HERE IS SOME CONTEXT FOR THE BLM AT SCHOOLS ACTIVITY BOOK AND MY WORK WITH THE NATIONAL AND NYC GROUP, in response to some recent inquiries.
CONTEXT FOR ACTIVITY BOOK
I’ve been organizing with the NYC BLMEdu Group (Black Lives Matter at NYC Schools) for three years now. In addition to supporting all facets of the week of action (curriculum development, events, social media and actions), I have served as the core designer/artist for the group. This also led to me designing visuals and flyers for the national movement. As an artist, I seek to offer my creative pursuits to activist and movement work. This year’s activity book is an extension of the work I did last year with Laleña Garcia to develop a resource for younger children and their parents and teachers, to support their exploration of the 13 BLM principles. Laleña rewrote the 13 principles in kid-friendly language and then we discussed creating a children’s book to bring this language to life visually and narratively. We ended up postponing the children’s book project due to time constraints and created the Coloring Book together in the meantime. I used drawings I had started creating for the children’s book - including sketches of my friend and another friend’s child - as well other activist drawings I’d created for a “We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” collaboration. At the end of last year’s Week of Action, the NYC steering committee discussed creating a version of what became a very popular coloring book for older youth and students. I met with a fellow member of the steering committee over the summer to develop prompts for middle/high school level students, and to brainstorm ideas for supplementary texts. She had already translated the 13 principles for her middle school students, and I had also developed some prompts to more deeply engage my high school students, so we were able to build from there. We developed this project without prescribed parameters, and upon sharing it with the larger steering committee we received their full support.
ORIGINS OF THE ART IN THE BOOK
The art in the activity book includes a number of works that I’ve developed in the last few years. We put out a call for art but didn’t receive any submissions so I decided to just use my own work so that we could offer the book to this year’s collection of curriculum resources. As a designer/artist, I create work that honors the freedom fighters at the forefront of liberation movements and struggles. Many of the activists, thought leaders, writers and artists who I have honored in my work have identities and politics directly related to the 13 BLM principles, so I included them in the book. As a core organizing group, the members of the steering committee continually reflect on how we can embody the 13 principles in our organizing practices. I have struggled to reconcile the fact that I am a white artist at the center of this local and national BLM at Schools movement, even though I have a personal history of anti-racist commitments that originate in my middle school experience (I hope to add this personal political history to my website soon). Since my own high school experience 25 years ago, I have been engaging school staff in critical reflections about racial bias and power structures embedded in school culture and curriculum; furthermore, most of the political and cultural artwork that I create is rooted in relationship and community. Thankfully, the NYC and National group have embraced me and my work, and appreciated my efforts to include as many Black, queer, and POC artists as possible, which I've been able to do particularly with the student principles posters (which feature the work of some of my current and former students from Brooklyn). As for the specific art content in the book, I have synthesized a collection of designs, many of which I created for earlier principles poster set designs (including the pattern design that is repeated throughout the book and the abstracted face shapes). Much of the content that I selected is inspired by discussion from NYC BLMEdu study group and NYCoRE (The NY Collective of Radical Educators) sessions, which I've been a part of in the last few years. We have read Emergent Strategy and How We Get Free in these groups and applied them to our racial justice efforts within and beyond our school communities.
WHY THE BLM @ SCHOOLS MOVEMENT IS SO IMPORTANT TO ME & FOR STUDENTS/EDUCATORS
I am currently in my 16th year of teaching, and have taught at three schools. I was a founding teaching at Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School in the South Bronx from 2004 to 2006, and then taught for 5 years at the High School for Global Citizenship in Brooklyn. I have always taught art through a critical pedagogical approach, both in light of my personal commitments to racial and social justice and thanks to the teaching-art-for-social-justice philosophy behind my teacher education program at NYU from 2002 to 2004. I currently teach in a selective public school and have felt conflicted about benefiting from the privileges that I am afforded as a teacher in this context. Moreover, my school is a direct result of the history of institutional racism and segregation that continues to plague the NYC public education system. The Diversity principle page of the book highlights the amazing work that youth-led activist groups have been doing to address the need for integration in NYC schools and to confront the inequities that are addressed in the 4 national Week of Action demands (Urban Youth Collaborative, Integrate NYC, and Teens Take Charge). I have been committed to citywide organizing in order to be part of this broader movement, and to deal with the circumstances that created the inequity on my campus of four schools. I have engaged in local work to support equity on my campus and within my school community, but I am interested in contributing to greater collective efforts due in part to the limitations I face in those more local, smaller contexts. It has been so refreshing to work with such dedicated educators who share a vision for restructuring our educational spaces into critical contexts that empower and liberate youth and all community members. As for why I believe the Black Lives Matter At School work is so important for educators and youth, well.... As an individual and as an educator, I am never untouched by the legacies and impacts of racism. Every single comfort, resource, and condition of my personal and professional life is integrally connected with legacies of racial terror(ism) and white supremacy. Once I became aware of the racial history of the suburban NY town I grew up in, I was unable to see the world around me through any other lens. I was deeply disturbed as a young teenager by the fact that I was able to be so sheltered and segregated - while being raised with very liberal values - to the point of being blind to the racialized reality of a "low income housing" community less than a mile from my house, and what those "projects" really were (being positioned across the street from a white country club). I would say I developed an anti-racist framework for engaging with the world at the age of 13 and couldn't bare to exist in any other way given my soul's sensitivity to the brutality of our country's history. I felt compelled to support the next generation in their consciousness development, to serve as someone who is willing to discuss the systematic and cultural realities behind everything they see around them in a deeply and broadly honest way. Had I not had a few elders in my life when I was a teenager who shined a light on such truths, I would not have been able to make sense of the overwhelming heartache I felt upon coming into consciousness about our country and our world's white supremacist woundedness. I've had countless experiences throughout my career with youth who are living the meaning of the 13 principles in both liberatory and oppressive ways: some having to repress their gender identity or sexuality; or embracing it despite deep cultural and familial rejection; youth who never know whether it is safe to be unapologetic in their Blackness; or who are unapologetic in their Blackness despite policy and power dynamics designed to oppress them; students who have been raised by parents who lived through the Black power movement; others who are confined to homogenous communities impacted by structural violence and poverty for generations; immigrant Caribbean students who were, unjustly, never set up to navigate the high school admissions ratrace successfully; students whose only or very few encounters on campus with Black adults were with "safety" agents who were required to impose a racist rule of law upon them; and I've taught and worked with some of the most loving, empathic and empowered of folx in this city, and the spirit of their truth led me to this work. More specifically, I initially got involved with BLM @ NYC Schools circumstantially through a connection with a former colleague at a moment when I was questioning what 'side I was on' in my current career commitments (it was a coincidental and cosmic kind of encounter). So from that moment forward (just after the 2016 election), I decided to give my time outside of teaching to creation and movement work that is on the freedom side, in a renewed and restorative way.