Both An NFL Player and Chicago Public Schools Teacher Punished for Fighting for Justice

How could an NFL player and a Chicago Public Schools Special Education teacher have anything in common? When they both are being punished for advocating for justice for others.

We are all familiar with the story of Colin Kaepernick who decided to peacefully protest the inequalities facing Black Americans, specifically in terms of police brutality. If you aren’t from Chicago then you may not be familiar with the story of Sarah Chambers. Sarah is an elementary special education teacher in Chicago who vocally advocates for the special education students she teaches at her school, as well as across the entire city. Chambers is now entering her 10th week of suspension. She is forbidden to teach her students and they have been forced to have a substitute teacher all of this time. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has not said why she is suspended. However, just as Colin Kaepernick is still unsigned because of his advocacy for justice, Sarah is suspended because of her willingness to vocally advocate for her students.

Colin Kaepernick and Sarah Chambers are both highly effective at their chosen professions. Colin Kaepernick has the 5th best touchdown to interception ratio of all time and last year he had 16 touchdowns as compared to only 4 interceptions. Sarah Chambers has consistently received distinguished ratings by her principals, the highest rating achievable in the current teacher evaluation system.

In addition to being highly effective at his profession, Colin Kaepernick is an active citizen who is committed to making our country better. As a social studies teacher myself, it is empowering to be able to show my students a celebrity who is aware of issues, makes others aware, donates to organizations trying to improve those issues and finally is willing to work to create change. Colin Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million of his own money to organizations working to improve our country. He also created an organization called Know Your Rights Camp, which he is intricately a part of.

While not a celebrity, Sarah Chambers is also an active citizen and an open LGBTQ teacher who created an LGBTQ club at her school to provide all of her students a safe space. She teaches her students about the gross underfunding of Special Education programs in Chicago, which directly impact their lives. She then educates the public about these issues and speaks to those in power in Chicago to bring about the change that will impact all students in CPS.

An unfortunate similarity is that Colin Kaepernick and Sarah Chambers both work for organizations run with nearly absolute control. To the head of the NFL Roger Goodell and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, being a civically engaged citizen like Chambers and Kaepernick is dangerous to their power structure. Many fans clearly like and support Kaepernick as evidenced by the fact of his top selling jersey last season and by the fact even though he is unsigned, his jersey is currently still one of the highest selling jerseys. His jersey (currently 17th most popular of any position) is outselling the starting quarterbacks of 24 teams. Sarah Chambers is also clearly respected as evidenced by the massive amount of support she has received from her students, parents, and teachers.

In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel forbids Democracy in our school system. Rahm appoints everyone involved in making decisions about education, from the CEO to the school board. Roger Goodell also wields similar power. He often suspends players and punishes teams without just cause. The NFL and Roger Goodell try to hide information from the players, like the league attempting to cover up the issues with concussions. Rahm Emanuel also engages in cover-ups. He tried to cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald by the Chicago Police for over a year.

The actions of Goodell and Emanuel may be supported by other power hungry elites, but their actions are clearly not liked by the masses they are supposed to represent. When either of them go out in public they consistently face booing fans/constituents. Rahm Emanuel got booed after a Chicago Blackhawks rally, at a street naming ceremony, at a basketball game, and most recently by school children.  Roger Goodell gets booed at every NFL Draft.

While there are many similarities between the Kaepernick and Chambers situations there are some major differences. One of the differences that I want to focus on is the vastly different levels of support from people within their profession, as well as the unions that are supposed to represent them. Sarah has support from her union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). While Kaepernick does not have the same level of support of the National Football League Players Association.

There have been many rallies and protests to support Sarah, organized by the Chicago Teachers Union. But what help has the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) provided for Kaepernick? Certain NFL players like Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, and Brandon Marshall have come out to question why Kaepernick has yet to be signed. Last season Kaepernick also had the support of his teammate Eric Reid as well as multiple NFL players and U.S. Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who joined his protest.

But through all that, why is the National League Football Players Association staying quiet? The NFLPA should be visibly fighting against the obvious banishment of Kaepernick. It should be helping to organize rallies, release statements, and build a movement of NFL players who are willing to speak up. Other players should also speak up and push the NFLPA to act.

As of now only one white male athlete has supported Kapernick in any sport. Current Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long has been the only white male athlete to support Kaepernick. Many Military Veterans, the people who he was supposedly disrespecting, have come out to support Kaepernick, yet crickets from nearly all white male athletes.

The Chicago Teachers Union has encouraged its members to speak up in support of Sarah. The teachers who are willing to speak up for her, know that it is a risk to speak up, because Rahm Emanuel wants teachers to stay silent.

Silence is exactly what the NFL and other sports organizations want. Being outspoken got former Chicago Bulls sharp shooter Craig Hodges blacklisted from the NBA, as chronicled in his book “Long Shot”.

Power likes silence whether in sports or teaching. Power adores systems like blackballing. Colin Kaepernick is not the first athlete punished for being an active citizen. John Carlos and Tommie Smith were punished for raising their fists at the ’68 Olympics. Toni Smith a college basketball player faced severe repercussions for her protest in 2003.

Sarah Chambers is not the first teacher punished for being vocal. In fact, Chicago Public Schools is currently punishing many other teachers for being outspoken, here are the stories of 5 of them.

In the cases of Sarah Chambers and Colin Kaepernick my final question is, why would the powers in place be more upset about an actively engaged citizen then what is causing them to take a stand in the first place?

The NFL should be proud of someone like Kaepernick, who can play well and be socially aware and active, just like Chicago should be proud of someone like Sarah Chambers, who is a great teacher and an advocate to make our schools better for all our students.

Power thrives by fear. To improve our country, athletes, teachers, and citizens need to support the truth tellers who are willing to risk it all. These truth tellers are not in the spotlight for themselves, but for the betterment of everyone in society.

If you are interested in helping Sarah Chambers and other teachers who have been punished get their jobs back, whether you live in Chicago or not you can click here for information on whom to contact to help.

If you are interested in helping Kaepernick get signed, start pressuring your favorite NFL team’s front office and the NFLPA. As a Bear’s fan, I know Kaepernick could beat out all of our backups and most likely our starters. I imagine that the fans of many teams around the league are not happy with their quarterback situation either.

As Dave Zirin in writes in The Nation, “The NFL is denying Colin Kaepernick employment not because he isn’t “good enough” but because he is being shut out for the crime of using his platform to protest the killing of black kids by police.”

 

*Important things to note and question about this piece. I focused on Sarah Chambers because she is and has been very vocal about her punishment. I believe publicizing her struggle will continue to help shine a light on all the terrible policies that harm all teachers, special education students and students in general in Chicago. By focusing on Sarah Chambers, a white teacher, it does not shine a spotlight on the gross injustices that teachers of color and specifically Black teachers face(d) in CPS. Chicago Public Schools has a history of firing Black and Latino teachers in large numbers and of not hiring Black teachers as well.

 

To view this piece on Huff Post click here.

Suspended For Standing Up For Students: Only In The Mayor Controlled Chicago Public Schools

My oldest son will be starting kindergarten in the fall. He is a introverted kid. He loves to learn, takes a while to warm up to new people, and is a loyal friend. He is however at times too passive, which could make him vulnerable to bullying or more prone withdraw from activities that he would otherwise be interested in. When I envision the type of teacher that I want for my son next year and going forward in CPS, I picture a teacher that will make him feel safe, inspire him to learn, bring him joy and push his learning. I want a teacher who will teach him to take a stand, will advocate for him if needed and also will teach him how to advocate for himself.

 

My wife and I are both CPS teachers and we know that the system of CPS is a mess, but also know that the educators who work in the buildings are amazing. As an educator in CPS for the past ten years, I have met many educators that I would love my son to have as teachers. One such educator is Sarah Chambers.

 

Sarah, if you haven’t heard, is now in her 7th week of being suspended by CPS. She is an elementary special education teacher who has always received great ratings from her principals. She also vocally advocates for her students and special education students across the city. In addition, she also runs her schools LGBTQ club at her school.

 

Her “crime” is holding accountable a school system in which the mayor controls schools, appoints school board members, and picks CEOs to “run” the schools without educational experience. People such as these are intimidated by vocal and outstanding educators, who call them out on their inexperience or short-comings.

 

Sarah has been an outstanding teacher and vocal advocate for her students for many years now. I wrote about her back in 2014 as she led her elementary school to protest the ridiculous amount of testing being forced onto our students. Her school and another school boycotted an unneeded standardized Illinois test. CPS threatened to revoke the teachers’ teaching licenses if they didn’t give the test. The teachers met with parents and explained why they were against giving the tests and gained parental support for the boycott. These teachers so loved their students and were committed to doing what was right for their students that they literally put their careers on the line for their students. Her work on this protest was featured in the book More Than A Score.

 

The actions by CPS to suspended a committed and vocal teacher are bigger than Sarah Chambers. This is how CPS has been operating for years. Once again, when you have mayoral control and people with no educational experience running schools they get scared when outstanding and vocal teachers speak up. Teachers like Xian Franzinger Barrett, Tim Meegan and other CPS teachers who have spoken up in years past quickly find their position cut. In many districts, educators would be lauded for their commitment to their students and schools, but CPS prefers its teachers quiet and complacent. The minute you are confident and vocal CPS comes for you or at least puts you on a troublemaker list.

Now this year, in addition to Sarah Chambers there are 5 other teachers currently suspended for being vocal advocates for their schools and students. Teachers like Kevin Triplett, Joseph Dunlap, Laura Sierra,  and Jose Contreras. Their stories and “justification” for being suspended can be found here.

Now I know there may be someone somewhere thinking, “surely those teachers must have done something illegal or they wouldn’t be suspended”. If you have taught in CPS long enough you know that being vocal is a crime enough. To survive in the chaos of CPS system leadership teachers usually adopt 1 of 2 strategies. Either, 1) go along with the mess and just lay low or 2) act like you are going along with the mess and then close your classroom door and do what is best for our students. There is another option. It is the option that has the potential of incredible highs and devastating lows. This 3rd option is to teach effectively, develop critical-thinkers who question why things are they way they are and speak out against injustice. The possible high is that with a concerted and collaborated effort, over time real change will happen in CPS and the school system will improve. Mayoral control will end and school board members will be elected and no longer appointed. The low of this plan is exactly what is happening to the CTU Six, they are targeted and suspended for being too vocal.

 

As a parent I want a teacher who not only can teach my child, but is also willing to defend my child and teach society ways to improve our schools. By suspending these 6 teachers, CPS is robbing these teachers’ students of quality instruction. The students of these teachers are and have been taught by substitutes for weeks. That is not what is best for kids.

 

There are ways you can help. 1) Contact CPS and CEO Claypool and ask them to reinstate all of the CTU Six. 2) Contact your Alderman and ask them to support the CTU Six. 11 Alderman have already publicly stated their support, shout out to Alderman Garza, Pawar, Waugespack, Cardenas, Rosa, Arena, Munoz, Mell, Lopez, Cappleman, and Reilley. 3) Get involved in your neighborhood schools, teachers need support.

 

To view this piece on Huff Post click here.

To view this piece on Alternet click here.

A President’s Day Lesson For Trump: The Feds Can’t Fix Chicago

Dear President Trump,

 

You seem to have a strong dislike towards Chicago. Is it due to the fact that Chicago was the only city in the country, during your presidential campaign, where you were afraid to take the stage in? Or is it because former President Obama adopted Chicago as his hometown? I know you weren’t a fan of Obama since you called him, “the Founder of ISIS” and declared for years that he wasn’t born in America.

 

Okay, so you have two reasons to not like our city. But beyond that I’m not sure why you are so obsessed with Tweeting or talking badly about Chicago. You just criticized Chicago again in your pep rally in Florida this weekend. If you want to actually help our city, then you should listen to people from Chicago. You shouldn’t meet with people who aren’t from here to talk about us. Just like that pastor from Ohio who claimed on live TV that “top gang thugs” from Chicago wanted to meet with you. Except that after his bold proclamation on national television, he admitted he “misspoke”, i.e. had lied about that.

 

So for Presidents’ Day, I thought long and hard and I decided to give you a gift. As a high school Social Studies teacher in Chicago, I decided to teach you about Chicago and specifically why we do not want the Feds to come to our city.

 

Don’t think I am singling you out due to your political party either. Many of us in Chicago have been trying to teach our own Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel the same things that I am about to teach you, but he refuses to listen. He claims he cares about our city and our people, but his policies prove he doesn’t. I don’t want you to follow in his footsteps.

 

Now to your lesson on Chicago:

A few things to note President Trump, Chicago is not the wild west.

 

There is no doubt that certain neighborhoods in our city have very high levels of violence (I will address that in more depth shortly), but it is important you know that while some neighborhoods have increases in violence, many other neighborhoods have seen decreases in violence. The parts of Chicago that are funded appropriately are beautiful, which is why Chicago is the third most visited city in the U.S. I mean, you should know the downtown is beautiful, you do own the hotel in Trump Tower, right on the Chicago River.

 

In fact, contrary to what Attorney General Jeff Sessions and you say, crime is not up nationally, it is down. In addition, the police in Chicago have way too much power, so you can cool it with your Executive Orders giving police more power. Did you read the recent scathing Department of Justice Report on systemic abuses by the Chicago Police? Included in it were policies that promote a Code of Silence, poor training methods, harassment, abuse, torture at a secret facility, and murder, all done to the residents of Chicago, by the police. The Chicago Police continue to take life, while accounting for 39% of our city’s entire operating budget, which is $4 million dollars per day. In addition, Chicago Police brutality cases have cost our city half a Billion dollars.

 

In fact, Chicago does not even make the top ten of the most violent cities per capita in the country.

 

But sadly, violence is an issue in parts of our city, so lets address it.

There is no doubt that certain neighborhoods in our city are not anywhere as safe as they should be. As a Chicago Public Schools teacher for the past ten years, I have personally seen and experienced the impact that the violence has had on my students, their families, my colleagues, and myself.

 

Here is the thing about violence, hardly anyone would choose to commit crimes or be violent if there were other options. The issue is that the amount of other options are extremely limited, in particular in our most vulnerable and violent neighborhoods.

You yourself said Chicago’s violence is, “very fixable.” I hope that means you are willing to address the root causes of the violence.

 

Chicago, through the purposeful segregation policies of redlining, restrictive covenants, and eminent domain over the years, has been divided into a city of “haves” and “have nots.” Generally, downtown and the North side of the city are the “haves” and the South and West sides are the “have nots.”

 

Those of us who live in Chicago know that jobs and investment in struggling communities, which includes public schools, is the key to stopping violence. The investment in these communities should improve the lives of the residents, rather then push them out. As one Chicago writer says, “Want to fix Chicago? Invest in its people, embrace the idea that the rest of the city matters, not just the North Side.” Chicago has also closed half of its mental health clinics which were primarily located on the South and West sides. Now the largest primary provider of mental health in the entire country (yes, I said entire country) is the Cook County Jail located here in Chicago.

 

We need to stop diverting money away from neighborhoods that need it the most. This money has been stolen from the neighborhoods and used for things like new stadiums and beautification of our already beautiful downtown. We need to fully fund our public schools and create new revenue options to do that. Another Chicago writer said we need to “Talk about the systemic issues.” We need to talk about how people do not have job options in far too many neighborhoods in our city.

 

The way Chicago Public Schools are run is also terrible and contributes to the violence. The Mayor has complete control over our schools. He closed the most schools in the history of our country and has continually cut school funding. He picks the members of the school board, who show their gratitude for being appointed by doing whatever he says. This includes opening new charter schools, even though charters are proven no more effective than public schools. The person in charge of our school district has ZERO educational experience. All of these school closings, funding cuts and diversions of money to charter schools by our Mayor have and continue to harm our students and our city, which in turn is tied into the violence.

 

A Chicago organizer puts it clearly, “”Poverty is violence, and it exacerbates violence… If you give people access to mental health care, education, you give them the opportunity to realize their full humanity. And we’re denied that.”

 

To put it simply we do NOT need to give the police more power. We do NOT need more police. We need to create jobs and fund our public schools and our neighborhoods.

People need jobs.

Services need to be provided.

Schools need to be fully funded.

All neighborhoods need to be equitably funded.

 

I hope you appreciate the gift I am giving you. I am saving you some work on investigating the root causes of violence in our city. You don’t need to send the Feds to our city… unless the purpose of them coming is to get rid of our mayor. Just kidding, kind of.

But I guess all this to say, I would like to ask you to stop talking bad about our city.

Or, as the kids say, just take the name Chicago out of your mouth.

 

Sincerely,

An actual resident of Chicago

P.S. Release your tax returns.

 

To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.

Another Excused Chicago Police Killing, We Need To Trash Their Contract

It is possible that you may have missed the announcement last week that the Chicago Police Officer who killed 55 year old Bettie Jones and 19 year old Quintonio LeGrier, will not have any charges pressed against him.
The day after Christmas last year, police were called to the building where Bettie Jones lived. Quintonio LeGrier was apparently very upset and had a baseball bat, his father Antonio called the police. When the police arrived Bettie Jones opened the door of the building. She was shot and killed while the police were shooting at Quintonio, who was also killed by the police.
The Cook County State’s Attorney (Kim Foxx’s office) claimed, “there was not enough evidence to prove the officer was not acting in self-defense.” This decision to not even press charges and put the officer on trial continues the pattern of the previous States Attorney Anita Alvarez, who Kim Foxx replaced. Regardless of Foxx’s excuse to not press charges, this allows for police impunity to continue.
Recently the Department of Justice released a report condemning the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for torturing people and ripping the CPD training tactics. Important critiques from the report state that, “CPD’s accountability system is broken, that officers accused of misconduct are rarely disciplined, officer training is woefully inadequate, and the use of excessive force disproportionately affects people of color in the poorest, highest-crime neighborhoods.”
We need to demand an elimination of the ridiculous articles of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) contract that encourages officers to lie and cover up their tragic actions. There are articles in their contract that require officers to stay silent even if they witness a fellow officer doing something inappropriate. This silence is effectively known as the Code of Silence. The Code of Silence is something that Mayor Emanuel and the city admit exists
In addition to the Code of Silence the FOP contract explains that, “…collective bargaining agreements make it harder for citizens to file complaints or to learn how those complaints are resolved. They make it easier for cops to lie and harder for their bosses to discipline them. The contracts also undermine the Police Department’s efforts to improve a training program.”
The FOP contract led to the acquittal of Dante Servin for firing recklessly into a crowd and killing Rekia Boyd. The same contract allowed Jason Van Dyke to empty a full clip of 16 shots in Laquan McDonald, allowed police to erase the Burger King surveillance video where the incident happened and in collaboration with the City of Chicago kept the video hidden for a year. In addition, Jason Van Dyke is now quietly trying to get his charges dropped. This contract allowed for the very controversial police killings of Paul O’Neal, Pierre Loury, Joshua Beal, and Kajuan Raye, just to name a few of the lives taken.
It is important that you know that I’m a teacher that supports and promotes unions. However, as a CPS teacher for 10 years, I have heard countless stories of police brutality shared by my students. Both schools I have worked at had students killed by the police and many other students had been assaulted and harassed by other officers.
It is time for educators along with everyone else to call the Fraternal Order of Police union out. The FOP and the city will begin negotiations for a new contract soon as the current one expires this summer. It is important that we demand that our Alderman, State’s Attorney, and Mayor create a new contract that keeps citizens safe, as well as police.
The vast majority of police officers are not the issue. The system is the issue. The system that encourages good cops to stay quiet. The system that encourages police who are brave enough to speak up to face dangerous levels of retaliation. The system that refuses to change the way police are investigated. The mayor changed the name of the reviewing agency from Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) to sound different but the premise is the same; no accountability for police.
If there is a system that allows for police to kill and face no accountability then we need a new system. A system such as the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) must be put in place. The difference between CPAC and the Mayor’s appointed council no matter what he calls it, is that CPAC is elected. CPAC would hire the Chief of Police, investigate ALL police shootings, establish the budget for policing and much more. Rahm does not want community control in Chicago. Just like how Rahm refuses to allow for a democratically elected school board, he fears a democratically elected police accountability council.
Changing the system first starts with a demand.
Demand that your Alderman push for a Civilian Police Accountability Council.
Demand that your Alderman require the city to abolish the Code of Silence and police abuses in the upcoming police contract.
Demand that the families of people killed by police get the justice that they deserve.
Demand that this Fraternal Order of Police Contract get thrown in the trash.
To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.
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(For anyone reading this who might be asking, “But what about the violence in Chicago?”, know that discussing police violence does not mean I am ignoring violence in certain neighborhoods. It is not, an-either or situation. I am concerned about both. This piece is just about the impact of police violence. If you are only concerned about intra communal violence then click here, here, here, and here.)

Through the Eyes of an Educator

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Photo: Rapper and activist FM Supreme (middle in red-shirt) after discussing ways to stop police brutality in Stieber’s Contemporary American History classes.

This piece is featured in the January-February edition of the Chicago Union Teacher magazine.

Two of our members discuss how they meet the challenge of helping students of all backgrounds better understand race and privilege.

Mayra Almaraz-De Santiago

I teach Ethnic Studies, a junior and senior year elective course at Taft High School. Taft is located in the far northwest side of the city in a mostly white, blue collar, city worker Chicago neighborhood. My first unit of ethnic studies is always the most difficult. In this unit, I introduce students to the concept of systemic racism and privilege. We use readings and ideas from James Baldwin, Paulo Freire, and Beverly Daniels Tatum. Tatum’s 1st chapter of her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” informs students of a new definition of racism: In short, she states that racism is not being mean to someone based on the color of their skin, that is discrimination. She defines racism as a system of advantage based on race. Tatum believes this definition is best because it holds people responsible for the systems in place that contribute to inequality and privilege, even if you’re not aware that you are benefiting. To better understand the chapter and concepts, I hold a Socratic Seminar and ask students to discuss if her definition helps or hurts our society. For many of my students this is a liberating conversation. This is where many of my students of color open up to the class about the ways in which they’ve felt that the color of their skin, ethnic background, or religion made them feel less than. For many of my white students, this conversation is hurtful. Students have shared that when they first read this definition, they feel sad because they’ve never realized they have certain benefits or privileges that their peers don’t have.  The discussions that emerge between my students during this difficult conversation are messy, tough, raw with emotion, but so full of hope. And they are necessary.

“Ms. Almaraz, I’m not going to lie, when I first read Tatum, I was very mad at you. But after hearing my classmates’ experiences, I got it. I’m getting it. I’m still not there. But please be patient with me.” A student shared this with the class.

In this chapter, Tatum describes the importance of being actively anti-racist. “I have never looked at racism this way before. And it makes great sense to me. I get it. But Ms. Almaraz, I need help. How can I be anti-racist? I don’t have opportunities to be anti-racist. And I want to make a difference.”

My student’s words resonated with me. As a teacher of color, I am conscious of the fact that my experiences and realities are not my students, especially those that have a different ethnic background from me. I try hard to incorporate what I teach my students in my everyday life and I struggled with my student’s request. How can I teach my white students to be anti-racist? Then I remembered an experience with my white friend and teaching colleague, Dave Stieber.

One evening, during our National Board Certification class, I mentioned that I was asked to write something for an online publication about the importance of having Latinx teachers. Unfortunately, because I took too long in turning in my piece, the publication’s deadline of Hispanic Heritage month was over. They would no longer need my piece. Dave asked me to send him my writing, and through one of his contacts, my piece got published. I will never forget the words he said to me, “I’m able to get my work published whenever I have something, I don’t have to wait for a specific month to publish it. Everyone should have this privilege.”

To me, this was an example of my colleague using his white privilege to help someone without this benefit. So naturally, because of this experience and conversations with him regarding his work around racism, I thought about him when my student asked what she could do to be anti-racist.

Dave Stieber

I teach at Chicago Vocational on the South Side of the city. I love my students and work to make strong connections with them by the curriculum I create, content I teach, and the way in which I get to know my students. Over my ten years of teaching in CPS I have always worked hard to create a space where my students feel comfortable sharing their stories. I’ve learned from them about their experiences with the police, violence, and what life is like for a kid growing up in the city. I’ve learned that the privileges and experiences I had growing up white were not the same as my students. Based on the education my students give me, I have been working on not only trying to be anti-racist in my life, but also create a class that challenges the system of white supremacy. One of the ways that I do this is by bringing in guest speakers who work to change the systems in place in our city. I’ve found bringing in guest speakers to be very beneficial for my students and myself. A guest speaker further makes the learning real and relevant, it exposes students to more viewpoints that may differ from or complement our curriculum. It also shakes class up and lets the students hear a voice besides their teacher.

The day after guest speakers my students always say something to the effect of, “the guest speaker we had yesterday was amazing, when are they coming back?” As the teacher, I tend to  envy the novelty of the guest speakers.  Their fresh voice captivates my students and they are excited to have them in the room.

It wasn’t until this year that the opportunity to be a guest speaker myself became an option. Mayra knew I had written articles for the Huffington Post about race and she asked me if I would be willing to come in and talk to her students about my experiences understanding whiteness and privilege.

I was nervous to speak at Taft, I was used to being in front of a room of students, but I had never spoke with white students about working to overcome their privileges. When I got off the expressway near Taft there were blue ribbons everywhere in support of Blue Lives Matter, increasing my anxiety. I had been writing a lot recently about why white people should support the Movement for Black Lives. But regardless I knew the work Mayra had been doing with her classes and I was excited.

I knew her students read an article that I wrote about ways in which white people could help with systemic racism. I decided to open my guest speaking experience by saying, “Be wary of a white person speaking to you about race. Meaning, know that while working to be anti-racist, I am still operating in a place of privilege and so please call me out if necessary.”

The classes went really well. Students asked questions. Many asked ways in which they themselves could work to be anti-racist. Some challenged some of my comments. Some arranged to come back to a later period that I was speaking at.

Among the many great questions and comments there were two that really resonated with me. One student who very quietly asked me in front of the whole class, “My parents are racist. What can I do?” Mayra created such a safe and respectful environment that her student felt comfortable enough to ask that question and be honest amongst her peers. I admitted that I had racist family members too (I would contend all white people do). I told her I did not know what it was like to have blatantly racist parents, but by her knowing this about her parents and being willing to work to challenge this, was already a brave step.

Another student stated in front of the entire group, “I want to be like you.” I have to be honest, I’ve never had anyone tell me that before (remember what I said about guest speakers, students love them). Both of these comments blew me away. I gave both these students some advice after class, such as listen to People of Color, read books that will push your thinking like Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and A People’s History of the United States, read about Black Youth Project 100 and Assata’s Daughters.

The work that Mayra does in her Ethnic Studies class challenges racism, white supremacy, and privilege daily. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of her work. As teachers, we should not only be inviting guest speakers into our classrooms more often, but we should actually be inviting other teachers to come speak to our students. We teachers know how brilliant and amazing many of our colleagues are. Rather than using a PB day to go speak to students in other schools like I had to, CPS should encourage collaboration and provide professional development days to work together.

Here are a few of the reflections from Mayra’s students about my visit:

“I really liked the way he talked about how he was working to make a change. It made me think more about what I want to do to help make a difference.”

“I liked how he shared that he has different views than some of his family members because I have different views than my mother.”

“I believe Ms. Almaraz invited Mr. Stieber because she wanted us to understand the perspective of a white male who (tries to) understand(s) racism and does his best to fight against it in his own life.”

“What impacted me the most was when he said he would just listen, instead of trying to figure out what to say next and that’s how he learned a lot of the pain others went through.”

“ I understand that Mr. Stieber acted as both an alternate perspective and an example of how to cause an effect while being a somewhat “small scaled” (i.e. not a politician, political speaker, civil rights leader”) influence.

“I really liked that he said he is raising his children to be aware of the problems of the world and providing the necessary tools to help them deal with it.”

“Stieber impacted me because his understanding and honesty of today’s society blew me away.”

“You asked him to come because he speaks about a topic that some hate to believe is true and still going on.”

“To get the perspective of someone with privilege to show us how he’s trying to use his advantages to help others.”

Mayra Almaraz-De Santiago is a wife and mother of two boys, is a proud Chicagoan, born and raised in the Northwest Side. Her teaching career began 14 years ago in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood and she is now back to her Northwest Side roots, teaching high school history for CPS. Mayra has a deep passion for social justice and for helping students critically examine the world so they can change it. She is a Golden Apple Scholar, and received her Secondary Education in History degree from DePaul University. She is currently a candidate for National Board Certification.

Dave Stieber is in his 10th year of teaching Social Studies in CPS. He is working to become National Board Certified. He has a Masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from UIC. He is an occasional blogger for the Huffington Post. His partner Stephanie Stieber is also a CPS teacher and together they have two children. Their school-aged child attends a CPS neighborhood school.

 

Justifying the White Fear of Blackness

We White people are always looking for any reason to justify our fear of Blackness. Well, we just got one. We have a video of 4 Black teens torturing a kidnapped special needs White kid. These images are now seared into our minds and placed in the box that says, “Justified Reasons to be Scared of Black People”. We can sleep good at night knowing that we aren’t racist. We are justified.
We are justified for still seeing that image of the white truck driver pulled out of his truck and beat during the 1992 LA Riots every time we drive through any Black neighborhood. We’re justified for making sure our car doors are locked, music turned down, while simultaneously making sure not to make eye contact with the Black person in the car next to us. (If for some silly reason we happened to be driving in a Black neighborhood.)
This torture video along with an earlier video where a White man was pulled from his car and assaulted by 5 Black adults, and also knowing the amount of murders in Chicago, make any and every fear we have “justified”.
We don’t actually care about solving the problems. We just like to reference these things when we tell someone who accuses us of racism why they are wrong. I mean we white people do not commit acts of hate, we don’t vote for people who perpetuate hate. Whiteness is under attack. C’mon these two videos prove it.
We don’t actually care about helping reduce the amount of violence in Chicago. We just care that that violence doesn’t come anywhere near whiteness. (Just look at Mount Greenwood) We are scared by the falsity of Black on Black crime, but horrified by the sheer possibility of Black on White crime, no matter how minute the chance.
Don’t question us either, because we will say, “Chicago has had 762 murders last year, don’t you care about that?” or “You must be a Black Lives Matter supporter, they are a terrorist organization, why don’t they protest in their own communities?” We say these things because it is easy. We have been conditioned to say these things. We have been conditioned to believe that a vocal black person is scary. We have been conditioned to believe that people in Chicago do not care about stopping violence. We don’t want to know about all the community organizations that have been working on reducing violence and improving Chicago for years. We just care that we have “proof” to justify our fears.
These are what the arguments sound like. These are things that White people say. This is why there are times when I am ashamed to be White (yes, to the White people freaking out, I just said that). Whiteness is a cloak we like to pretend does not exist. But when an isolated terrible incident happens we rally in our Whiteness.
When something happens to a White person by a person of another race, especially by a Black person, years of fear all come rushing back. Fear passed down through the generations. Fear spread sometimes intentionally but often times unintentionally at family gatherings. The time my grandfather talks about how he got robbed by a Black person spreads the fear down the lineage. The story of my grandmother sharing about how it’s a good thing we sold our house in the city and left for the suburbs, because that part of the city is now so terrible.
We say, “We aren’t racist, we just believe in law and order.” We don’t need to think about how purposeful disinvestment from neighborhoods in Chicago has led to more violence. We don’t need to think about how neighborhoods do not have job opportunities let alone commercial areas. We do not care that the schools in Chicago aren’t fully funded, or that they are run by the mayor and his hand picked puppets on the school board, or that over 50 of schools were closed. No way that any of that has any impact on violence.
We don’t care that Chicago Police have tortured, harmed, and killed citizens that they are supposed to protect. We don’t care that Chicago claims to be broke, yet takes TIF money from neighborhoods to continually beautify an already beautiful downtown . We don’t even want to think about how any of that could possibly impact the levels of violence. We don’t worry about that. We worry about keeping Whiteness safe.
Hopefully people know that I am not on the side with those who are looking for any and every way to protect Whiteness. Now people will look to discredit me, people will see that I am a teacher. People will say things like, “You need to worry more about your students and not worry about writing ridiculous articles like this”, or “You must be a terrible teacher because Chicago Public Schools are ‘failing’”, or maybe even something worse. Like so many people working to improve our city, teachers are working to improve our schools. People likely don’t care or you will falsely claim that school choice and charters will save our schools. But actually improving our schools will help reduce the levels of violence in our city.
If you would actually like to learn about organizations working to improve our city (which will reduce the levels of violence, which will also help us reduce our fear of Black people) then please begin clicking on any of the following organizations. (This is by no means anywhere close to a complete list, these are just a few of my favorites.) Young Chicago Authors, Mikva Challenge, Chicago Teachers Union, Assata’s Daughters, Black Youth Project 100, Resident Association of Greater Englewood, Youth Peace Movement, Showing Up for Racial Justice Chicago, and here are 41 more.
If you have no desire to try to break your stereotypes and educate yourself then in the words of N’Sync….
nsync bye bye bye animated GIF
To view this piece published on Huffington Post click here.

Why Did Kajuan Raye Run If He Was Not Guilty?

CHICAGO SUN TIMES
Kajuan Raye

This is the question that white people love to ask. Because surely if Kajuan was innocent he would’ve just stood there, explained he did nothing wrong, the police would’ve realized he did nothing wrong, and then all parties would’ve gone peacefully on their merry ways. Unfortunately, this is not the way the system of policing works for many people of color.

When I was in high school, my bored friends and I would frequently do dumb things to pass the time. One of the dumbest things we enjoyed doing was running from the cops. We were fit 17 and 18-year-old kids full of boredom, white privilege, and a strong sense of invincibility.

A group of us went to a local park, called the police from a pay phone and told the dispatcher that there was a fight in the park. To ensure a sense of urgency during the phone call we would yell and smash glass bottles in the background. We would then wait the short amount of time that it would take to see a cop car pulling up before taking off running. We knew the area well and also believed we could not be caught and we never were.

Now is this the reason Kajuan Raye ran? Maybe, but it’s not likely

Having taught in Chicago Public Schools for ten years, I’ve heard many, many stories from my students about the police harassing them, far too often, for no reason. In my first year teaching, one of my students came to my 1st period class crying. This 15-year-old kid told me how the police came speeding up on him while he was walking to school. They urgently got out of their cars cursing with their guns drawn. They made him lay in the snow before eventually realizing he was not who they were looking for. He was simply walking to school.

So did Kajuan run out of fear of police harassment? Maybe.

Maybe he ran because he was aware that Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray died while in police custody. Maybe he ran because Chicago still operates Homan Square, a secret detention site used to torture our own citizens and he was in fear of being taken to a place like that.

Or maybe he ran because he was aware that in Chicago alone, Rekia Boyd was murdered by a cop for no reason other than being outside at night, Bettie Jones was murdered by a cop for no other reason than opening her door and Joshua Beal was murdered by a cop because he was blocking a fire lane.

Maybe these are the reasons he ran.

Regardless of why he ran, we know that the police were called because of reports of a battery that happened relatively close to where Kajuan Raye happened to be waiting for the bus. Kajuan ran. A cop said Kajuan pointed a gun at him, twice. The cop shot him in the back and killed him.

Yet no gun has been found.

So instead of asking why he ran, instead of digging through a teenager’s Facebook profile to imply that he deserved to die, maybe ask why did the police shoot a kid for running? Why did the officer lie about the gun? What is the name of the officer who did this?

These are the questions we should be asking.

But because Kajuan is Black and was killed by the police, we instead look for any and every possible way to justify his death.

Thankfully I’m not dead from running from the police when I was younger. Kajuan Raye who did less than I did, should not be dead either.

View this piece on the Huffington Post by clicking here.