June 05, 2020

Walking the walk: NYSUT members across the state rally for justice and action; online vigil set for Monday

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
maria pacheco
Caption: Maria Pacheco (center), a member of NYSUT’s Board of Directors and the Mohonasen Teachers Association, is one of thousands of union members who have been marching in protests across the state and nation. Photo provided.

Maria Pacheco ended the week with blisters after walking in four rallies for racial justice, traveling with a group of grandmothers who march for their grandchildren, “so people don’t look at them like a threat.”

“I’m thinking of them and their future,” she said. “I go as a Latina, as a person of color, as a grandmother, as a teacher, as a mother,” she said. “I’m marching for my students, and I want them to know I’m with them.”

The grandmothers she marches with, she said, are black, white and Latina. They’ve also marched for women’s rights.

Pacheco, a member of NYSUT’s Board of Directors and the Mohonasen Teachers Association, is one of thousands of union members who have been marching in protests across the state and nation.

From 4–6 p.m., Monday, June 8, NYSUT will host an online vigil to honor the life of George Floyd and others senselessly murdered, and to call for an end to racial and economic inequities.

The union is bringing communities across the state together to grieve, declare Black Lives Matter and offer national, state and locally driven actions to make a difference. The event will feature state and national union leaders, NYSUT members and performances by students and members.

“As a black man, my pain is intense. I feel it with every fiber of my being,” said Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, who is hosting the virtual vigil along with NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Words cannot adequately express what I feel. While many have shared with me what they are feeling at this moment, I call on all of us to put deeds behind those words.

“We must commit to working from now until we achieve our goal to eradicate racism, bigotry, prejudice and discrimination — in all of their manifestations — in every system and every recess of our lives, as a society, and as human beings,” Abraham said. “It is time for all of us to show our hearts and do our part toward making America a society free of hatred such as that which has caused so many violent deaths among black people in our country.”

While Pacheco is retiring from her job teaching Spanish for more than three decades, she is continuing to educate through her actions, protesting systemic racism as well as the murders of unarmed black people by police, and racially motivated killings like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Pacheco said she wants to educate colleagues, too, about how implicit biases cause harm. And she wants the protests to have clarity.

“I don’t want to be shouting out victims’ names and not have an ask,” she said. She wants taxes on the ultrawealthy, in alignment with NYSUT’s campaign, to better and more fully support education and students in need.  Inequality often shows its harmful markings in lack of resources in schools where black and brown students make up the majority of the population.

Pacheco wants change at the federal and state levels, including more opportunities for people of color to buy homes, halting redlining and disallowing police officers with a history of violent interactions with citizens to have their records erased.

In Buffalo, teacher Eve Shippens has also been rallying for racial justice for years. “These are the families I serve. This is the community I live in,” she said. “There are people dying in the streets. We need to take a real hard stand and call for changes that need to happen. Our justice system is broken. Our neighbors are suffering.”

Shippens, a member of NYSUT’s statewide Civil and Human Rights Committee, said she marches for Cariol Horne, a black woman and 19-year veteran of the police force who tried to stop her police partner from choking an unarmed black man in his own home. She was punched in the face for her efforts, and then lost her job and her pension. Her house was burned. Years later, the officer that she stopped from harming the man spent several months in jail for shooting four black teenagers with a BB gun, Shippens said.

Shippens tells the stories of others she marches for: Wardel “Meech” Davis, who stopped breathing while in police custody; Pito Rivera, who was shot in the back by officers although he had thrown away his weapon; and India Cummings, who died in an Erie County holding center after two weeks of kidney failure, dehydration and an untreated broken arm sustained while she was being detained during a mental health crisis.

“Just two weeks ago, a Buffalo police officer was filmed repeatedly punching a black man in the face during a traffic stop. He has a broken eye socket and shoulder blade,” Shippens said.

Like many other teachers, Shippens is putting her efforts into education as part of her activism.

“My district is doing a wonderful job in leading culturally responsive instruction,” she said. Currently, the district’s office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives is building a virtual anthology, “America, Hear Me Now.” The anthology includes artistic or written submissions from students in pre-K through grade 12. The site also includes lists of age-appropriate resources, from books to lesson plans to interviews.

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