“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” – Ella’s Song by Bernice Johnson Reagon
As I walk into my classroom, I am humming freedom songs. They’re natural to me even though there are few spaces where I feel able to sing these songs with any real connection. After all, I am a millennial white man whose parents were in diapers when the marches and rides for freedom swept this southern territory – an area I would come to live in only many years later. While I have no right to claim them, in this classroom these songs feel like my roots and our roots as teachers.
I say this because Dr. Martin Luther King’s message, brother Malcolm X’s message, Ms. Ella Baker’s message are dreams both deferred and threatened in our new world. From our vantage point in Eastern North Carolina, the fight for this dream seems more like a battlefield. We teach and toil in a state that is ranked among the worst 10 in per-pupil spending and teacher pay. We promote healthy living in habits in a state that has denied students’ families health care. We encourage civic engagement where lawmakers have suppressed the right to vote.
Public education, once the first of demands for freedmen, seems now to be the last priority of powerful ones. The battlefield is not now, nor has it ever been, even. Should we as educators choose to accept our fate – to remain neutral or isolated from the struggle to win a future for our students and their families – we are aiding the moving train of injustice.
In this climate, the once sharp separation I felt between my future as an educator and my passion for activist work seems to disappear. Fists in the air demanding a future; fists clenched with pencils overcome expectations of failure. We are all part of a multifaceted movement for education justice. Some stand in the streets, others in the halls of power, us in our classrooms. In this moment, it is time for us to act together.
I choose to March with the Historic Thousands on Jones Street coalition because I cannot rest when so much is at stake. I hope teachers from around the state will march with me and spend Saturday joining hands and voices with those looking to advance the work of teaching and demand justice for the families we see and love every day.
Our job as teachers is not merely passing along information or pushing tests designed to diminish multiple intelligences to a number. Our job is to fight for our kids – and more importantly give them the tools to fight for themselves.
So I hope the moral arc of the universe bends a little every day as I sit to write lesson plans, fight for my students and do the difficult daily work of building a future generation. May teachers from around North Carolina join me in demanding that lawmakers respect our ability to continue doing this work every day.
As we march, we will hum … woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom.
This Saturday, February 13, DAE members will join thousands of people from around the state for the 10th annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street March. For those who don’t know, the HK on J event is an action led by the statewide NAACP in concert with dozens of other groups who are fighting to defend and transform public schools, end racial discrimination, expand access to affordable housing and quality health care, and a variety of other issues that impact the lives of students, their families, educators, and our communities. Click here for more information.
The march begins at 10, but we are asking all educators, etc. to join us at either:
- 8:00 at the downtown Farmer’s Market. The Durham People’s Alliance is sponsoring buses and it might be possible to get on the bus for $10. Those who don’t ride the bus can carpool.
- 9:15 at the NCAE center in Raleigh.