By MARILYN VOGT-DOWNEY
NEW YORK-On Tuesday, May 11, 1999, more than 23 high schools participated in a teach-in on Mumia Abu-Jamal organized by faculty, students, and staff in the New York public schools.
Inspired by the January 1999 teach-in organized by the Oakland Education Association in Oakland, Calif., schools, this teach-in included both school-day programs and an after-school event. Around 100 students, faculty, and staff attended the after-school event, termed a “Student Speak-Out and Forum for Educators and Parents.”
The organizers were not able to get the support of the teachers’ union-United Federation of Teachers-or the Board of Education as the teachers in Oakland did. Nevertheless, the event was supported by Brenda Watts, president of the Alliance of Black School Educators; Carol Foresta, principal of Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School; Mark Weiss and Candy Systra, principals of the School for the Physical City; several United Federation of Teachers chapter chairs; and other educators.
Among the speakers at the after-school event were Brenda Watts, who was widowed at age 25 when her husband was killed in a police crossfire; Will Harold of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild; and Halimatou Barry, aunt of Amadou Diallo, the 22-year-old African immigrant gunned down by four policemen of the NYPD Street Crimes Unit in February.
Students also took the microphone: one presented clever rap lyrics about Mumia’s case; another spoke about the political implications of the fight to save Mumia; a third explained how inspiring Mumia is for having become a political leader by age 15. Others called for support for the mobilizations planned for this summer and fall demanding the authorities stop the execution of Mumia, give him a fair trial, or simply free him.
During the day of the teach-in, there were many classes on Mumia’s case, where the video documentary “Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?”served as the basis for discussion. Other classes featured guest speakers on the fight to end the death penalty and on constitutional issues raised by Mumia’s case.
Still other classes read and discussed writings by Mumia. Programs or classes of this kind are known to have taken place in at least 20 high schools, involving thousands of students. One high school actually devoted the whole day to discussing Mumia’s case and related issues.
The Mumia Teach-in Committee is collecting lesson plans on Mumia’s case, which can be made available to interested students and teachers and are accessible at the Mumia Teach-in website.
On May 25, an expanded organizing committee met to discuss extending outreach to the rest of the 1100 schools, 1.1 million students, and 70,000 teachers in the New York Public School system in preparation for larger participation in the next teach-in planned for the Sept. 19-25 week of actions for Mumia.