Black Lives Matter, the Middle School Edition!

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On October 26, 2015  Duchess Harris,launched Black Lives Matter, a book she coauthored with Sue Bradford Edwards aimed at students grades 6-12.   The reader, written at an 8th grade level, just makes one hungry for more. Suddenly we can imagine school library shelves filled with books for children dealing with issues that matter to them.


Professor Harris teaches courses on civil rights, race and the law at Macalester college. In a comment I could relate to as an instructor of Race and Public Policy, she  noted that when she teaches first year college students she is starting from scratch. “Imagine” she said to a colleague who teaches math, “Imagine teaching college algebra to students who never had math in their K-12 years. That is what is like teaching about race.”Harris’ hopes that her book’s wide use in the nation’s middle schools, will make her job as a college instructor easier.


It is an unusual thing to read a book about current events of any kind, let alone a book about race.  Black Lives Matter doesn’t fill a gap — it magnifies it  while dropping a pearl in the bucket.

The book — published at lightening speed — begins with Micheal Browns’s story, the unarmed youth murdered by Ferguson Missouri police officer Daryl Wilson in August of 2014  and then steps back and provides two chapters of  historical context beginning with slavery and Dred Scott, moving to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It then includes more individual case studies of recent criminal injustice:  Travon Martin, killed by an acquitted neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford Florida in 2012,  Oscar Grant killed by transit police at a Bay area train station in 2009,  Renisha McBride, shot by a homeowner when she sought help for after a car accident in Detroit in 2013, Eric Garner the New York father smothered to death by a gang of cops for selling loose cigarettes on a New York Street corner in 2014; Tony Robinson the distressed unarmed young man shot by police in Madison Wisconsin in 2015; and Freddy Gray the Baltimore man who died after a ride in a police van in April 2015. Six police officers have been charged in Gray’s death.

The book was finished a few days before Sandra Bland, a Black Lives Matter activist and student at Prairie View A&M University,  lost her life in Waller county Texas after she was stopped by an officer for a frivolous traffic violation and hauled to jail, so the book does not say her name. That is our job, until justice is done.

There are chapters that put these stories into the larger context of ajudicial system, from policing to sentencing.  Sections on the social movement leave this reader wanting more, with less emphasis on government action and more on the work of social activists.

A pearl begging for more pearls.

Harris and a colleague with expertise in K-12 curriculum will be creating a lesson plans for teachers, which they hope to publish as early as January. Perhaps more personal stories of activists can be included there.

Black Lives Matter, the book and forthcoming companion curricula are a  beautiful beginning. Let’s go forth, activists, academics, educators and authors, and multiply!

(PS. Here are a couple places to look for other  K-12 Ethnic Studies resources: Rethinking Schools, and Teaching Tolerance.  Write in about other individual or collective sources!)

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