This is not my ceiling, this is my floor

Another week, another STARS meeting as informal as it was! I’m always left thinking seriously about what I am doing in relation to social justice and how my life experiences are affecting my work in this area after every meeting.

A group of the executive committee members went to see Selma on Monday night, so we started off the meeting debriefing the movie and the moments that really stuck out to us. If there is one thing that this movie taught me, it’s that even though we like to think that we have come a long way in our fight for equal rights for all races in society, we still have a long way to go. Two minutes into this movie and I knew that my perspective on the civil rights movement would be forever changed. While the rest of the world was celebrating Martin Luther King, he was in the southern states getting assaulted by random strangers because there was obviously still work to be done. When most people hear the name Martin Luther King, they think of four words: “I Have A Dream”. What we don’t think of is the obstacles that lay ahead on the journey to equal rights after that speech was made and Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize. This movie really made me see the tremendous struggles that they faced even when the world seemed to think that everything was solved. The government was tracking Martin Luther King’s every move, only accepting him as an activist because he was not as violent as others who were fighting for the same thing.

One scene of the movie that was, rightfully, powerful to everybody within our group was the scene of the first march from Selma to Montgomery. The scene was shot absolutely perfect to show what people were feeling at that exact moment in time. Shots zoomed in on police batons wrapped in barbed wire. The camera was tilted upwards when the people marching were being beaten by police on foot and on horses. There was a slow motion shot of a police officer chasing down a marcher on his horse with a whip, which is a direct reference to treatment of slaves, and striking the man down so that the police on foot could beat him. This entire scene was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. The whole film was an ode to everything that black people had to overcome in order to get the right to vote, but unlike other movies it was from their perspective and they were placed in leading roles.

What really sparked our conversation in the meeting, however, was the response to the march – especially how it was covered by the reporter that was narrating the story of what happened. It was brought up how the media covers social justice events today in comparison to how this reporter covered the events of the march and the differences were something that none of us were proud of. In the movie, the reporter is obviously and rightfully shaken up, almost at the point of tears, but when we look at media coverage of social justice events today, let’s use what happened in Ferguson as an example, there is no emotion and no empathy, just cold hard facts.  unless there is a close and personal tie. What has changed? Why do these news stories no longer affect the media and the people consuming it as much as before? Sure, the events of Ferguson were heartbreaking and the world talked about it for days after Michael Brown was killed, but what happens when it is no longer front page news? People forget about it until it’s in the news once more.

This led us to our new topic of conversation: we can sit and meet each week to talk about social justice issues and speak our minds about these topics, but are our bodies matching our mouths and our minds? Are we physically getting out there and being allies, or do we just talk about it and it never comes to fruition? We’ve decided that this is the next step for our group — for us to go out in the community and show that we are allies to those that face social injustice, not just talk about the issues that they face. At this moment, what does our work cost us? Hardly anything. If people don’t know us well enough for us to talk to them about STARS, they probably have no idea that we’re passionate about social justice. This hides us from the ridicule of those who don’t believe this fight is a worthy one, but it also prevents us from making the connections that we need to move forward as a group and really achieve our goals of getting the whole community involved in social justice.

As a closing thought there’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but it took until our STARS meeting tonight for me to speak up and really seek advice on this. Almost on a weekly basis, I have people around me tell me that they couldn’t possibly handle all that I do and remain sane. I’m a full time student, I’m on the executive committee for STARS and Relay for Life, I’ve been on other committees before, I am a strong volunteer around campus with many organizations, I work outside of school, and I still find time for friends and family. I’ve been told that this is remarkable, but I’ve never thought so. You see, I don’t see what I do as inspirational. I don’t see it as me making a huge difference in the world around me, but that is what I am constantly being told, especially with STARS. Once I spoke up about this, Michael Cappello, who is our main faculty supporter, put what I was feeling into words that I feel like a lot more people would connect to. He talked about our group, who meet every week and simply talk about social justice and plan PD events to include others around the community in the conversation. None of us see this as remarkable because we believe so strongly in it. It shouldn’t be remarkable that seven white teachers get together to talk about the issues in society that affect us, our students, our classrooms, and our communities, but we’re told time and time again that it is. The fact that something so small can be seen as remarkable really shows how far we have to go as a society. Our meetings shouldn’t be our ceiling. They shouldn’t be the highest that we think we can achieve. Sitting down to talk about these issues should be our floor. They should be our baseline. Because as far away as some of these issues seem, they do affect our daily lives and the lives of our students, and this translates to them affecting our classrooms. We must constantly work to break through the ceilings that are built by ourselves and others which are meant to limit what we can do. We should always strive to do more and to be better, because the minute we stop striving for more is the minute that we give up on the cause of truly understanding social justice, how it affects us and our students, and how we can create an environment within our classrooms that really values each person as an individual and not a combination of stereotypes.

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