On Nov. 1, students at Boston Collegiate Charter School sat at their usual lunch tables, the room buzzing with chatter and gossip. Underneath the typical background noise was a layer of anticipation bubbling to the surface as the hands on the clock made its way closer to the fifth-period bell. It was evident even to those out of the loop what was to come, as demands were posted on every floor and dozens of students and some teachers were defying the school uniform by dressing in black. Everyone in the lunchroom knew that with the fifth-period bell would come an explosion never seen before at BCCS.
In recent weeks, there have been multiple racially motivated incidents at the school, including the n-word being written on multiple bathroom walls, and a hijab being pulled off a student’s head. In response, several students decided to organize a walkout to point out racial tensions and draw attention to a list of student demands on how the school could create a better environment. Anyone who wanted to participate was to wear black and rally into the school parking lot after the lunch bell.
During lunch, a handful of students dressed in black passed out slips of paper to each table with “POCatBCCS DEMANDS” in bold, numbered one through ten. The same sheet was rotating around social media the days following. Student demands included a public show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, allowing cultural head wraps to be worn on school grounds, hiring more teachers of color, anti-bias training for all teachers and more.
By the end of the lunch block, Ariana Constant-Patton, junior and one of the student organizers, had taken to the stage, wielding a microphone and flanked by other walkout participants, some holding posters. The representatives stated that the walkout was necessary to respond to the racial problems taking place at the school.
Critics whispered that the walkout would flop and participants wouldn’t exceed five, while others excitedly posted about the event on social media. While expectations varied, dozens of students ended up walking out of the building, some of whom had always planned to, and some of whom were convinced by the speeches in the cafeteria.
Afternoon classes were relatively empty, ranging from two to ten kids present. Most teachers, those who weren’t protesting alongside their students, gave up on their lesson plans and allowed their students to watch the protest from below.
The crowd of people in black stood in the parking lot, holding hands and chanting “No justice, no peace.” Individuals took the microphones and gave speeches, being cheered on by their peers. Some were full of anger and passion, leading call-and-response chants and yelling up at underclassmen who were laughing down at them from indoors. Others were full of praise for everyone that participated and sending love to those that stayed in the building to gawk out the window. Journalists from the Boston Globe observed from the back. After the speeches and chants came music and dancing.
“The people who participated in the walkout don't hate anyone,” Constant-Patton assured. “It’s just about finding the mutual respect line for all of us and just trying our best to like come together as a community rather than be against each other … I think that as long as we're respecting each other and respecting the way that we go about things that will be a lot better.”
The following Monday, morning classes were replaced with an assembly addressing the walkout, where faculty came forward and discussed the events that took place and where to go from there.
“It felt like we were seen as the aggressor,” Constant-Patton said regarding the assembly. “The students who were laughing in the windows during the walkout weren’t called out. I feel like the the assembly didn't really like fully attest to what happened.”
Following the assembly was an optional space for discussion. Some felt the walkout was empowering and necessary, while others stated it created a divide in the student body. Sarah Purvis, senior, countered the latter, saying, “The school has been divided since I can remember. The walkout just highlighted the divide that’s been here for years.”