From Reconstruction to Afro-Futurism: Educators Get Ready for Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action

D.C. Area Black Lives Matter at School Curriculum Fair with registrant map.

Keynote Speaker │ Workshops & Resources

On Saturday, January 20, hundreds of educators gathered virtually to prepare for the 2024 National Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action (February 5–9). The fair opened with a welcome from Keesha Ceran, deputy director of Teaching for Change. She introduced national Black Lives Matter at School organizer Sam Carwyn, who shared the updated Black Lives Matter at School curriculum and insights into the Week of Action. The momentum continued with Vanessa Williams, the program manager for D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice (DCAESJ), delving into the many Black Lives Matter at School resources and teaching stories provided by Teaching for Change at the DCAESJ website. Williams also provided a sneak peek into the D.C. area’s plans for the upcoming Week of Action, setting the stage for an inspiring and collaborative educational event.

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GIFTED Books and InService Credit

Thanks to donations by publishers, 25 participants who completed the evaluation received a book for children or young adults related to the Black Lives Matter at School 13 Guiding Principles. Attendees also received a 3-hour professional development certificate.


Keynote — Dr. Enid Lee

Dr. Enid Lee reflected on the progress made and emphasized the ongoing commitment to ensuring that all Black lives matter in educational settings. She noted the importance of personal and community histories, affirming their role in liberating spirits. Dr. Lee motivated the audience to focus on making history that reflects the collective principle of including the lives, experiences, and work of ALL Black lives. She stressed the need to expand curriculum content to address both the systems that have allowed communities to thrive AND those that have been omitted or remain unequal. YET, we must acknowledge the unfinished business ahead, affirming our commitment to undertake it. The three words—All, And, Yet—guided her message, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity, acknowledgment of existing systems, and commitment to unfinished business. In her call to action, Dr. Lee urged educators to use their time purposefully in making history that fosters justice, joy, and generosity for all Black lives. Participants noted in their evaluation:

Dr. Enid is an amazing, brilliant woman! In her response to “what keeps her going/brings her joy,” she stated that she writes down every day about racist actions that are going on and then writes what is being done in response/repair. That sits with me so deeply, as a white masculine educator, on how to be an active participant in anti-racism work and not just a spectator and supporter. There are so many brilliant Black women here in this group creating actual change and sharing resources with others!

The three focus words – All, And, Yet – and the discussion around them. I also liked the question/answer: “What Keeps you joyful in the resistance?” This is such an important consideration because the work is always there, always in your face, sometimes discouraging and we need to find joy in our efforts, colleagues, and camaraderie.

Dr. Lee spoke about the importance of keeping daily notes on racist systems and the resistance of those systems. This was inspiring to me because it is a good reminder that it is important to understand the truth of systematic oppression and if we learn and support the resistance of these systems we can be part of creating a different reality free from these systems. Her message was one of urgency and hope. It felt like it grounded us in celebration and collaborative spirit.

Hearing Dr. Lee was such a beautiful grounding for the day. Everything today was grounded in hope and faith, and that was something I desperately needed in our current situation. Her words inspired me to enter this planning phase with the same amount of joy, positivity, and faith.

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Workshops & Resources

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Black Women’s History in Five Minutes or Less: Celebrating Hidden Stories You May Not Know
Presented by: Ashleigh D. Coren
Principles: Queer Affirming; Trans Affirming; Intergenerational; Unapologetically Black; Black Women
Featured Principles

In this enlightening workshop, educators were introduced to the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative’s digital series, “Women Changemakers You May Not Know,” along with additional resources celebrating the rich tapestry of Black intersectional histories. The session provided a deep dive into the stories of women in 19th and 20th century history who, through community organizing, catalyzed transformative change. A poignant segment focused on Barbara Jordan, the pioneering first Black woman senator from Texas, exploring her perspective on the deferred American dream for marginalized communities and their resilience in pushing for change. Guided by presenter Ashleigh D. Coren, the group crafted a meaningful definition of what it means to be a changemaker. The workshop further delved into the inspiring journey of Lois Curtis, who challenged the mental health system in Georgia. The session left participants motivated to spotlight Black women changemakers in their classrooms. Participants noted in their evaluation:

So refreshing to hear about more Black women who have led the fight for equity. The mainstream narratives continue to repeat the same 1 -2 people, which is fabulous, but students need to know there are MANY women who are change makers!!

In this workshop, Ashleigh taught about Barbara Jordan, Georgia Gilmore, and Lois Curtis. I learned that it is important to teach students that a changemaker is someone who takes action to solve a social or historical problem. There are different ways to be a changemaker

There are different types of stories. We all matter and have something to offer. I think this is really important because it gives all students an opportunity to see themselves as a changemaker.

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FROM INSPIRATION TO ACTION: MAKING A PLAN FOR MONDAY
Presented By: Azureé Harrison & Julia Tomasko
Principles: Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement, Diversity, Collective Value
Featured Principles

The workshop commenced with an interactive poll, gauging participants’ readiness to implement their BLM at School plans. Witnessing the diverse range of readiness levels in the poll results was affirming for many and created a sense of collective acknowledgment. Presenters Azureé Harrison and Julia Tomasko reviewed impactful testimonials from students, underscoring the importance of intentional teaching of BLM principles and how it resonates with students, making them feel seen. They provided valuable insights into their thought processes at both school and classroom levels, elucidating how these considerations guide the development of BLM-inspired lessons. They emphasized quality over quantity in incorporating principles into grade-level lessons and encouraged participants to select a guiding principle for focused and powerful engagement during the Week of Action. Break-out room discussions allowed participants to share resonances and articulate curiosities and challenges. The wrap-up segment introduced a practical planning template, expertly preparing educators for their upcoming initiatives. Participants noted in their evaluation:

I learned how to plan to take action using the provided resources like the planning template, as well as learning to collaborate with not just your grade-level team, but with other grade-level professionals.

They gave great tangible ideas about how to implement big things while also keeping in mind ways to not overcomplicate things for ourselves and instead have concise, meaningful lessons.

I appreciated all the resources that were shared. I appreciated the breakdown of considerations at the school and classroom levels. There were some great points and ideas raised there.

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I SAW DEATH COMING: RECONSTRUCTION AND THE WAR ON BLACK FREEDOM
Presented By: Jessica Rucker
Principles & Demand: Collective Value, Unapologetically Black, Black Women; Mandate Black history and ethnic studies
Featured Principles

During this session, participants grappled with how to confront the violence of the Reconstruction Era in our various educational contexts. They discussed how, as educators, they could utilize excerpts from Dr. Kidada E. Williams’ book to counter the dominant narrative of Reconstruction as a time of peace and rebuilding. Presenter Jessica Rucker emphasized how Black Americans made historic strides towards the creation of a multiracial democracy, but they have also faced what can be described as a “second war” in which they experienced terrorism, theft, arson, and massacres at the hands of white Americans for daring to be free. This session emphasized using primary sources; by reading survivors’ first-hand testimonies, students and educators can honor our ancestors’ humanity and their agency. By keeping a record of what Black Americans have lived through, educators can help students understand the importance of telling their own stories even as we continue to face ongoing backlash against Black lives, Black political action, and Black prosperity. Participants noted in their evaluation:

That laws and white violent resistance were calculated efforts to prevent freed people from truly being free and that there was little to no consequence given to white violence and protection given to freed people.

I learned quite a bit, but most importantly I have a greater understanding of how primary sources can be utilized by young learners to dismantle biased secondary sources and weaponized false narratives.

Good primary resources for challenging dominant narratives of Reconstruction and great discussions for how to incorporate into the curriculum in age appropriate manners that do not elide the horror and violence of the Reconstruction era.

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LEVERAGING THE PHOTO ESSAY FOR ABOLITIONIST LITERACY INSTRUCTION
Presented By: Khadim Baluch
Principles: Restorative Justice, Collective Value, Intergenerational, Unapologetically Black
Featured Principles

Presenter Khadim Baluch encouraged participants to engage students with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s historically responsive literacy framework while using activist visual art. He centered two photo essays in his presentation, “The Notion of Family” (2001-2014) by LaToya Ruby Frazier and Devin Allen’s “A Beautiful Ghetto” (2017). Baruch chose photo essays to provide an accessible way for learners of different literacy levels to engage all while mastering the Common Core Reading Anchor Standards, such as making a claim and close reading. Baluch had teachers practice analyzing and having discussions about captivating images that centered on themes of Black life, joy, and family, as well as urban rebellion against police brutality in Baltimore. The meanings of hope, intergenerational connections, place, displacement, and home also surfaced in discussions. The photographs from both photo essays presented narratives that centered both the struggles and triumphs of Black life and families, but ultimately, Baduch encouraged teachers to lean on Dr. Bettina Love’s abolitionist message of centering joy and solidarity in abolition. A participant noted in their evaluation:

This workshop was phenomenal! It showed the power that photographs and artwork can have in the classroom as a teaching tool. Discussions on art can level the playing field for all students by having various level learners participate since art truly transcends language. Sharing artwork can inspire dreams and it offers students a unique and authentic way to connect with one another! It was interesting how just being asked to focus on repeated ideas, objects, and symbols in the photographs, ended up creating incredible discussions that included some heartfelt responses.

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LISTEN TO BLACK WOMEN: DMV AREA BLACK WOMEN EDUCATORS PLANNING AND DREAMING FOR LIBERATION
Presented By: Amber Bennett Foote, Ariel Alford, Dr. Tamyka Morant, Vanessa Williams
Black Women
Featured Principle

Engaging with four remarkable Black women educators who navigate roles as classroom teachers, curriculum writers, club leaders, and school administrators, participants learned about their contributions to the Black Lives Matter at School movement. Their impactful work celebrated on a national scale through features in NPR and In These Times left an indelible impression. The workshop not only provided a platform to learn from their expertise but also offered valuable time for collective dreaming, allowing participants to collaboratively envision and draft lessons and activities for the upcoming Week of Action and beyond. Participants noted in their evaluation,

These women were inspiring and visionary. I was moved by their dedication to the cause. I learned how important it is to be persistent and have open lines of communication between the school and the parents. I enjoyed getting to talk about how to apply these themes at the different grade levels.

I learned that instead of trying to teach all 13 principles, the ideal model is to coordinate and collaborate with other teachers so that each teacher is responsible for teaching 1-2 principles. This allows you to spend more time creating lessons that go into more depth with each principle. Dr. Morant shared resources with us about using quilting to teach students about the intergenerational principle. I love this idea and I have reached out to Oakland African American Quilting guide to see if I can have a guest speaker come to my classroom. Dr. Morant was kind enough to share the framework she used for this unit, and I know my students will get inspired and empowered learning about the way quilting can uplift Black voices and the role this art form plays in intergenerational connection.

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THE LIVES & LABOR OF BLACK WOMEN DURING RECONSTRUCTION
Presented By: Tif Ani
Black Women
Featured Principle

Teachers immersed themselves in historiographical thinking, navigating secondary sources to uncover power dynamics and political agendas in narratives. Presenter Tif Ani had participants practice comparing the backgrounds, goals, and context of historians to investigate the influence of those factors on their evidence and arguments. They analyzed how historians construct arguments and how they use different types of sources and analyze them in novel ways to support their claims. With these tools, participants reviewed different framings of the Reconstruction era. They reviewed how Drs. Hunter and Williams’ scholarship spotlighted the agency of freed women during Reconstruction. Comparatively, the top-down, male-centered narrative that still contains pro-Confederate terminology like “carpetbagger and scalawag” is the result of the historiography of Reconstruction which began with the racist lies of the “Lost Cause” and the Dunning School of historians. Participants noted in their evaluation,

The textbooks students are given to read at school usually come from a white male perspective. It’s important to include other perspectives, like the ones mentioned in the workshop so students get the full truth and then have them form their own opinion.

It was a great examination of agency within storytelling and a reminder of the importance of whose perspective we are listening to.

Tif was excellent in creating a process for deep analysis that can be replicated with students.

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MARY CHURCH TERRELL’S “LIFT AS WE CLIMB”: BLACK ACTIVISM IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL
Presented By: Alisa Hardy
Principles & Demand: Collective Value, Unapologetically Black, Black Women; Mandate Black history and ethnic studies
Featured Principles

When we think of Black genius in 19th and 20th century America, too often the first names that come to mind are those of “great men.” However, in the session, participants learned more about Terrell’s leadership in resisting Jim Crow segregation, mobilizing Black voters, and funding Black schools at the turn of the century. Presenter Alisa Hardy reviewed Terrell’s rebuttal to those who imagined Washington, D.C., as a sanctuary from racism in her speech, “What It Means to Be Colored in the Capital,” where she lambasts racists with legendary shade, advocating for an intersectional vision of racial and feminist progress. After reading Terrell’s speech together, Alisa Hardy invited everyone to contemplate how the Black suffragette and activist’s observations about D.C.’s racial injustice still ring true today, over a hundred years later. She invited educators to consider using Recovering Democracy Archives for middle school education in ways that demonstrate the value of using certain rhetorical devices and strategies and evaluating their effectiveness. Participants noted in their evaluation,

Learning about Mary Church Terrell is great; she is a local activist figure in our history who could really catch my students’ attention, especially as I teach them about civics through a lens of social justice activism.

My teaching partner and I have been trying to figure out how best to include her in our curriculum, given that her advocacy work went on for so long. Now I have a concrete idea of where to start and found LOTS of intersection with things that are already in our curriculum.

I was not aware of Mary Terrell and her activism. This session enlightened me. Moreover, it gave me an idea of how I can teach poetry to elementary students.

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WHAT COLOR IS YOUR CLOCK? AN AFROFUTURIST PERSPECTIVE ON SPACETIME, POWER & IDENTITY
Presented By: Karla Roberts
Principles: Restorative Justice, Loving Engagement, Collective Value, Intergenerational
Featured Principles

In exploring spacetime, power, and bodily identity, Karla Roberts highlighted Afrofuturism as a powerful means of self-reclamation, underscoring its ability to counter the limitations imposed by a white-constructed way of being. By democratizing time, the foundational resource influencing our experiences, individuals can reshape their perception and actively work towards equity. As participants considered means to democratize their ability to feel, dream, and navigate the world, they were invited to write Oríkìs — poems celebrating individual and communal identity in African cultures. The Oríkìs and review of Black artists presented means where people have the freedom to navigate the world uninhibited — ultimately redefining the very essence of our presence. Participants learned that refusing to be policed and revealing our essence to ourselves and others allows us to confront our circumstances and imagine new pathways for the future. Participants noted in their evaluation,

Oríkì — such an awesome thing that I will bring back to my students. Also, Uhura (Michelle Nichols) I want to find that clip for my students, as well as the Michael Owunna artwork. The fact that there is no “ask” sound in traditional African language blew me away. Thank you for broadening my perspective.

Incredible description of Afro-futurism/cyclical thinking, challenging questions, and concepts of perspective, amazing connection to our ability to open our students’ eyes to their power through developing visual culture and understanding of perspective.

I was interested in the “Importance of being seen.” The example of why Blacks have difficulty with “ax” and “ask” was eye-opening. We need to delve more into the origins of a people’s language to better understand each other.

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