Changing the Narrative: #100BlackMenSeattle and Urban Environmental Education

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CJ Goulding

It’s 6:30 on a Monday morning, and people are filing into South Shore K-8 school, checking their phones, rubbing their hands together to warm them from the cold, and signing in for the day.

This Monday morning is different, and these people are not students, at least not here at South Shore. As time passes, the room fills as over 200 Black men (including Urban Grad students Lenny Haynes and myself as well as Antioch Director of Diversity Ron Harris-White) who work in various professions and from all over Seattle gather to greet the students of South Shore as they get off of their buses and welcome them to school.

“Keep in mind the power of ‘Hello,’” South Shore parent and organizer Anthony Shoecraft told participants before students arrived. “The impact it can have on their day, the rest of this month, the rest of their lives.”

Read the Seattle Times coverage of the #100BlackMenSeattle.

Among the 200+ men were police officers, professors, and politicians, many dressed in suits or the uniform associated with their work, all with the common goal of changing the narrative of men in the Black community while providing positive examples and encouragement for the students.

Having these examples of outstanding Black men line up speaking empowering phrases like "You're great!", "Be a Leader!", and "Your community supports you!" plants a seed not only for the kids going into school, but for all of the individuals who participated.

One of this quarter’s courses in our Urban Environmental Education program is called “Rethinking Schools as Community Partners.” Taught by Dr. Linda Whitehead, we have been investigating schools and school systems in an attempt to understand how education can be a true and mutually beneficial partnership between the school and the people who live around the school, who entrust it with their children. Part of this means being relevant to the surrounding community and developing that connection.

#100BlackMenSeattle is a great way of changing the narrative and ‘breaking the ceiling,’ providing kids with visual evidence that they are supported and can be whoever they choose to be. It is also a form of education outside of the traditional classroom, a reminder that communities and schools can successfully partner to both be and inspire agents for change.

#100BlackMenSeattle is the education of a school system on how to partner with the community in an urban (city) environment.

#100BlackMenSeattle is a community coming together and partnering with a school, learning what can be done for the benefit of its youth, its future.

#100BlackMenSeattle is adapting new strategies to fit the needs in a specific environment.

#100BlackMenSeattle is urban environmental education.

And as the event strives to change the narrative of Black men and the Black community, our program is striving to change the traditional narrative surrounding environmental education. In a February 2016 interview published in Environmental Echo, Dr. Carolyn Finney states, “You don’t have to go to a far away mountain to be out in nature (the ‘environment’). You don’t even have to go for a walk in the beautiful woods or a park. All you have to do is be aware of what’s around you.”

So we’re starting with what’s around us, the people close to home and the issues they are facing. We’re working with schools, communities, local organizations and systems to understand the most important factors that come with living in an urban environment and what can be done to create positive change.

For some, our program is a start to a new narrative or perspective on education and how we define/practice environmental education. And Monday morning was an amazing start to a new narrative and partnership between South Shore and the Black community of Seattle. But greeting students and taking pictures at 6:30am was just the beginning. The rest of the day was spent brainstorming additional structures of support and possibilities for further collaboration. The rest of the revolution may not be televised, but the work of changing the narrative in both areas will continue.