually might BUY.”

To which I replied, “I will GIVE you a copy and write you a letter in the back so you’ll always remember this moment.  You might like poetry more than you think you do.  You love hip hop, and poetry and hip hop are siblings, so….”

So, what does the world do when something this beautiful happens?  Let Jason Reynolds know…

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This made Oscar’s LIFE.  He was so hyped after seeing this tweet.  He lit up from the inside and I was there to watch it happen!  This is the power of teaching/reading living writers….

For those of you wondering about the details of how this text can be used in AP Lit, here is my lesson plan, and a Teaching Tolerance Learning Plan I made for expansion thinking/conversations/activities.

Also, students made a BOMB #hiphoped playlist with songs to accompany the book that I’ll be tweeting out soon, so stay tuned….

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Last but not least, I was interviewed Tuesday for the Imaginarium about Chris Emden, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, Thinking Strategies, Learning Liberation and all the good things.  Check it out below [but stop it when the bell rings or risk hearing a not very good and possibly profane song at the end aaaahh Sound Cloud hahahaha]


Published by: Julia E. Torres

I am a mother, high school Language Arts teacher, activist, world traveler, and reader. Here you will find the story of a woman making her way in the world and making her mark, one word, and one classroom at a time.

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