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Teacher fired for planning a Trayvon Martin fundraiser

April 11, 2012

An undated photo provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows Brooke Harris, a teacher at Pontiac Academy for Excellence, in Pontiac, Mich., who alleges she was fired over a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. Harris was dismissed in March from Pontiac Academy for Excellence after she supported students' efforts to plan a wear-a-hoodie-to-school day.

Okay, so I know it seems as if all I’ve been posting lately is about Trayvon Martin. I typically try to keep my topics diverse but everyday I check my news feed, it is something so egregious that I simply can’t ignore the topic. Folks, if this issue here doesn’t irate you, there’s nothing else I can say. When we can’t speak about community issues in school, there is a problem. The absence of race relations in our public schools only contribute to the bullying, social ignorance, and professional robotism. (Just my opinion.) My sons have told me that they are forbidden from even mentioning Trayvon’s name in school, however I am sure the name George is regualarly mentioned. I digress. Back to the story at hand. There are school fundraisers conducted for many things. I’ve even received fundraiser solicitations from my kids for displaced families, natural disasters, and even breast cancer research. Breast Cancer! Not saying breast cancer isn’t a serious issue but to me it would seem that a teenager being shot down in cold blood (Trayvon Martin) and a family needing legal help is more applicable to our students/youth than breast cancer. But you know what? We like to pick and choose what issue fits our beliefs. We try to make whatever we want to do apply to our situation so we can move forward with doing it, hence allowing breast cancer fundraisers. (The Bible is a perfect example of this.) We come up with fancy stats and tie them to using our students as pawns whenever it is convenient.

I think principle is principle. If schools are doing fundraisers, then what is the problem? Let me tell you something, this situation has REALLY pulled the sheets of America’s bed. It should be an eye-opener to the disenfranchised. Even with a black president in office, we still can’t get an arrest for someone who shot down a black teenager. Does President Obama not have the influence or does he view him getting involved as another act of political suicide? This is ridiculous and though voting is important and elected officials have an influence, the election of a black president obviously does little to the elevation of the black community, both socially and economically.

America reminds me of a situation I had with a cellphone carrier about 10 years ago. Everytime I left the metro area, I would lose service even though I had a nationwide plan. When I returned, I would complain to them and they would say everything is fixed now and would give me some lame excuse. I would believed them. Several weeks later, I would leave town and the same thing would happen. This went on for months until I got so pissed I just had to discontinue my service with them. This is the BS excuses America serves up to black people regularly (though there are truly impartial people of all races, I am speaking as a whole). We believe after every situation that the problems are fixed, only for tragedy to reoccur every few months (nationally) and almost daily (locally). When will we discontinue our economic service to others and connect service to ourselves? What will it take? I am planning something to do my part to restore our community. I hope you are doing the same thing as you sit in your cubicle waiting for payday…

Okay, I am done with my piece. I am just perturbed… Paste this link into your browser for the story from the Associated Press or read it below.

DETROIT (AP) — A teacher fired from a Michigan middle school after encouraging students to raise money for the family of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin said Tuesday she is confused by the dismissal and wants the school’s administration to explain.

Brooke Harris was dismissed in March from Pontiac Academy for Excellence after she supported students’ efforts to plan a wear-a-hoodie-to-school day. Martin was wearing a hoodie Feb. 26 when he was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

A number of groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., have called for Harris to be reinstated.

“I’m really confused why I got fired,” Harris told The Associated Press. “I don’t think I did anything wrong.”

According to the SPLC, a national civil rights group, Harris’ eighth-grade journalism students asked her about the death of Martin, 17, who was unarmed when he was shot in Sanford, Fla. No charges have been filed.

Harris gave the students an editorial-writing assignment on the shooting. But the students wanted to raise money for Martin’s family and asked the school’s administrators if they could each pay $1 to wear hoodies instead of school uniforms for a day, the group said. It said the school regularly has fundraisers in which students are allowed to “dress down.”

The 26-year-old English teacher said she approached school administrators “through the chain of command” but that Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell said the project could not go forward. Harris said she was in the process of explaining this decision to the students when she was called for a meeting with Cassell.

The superintendent suspended Harris for encouraging the students and then fired her after she showed up at the school to drop off prizes for students when she had been told to stay away, the SPLC said.

“I didn’t tell the kids, ‘Let’s go and do it anyway.'” Harris said. “I was actually, literally, in the process of talking to my kids about what we could do instead when (Cassell) requested the meeting with me and told me that I needed to let it go.”

Cassell said she couldn’t discuss personnel matters but that she wanted students to focus on learning, not activism.

“I’m a child of the civil rights movement,” Cassell said. But “this is not the time in the school year” to distract students from academics.

“In every situation, there are work rules,” she said. “When rules are violated, there are consequences.”

Harris said her teaching record was clean and that Cassell “wouldn’t let me defend myself.”

Harris said she still wants someone from the school to provide more details on why she was fired.

“I just want a reason,” Harris said. “She’s got my phone number, and I’d appreciate if she’d tell me what I did wrong.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the Academy’s decision was a “travesty” that would only hurt students.

“It taught the students who tried to organize and tried to raise their voice in terms of social justice that they will be repressed,” Walid said at a news conference Tuesday morning at King Solomon Baptist that previewed a rally that evening at the Detroit church. “Instead of empowering our children … the Pontiac Academy is actually teaching children to internalize oppression and internalize racism.”

A few dozen people who attended the rally — including a number of clergy members and community activists — voiced their displeasure over both Martin’s slaying as well as Harris’ dismissal.

Speaker after speaker at the rally offered their support to Harris, who sat in a chair behind the podium and smiled and nodded in appreciation.

“We’re ready to protest, we’re ready to march, and we’re even ready to give you legal counsel,” Walid said, turning and looking at Harris. “If we can’t settle this in the streets nonviolently, then maybe we need to settle it in the courts of law.”

Charles Williams, the church’s pastor, said that if Harris doesn’t have her job back by Friday, he will lead a march at the school in Pontiac on Monday.

Harris wore a blazer to Tuesday’s rally, but underneath it was a hoodie.

“I thought it was appropriate,” she said.


Associated Press writer David N. Goodman contributed to this report.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2012 10:50 am

    My email to ms Cassel:

    Ms. Cassell,

    It is a travesty what you did to Ms. Harris. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. “A child of the civil rights era”? You haven’t learned anything but to be a partner to oppressors. Ms. Harris will now be a hero because of you because this is now going viral. It is “black” people like you who help to hold us back. What a shame.

    Philbert Bridges

  2. Chandra permalink
    April 11, 2012 11:33 am

    I appreciate reading these posts because they keep me informed on pertinent issues. This particular post raises matters of truth for us to consider going forward. A week ago, at my children’s school, a 6th grader’s father died of cancer. We were all encouraged through email to give to the family at this very difficult time.

    Admittedly so, I am frustrated. I gotta say, “I support Harris 150% on this one.” I am very sensitive to entities who try to silence the voice of the people and the individual. Do not silence me is the uttermost anthem of my life. Do not silence my children. I abhor all attempts to silence because the silencer feels uncomfortable or threatened by voice.

    Voice is power. Voice is the spirit of the person. Silencing the voice kills the spirit.

    I really don’t have a collective answer to all of this….but i do believe there a myriad of ways we can effectively let our presence be known as important and relevant and needed. I know my voice is not strongest when it comes to economics but I hope it’s getting stronger. If we combine our efforts and suppport each other–spiritually, economically, socially, and so on while giving the other a safe place to heal and regroup–in our process–we are unstoppable.

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