by Maile Anderson
An enthusiastic crowd of teachers, parents, current Seattle Public Schools board members, and candidates for the school board gathered at Medgar Evers Pool at Garfield High School on Saturday, June 12, to show solidarity protesting the passage of bills in several states banning the teaching of critical race theory.
The debate over restricting teachers from including the history of white supremacy or incorporating ethnic studies in the curriculum is nothing new. Those who support banning it see critical race theory as racist, unconstitutional, and designed to make white people feel guilty. In fact, critical race theory examines how racism is intersected and maintained in public institutions. As many speakers at the rally made clear, the goal of critical race theory isn’t to pit individuals against one another, despite what so many politicians and media have twisted it to become.
While speakers were scheduled to voice their own concerns, the rally also involved a walk around the neighborhood with specific stops that hold historic significance. Kshama Sawant, Nikkita Oliver (running for position 9 on the Seattle City Council) and Michelle Sarju, running for the school board seat in district 5, were among those who had the microphone. Each spoke passionately about how educators, parents, and activists are at the center of this social justice movement.
A recurring theme across speakers was promising students not to teach them lies. Michelle Sarju said, “Black, Indigenous, and Children of Color, [so] that they have access to the high-quality public school education — that is their birthright and that they deserve. And that includes teaching real American history. We can’t have a democratic society if all we know are half-truths and full lies. That is what got us to January 6. As long as we keep people ignorant, the status quo of white supremacy will remain.” Sarju went on to say that if she is elected, the children will be the boss and that she will continue listening to those students to help make informed choices.
Alexis Mburu, a sophomore in high school and organizer with the NAACP Youth Council, took the stage and argued in support of bills signed into law in Washington State this session that promote curriculums teaching the history and dismantling of systemic racism. As a current student in the school system, Mburu is very much aware of how this will affect the rest of her educational experience and those of her peers. In a direct plea, she urged teachers and politicians to defend teaching true history: “… it’s innovation, it’s courage, it’s promise, it’s change … we are the truth,” said Mburu. “We are here to make sure our voices and the truth is heard, no matter [if] the institutions continue to try and kill us generation after generation. [This] legislation [banning the history of racism is] trying to come into our classrooms, intimidate our teachers, kill the brilliance of every student that walks through those doors. The brilliance like me — I’m a sophomore. Every time they [students] walk into the classroom, they have something to bring.”
After a round of inspirational speeches, the group, led by teacher Bruce Jackson, began a walk to influential and historically relevant landmarks, while occasionally doing call-and-response chants led by Mburu. The march stopped at Fire Station 6, which is being transferred to ownership by Africatown Community Land Trust, as well as Pratt Park, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, and the second headquarters of the Seattle Black Panther Party. The group was then led back to the starting point for closing remarks by Nikkita Oliver.
“How [do] we address the problems in front of us? I think about the climate,” Oliver said. “We’re in a state of emergency around the climate crisis and when we talk about polluted air or polluted water, people begin to get more comfortable with the idea of not wanting to breathe in or drink toxicity. When it comes to the environment we live in, around history, around the words that we speak, around the stories that we tell, it is the same problem of pollution. And the same way we want to end the climate crisis, the climate catastrophe that’s upon us — we should want to end the catastrophe of racism and white supremacy. We should want to end the catastrophe of economic inequality. We should want to end the catastrophe of problems in our education system, because they will all lead us down a pathway of death for everyone.”
For more information, or to sign the petition, visit the Day of Action page on the Zinn Education Project website.
Maile Anderson has had the immense privilege to travel to amazing places with a camera beside her. She believes documenting the changing world, whether in the form of protests or other cultures, is important work that heightens awareness in this time of social justice. Follow her on IG: @tinypicturetaker.
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