Glendale Unified discusses adding Black Lives Matter Week in February
Black Lives Matter, an activist movement created six years ago, could make its way into the Glendale Unified School District in an official capacity.
The Glendale Unified school board discussed last week a resolution that would formally observe Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, which would be held from Feb. 3 to 7, in conjunction with Black History Month.
According to a draft of the resolution, the week would be meant “to cultivate in African American students a sense of pride, self-worth, and self-love; and to develop a widespread acknowledgment and appreciation for the contributions of African American people in our community.”
The resolution also adds that educational opportunities such as workshops, cultural events and instructional activities will be offered in February.
The genesis for bringing Black Lives Matter Week to the local school district started last year.
During the last school board meeting of 2019, Glendale resident and parent Ingrid Gunnell urged formalizing such an effort.
“As I’ve heard from black parents and students from every geographical part of the district, from kindergarten to high school, I realize these kids are put into harm’s way through subtle and more overt situations that arise at our school campuses on a nearly daily basis from both adults and children on campus,” she said.
A number of speakers, including students and members of the community group called Black in Glendale, voiced concerns about the treatment of black students in the district during the public-comment portions in the past two school board meetings.
One student said a substitute teacher came into his class and told him to get off the plantation. He also said he was “bullied and harassed by Armenian kids” at Toll Middle School.
Another speaker said, “I’m a product of a predominantly white school system. I grew up in Southern California, in Burbank. And it’s devastating to hear the stories of these young people here. Twenty years later, they are going through what I was going through.”
A former Roosevelt Middle School student said she was called the n-word and faced harassment such as students pouring water in her hair. During her freshman year of high school, she said she had anxiety and panic attacks that eventually led to her to drop out of school.
Tanita Harris-Ligons co-founded Black in Glendale several years ago when her sons expressed a lack of belonging in school. Her three sons told her stories about how their peers didn’t want to sit next to them because they had dark skin. The group’s purpose is to create a sense of community that promotes awareness and respect for black culture.
“I started Black in Glendale, not to divide, but for my children and the other black children in the community to see other black faces and know they were supported — to see other faces and know they were supported,” said Harris-Ligons.
The school board’s response to the speakers’ testimonies came in the form of the resolution on Jan. 14 that also includes a statement that Glendale Unified takes on a responsibility to understand and eliminate racism in its curriculum and classrooms.
“I’m glad to hear that this resolution is here and that it’s not a phase. It’s a commitment and also a lifelong promise,” said Harris-Ligons at the meeting on Jan. 14.
Board members agreed that the resolution takes a step toward addressing perceived racial issues within the school district.
“These are teachable moments. We embrace this work knowing that these are difficult conversations, but they are teachable moments and we are not going to run away from challenges that we have in our school district but address them one at a time,” said Glendale Unified Supt. Vivian Ekchian.
Shant Sahakian, board clerk, said he is pleased with the resolution, but it’s really about the work that needs to be done 365 days a year.
According to board member Nayiri Nahabedian, Glendale Unified has slated dates for bias training for administrators, such as principals. Black in Glendale members provided the board with examples of educational materials that could be incorporated into the curriculum, including New York Times Magazine’s 1619 project — a 96-page magazine published in August 2019 examining the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans.
“Glendale itself has a long history of deep racism and unless we have a moment of self-reflection and that takes anti-bias training, it takes pausing, it takes curriculum to bring to light the racism, the biases both implicit and explicit, that we carry with us,” Nahabedian said.
The resolution is expected to be brought back for possible action during a board meeting on Feb. 4.