Young, Black and Unafraid: inside the Black Lives Matter protests in Colorado Springs

Derrick Matthews (front) leads protesters through Colorado Springs.

February is Black History Month. Lest it be celebrated in peace, this month kicked off with reports of the racist AF way Black history is viewed by politicians and taught in many schools. 

Republican legislators in states like Arkansas, Iowa and Mississippi (surprise, right?) have drafted proposals to ban “The 1619 Project,” a New York Times initiative headed up by Pulitzer Prize- and MacArthur grant-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, from being taught in schools. “The 1619 Project” focuses on slavery’s legacy and its ongoing consequences for Black Americans. The fight to shut down the project isn’t really new, as former President Donald Trump has referred to it as “indoctrination” since it was published in 2019. Last year Trump said, “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools. It’s being imposed into workplace training and it’s been deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.” He planned to combat the project with the 1776 Commission, established to promote what he referred to as “patriotic education.” (See more on p. 3.)

Rhetoric like this fuels the semantic arguements between “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” and misses the point. ALL Lives can’t matter UNTIL Black Lives Matter.

And these ideologcial battles aren’t just taking place in other states. Here’s what’s happening in School District 49:

“On Tuesday, January 19, 2021, and Wednesday, January 20, 2021, students in the Art Explore [a class at Bennett Ranch Elementary] engaged in a lesson centered around the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement,” read a D-49 letter to parents. “...The classroom presentation included some depictions with direct connection to recent events in our country, including Black Lives Matter. We recognize some will find these topics controversial, and based on district policy, all of our families have the option to determine their student’s participation through advanced notice.” The district determined the Art Explore teacher should have notified parents of the “controversial material,” and the teacher was written up.

KRDO reports Colorado Department of Education content standards were last updated in 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement is not a part of those standards, so teaching about the movement is up to individual districts. Well, it shouldn’t be; the Black Lives Matter movement is a part of history, so much so that it was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

The civil rights movement was controversial in its time, so what makes it uncontroversial enough to teach without parental permission now? What is different about the Black Lives Matter movement but the name? The assertion that our lives are not disposable? We all watched last spring when George Floyd was killed. What is the appropriate way to teach this moment in history? Ignore it? But it looks like you are repeating your own history with how you value Black students, D-49. 

The Associated Press reported in 2008: “Parents and community leaders charged that a Colorado Springs school district has ignored complaints about racial prejudice creating an unsafe environment for minority students. About 30 people led by the Rev. Promise Lee held a news conference at the Falcon School District 49 headquarters Friday to demand better efforts to combat discrimination such as racist taunts in the district’s schools.” Among the incidents: A Black teacher at Horizon Middle School was repeatedly called “that colored teacher” by students and staff and four black students were targets of a racial epithet and received counseling, AP reported.

The superintendent at the time promised improvement.

Clearly little has changed, and a promise isn’t enough. “Black Lives Matter” should not be a controversial statement. 

Black Lives Matter — it’s not optional.