Keziah Ridgeway distinctly remembers two incidents from her years as a student in the School District of Philadelphia: One was when her teacher told her she was racist for disagreeing with the teacher’s approval of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the other was when her high school guidance counselor told her that her idea of attending an Ivy League university was unrealistic.
“If I wasn’t so confident in who I was at the time, this counselor’s statement could have broken me,” said Ridgeway, now a history teacher at Northeast High School. “These incidents didn’t occur in a microcosm. They represent what children of color experience every single day in many Philadelphia classrooms, which is why we need anti-racist training.”
Ridgeway, also a member of the Melanated Educators Collective and the Caucus of Working Educators, urged the Philadelphia Board of Education on Thursday to support the Black Lives Matter Week of Action. Approximately 25 to 30 members stood up in solidarity, some wearing their affiliated T-shirts.
The Black Lives Matter Week of Action, which will be held Feb. 2-10, aims to take action to eliminate outcomes derived from racism in public education.
SDP does not require that teachers teach the Black Lives Matter curriculum, but high schoolers must complete an African-American history course before graduation.
“We support and encourage our teachers to responsibly engage students around important issues to develop critical thinking skills and a respect for the exchange of ideas,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Joyce Wilkerson in a statement. “While Black Lives Matter in Action Week is not in the official curriculum of the district, we certainly support our teachers in this endeavor.”
The Black Lives Matter Week of Action started in Seattle three years ago. More than 30 cities across the nation are participating in the movement this year, according to the Caucus of Working Educators.
Ismael Jimenez, a Kensington Creative and Performing Arts history teacher, lauded the district’s African-American history requirement, but added, “education around racial justice issues is even needed for folks that teach the subject in schools across the city.”
Jimenez said several Philadelphia educators were inspired by Seattle and chose to take action at home.
“We asked teachers to share and develop lesson plans around the principles that can be used in the classroom to deepen the conversations around racism, discrimination and inequity,” he said.
Tamara Anderson, a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, noted that more than 69 percent of students in the district are Black or Hispanic.
“All of our children deserve to be at the center of the curriculum being taught and not an afterthought or a single event in February,” Anderson said. “They deserve to be educated with robust lessons because research shows that students who participate in ethnic or Black studies graduate at higher rates from high school and post-secondary.”
BLM Week will open with a panel, “Talking about Race in the One Book Selections,” from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Logan Library, 1333 Wagner Ave. Jimenez and Charlie McGeehan will facilitate. A list of the free events can be viewed at http://bit.ly/BLMWeek.