How to Make Black Lives Matter

Garrett Duncan, Associate Professor of Education and African & African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences

In March 2014, I received an urgent e-mail request from a high school teacher in St. Louis, Mo.,  to visit her international literatures course. She wanted me to address a class of juniors and seniors that was comprised mostly of black male students.

“They don’t believe that they have futures,” Ms. R. wrote. Her tone in the message was neither incredulous nor dismissive. Rather, her language exuded a complex modulation of compassion, care and, most of all, concern.

Her sentiments echoed those of Maya, then a rising senior in my university “Politics of Education” course the previous fall.

I recalled the pointed pushback that Maya gave me in her class when I had protested the notion that black youth were hopeless. Her challenge foreshadowed Ms. R.’s invitation.

“But they are worried,” Maya firmly responded, while looking me squarely in my eyes from across the seminar room.

I thought about it. Maya spoke to “what is,” while I was wedded to “what should be.” Her words also suggested that young people nowadays did not need “role models” in their lives. Rather, they would stand to benefit from those of us with resources to listen to them, and to employ our assets in accord with their interests.

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