“Why are you in charge of the Black Lives Matter Club? You’re not even Black.”
The most shocking thought that came to mind is how can a person be so narrow-minded to think that you have to be black to be a part of and/or support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Let’s rewind back to September 2016, my first year teaching, when two of my students approached me about starting the Black Lives Matter Club at my school. I asked them why they chose me to help them and they mentioned that I was the only teacher they interacted with that wasn’t afraid to talk about race. They said this because I require my students to reflect daily on the words of inspiration from various figures, artists, politicians, and musicians like Tupac Shakur, Sojourner Truth, Fred Hampton, and Michelle Obama.
Yes, I teach science, but these 5-10 minutes in my class are so essential to my classroom’s culture. There are times that students will discuss a quote for the entire period and I never interrupt it because I realize that my class is the only time my students can genuinely express how they feel about certain topics.
Why do teachers fear talking about real issues that affect their students?* If teachers who can discuss these issues in their classrooms hold back, then how will students grow and prepare for life after high school?
I wanted the BLM club to be a platform where students can not only learn about history, but also engage in dialogue. We hosted the school’s very first Black History month celebration and organized a trip to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. This trip validated my work with the BLM club because we were in awe when we stepped foot in the museum. Students were absolutely shocked that their history consisted of so many trials and tribulations, but also beauty and victories. My students walked through the museum in silence and I knew it changed their perspectives. Witnessing Emmett Till’s coffin allowed us to reflect on how much work we still have to do today.
This is the reason why I am passionate about education; teaching my students and allowing them to experience these things enabled them to make the BLM club thrive at our school. It is the students who plan all of the round-table discussions, D.C trips, and school events this year because they finally have an outlet and a way to express their needs.
Talking about race is so important in today’s society, and I hope that more teachers do so. Because our students, no matter how cheesy it sounds, are the next generation to make change. They will be the ones on college campuses challenging professors and confronting racist peers. They will be the ones who will make sure that this conversation doesn’t die because they understand how prevalent it is.
Now let me take a chance to answer this question: “Why are you in charge of the Black Lives Matter Club? You’re not even Black.”
I run this club because I will never be silent on issues that I am passionate about. If I want justice, I must actually do something about it.
* Note: I realize that I have the privilege to do so compared to other teachers in the education system.
Sundoes Elbery is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health. She is currently working on a Master’s in the Arts of Education with Relay Graduate School of Education-New York City. She is a NYC high school science teacher.