Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Education of Jesse Hagopian | The Progressive

The Education of Jesse Hagopian | The Progressive:

The Education of Jesse Hagopian

Pepper spray seared Jesse Hagopian’s face and tears streamed from his eyes. He had just given a speech at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, on January 19 in Seattle. In keeping with tradition, the thirty-third annual event began in the gymnasium of Garfield High School, where Hagopian himself attended school and now teaches history. He presented plaques to students who were leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. After the ceremony, 10,000 people marched toward downtown.
There, Hagopian delivered the event’s final speech, demanding justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and other unarmed black males who died at the hands of police.
“I challenged people who celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. but denigrate his true legacy: a life of direct action against injustice,” Hagopian recalls. “He would have been in the streets of Ferguson, demanding that black lives matter. Those who chastise Black Lives Matter as too strident but the next day celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. are doing his memory an injustice.”
Applause rang in Hagopian’s ears as he headed off to complete the day at a birthday party for his two-year-old son. Then, as he walked down the sidewalk, calling his mother on the phone to ask her for a ride, a police officer pepper-sprayed him in the face. A bystander caught the encounter on a cellphone video camera, footage Hagopian is using in a federal lawsuit against the Seattle police.
Hagopian, a nationally known school reform advocate who writes the blog “I Am An Educator,” arrived at the birthday party with his eyes swollen and ear burning. His two sons, especially his six-year-old, were troubled.
“I didn’t know what to tell them,” Hagopian says. “For all the education I do about structural racism and inequality and police brutality, my tongue was tied when my son asked me what happened.”
Jesse Hagopian’s passion for social justice led him to the classroom, something that surprises him given his own struggles in school.
“Most of my life I would have thought of this as the last profession I would have had,” says Hagopian, thirty-six, whose mother is of Armenian descent and whose father is African
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