Editor’s note: These guest essays are part of Education Lab’s Student Voices program. Read more columns by local students here.
The students at Lawton Elementary School in Seattle are determined to create a racially equitable community and country.
After the murder of George Floyd, I encouraged my incoming fifth graders to write letters with me to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asking for permission to lower our school flag to half-staff on Oct. 14, which would have been Floyd’s 47th birthday, to remember him and all the Black men, women and children who have died because of police brutality.
Although students are learning remotely, our fourth- and fifth-grade classes are currently analyzing and discussing the tragedy of Floyd and Black victims of police violence. The letters were mailed in mid June. Since we have not yet heard from Inslee’s office, we will mail student-created birthday cards for Mr. Floyd to his family to show our love, respect and support.
— Anne Leache, fourth-grade teacher, Lawton Elementary School, Seattle Public Schools
Everyone needs to learn more about the real American history.
I am one of two Black students in my entire class and one of a few people of color in my entire school. My white classmates always look to me for answers about how Black people fit into American history. It should not be the role of a fifth-grade student to educate my white classmates on the contributions of Black people in American history.
When I think about how my school can do a better job of helping with educating, understanding and empathizing for Black Lives Matter, I have a few ideas. I’d like to see Black teachers in my school. I’d like to make learning about all cultures normalized and not just during special months.
We should lower the flag for George Floyd and every Black person who was murdered by the police, but please do not stop there.
Teaching the history of how all people contributed to America should be standard and just as normal as learning about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I would like to learn more about the courage of Ruby Bridges and the history of Juneteenth. There are hundreds more stories.
We learn about the same small part of history every year, and I want to learn more in school about Black culture, Asian culture, indigenous culture and Latinx culture, just to name a few. Why is school so limiting when it comes to learning about people, culture and history? I believe when we learn more about the racist things that have happened to Black people and how these horrible acts have hurt generations, we can start to have smarter discussions about the unfairness happening every day and most recently to George Floyd.
I hope to have more of these discussions in school this year.
When I watched the video of police killing Floyd, I was silent. My body was shaking, and I feared for my life, my sister’s life and especially for my father, who is also a tall Black man. I thought about Floyd’s children and if his kids would have to go through life without their dad. I could not imagine my life without my dad, but now a little kid somewhere will have to feel that pain forever.
How can someone do that to another human being? Did the police not think he was a human being, a father, a son? It makes no sense to me. I will never forget Mr. Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe” several times. It’s like people don’t want to listen to you just because you have a different skin color and that laws do not protect you if you are Black.
When I was asked about my thoughts on Floyd’s death, I was confused at first by all the attention. My teacher and friends and classmates are acting like this is the first police murder of a Black person ever. I think people are taking this murder very seriously because they see how often this happens and see how sick and tired Black people are — but it only seemed important when I saw more white people talking about Floyd and protesting on his behalf. Do Black lives matter when white people decide it’s time to matter? Are white voices more important?
In the future, we should also think of other Black people killed by police like Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and so many more! Many people say and post signs of Black Lives Matter, but it does not seem that way to us kids.
— Talia Wilson, 10 years old, fifth-grade student at Lawton Elementary
In front of our school flies a large American flag. We should lower that flag to half-staff on the birthday of George Floyd because the George Floyd incident was very tragic, and our community should remember it.
George Floyd’s murder was not the first one of its type. Lots of Black people are being murdered in our country by police. According to Mapping Police Violence, a database that tracks killings by police, police have killed more than 800 people in 2020. While Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population, they represent a disproportionate share of those killed by police.
By the time George Floyd was murdered, people, including myself, had just had enough. I’m frustrated that some of our country’s police forces are racist and that each of those officers aren’t brought to justice.
In 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot six times and killed by a white police officer named Darren Wilson. No charges were brought against Officer Wilson.
In 2016, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man was shot and killed by two white police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when he was selling CDs. Officer Blane Salamoni, who pulled the trigger, was fired, but no charges were filed.
I’m also sad, because Black people don’t deserve to live in fear that any day, they could be killed by the police. The police are supposed to make us feel safe, not scared.
Before George Floyd’s life was taken, I joined the Lawton Student Union, a club in which students talk about racial equity. I also talk about racism with some of my friends, which helps a lot because I’m getting other perspectives.
However, I wish my school talked about American history and culture differently. We recognize Black Lives Matter week in school, and we learn about Black history and famous Black people, like Maya Angelou. But I still think it’s not enough. Even though slavery happened a long time ago, the effects are still passed to us through generations. Our school and community should talk about that more often.
Maybe we could set aside some time from our regular work to talk about George Floyd and how his life was taken from him. If the same situation had occurred with a white person being in George Floyd’s shoes, it would have been a completely different story. If it was a white person, they may have had a stern talking to but not someone kneeling on their throat. Students are the future police officers. If we don’t learn about our feelings and figure this out, things will never change. My generation’s role in this movement is to make sure that as some become future police officers, we will treat people respectfully, regardless of their skin color.
— Naomi Haddad, 10, fifth-grade student at Lawton Elementary