Schenectady teacher at Saratoga Springs demonstration speaks of BLM invite to schools

May 17—A longtime minority teacher in the Schenectady City School District — who said he's often asked if he really earned a master's degree from the Ivy League's Harvard University — took to Congress Park Sunday and joined Black Lives Matter demonstrators to explain the need for activists to speak to local students.

Yacouba Sangare, an elementary and sixth grade teacher who hails from Niger, West Africa, said he leads an anti-racism club in his district.

In Saratoga Springs, local BLM leaders Lexis Figuereo and his sister, Chandler Hickenbottom, recently spoke with two classes about the pros and cons of civil disobedience.

Sangare said he's observed that it's easier to talk to younger kids about racism than older students.

The educator said his students often ask why Black history is only discussed in February, while white history is discussed every month.

"Having a culturally relevant and affirming school district," Sangare said, "is not hurting white students. It's not teaching white students that they are born racist. If someone tells you that, they clearly know nothing about culturally relevant and affirming schools.

A self-described anti-racism teacher, Sangare cited Audrey Lorde's essay titled "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House."

"We are not here to oppress anyone," Sangare said. "We're not here to devalue anyone. We're here to uplift all of our students and make better society for all. We only do that when all students, including our white students, are taught our real history."

Sangare said that if the people "telling lies about us" had had a culturally relevant, anti-racist education, "they would not be so afraid of us and the truth we speak."

Pointing to his white wife, Tracy, in the crowd of dozens of demonstrators, Sangare said he loves his white family, friends and students.

But the district's Black and brown students who are Muslim, Jewish, and members of the LGBTQ community, he said, deserve to feel valued.

Figuereo said the demonstration was aimed at dispelling misinformation that circulated about the Saratoga Springs School District's policy on equity, inclusivity and diversity.

The policy's mention of being anti-racist doesn't go far enough, the organizers said.

Activists said they also continued to demand police accountability in the city, where it said the alleged police-involved death of a 21-year-old biracial man named Darryl Mount wasn't investigated.

A vigil commemorating the anniversary of Mount's death was held at Saratoga Springs City Hall on Thursday.

Figuereo joined his sister occupying the Albany police's South Station for six days in April.

During the encampment, Hickenbottom said Albany Police Captain Devin Anderson assaulted her with her own megaphone without remorse.

"This happens all the time," she said. "This is nothing new. The only thing is that this was caught on camera."

Acknowledging the various shades, ages, genders, and sexual identities in the crowd, Hickenbottom said the activists pushed for inclusivity, diversity, equity and inclusion. She said sarcastically that those were scary words to most people.

"Please look it up in the dictionary, what anti-racism means, because if you have a problem with anti-racism, just know you are racist," she said.

After remarks in the park, demonstrators marched to City Hall while officers from the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department handled traffic control as North Broadway and South Broadway traffic were blocked. Demonstrators also lined the street in front of City Hall before returning to Congress Park.