An Inspiring Teacher Has a Personal Handshake for Each of His Students

A video making its way around the internet today shows a fifth grade English teacher in North Carolina shaking hands with each of his students before they enter class. What’s remarkable about it is that the teacher, Barry White, Jr., developed unique and elaborate handshakes for all seventeen of them that are specifically tailored to their personalities. The idea was inspired by LeBron James’ pre-game handshake ritual with his teammates, but Mr. White says it goes beyond that: he and his students pride themselves on “high expectations and meaningful relationships” in the classroom.

Indeed, students said that Mr. White and his handshakes made them feel welcomed in the school. In many of the interviews for the Pipeline Project, the issue of students not feeling seen or known by their teachers arose. Can we hope that teachers around the country are inspired to find creative ways to make their students feel wanted in the classroom?

THE GHOSTLIGHT PROJECT

At 5:30pm on January 19, 2017 roughly 700 theaters in all 50 states participated in a ceremony pledging to “be a light for the dark, challenging times ahead.” The goal was to use the tradition of leaving a ghostlight on in dark theaters to renew theater’s commitment to being a space of inclusion and compassion for all people, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, disability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

In New York City, there were five main “host” areas: Times Square at the red steps, The Public Theater, the National Black Theatre, BAM, and the Bushwick Starr. Many other theaters and groups like St. Ann’s, Atlantic, Columbia University, La Mama, Playwrights Horizons, and Signature participated in the ceremony as well.

I attended the Times Square meet-up as it seemed it would be the most widely attended and would also let me try and stop by other theaters that were doing events. Since none of the Broadway houses were participating in the Ghostlight Project, this site was meant to represent the Broadway community. The event was taking place on the TKTS steps on the triangle formed by the cross sections of 46th, 47th, Broadway, and 7th Avenue. I arrive just before 5:00pm. There are already around a hundred people there filling the steps up. A few people affiliated with the organization hold up large “BE A LIGHT” signs and pass out copies of the pledge:

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The crowd is a wide range of ages but mostly white. There are three police officers observing. A few people have up signs that say “I AM/WE ARE [BLANK] I/WE FIGHT FOR [BLANK].” This one, from Tectonic Theater Project, is the first one I see:

 

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By 5:10pm, the crowd has about doubled. The steps are completely filled, and there are ten police officers milling about the plaza. People are mostly talking amongst themselves or observing quietly. A woman from Italy approaches. She asks if this is to protest Trump. I tell her yes. She tells me she teaches English Literature to teenagers in Rome. She wants to report back to them that there are in fact protests against Trump going on in the United States.

At 5:18pm, a white homeless man who appears to be in his mid-40s and has shoulder length black hair shuffles through the crowd yelling at protestors. As the cops try to settle him, he tells the cops that he is just trying to stand up to people who want to eliminate the electoral college. That they have a right a right to protest, and he has a right to protest the protestors. He tells the police officers that he is fighting for them: “They hate you! Do you know what they said about you at the last protest? ‘No Trump, No KKK, No racist NYPD.’”

5:20pm. Cheers go up in the crowd. A few whoops of joy and shouts of “Ten more minutes!” A group of around 25 young tweens stand behind me observing the group on the steps and shouting out some of the phrases like “Be a light.” Their tone seems more mocking than sincere.

People are invited to join everyone else on the steps, but there doesn’t seem to be any room. At 5:25pm, the woman on the loudspeaker says, “We are one community. Say hello to everyone you don’t know.” The whole plaza between 47th and 46th street is full now. Lots of people are taking pictures and selfies. There at least several hundred people here. Later, I’ll hear reports that it’s 1,000 people.

5:27pm: “3 more minutes!” Chants of “Be a light!”

At 5:29pm, people begin holding up their lights—a few people have LED lights on sticks; most people use the flashlight on their iPhones. A woman on the speaker tells everyone that she will count down and at 5:30pm exactly everyone will hold up their lights:

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A microphone is passed around and people on the steps (I’m not close enough to see who exactly) explain what the Ghostlight project is and its reach (over 600 theaters in all 50 states). They explain the tradition of the Ghostlight and their commitment to welcoming and being accountable to all people.

The people on the steps sing a song: “In the darkest night, we will be a light/we still stand here and be seen.” After a few verses, they recite the lyrics and ask the crowd to join them.

By 5:37pm, the ceremony is over. The woman on the speaker tells people to “Be well. Be safe. And be a light.” People begin filing out.

 

Amanda Ripley

Following the November 15 performance of Notes From the Field at Second Stage, Anna Deavere Smith sat down with Amanda Ripley, a journalist and Pipeline Project interviewee. Amanda has written extensively about education, in the U.S. and abroad, and recently wrote an article for The Atlantic about the disturbing schools law in South Carolina.

AMANDA RIPLEY ON SC’S ‘DISTURBING SCHOOLS’ LAW

Last October, a video of a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina violently yanking a student out of her chair went viral. As the clip was aired on CNN, MSNBC, and around the internet, the story began to emerge: the student had been using her cell phone in class and refused to give it to the teacher, who called in the police officer. The officer was fired, but Shakara, the student who had refused to give up her cellphone, and Niya, who had filmed the incident, were both arrested and charged with ‘disturbing schools.’ According to a report from the Charleston Post and Courier, hundreds of students a year are charged under this vaguely-worded law, which allows students to be arrested for anything viewed as disruptive to the school environment: from fighting or talking back to a teacher to being loud or goofing off. The law carries a penalty of up to $1,000 in fines or 90 days in prison.

In the newest issue of The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley not only gives a vivid account of Shakara and Niya’s arrests, but she also provides a vital history of South Carolina’s ‘disturbing schools’ law. The law was first proposed in South Carolina by a lawmaker who was concerned about men flirting with the students the women’s college in his district. When anti-war protests and race riots broke out in the late-60s, the law was modified so that it applied to all campuses. Now it is used to penalize students—largely minority ones—across the state on a daily basis. And similar laws exist across the country. By 1970, 30 states around the country had passed 80 similar laws designed to protect students from unrest.

The ‘disturbing schools’ charges against Niya and Shakara were finally dropped 11 months after the incident. Legislators and public defenders in South Carolina are now seeking to reform the disturbing schools law, and the ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against the state arguing the law is vague and violates due-process rights. But progress has yet to be made and the question remains of how we can reserve this trend of criminalizing young people for adolescent behavior.

Taos Proctor

“Prison don’t do nothing but make you a worser person. Made me where I didn’t care if I hurt someone. And the longer you stay in prison, the more you lose your feelings about even caring. You don’t care if you stab someone. […] Who cares? You’re worthless!”

Yurok Fisherman, former Inmate
Yurok Reservation, Klamath, CA