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    An Important Civil Rights Black Activist Who

    studentTeacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts recently taught the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course, according to district officials. She will resume teaching that groundbreaking class next fall. This semester, she is teaching a new Ethnic Studies course. It is a popular elective among the school’s Social Science offerings. In this column, students from her class will be anonymously sharing with the San Francisco Bay Times their thoughts about related matters, and what they are learning.

    History Has Its Eyes on the Nice Ones

    Student, 12th Grade

    It’s almost Black Heritage Month! So I thought we could maybe talk about one civil rights kid who is not often spoken about. Everyone knows the name Rosa Parks, an NAACP local chapter secretary and activist; we often credit her for starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Some of us might have heard of other women who refused to obey the Montgomery segregation laws prior to Parks’ case, but who did not become icons of the civil rights movement. One of these heroes, Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl, refused to give up her seat in March 1955 and was handcuffed and jailed. Nine months later, Rosa Parks suffered the same consequences.

    The city’s black leaders brought both cases to court. Since Colvin had become pregnant, E.D. Nixon, an NAACP leader, decided Parks would make a more appropriate icon for their cause and used the public’s sympathy to help start the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Fortunately, Colvin’s case did not die, and she filed suit with four other plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which later overturned the segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama. Being lower class, a teen-ager, and an unwed mother does not disqualify anyone from changing the world for the better.


    Aurora Levins Morales’s essay, “Historian as a Curandera,” touches upon the many ways we narrate the past. We often strip our heroes of their humanity, by either “overlooking their failings, or feeling betrayed when we find that they have some.” Sometimes, the idealization of heroes segregates narratives itself, sending a perhaps unintentional messages that female heroes must only be middle-class, well- respected, quiet and discreet people. In 2005, President Bush signed legislation to establish a statue of Rosa Parks in Washington, D.C. In 2013, Parks’ memory was endorsed with words like “dignity and grace,” “quiet strength,” and “national hero.” Although I am glad to hear words honoring a great woman, I also feel that a less known girl is discredited in Park’s shadow. I am a little sad that we talk less about Claudette Colvin, whose bravery occasionally pops up as a ‘Did You Know?’ fact in history sources and blogs.

    The idea of a hero is a strange one. It suggests that individuals can single handedly change the world, but the truth is: we can only change ourselves, and perhaps hope that we inspire others to change as well. The icons of the civil rights movement stood for what they believed was right, when the rest of the world told them otherwise. They are indeed worthy of remembrance. But let’s not forget the girls who refused to leave their seats prior to Rosa Parks. Let’s not forget that long before her bold stance, Parks was part of the NAACP, a political organization, a community. Let’s not forget the white allies who supported the civil rights movement. We have to remember that we do not make changes on our own. Certainly well respected people are not the only ones fighting for justice. We do, however, achieve our ideals together. We need to remember who was part of the great collaborations of the past.

    Why We Need Ethnic Studies

    Student, 12th Grade

    When I was a little girl, my dad would tell me stories about how he lived on the predominantly white East Coast, attended a boarding school for all of his life where he was separated from his family. He had no connection to really anything in his life, so he decided to enlist as a Marine after almost flunking out of high school. While travelling across the world on board a ship, my father met many different people during the end of the African-American Civil Rights movement, the middle of the gay rights movement, and the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.

    Although my father was alive during these times of great change in America, his morals did not progress as society had. The train of same-love, love-wins, and equality left the station without him, and without many like him in his generation. My father was a product of the baby-boomers, and was not too keen on liberal ideas, gay rights, or accepting the existence of white privilege. I had not become aware of what kind of man my father was until I turned eleven. Your father is supposed to be your supporter and your teacher, but what happens when one day you’ve discovered that your moral compass directs you far from that of your father’s?

    I can’t count the times I have tried to explain racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, war, or love to my father. Every argument becomes less successful as he grows older, and more rooted in his outdated ideas, but I do recall the moments where he has admitted he was wrong in his ways of thinking.

    The modern age has locked us in an era where the modern “man” fears for offending people, creating confrontations, or even being confronted. I think that this is absolutely not how we should be living. Although every argument hurt more and more to explain to him, I can guarantee that I at least put one idea into that man’s head that he had never even thought to ponder before: The changing world can be filled with stubborn people fixed in ideas that are no longer relevant or even tangible in today’s society.

    After beginning my Ethnic Studies course at the School of the Arts, I have become aware of omissions in American history. Not everyone’s voice is always heard when everyone is speaking at the same time, but just because you can’t hear them, does not mean that their opinion matters less than yours. The world needs to be woken up by the real truths in life that all people should live by: everyone is created equal; it even says so in the Declaration of Independence if you don’t believe me. Until our future generations instill this truth for all peoples, the world needs Ethnic Studies to reveal the honest truth about the complexity of our world and the societies within it.

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