Back in January, I reported how a few U.S. Grant High School students shouted “Black Lives Matter” at former heavyweight champion of the world Evander Holyfield during a motivational speech.
These students in 2016 — not 1996 when Holyfield reigned — saw an authority figure on stage telling them to trust the white man in charge because he did. The scene implied an experience gap between the celebrity on stage and the “STRAIGHT OUTTA U.S. GRANT” hoodies on the auditorium floor. This was a group of students who, in lieu of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, had their own simmering stories.
From my report at the time:
After Holyfield’s speech, a student yelled, “Black Lives Matter!” Lt. Jermaine Johnson of the PAL program stepped to the mic and said he heard what the student said, but that we should be saying “All Lives Matter.”
Johnson spent a few moments making his case to the students after that. It was something he really wanted to clarify.
Fast-forward to the end of the semester, and 600 Grant students walked out of school Monday to protest state budget cuts.
‘Catastrophic’ issue: $10 million more in OKCPS cuts by William W. Savage III
With $23 million in OKCPS cuts already announced, the students’ actions protested what they already knew about how Oklahoma’s financial crisis is affecting their educations and futures. But hours later, at the OKCPS board meeting, acting superintendent Aurora Lora elaborated on $7 million more in budget cuts that emphasize student concerns (see document below).
Lora’s recommendation included two requests for school consolidation, a 25 percent funding reduction for athletics and fine arts, and the sale of seven pieces of “surplus” real property, among other things.
‘A perfect storm’ for OKCPS students
Before all that Monday night, the Grant kids spoke out Monday morning in an act of political dissent much more organized than anything I saw or arranged as a student council president in high school. They did it through a private Facebook group, but more district schools followed their lead as the day wore on.
One-hundred students left Jefferson Middle School. Northwest Classen High School saw 300 students walk out. At Star Spencer, 150 students followed suit, according to numbers provided by the district. All in all, according to an OKCPS press release, walk-out numbers were as follows:
- U.S. Grant High School: 600 students
- Jefferson Middle School: 100 students
- NW Classen High School: 300 students
- Star Spencer High School: 150 students
Has the internet made protest easier? Have the racial politics of #BlackLivesMatter kindled the social imagination of students far before graduation and real-world life? Are they primed to protest taunts from Donald Trump that target Mexican-Americans?
Or are the Oklahoma state budget cuts really considered this intolerable and disrespectful by waves of students who mostly can’t vote?
Maybe Monday was a perfect storm of all those worries. The student walk-out was timely, louder and more poignant than anything the adults at 23rd and Lincoln have come up with yet.
A (for absent)
U.S. Grant Principal Greg Frederick told media outlets that his students wouldn’t be disciplined with anything harsher than an A (for absent) on their attendance rosters. It will really be no different than a legislator who might miss a vote.
In the end, I guess a good question for any Oklahoman who has attended a public school is this: What would your teenage self say if you had to pay for your own standardized tests?
And, if all lives mattered in January at U.S. Grant, do these developments mean they matter $30 million less?
(Editor’s Note: William W. Savage III contributed to this story.)