Making our voices heard

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On a February morning this year, I was rushing to find a seat for our daily assembly at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. My mind was elsewhere, studying for an Economics test I would take later that morning.

Then, two adults on the auditorium stage were introduced. They were from Black Lives Matter and were describing their cause.

I listened attentively.

One day in December, we had a discussion in class about Black Lives Matter. At the time, the movement was active in many causes in our community. I personally never paid much attention to the movement, but that day in class I realized how uninformed I was. I felt embarrassed because, as a senior and student of that particular class, I should have been aware of those issues.

So, senior students in the social justice religion class decided to create a program on Black Lives Matter to inform our school community about these issues happening around us. As high school seniors, we should be encouraged to learn about issues that affect the community around us. We should also be encouraged to share that information in our school. We all agreed that there are many social justice issues today, but we decided to focus on Black Lives Matter. Our goal was to present what we learned to our classmates.

“It was an opportunity to talk about black lives mattering in a predominantly Latino school,” said Sarah McCann, dean of student achievement for grade 12 and a religion teacher at Cristo Rey.

This project was not a class assignment. There was not a lot of teacher involvement. We all worked really hard to lay out the information objectively, based on only the facts of the issue, and show how, as a community, we can make a change by simply being informed. Our school president, however, did not allow us to present our project to our classmates.

The president, Jeb Myers, recently told me in an email interview that the issue was around timing. The last school week of December and the first week of January are “the most delicate” of the school year, Myers said, citing two fights during these weeks in recent years. He did not want our presentation to cause any added disruption during the last academic weeks of December, he said.

“I made a decision based on the information that I had that the presentation had the potential to disrupt our mission,” Myers said.

He also said he loved that students are passionate about others in the community and want to create change. He said that when the presentation was brought to him, he believed a plan for next steps – including adjusting the presentation for different age groups, bringing in police officers to discuss the issues, hosting an event that brought people together, and more – needed to be taken, but now understood that his “request for next steps to be added was a communication of rejection to the students.”

When my teacher told us the president’s concerns about disruption, we did not entirely agree at the time, but we ended up accepting the decision with no harsh remarks.

Weeks passed, and not being able to present was almost forgotten.

Then February and the presentation by Black Lives Matter came around. I thought this was hypocritical and unfair. (Myers said the adult presentations had already been scheduled.)

The information my classmates and I had gathered was similar to the speakers’ presentation. We worked hard to keep it unbiased. It was hypocritical to stop us but allow others to present. And, in my opinion, those speakers were far from objective.

Students should be allowed to have the liberty to – safely, of course – make their voices heard. 

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