A GROUP of school students has shown how to challenge oppression and hierarchy by striking in support of a black teacher who was subject to racist abuse in Leicester last Thursday.
Beaumont Leys School is on an ordinary working class estate, with some of the poorest streets in Leicester.
Over recent years the area has developed a greater racial mix. There have been some racist attacks in the past, particularly against Somalis.
But local anti-racist and anti-fascist groups successfully countered them, as they did when the National Front tried to make ground in the 1970s.
Last week students developed this tradition in a wonderful way.
Their French teacher Sebastian Gnahore watched last week’s football international, and like the rest of us he was sickened by the racist chanting.
But for him it continued the next day when individuals in his year nine class echoed the monkey calls they heard on the television.
Although he had only been at the school a term, this was not the first time Sebastian had been on the receiving end of racist comments from his students.
He had already brought this to the school’s attention, and had asked for one pupil to be removed from his class because the abuse was so bad. But the school decided not to act.
Sebastian says that the head of the school has been supportive, but that something should have been done earlier.
Frustrated by racism both at work and on the television, Sebastian decided to leave his job.
However, when his next class learnt why their teacher was missing they discussed what to do.
Soon students were standing on chairs chanting “Strike! Strike! Strike!” Then words became action.
Meera, one of the students involved, explained that, led by a group of young women—Asian, black and white—first one class, then another, and then a large section of the school gathered outside the building.
They chanted “No to racism” and “We will not be moved”.
Many students stayed out in the cold and rain for hours demonstrating their anger.
Kyrnaisha, another student, said, “If we went to the head she would have ignored us and told us to go back to class.”
When I went to the school the day after the protest to take some photographs I was struck by what had happened.
These young people had demonstrated their discipline, their understanding and their determination—they knew they had taken some control of their lives.
And they knew they had made a difference for the better.
On returning to the class which had begun the walkout, Sebastian showed the students the same solidarity they had shown him.
He refused to teach until the students who had been suspended for walking out were reinstated.
These students should be very proud of the fact that the only reason Sebastian is still working is their support.
As Joanne, another student involved in taking the action, says, “Our teacher is staying—we have won.”
Classmate saved by protest
School students have led a campaign that has saved one of their classmates and his friend from being deported back to Afghanistan.
Students from Canterbury High School organised two protests, the first outside Dover removals centre and the second outside Canterbury cathedral. They have set up a campaign group called Students in Need.
The campaign was set up to help Amin Buratee. Like many young asylum seekers, Amin faced being deported when he turned 18.
Abrahim Rahim was visiting Amin at his home in Whitstable when immigration officers came. They took both youngsters to Dover removals centre and planned to remove them at the weekend.
Amin Buratee came to this country two years ago. He left Afghanistan after his brother and uncle were killed by the Taliban. His father was also killed.
The Home Office says that Afghanistan is now safe. But as Essa Jamai, Amin’s friend who is also from Afghanistan, says, “Our president has got about 18 American bodyguards. It is not safe.”
Amin has been granted leave to remain while finishing his A-levels. Abrahim is now waiting for the outcome of his appeal.
Kent has large numbers of young asylum seekers staying with foster families who will reach 18 soon.
The coming months will see dozens of school friends and families facing similar problems.
Campaigners are determined to build on the school students’ success.