Leading through a lens

Art courtesy of Byron Rogers, KHS art teacher.

Byron Rogers

Art courtesy of Byron Rogers, KHS art teacher.

“Your job as a teacher is to protect and educate these children. But when they die, you feel as if you’ve failed. In some ways, they are children of your own, but you can’t protect them from everything.”

 

Byron Rogers, KHS art teacher, spoke these words in memory of one of his former students from Hazelwood Central High School. He said a high percentage of students he taught were involved in gang violence and drug use. After the death of a student during a drug deal gone wrong, Rogers took a year off from teaching to focus on his mental health. Rogers said this tragedy gave him the motivation to teach about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement through his art.

 

“[The BLM movement] has always been at the forefront of my mind because [the] majority of [places] I’ve taught at were predominantly African-American schools in low-to-moderate income areas,” Rogers said. “BLM has always mattered to me because it was one of my reasons for becoming a teacher. I was one of those kids who grew up in a bad neighborhood where we didn’t have too much to believe in, not even in ourselves. I hoped that [art could show] my non-colored students the struggles we’ve faced, and my African-American students that we should unite rather than fight against each other.”

 

The BLM [movement] is about understanding that all lives matter, but we have a current issue with Black lives. All lives can’t matter until Black lives do.”

— Romona Miller

 

Along with Rogers, other KHS faculty members plan to adjust their teaching strategies to promote the BLM movement. Hulas King, walking counselor, said he wants to motivate students to be the change the world needs, believing students can learn to support each other from the BLM movement.

 

“We need to tackle the basics [of racial issues] and have open discussions with students,” King said. “Although it may sound obvious, kids need to revisit the idea of everyone being included and supporting one another. Being able to show students that you don’t need a gun or to be violent to solve an altercation will shape their lives. The [BLM] movement has sparked motivation in all people of color to be role models and support each other. That’s exactly what we need right now, and I’m glad I can have a part in inspiring that.”

 

King attended protests over the summer in support of the BLM movement. Over the summer, Kirkwood Teachers of Color (KTOC) organized a peace walk in support of teachers of color in the Kirkwood area, which was heavily attended by students and families within the KSD. Romona Miller, Pioneer Pathways principal and KTOC member, said the peace walk showed that the community can come together to rally for change.

 

 

“The BLM movement has brought together so many people across the country, but KHS students have caught my [attention],” Miller said. “I’ve seen on social media how people are advocating for change. I’ve even seen students at local protests I’ve gone to and it puts a smile on my face knowing that our next generation is so vocal about these issues. Many people support BLM on social media, but they don’t really understand the meaning of it. The BLM [movement] is about understanding that all lives matter, but we have a current issue with Black lives. All lives can’t matter until Black lives do.”

 

Miller is also the sponsor for Black Achievement and Culture Club (BACC), where frequent discussions occur on how the KSD can improve on equality and diversity. She hopes people can shift from being against racism to being actively anti-racist by speaking up and openly defending others more often.

 

“We need to keep having these courageous conversations, not just now but in the long run,” Miller said. “[Current students] have grown up in a generation where they can go to school surrounded by peers of different ethnicities. If we can say ‘I don’t know what you have gone through, but teach me, so I can support you, then we can be the advocates for a real change.”