Not an Optional Read: An Interview with Carina Saucedo on Black Lives Matter at School

Robert Elkins

     During the 2021-2022 school year, Project LEAD offered Black Lives Matter at School: An
Uprising for Educational Justice edited by Denisha Jones and Jesse Hagopian as the reading for their
book study, which was given to a number of universities and colleges, including the University of St.
Francis (USF), in the Fall to then discuss in the Spring. Black Lives Matter at School is an enjoyable yet
thought-provoking read that is filled with a collection of interviews, essays, poems, etc. from educators,
students, and activists who have, directly or indirectly, worked on building the Black Lives Matter
movement across the country.
     After reading, I got a chance to sit down and speak with Carina Saucedo, an Elementary
Education major at USF who holds a bilingual endorsement. Not only is she a spearhead for MERIT, an
acronym for Multicultural Education Recruitment in Teaching, but she has done some extensive work
within the club discussing the integral matters noted in Black Lives Matter at School, in which we
addressed in our conversation. Carina shared her thoughts and ideas to a list of five questions I complied
after reading, which I felt were left unanswered, concerning issues that had to be addressed, or warranted
opinion.
     1. Why would you encourage others to read Black Lives Matter at School?
             a. I believe Black Lives Matter at School should not be an optional read. The different
                 information presented throughout the different chapters really pushed me to reflect on my
                 own biases, previous experiences, and conversations I’ve had with other educators about
                 similar topics. After reading the book, I realized it should be a required read. Not only
                 does it push readers to think about their own experiences in similar situations but it
                 encourages them to have honest conversations and think about what push should be made
                 in order to ignite the change needed in our education system to better support our African
                 American students.

     2. What is one thing that you took away from the book?
         a. Talking about race in the classroom is important. Not the “we are all different but in this
             classroom, we are the same” conversation, but the acknowledgment that our skin color
             represents something beautiful and invaluable and that the history behind it should be
             spoken out loud.
     3. What comes to mind when thinking about culturally responsive teaching? How will you as a
teacher be culturally responsive?
           a. When thinking about culturally responsive teaching, I think about the different cultural
               strengths that each student in a classroom can bring to the learning experience. As a
               teacher, in order to be culturally responsive, I plan to harness those cultural strengths
               each student brings and incorporate them into their learning. By doing this, I would not
               only be exposing my entire classroom to different customs and cultures they may not be
               familiar with, but also encouraging them to have an open mind to them which in turn
               would create a supportive learning environment that celebrates the diversity presented in
               the cultural differences.
     4. How do we approach such macro issues such as social justice, racial justice, racism, equity,
etc. in our classroom with such little time to do so?
            a. I think it’s important to take into consideration the age range in which these macro issues
                are being presented and find different ways in which we can incorporate them into
                students' learning in a format that they will be able to understand. A HUGE way that I’ve
                seen this incorporated is by ensuring there is diverse literature in the classroom for
                students to access throughout the day. The greatest thing about this is that as teachers we
                can tailor it to the age range of the students we are teaching in order to embed it into the
                curriculum and the content being taught.

     5. In chapter twenty, Jones and Hagopian stress that we need to bring a stop to teaching
students inferiority history. What is the danger of a single story? What does or will it take
to shift the narrative of the history presented to encapture positive representation of all our
students, especially black students?
           a. A single-story creates stereotypes, and the problem with these stereotypes is that they
               focus on an incomplete story that only comes from a single perspective. In the book
               Black Lives Matter at School, Chapter 20 talks about an early childhood teacher who
               instead of teaching her kindergarten students the traditional history route of the
               enslavement of African American people as the genesis of black history she chose to
               expose her 5 and 6-year-olds to the black inventors and their ideas of creating new things
               that people across the world can use to better their lives. Doing this completely shifted
               the traditional aspects of the history that is normally taught in the classroom. These are
               the different actions we need to take as educators in order to shift the narrative of the
               traditional history presented in our classrooms in order to positively represent the
               students in our classroom. Based on the agreed-upon curriculum I do understand the other
               perspective of “this is what we’ve taught every year” but just as education keeps shifting
               and evolving as educators we need to do the same. Another option would be to teach the
               history that is traditionally always taught but then find resources and incorporate different
               materials where students are exposed to the second POV presented in the history being
               addressed in the classroom.