The Black Lives Matter knockoff group that made national headlines after sharing a stage with Trump supporters, has been organizing students in the New York City public education system for the past year — creating youth chapters in two experimental, social-justice themed high schools funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF).
The relationship between the students and Black Lives Matter of Greater New York (BLM-NY) is reinforced by school administrators and faculty, some of whom participate in demonstrations organized by the activist group.
BLM-NY’s youth chapter at South Bronx Community Charter High School (SBC) is headed by an educator on staff who was once honored by the Obama administration.
In Brooklyn, teachers at the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice recently helped arrange a photo shoot featuring BLM-NY members alongside faculty, students, and football players ‘taking a knee’ in support of Colin Kaepernick.
Both charter schools are part of the public system, birthed out of a novel program described by Nelson Mandela H.S. as “an ongoing collaboration between the New York City Department of Education and the Open Society Foundations.” Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the experiment in 2011 as part of a broader initiative that received a $30 million investment from Soros’ OSF.
Soros-funded fellowships were granted to individuals to design transformative models for new schools built on a community conscious pedagogy. For example, Nelson Mandela H.S.’s mission includes preparing young people “to stand for social justice” and “help them to define their purpose and responsibility as global citizens.”
The first class of students educated under these alternative models will graduate in 2018.
“Every day in the morning, we all get in a circle and chant and have a moment where we recognize all the positive things the students are doing,” said Nupol Kiazolu, a senior at Nelson Mandela High who is also BLM-NY’s Youth Coordinator.
The daily ritual — called “the pouring of libations” — is also practiced at South Bronx Community Charter H.S., where almost all classes are taught in group-therapy style circles to promote the idea of collectivism.
“Our students are really capable of organizing, which I think is the most powerful component,” said Mario Benabe, a math teacher at SBC H.S. who leads its BLM-NY youth chapter. “Students should be equipped to be able to mobilize if they feel an injustice.”
Benabe and his students first connected with BLM-NY last October while conducting ethnographic research on the streets of the Bronx. They crossed paths with Walter “Hawk” Newsome, President of BLM-NY, who was outside the district attorney’s office protesting the death of a mentally ill woman fatally shot by an NYPD officer. Students engaged Newsome in a conversation, and an instant bond was formed. He had just recently started organizing under the Black Lives Matter brand, even though the group Newsome was building had no affiliation with the official, more extreme Black Lives Matter Global Network.
Impressed by his instant connection with the students, SBC staffers invited Newsome to campus for continued dialogue. As the meetings became more frequent and impassioned in the weeks that followed, Newsome became part of SBC’s educational process, volunteering his time to teach strategies around activism and advocacy.
“We brought Hawk in as a Senior Organizer,” Benabe told The Daily Wire. “We married this relationship that happened in such a beautiful, spontaneous way to bring a community asset into our schools to show young people about effective organizing techniques.”
BLM-NY’s first youth chapter was established on November 15, 2016. While participation was not mandatory, several SBC students were enthusiastic about coalescing with BLM-NY and its charismatic leader.
“Our school is a project-based model, so Hawk gave our students a project,” Benabe explained. “Our students are creating and designing their own projects, so they are only engaging in things that they want to do. We are here more as guides as opposed to teachers.”
The assignment: raise awareness of police brutality by incorporating concepts from the Black Lives Matter movement and a Ta-Nehisi Coates book the students had been studying.
Students opted to organize a citywide march in conjunction with BLM-NY which took place on Saturday, December 3, 2016. The date was significant, marking two years since a grand jury decided against indicting a white NYPD officer whose chokehold led to the death of a black man in Staten Island.
“We actually had a chance to express our voice and let everybody hear it,” said one SBC student in a YouTube video that documented the march. “Joining with such a great organization, we were able to see we can actually make a change with just our voices by being active in our community. That really motivated us.”
Another ninth-grader said: “(Newsome) inspired me to make sure that all black lives are being valued in America, and showed that we all should do this together as a community.”
SBC’s youth chapter has grown to 30-40 members since last December’s march, but all 220 students are welcome to partake in its activities. In February, Newsome brought pop star Nick Cannon — a BLM-NY member — to speak at the school.
BLM-NY’s youth branch at Nelson Mandela H.S., founded in March, has around 30 members. The school has an enrollment of 272 students.
Representatives from both youth chapters frequently travel outside New York City to highly-publicized demonstrations such as the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an alleged neo-Nazi plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters with his car, killing a 32-year-old woman. Student-activists were also on stage when BLM-NY shared space with Trump supporters in Washington D.C. — a move that infuriated many progressives who believe Newsome and his group misrepresented the values and principles of authentic BLM chapters, which have no interest in exchanging ideas with conservatives.
Nevertheless, BLM-NY — founded in July 2016 — has quickly emerged as one of the most recognized activist groups in the region. Establishing roots in the NYC public education system has been mutually beneficial for Newsome’s organization and the experimental schools, which will soon be graduating a steady stream of global citizens, trained and eager to stand for social justice.
BLM-NY’s Youth Coalition is currently planning the “2nd Annual Youth March Against Police Brutality” on Saturday, December 2. According to the Facebook event page, it is “organized completely by NYC high school students working with BLM-NY.”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.