Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Marissa Alexander, John Crawford, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and others killed or falsely sent to prison in the last three years awoke a sleeping giant within my generation. Many have stepped up to fulfill their own birthright and discovered their own power. Shortly after Trayvon Martin’s death and the acquittal of that death, three women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi came up with the term #BlackLivesMatter and it has turn into our “We Shall Overcome” and our “I Am A Man.” It became our warrior cry as we marched in the streets, took to social media, and even some to the election pools. It was a call for America and the World that Black people are not exceptions to the rule of justice and that call came from people of all backgrounds. In a time where we reflect on the victories that our “Greatest Generation” achieved, we brought up the case that “what is” and “what can be” are just as important as “what was.” The current movement tackles the issues of racial profiling, mass incarceration, criminalization of Black people, police brutality and their militarization. It calls for not just reform, but radical change to the practices and policies that contradicts the American idea that “all men are created equal.”
Meanwhile, public school students have been facing similar atrocities as their older counterparts. “School pushout” describes what happens when certain students are deprived of the education and opportunities that all students deserve. Students have been getting suspended and arrested from the most trivial of offenses, leading not only to the criminalizing of their bodies but their minds as well. The school system through its practices, sees these children as walking menaces that lack innocence and an ability to learn. The likelihood of them graduating school is cut by half while the likelihood of going into the criminal system doubles. Schools are supposed to be safe spaces of learning, not a stepping-stone to the criminal justice system. In my native city of Knoxville, school pushout has included disabled students and though a 2007 Task Force addressed these issues, nothing has happened. This is an issue that is tied to Black Lives Matter because these students are being viewed as criminals and School Pushout has led to the ever-widening Achievement Gap of Black students and their counterparts. The stereotyping of Black and disabled students contributes to the narrative placed upon Black kids and adults who have been killed, saying that all who have fallen caused their own demise which is based off generalizations of actual criminals who share the same skin color.
The stereotype that we are all eternal criminals causes more jailing and more death. School pushout leads to all of the issues that we are currently marching for. If we truly want to compete globally, we must use better practices when it comes to school discipline. Suspensions and arrests should be the last avenues of handling discipline. Nina Simone said that freedom means having no fear and I agree. For students to truly be free and studious, they should not have to live in fear at the places they learn.
President, 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville
Development/Communications, Highlander Research and Education Center