Poets, Dancers and Michael Bennett Rally Black Students in the CD

Bennett to students: “I’m only going to be an NFL player for a short time…I’m always gonna be a black man.”

After 2,000 Seattle teachers wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts to schools across the city Wednesday and lead discussions on institutional racism — lauded as the first such school-district-wide solidarity event in the U.S., making national headlines and drawing support from the Seattle NAACP, Noam Chomsky, and many others— hundreds of students, teachers, artists, activists, parents, poets, and Seahawks star Michael Bennett packed Washington Hall with a splash of energy and ideas. It was what lead organizer and Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian called “the very, very beginning of something that I want to see roll out across the country.”

A panel of Seattle students brought out what it feels like to go to school in a city that has the fifth-largest black-white achievement gap in the nation, along with their ideas for change; Bennett defended his team’s less-than-radical “demonstration of unity” (the Seahawks linked arms instead of taking the knee that other teams have to protest police killings and institutional racism, including the Garfield High School football and girls’ volleyball teams); a slam poet from Nova High School extolled the Block the Bunker movement; the Northwest Tap Connection turned tap dancing into a raw, modern-dance infused expression of human resilence; hip hop artists stole the stage and wooed the crowd; and Councilmember Kshama Sawant confessed, “I am not an athlete, I am not a performer, I am not cool in any way” before leading the room in a chant of “Black Lives Matter.”

See below for some of our favorite scenes and quotes from the evening.

On the NFL and a demonstration of unity:

“We wanted everybody to be a part of something and create some type of bridge. I know a lot of people were like, ‘Why were they linking arms, why’d they do this, why’d they do that?’, but most important for us, it was about the message and what we did after… for us it wasn’t so much about the knee or the action. It was about the reaction… we wanted to make sure we were doing something organically… When people say ‘All Lives Matter,’ we still go up and we say, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We’re still saying the same things you’re saying, we’re just doing it in a different way. At the end of the day, I’m only going to be an NFL player for a short time. At the end of the day, I’m always gonna be a black man. I’m gonna be seen as a black man. And I’m still fighting the fight.” Michael Bennett

On student experience in Seattle schools:

“Seattle Public Schools has the fifth-largest achievement gap in the country. After the news broke out, a day or two after the news broke out, I was asked to be in a focus group [of African American young men]… on how our needs need to be met and how we think we’re treated unfairly and things… I did the focus group. But the question I was left answering was: Why didn’t you ask me before the big news broke out?” Chief Sealth High School student

“Since I was thrown into Garfield as a freshman, I was put in the AP and the honors programs… [and though] the school itself is very diverse, when you walk into those classrooms, it’s not. I was the only other black girl in my honors world history classroom. It’s crazy.” Garfield High School student

“[For me], it’s pretty much the same thing: [I’m in] pretty much the same thing as the AP or honors program. Not once in my three years at Hamilton, have I seen another black or mixed kid in my class.” Hamilton Middle School student

On poetry, on solidarity, on justice:

“Instead of treating me like I’m the enemy, you should really take a seat and break bread with me. Look, all lives matter, that’s true, but it’s a different view when the gun’s aiming at you.” Youth activist and educator Jerrell Davis