Black Lives Matter Lesson Series: Part 3

Using tweets, video and a poster, students review the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, consider criticisms of it, and examine the movement's policy goals.   

BLM Lesson Series 3:
What Is Black Lives Matter Working Towards?

To the Teacher: 

The lesson below is the third in a 3-lesson series in which we take a close look at the Black Lives Matter movement, why and how it came into being, some criticism it has received, and what it is working towards.  Before beginning these lessons, you may want to review these guidelines for teaching about difficult or controversial issues. 
Lesson 1:  Black Lives Matter: An Introduction
Lesson 2: "All Lives Matter" versus "Black Lives Matter"
Lesson 3:  What Is "Black Lives Matter" Working Towards?

Preparation:  In advance of the lesson, print out this pdf of tweets and make enough copies for each of several small group in your classroom.  Also print out this poster from the civic organization Avaaz.  


Since the last time we met to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, have you noticed anything in the news or in your own life or community that is connected to the Black Lives Matter movement?  Consider giving an example or two from the news and or an example or two from your own life to model and set the tone.

Tweets: What is Black Lives Matter trying to do?

Print out several copies of these four tweets, or project them.  
Ask students to break into small groups.  Ask the groups to look at the tweets and to consider each of the tweets in turn.  For each tweet, discuss:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this tweet?
  • What do you think the tweet is referring to?
  • As you think about what you know about Black Lives Matter already, how might this tweet relate to what BlackLivesMatter is working towards? 

Recap of BLM so far 

Tell students that we will now watch this 3-minute video from the Washington Post that summarizes the Black Lives Matter hashtag and movement as well as criticisms of the movement. The video was created in August 2015. 

Tell students that after the video, we’ll be discussing its content. They may want to take notes on: 

  • how Black Lives Matter is labeled early on in the video and what that tells us about the movement 
  • what the video says Black Lives Matter protesters stand for
  • what Black Lives Matter is criticized for

After the class has watched the video, facilitate a short dialogue about it using some or all of these questions:
1.  Early in the video, Black Lives Matter is labeled in a number of different ways. What do these labels that tell us about the movement? 
2.  What do Black Lives Matter protesters stand for, according to the video?   
Record student responses.  Responses may include:

  • stopping police brutality against African Americans
  • ending excessive policing in African American communities
  • making law enforcement more accountable

 .... And, more broadly:

  • racial inequality
  • institutional racism
  • mass incarceration in the U.S.

 3.  What are the criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement listed in the video?

Record student responses. The criticisms listed in the video are below.
After each criticism, ask students if it resonates with them and why.
Criticisms include:

  • its tactics are too heavy handed
  • it relies too much on social media
  • some law enforcement officials have blamed the movement for inciting violence (although there’s no evidence backing this)
  • some whites have responded to BLM with the slogan All Lives Matter, and have charged that movement is not being inclusive
  • it doesn’t pay enough attention to street violence in Black neighborhoods
  • without a central leader, it lacks direction

4.   According to the video, "Some critics say BLM protesters do not pay enough attention to street violence in Black neighborhoods. These critics regard crimes committed by private citizens (most of whom are prosecuted and punished), as equivalent to or worse than police misconduct."  

Discuss:  In what ways is police misconduct different from the misconduct of private citizens?  Can they be compared?  Why or why not?
5.  According to the video, "Some observers say that by choosing not to have a central leader, the BLM movement will far apart without any clear direction."  (Note that this concern was voiced in August 2014.) 
Discuss:  What problems can arise from a lack of central leadership in BLM, or in any activist organization? What advantages might there be? Can you think of examples from history of movements that were either highly centralized or decentralized?  Were they effective?  

What Black Lives Matter Is Working Towards

#BlackLivesMatter as a hashtag evolved into the Black Lives Matter movement. As of October 2016, this movement continues to grow and evolve. 
BLM activists say they want to capitalize on this moment in history (including the 2016 election), but want to go beyond it to "plant and cultivate the seeds of transformation of this country."  
On August 1, 2016, more than 60 organizations associated with Black Lives Matter and calling itself the "Movement for Black Lives" released a series of demands. The six broad demands are:

  1. End the war on Black People: We demand an end to the war against Black people. Since this country’s inception there have been named and unnamed wars on our communities. We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people. 
  2. Reparations: We demand reparations for past and continuing harms. The government, responsible corporations and other institutions that have profited off of the harm they have inflicted on Black people — from colonialism to slavery through food and housing redlining, mass incarceration, and surveillance — must repair the harm done.
  3. Invest-Divest: We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.
  4. Economic Justice: We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access. 
  5. Community Control: We demand a world where those most impacted in our communities control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us - from our schools to our local budgets, economies, police departments, and our land - while recognizing that the rights and histories of our Indigenous family must also be respected.
  6. Political Power: We demand independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society. We envision a remaking of the current U.S. political system in order to create a real democracy where Black people and all marginalized people can effectively exercise full political power. 

All of these demands are worthy of further exploration, and there is much material to begin this exploration at the Movement for Black Lives website


Further Exploration: Invest-Divest

We’re going to look more closely at the third bullet in this list:  Invest-Divest. 
Invite students to define the word: invest. Merriam Webster defines the word this way:
1:  to commit (money) in order to earn a financial return
Next, invite students to define the word: divest.  Merriam Webster defines it this way:
1a :  to deprive or dispossess especially of property, authority, or title
2:  to take away from a person
Read out loud the Movement for Black Lives’ invest-divest demand: 

"We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations."

Discuss the elements of this demand with students.

  • What policies does the movement favor?
  • What policies does it oppose?
  • Why is "fossil fuels" listed as an "exploitative force"?  (The Movement for Black Lives argues, in part, that "Black people are amongst the most affected by climate change. If we’re not serious about reducing emissions, the planet will keep getting hotter and Black people will continue to bear the biggest brunt of climate change.")


Facts about America’s prison system 

Show or print this poster from Avaaz, a U.S.-based civic organization.

Invite students to take in the poster and discuss it using some or all of the following questions:

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings about this poster?
  2. Do any of the facts on the poster surprise you?  How?  What stands out the most for you about this poster?
  3. How does incarceration in the U.S. relate to race, according to the poster?  
  4. How does incarceration in the U.S. relate to who gets to vote, according the poster? 
  5. What does the poster say about education as it relates to incarceration?  Why do you think the poster makes this point?
  6. Going back to the top of the poster, why do you think the heading reads "Is this Justice"?  Why is justice in quotes?
  7. Having discussed the poster, what additional thoughts and feelings would you like to share?  Why do you think ‘Justice’ is in quotes?

 For additional discussion  

Watch and discuss this 3-minute video produced by the Infographic Show and available on YouTube. It details facts about the U.S. prison system. 




Ask a student to read this reflection by Martin Luther King, Jr. and relate it to what they now know about Black Lives Matter: 

"As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course." 

Alternatively, ask students to share one fact we’ve discussed today that they will remember.