Neither rain nor pandemic could stop educators from gathering in east Vancouver on Friday to protest what they describe as a foundation of racism that undercuts some of the community’s most vulnerable people — its children.
Dozens of educators gathered at Mill Plain Boulevard and Chkalov Drive late Friday afternoon in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Seattle, which urged Washingtonians to strike and march in opposition to violence against black people in America.
The east Vancouver demonstration and another one Friday near Hudson’s Bay High School are the latest in two weeks of demonstrations since the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.
The Washington Education Association, the state’s teacher union, encouraged its members to protest white supremacy and police brutality against black people. Locally, teachers gathered at several spots along Mill Plain Boulevard, waving signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Education should be a place where black lives matter,” said Carmela Lemon, a first-grade teacher at Mill Plain Elementary School. “(Students) need to know America has a history of injustice.”
The rally followed calls by state education officials to examine practices and policies around race, particularly in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. State Superintendent Chris Reykdal spoke in an address this week about equity in schools, and Vancouver Public Schools announced a new equity initiative to review how schools support students of color.
Bill Beville, president of the Evergreen Education Association, said it’s no longer good enough for educators to be opposed to racism, but to actively work against racist practices in schools.
“We’re actively dismantling structures that prevent people of color from advancing and getting equitable and fair treatment,” Beville said.
Jay Ramos, a science teacher in Evergreen Public Schools, waved as drivers honked as they headed past. He carried a sign reading “Racism is so American, that if you protest it people think you’re protesting America.”
“We have an opportunity to shape the future,” Ramos said. “Nothing will change unless you speak out.”
Charlotte Lartey teaches in the career and technical education program at Washougal High School. Lartey said her black students face racist slurs in the halls, and that she herself has been a victim of micro-aggressions by white staff, like playing with her colorfully dyed braids.
“It’s open,” Lartey said. “It’s out in the open.”
Lartey called on educators at all levels to hold their colleagues accountable if they make racist comments, touch a black student’s hair or use racial slurs. That’s the difference between opposing racism passively, she said, and being anti-racist.
“It’s not enough to rely on policies,” she said.