As I wrote about in a previous post last week, BSU Students at Lowell Showed All of Us What Leadership Looks Like. For those still trying to wrap their heads around the “Lowell incident” (where a student posted a #gang sign next to pictures of rappers and Barack Obama in a Library display for Black History Month) it’s important to remember that BSU students (and alumni) were not protesting simply because a student posted an inappropriate display. The straw that broke the camel’s back was not the incident itself, but the seeming disregard in which the administration, staff and parents handled the entire situation. For example, after the picture of the #gang posting made it’s way across social media, the principal called an emergency assembly for students. BSU students reported most of the non-BSU students didn’t understand the purpose of the assembly and staff members complained that it was “interrupting class time” and “not that serious.”
This is (unfortunately) nothing new…
The only thing we should consider “shocking” about this incident is the fact that it is NOT shocking to most people.
Racial microaggressions (and MACRO-agressions) are so commonplace that they have been normalized as a part of Lowell culture. Lowell BSU students and alumni have been complaining about a culture of racism at the school since time immemorial. Lowell has such a bad reputation among the Black community in SF that Black alumni regularly roll their eyes when talking about their experiences at the school (this includes current SFUSD educators)! Black and Latino alumni regularly talk in terms of “surviving” Lowell. Many Black parents, counselors, and teachers actively discourage Black and Latino students from accepting admission because it is “not a Black/Latino-friendly school.” One Black grandparent I spoke with – who is also an active community leader – says she would discourage her grandchild from attending Lowell rather than have him suffer the emotional damage of dealing with daily harassment, exclusion, erasure and personal attacks each day.
Let’s get one thing clear: Black people are used to being recipients of racist behavior on a daily basis. We do not expect the world to be racism free. We DO however expect staff and especially administrative officials IN OUR CHILDREN’S SCHOOLS to handle incidents in ways that recognize the very real harms of individual racism. We expect district and school site educators and parent leaders to actively work on eradicating systems of structural racism in our schools.
At a recent Board of Education meeting, Tsia Blacksher, one of the leaders of the Lowell Black Student Union put it,
“The African-American community at Lowell is tired. We are genuinely tired of the discrimination and racism we face on a day-to-day basis at our school. For years we have dealt with this and we have tried to talk to either staff or other adults about our experiences. We were basically told that “that’s life” and we just have to deal with it because that’s just the way things are. The school and the district have had numerous opportunities to fix the situations we discussed with them about. But no actions were taken. We as a community have decided that we are no longer going to wait until the school does something about it. We are now taking actions into our own hands.”
No more excuses!
It’s time to stop making excuses for the racism in our schools. The claims made by current Lowell students are not new. And these are not just Lowell problems. It’s time to fix these problems here and now, and wherever they persist. Instead of telling our Black and Brown kids to “just deal with it”, we need to deal the very real racism in our classrooms, hallways, and parent listserves. BSU students are no longer waiting for the adults to make the change… they are making it happen for themselves. What are WE waiting for?
[Watch the full video here.]
Let’s Support These Amazing Students!
In honor of the BRAVE student leaders of Lowell’s BSU, I’m reposting their demands presented at the February 23, 2016 Board of Education Meeting. Let’s support these amazing students in making this happen at Lowell and at all schools across the city!
Lowell Student BSU demands:
“So as a minority attending Lowell High School, we are already outnumbered and are struggling to survive. So to have to endure racism on top of everything else is unacceptable. So, who do we hold accountable? We are demanding respect and are asking for your help. Here are our demands:
Demand #1: Diversifying the System — We need more African-American teachers and staff!
We want to be a part of a system that represents us. The school wants us to feel safe and welcome in an environment where there is very little percentage of us. We understand that the issue goes deeper than just hiring African-American staff. The percentage of African-Americans in San Francisco is at 6 percent. The minimal amount of money that is required to comfortably live here is too high. Our families are being kicked out of a place where our history began for many of our ancestors because they simply cannot afford to keep to keep the homes we were raised in. However, we demand that the school makes every effort possible to hire more African-American staff in our schools and that a BSU representative will be present at all times during the hiring process.
Demand #2: We want a change in the school curriculum!
The reason why these incidents keep happening is because the students are not educated on what it means to be respectful to other cultures. We need mandatory Ethnic Studies classes. The teaching of our culture should not be an elective. It should be mandatory, just like European history. The problem isn’t just with the students, teachers are often uneducated about cultural sensitivity. At Lowell most African-American students feel uncomfortable in the classroom. African-American students are repeatedly faced with microaggressions. We want all teachers being required to take culture sensitivity training and if not then disciplinary actions will take place for the teachers who are not respectful of student culture.
Demand #3: [We want a full-time] African-American Recruitment Officer!
[This person should be] someone who specializes in recruitment of African-American students into Lowell High School. They should also be the sponsor of BSU–a person that we can trust, that works closely with African-American students, attends every meeting, and serves as a representative of all African-American students. With a designated number of hours, they would also be in charge of an eighth grade Welcoming Day for African-American students; a big event that should be held at Lowell High school focusing on what the school is going to do to support the minority community at Lowell High School.
Demand #4: We want an African-American Community Center at Lowell High School!
The African-American community constantly deals with microaggressions. The center will be a place where our freedom of expression is not at risk. Due to some students not being able to attend our meetings, Wednesday afternoons in addition to the structure of Lowell’s block schedule. This will be a place where we can still interact with other African-American students and stay up to date on what is discussed at our meetings.”
Please show your support by keeping the conversation going!
You don’t have to be a Lowell student or parent to show your support for these courageous Lowell students! Here are some things you can do to show your support of Black students at Lowell and in your own school community. (Click the links for resources, handouts, and tools you can share!):
- Email Board of Education Commissioners, Lowell leadership, and district leaders and let them know you expect them to fully support AND FUND!!! Lowell BSU demands.
- Support Black students and families at your child’s school. Are there African-American teachers at your school? Did your school celebrate African American History Month? Does your child’s teacher and librarian incorporate a wide range of books by and about African-American authors and characters? Does your child’s teacher share information about contributions of Black scientists, mathematicians and feminists (or is Black history limited to just MLK and slavery?) Use this helpful guide to ask questions during back to school nights, at PTO meetings, SSC meetings and community meetings.
- Support Black families and students in forming cultural affinity groups at your school. Join the district African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) Learn more about starting a Black parent affinity group at your child’s school and the benefits they can create for your school community.
- Listen to Black students, families and staff. Very often, when Black folks share negative experiences we are having in our communities, our voices are ignored or dismissed. If you are Black, it’s time to stop making others comfortable. SPEAK UP about your experience… even in *White* spaces! Get involved (Again, get involved in the district AAPAC!) If you are a non-black ally, it’s time to listen and learn. Help to elevate Black and other marginalized voices in your school community and on your school email groups, meetings and listservs.
- Interrupt racial microaggressions in your school community among students, parents and staff. DON’T BE SILENT! It’s important to name microagressive language and make it public. We can’t change a problem we can’t name.
- Talk to your own children about race! More and more we are seeing that parents can also be part of the problem. Make sure your kids are not inadvertently perpetuating racist stereotypes or condoning the microaggressive behavior of their peers.
Please share this post with your friends! Post ideas in the comments below (BTW: comments made by haters will NOT be approved!) Share this post on social media. Share this conversation at your school. We can help to keep this important conversation going. We can support the brave BSU students standing up against racism! This is not just a Lowell problem. We all have a role to play in making all our schools safe and affirming places for African-American students and families.
How are you working to create safe and inclusive school communities for all students and parents at your school? Share your ideas below.
Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.
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