MAPLEWOOD, NJ — After seeing their students march, the teachers in the South Orange Maplewood School District took a lesson: Stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement.
More than 500 strong, with support from educators in districts across New Jersey, they marched from South Orange to the steps of the Maplewood Municipal Building. And each speaker did what they do best: teach.
"As I stand here today, I charge that we hold ourselves, our families, friends, officials with the responsibilities of unlearning the narratives that have injected us with hate...and discord," said a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Maplewood whose name was lost in the cheering. He said we also have a "responsibility to dismantle and destroy all systems of law and thought that provoke violence and prey upon those among us vulnerable yet no less deserving of life, liberty, joy, and justice."
Shawana Andrews, a teacher at South Orange Middle School and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about how she strives to be a role model for her students. "I teach eighth grade because they are impressionable," she said. "They are experiencing physical, intellectual and emotional changes at an astounding rate. I teach my students with intention, to be aware of their own bias, the bias of others including me, and the bias in the literature that we teach. This way they can question it and challenge it."
She recounted the negative responses she got in middle school from a white teacher for wearing the same clothes other girls were wearing; she was also suspended for calling a teacher who wouldn't help her in class, but who was clearly helping white students, a racist. Andrews called for more teachers of color in schools. "Children spend between 13 and 16 percent of their life under 18 in K-through-12 buildings. This is why representation matters. Children need to learn from a variety of people, including those that look like them. Our children, especially the black and brown ones, need to be seen as children — not delinquents — after eighth grade."
Teacher after teacher inspired the crowd with stories of teaching Black students and the experience of being a Black teacher. They called for continued support for their students of color and for the Black community in general. They promised to continue to fight for their students.
As with the other marches and rallies Maplewood and South Orange have seen in the past few weeks, this one was peaceful in their protest. The only note of discord came while a white Columbia High School teacher was speaking; a student in the crowd called for him to stop, saying that he had been racist while teaching. He continued on. A later speaker asked him to connect with that student, hear what she had to say, and listen.
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