Freshman year can make anyone feel lost, but Seattle teen Janelle Gary felt especially lost when she entered high school in 2015. At home, she watched a wave of gentrification drive change in the historically black Central District neighborhood, and at school, where she was one of the few students of color in an honors history class, she felt as if black perspectives were also in the minority.
Looking back at that time, as now-18-year-old freshman at Central Washington University, she feels her teacher was “tip-toeing” around hard race-related questions about history. But things were different in her Ethnic Studies class, where her teacher Jesse Hagopian remembered what it was like to be the only black kid in a class.
That memory — and the lasting impact of a college class that looked at race head-on — is part of the reason why Hagopian, 41, and other educators inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement organized a national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. What started locally in Seattle in 2016, inspired by a federal investigation into the higher rate of suspensions of black students compared to their white peers, has grown into a nationwide organizing effort.