Teachers As Social Activists: Building a Better Existence — Beyond The Classroom

Recently, the state of Missouri showed me a lot of love by publishing an article I wrote about my personal and professional experiences with the school-to-prison-pipeline in the historically African-American-based paper, the St. Louis American. My interaction with Missouri was minimal prior to that, but in the last few weeks the Show-Me-State has increasingly appeared on my radar.

The magnitude of what is taking place in Missouri is of particular concern to Black men, women, and children everywhere. I am compelled to use the blessing of this platform to share what I’ve learned recently. I implore every educator who reads this to share, in turn, this knowledge with your students.

St. Louis is the host city for this year’s National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention. No big deal. Many cities in many states have had this privilege. However, this year, Missouri being NCTE’s host state was met with widespread controversy, specifically among the African-American community nationwide.

One aspect of the controversy is the untimely death of Mr. Tory Sanders, a 28 year-old Black man who left his home via car in Nashville, ran out of gas during his travels in Missouri, somehow wound up under arrest and in police custody in Missouri and, after a slew of phone calls to his mother — several where, the Riverfront Times reports, he stated “No, Mom, they’re not trying to help me — they’re trying to kill me” — ended up dead.

The cause of his death remains unknown.

As a result of this incident, according to Monique Judge at The Root, “the state of Missouri has earned the dubious distinction of being the first-ever state to have a travel advisory issued against it by the NAACP, the warning issued because of a recent string of both directly and indirectly state-sanctioned racist and discriminatory incidents.”

NCTE, which has a substantial constituency of Black English teachers, was met with widespread criticism for financially supporting Missouri with hundreds of thousands of dollars for/during the conference, given the State’s unsafe and prejudicial practices. However, the venue was set years in advance, way before these incidents occurred.

Nevertheless, NCTE is responding loud and clear.

According to NCTE’s website,

As part of NCTE’s meeting in St. Louis, the Local Engagement Committee has organized a Silent March and Take-a-Knee protest to address issues that affect teachers and students both locally and nationwide. The protest will take place on Saturday, November 18, at Baer Park between North Broadway and 4th St. at around 4:30 p.m. The march will commence at 4:00 p.m. at Room 100 of America’s Center Convention Complex, 701 Convention Plaza, St. Louis, Missouri. You must have a convention badge to enter the Convention Complex. The plan is to march silently once around Baer Park, culminating with all marchers taking a knee.

This protest is born out of the above-noted events. I invite us all to, as a sign of solidarity, take a knee at the appointed time from wherever we hail.

I know I will.

What do we as members of the educational community do when the lives of our fellow teachers and students are, for the sake of professional growth and development, compromised on some level? As a collective national community do we have a moral and fiscal responsibility to spend our money in places where we the collective are safe and valued? Does such a place exist in our pseudo-post-racial America? What lessons can we walk away from this experience with and, in turn, impart to our students?

Teaching is a form of social activism and it is in the asking, probing, and grappling with these questions and many more that we will find the answers our society needs to build a better existence for our students and ourselves — beyond the classroom.

What do you think?

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