Brooke Harris loved her job teaching eighth grade at an inner-city charter school in Michigan — but Brooke says she was fired for teaching her kids about Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen who was recently shot and killed because someone thought he looked suspicious.
Brooke’s kids had heard about Trayvon, and she saw they wanted to know more in part because they identified with him: “They are young, black and brown kids who walk to the corner store after school every day,” Brooke says. “They’ve been stopped by police because they ‘looked like’ some kids who did something illegal.”
Many of Brooke’s students wanted to go beyond writing essays and classroom discussions — they wanted to raise money for Trayvon’s family. For helping the kids plan the fundraiser, Brooke says that she was suspended and eventually fired, and that she was told, “you’re a teacher, not an activist.”
Now there’s a petition on Change.org demanding that Brooke’s school, the Pontiac Academy of Excellence, give Brooke back her job, and her students back their teacher. The folks Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center — a group that does a lot of work to combat racism — started the campaign because they think it’s wrong to fire someone for teaching about Trayvon Martin.
Brooke brought the idea for a fundraiser to the school superintendent, Jacqueline Cassell. Rather than embracing the students’ idea, Brooke says, Superintendent Cassell rejected the fundraiser, then refused to meet with Brooke’s students when they wanted to appeal her decision.
It gets worse: Brooke says she was suspended for two days just for asking for the meeting, and that when she tried to clarify what she had done wrong, she was suspended for two weeks, and then fired.
“I just feel bad for my kids,” Brooke says. “I hope I haven’t let them down.”
If thousands of people speak out for Brooke by signing the petition to get her job back, Superintendent Cassell won’t be able to sweep the issue under the rug. Pontiac’s next school board meeting is in one week, so Brooke says it’s especially important to gather as many signatures as possible before then.
Thanks for being a change-maker,
- Michael and the Change.org team