The work we do, we do in community. Then it doesn't feel like work.

Jennifer Dunn Charlton

Finding the strength to make change, push for truth and walk with heads held high was the message of last week’s “Teaching for Black Lives” event.

Hosted by the University of Washington’s Banks Center for Educational Justice, the gathering of current teachers, future teachers and community members listened to the experiences of Black students and their allies.

“Teaching for Black Lives,” a collection of writings to offer guidance in connecting curriculum, teaching and policy to Black students on a personal level, formed the basis of this deeper discussion.

One of the book’s editors, Jesse Hagopian (MIT ‘06), gave example after example of physical and mental abuse of Black students, each one drawing more grieved responses from the audience.

“We have to defend their bodies, and we have to defend their minds, and we’ve put together a curriculum to help do that,” said Hagopian, who teaches ethnic studies and is co-advisor to the Black Student Union at Seattle’s Garfield High School, among other roles.

Ke’Von Avery, one of three Garfield seniors speaking at the event, said that going through high school and not finding yourself in the curriculum is an outrageous experience. He explained that Black history was absent from textbooks and the core curriculum.

A quote Avery shared from “Teaching for Black Lives” spoke of the necessity of examining oneself, whether a teacher or someone outside the school system, and seeing what needs to be changed. A poem in the book described the way students are effectively taking two sets of notes in class—what they’re taught and their own history that differs from the primary narrative.

“We love this book,” Avery said. “It speaks to us and our experience and our truth.”

In the midst of describing the challenges they and their peers face, the students still drew attention to the hope that exists.

Janelle Gary shared an African saying that translates to “Help me and let me help you.” She interprets it as speaking to the power in building shared knowledge.

“The work we do, we do in community,” Jennifer Dunn Charlton said. “Then it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like—well, a soul force.”

Teaching for Black Lives

Charlton has taught social studies at multiple Seattle high schools and currently works with the Center for Racial Equity as a presenter and curriculum writer.

The soul force she referred to comes from part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. She read a portion which spoke of acting with dignity and discipline, protesting creatively instead of with physical violence and of rising “to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

Wayne Au, co-editor of “Teaching for Black Lives” and a professor at UW Bothell, brought to life the story of the John Muir Elementary School welcome event that continued despite opposition and prompted educators at other Seattle schools to seek policy change. Teachers nationwide began to plan similar events, and the day of welcome turned into an annual Week of Action.

“I think educators are showing us how to struggle and how to win,” Hagopian said. “Politics isn’t just waiting every four years to cast a ballot, but it’s you taking action.”

Story by Olivia Madewell, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications