Some City College high school students with a growing profile in local activism circles have begun their latest protest — this time breaking from the school's dress code for a week and instead wearing clothing that has historical, cultural or political significance.
The students, members of a group called City Bloc, announced their plans on social media last week, outlining their reasoning for the protest in a letter to school administrators. Among their goals is to start a dialogue at the school that reflects the national debate around racial and social justice issues.
City Bloc members have participated in various protests in the past year, including in response to the death of Freddie Gray and on the issue of police brutality. They also led a sit-in at City Hall in October over the confirmation of Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, and some were arrested. The group wrote in a public letter to the school's administration that "little has been done to answer the calls of students," and some feel ignored both in school and in society at large.
The students said they met with Principal Cindy Harcum on Friday, and she told them she saw "no issue" with their plans, but the group also tweeted that it could not "guarantee there will be no consequences" for students who break with the school's dress code of khaki pants and button-down City College shirt.
Early Monday morning, the school tweeted, "Students must wear regular uniform attire today. Appropriate, traditional cultural head wrap has also been approved." A similar message was emailed to students late Sunday.
Harcum did not respond to a request for comment.
The theme of the first day of protest was "MindWrap Monday" and students were urged to wear colorful head wraps and scarves. The students say the scarves and wraps reflect their cultural roots and were illegitimately banned at the beginning of the school year for anyone who is not a practicing Muslim.
"This forced assimilation ignores the rich culture and history of black hair," the group wrote in a social media post announcing its "#FormationWeek" protest. Their actions are a direct nod to the Beyonce song "Formation," in which the singer praises black culture. The song's video includes imagery from post-Katrina New Orleans and features a little boy dancing in front of a line of police officers clad in riot gear, near street art reading "stop shooting us." The song created a controversy in February after Beyonce performed it at the Super Bowl halftime show and some perceived it is as being anti-police.
As school began Monday, City Bloc students began openly posting images and videos of themselves not in uniform.
"Love to see students for once unapologetically embracing themselves w/o harassment #FormationWeek," Makayla Gilliam-Price posted to Twitter, along with a picture of several students wearing head wraps.
Gilliam-Price said the school's message allowing "appropriate" head wraps was merely an attempt to "co-opt" the protest and missed the mark. One of the protest's goals is "deconstructing respectability politics" that expect young black men and women to "perform our blackness in specific ways" that are deemed acceptable by authority figures, Gilliam-Price said. Administrators dictating which head wraps are "appropriate" breaks with that goal, she said.
The group is calling for students to wear "clothing like Dashikis, Muumuus, Polleras, Baju Kurungs, Kimonos, Saris, etc." on "Traditional Tuesday." They're urging students to follow up the next day, "Women Work Wednesday," by beginning each class talking about influential women in history and in their lives. The say the school's curriculum "does not go far enough to cover women who have ... been monumental in society and in social justice movements."
For "Thoughtful Thursday," the group is calling on allies to "stop dominating the conversation and actively listen to the issues being faced by minorities today," which they say are too often ignored. And for "Formation Friday," the group is encouraging all students to be "unapologetically themselves and unhindered by social pressures." Allies have been encouraged to wear black ribbons to show their support.
"Students have made obvious that the transition from being a scholar within academic institutions to a leader of societal change is not an easy one," in part because "the classroom is segregated from the community, and the community is segregated from the classroom," the group wrote to school administrators,
Members of the group said they want political discourse to be an integral part of their education and not relegated "to the back burner" or to the streets.