MAPLEWOOD, N.J. — Black Lives Matter in School Week is a movement that started in Seattle in 2016 when teachers wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts to school to show solidarity.
The following year, an entire week of action was planned by teachers in Philadelphia. Now, schools in Montclair, Maplewood and South Orange are participating along with dozens across the country.
"It's important not just for black students but for all students given the political climate of our country right now,” said South Orange-Maplewood School District language arts teacher TJ Whitaker.
His class of seniors at Columbia High School are currently reading news articles about the Black Lives Matter Movement and they’re reading ‘Look for Me in the Whirlwind’, a book about the Black Panther 21, which recounts a 1969 trial in which black activists were accused of committing acts of violence.
"I went in not knowing a lot about the movement,” said one student.
New Jersey’s teachers union, NJEA, voted to join a national call for Black Lives Matter at School Week, which began in Seattle in 2016 and is being observed this year from Feb. 5-11.
The purpose is to educate students about racism, black history and to continue the conversation throughout the year.
In the South-Orange Maplewood District, students are not only spending class time on this but speaking events have also been held every night this week. Panels are open to the public. Speakers included black panthers, school segregation experts, LGBT groups and women's rights advocates.
Black Lives Matter in School Week is also a call to hire more black teachers; mandate ethnic studies in schools; and ban zero tolerance discipline policies which disproportionately affect minority kids.