In response to a racist message found on campus on November 4th, 2015, which mentioned December 9th as a day of violence against African Americans, the Berkeley High School (BHS) administration, faculty, and staff worked with student leaders from the Black Student Union (BSU), an on-campus club for Black students, to “take back the day.” A supervised student-led “Sankofa” Assembly was held from 8:27 am to 2:07 pm in the Berkeley High School Community Theater, where students targeted by the hate crime came together with staff to address their concerns as well as support each other as a community.
Students who did not choose to participate in the special assembly activity attended regular classes, but it was not a “business as usual” day. Students received instruction in each of their academic content areas, with subject-specific lessons that were developed to address issues of race and racism through the lens of Math, English, History, Science, Electives, World Languages, etc. These topics could include a science lesson on stereotype threat, a math lesson on 2008 reverse redlining (discriminatory lending practices) or a history lesson on the topic of reparations.
Video Links and Background
Students watched a video created by BSU leaders that explained the day, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a BHS alumni parent, provided a video message of support to students and staff. The KQED Forum radio discussion of the racial incident on November 4th and the student actions on November 5th, provides a concise background to the December 9th activities with guests Alecia Harger, co-president BHS Black Student Union; Sam Pasarow, BHS Principal and Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside co-founder. Another recommended video is BSU Co-president Alecia Harger’s exceptional talk on the subject of racism and blackness at Berkeley High Think Big on November 9th.
BSU Video Framing the Day (Berkeley High: Take Back the Day) and video message to the students from Congresswoman Barbara Lee
BHS Think Big: Alecia Harger on Race and Blackness KQED Forum: Racist Incident at Berkeley High
All School Unity Assembly
Audience: At the end of the day on December 9th, all Berkeley High students, teachers and staff came together in the Berkeley Community Theater, for an All School Unity Assembly. Part of that was an impressive Q&A BSU Student Panel, who addressed questions that students had come up with throughout the day in the classroom discussions. Watch the panel to hear thoughtful responses to a wide array of questions.
Here is some of the media attention around “Take Back the Day”.
Principal’s Message to the Berkeley High Community December 2, 2015
Dear Students via Student Email Accounts:
Dear Parents and Guardians via Etree and Phone Blast:
As you will recall, the November 4th racist threats that were discovered on a library computer mentioned December 9th as a day of violence against African Americans. I am supporting a student-led action intended to “take back the day.” I am heartened by these student-led plans to spend time together in a safe, supportive, and educational environment, rather than skipping school on December 9th. I wanted to share with our students and parents/guardians the plan for the day.
First of all, I want you to know that while a police investigation determined that the individual who made the initial threat had neither the intention nor capacity to carry it out, we will nonetheless have an increased security presence on campus and we will coordinate with the Berkeley Police Department to ensure that our campus is safe.
The Black Student Union (our school’s club for Black students) has requested that December 9th become a day of communal self-affirmation for the students who were the target of the November 4th hate crime. The BHS administration plans to support this request by providing a supervised special assembly in our community theater, where these students can come together with staff to address their concerns stemming from the November 4th hate crime as well as support each other as a community. Students must have a signed permission slip from parent/guardians for this special all-day assembly; permission slips are available here for download and at these campus locations: C-219, D-140, D-224, E-200, H-111, H-214 and M-301.
The special assembly, which begins at 8:27 a.m., is called “Sankofa”, and will also be a time for students to learn about African-American history and culture, and hear from Black student and community leaders. For teachers, administrators and all of the BHS community, this is a unique opportunity for us to support a student-led activity that will allow students to come together, learn, and heal as a community.
Students who do not choose to participate in the special assembly activity will attend their regular classes, but it will not be a “business as usual” day. Students will still receive instruction in each of their academic content areas, with subject-specific lessons that have been developed to address issues of race and racism through the lens of Math, English, History, Science, Electives, World Languages, etc. As Berkeley High’s Principal, I can’t imagine a more “teachable moment,” or a better use of instructional time.
In addition, we want December 9th to be remembered as a day that the whole campus celebrated our unity and demonstrated our support for each other and for the ongoing work for equity. We’re going to use a slightly modified schedule so that the day ends with a whole-school “Unity Assembly” in our Community Theater. First period (and the special assembly) both begin at 8:27 am, as usual. Lunch break will be earlier than usual, and the 6th period class will conclude at 1:37 in order to allow time for an “All-School Unity Assembly” from 2:00-3:30. Permission slips are not needed for the end of day whole-school assembly, which includes a Q&A session with a panel of Black students, staff members and community members, dance performances, as well as a call to action to end racism from our Black Student Union co-presidents. The regular school day will end with the completion of the assembly at 3:30 pm. If parents/guardians would like to assist with guiding students into the 2:00 pm Unity Assembly, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Lisa Sibony, firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 644-6120.
If we and our students are going to create a world of greater justice and equity, we can’t forego opportunities like the one we’ll have on December 9th to work together to teach, learn and commit to moving beyond racism. I respectfully hope that you’ll support us in this effort.
BHS Principal Sam Pasarow