BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — A long-time Buffalo Public School educator is in the national spotlight, selected as one of ten nationwide for Verizon’s Time Innovative Teacher Project.
Fatima Morrell, associated superintendent for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives for Buffalo Schools, is leading the way in city schools when it comes to shaping an anti-racist Emancipation Curriculum.
She is being honored nationally by Time Magazine named as an innovative teacher for helping to create the curriculum that was launched in 2021 in city schools.
“I’m still in the state of shock to receive such an awesome honor,” declared Morrell.
As the Buffalo community is still wounded from the tragedy at Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, we take a look at how Morrell’s work is leading classroom conversations about racism.
“But white children must also know the greatness of the people of color so they cannot even begin to think about devaluing or dehumanizing a Black person,” remarked Morrell.
The goal is to engage and empower students by providing lessons about the historic contributions of Blacks, Latino and Indigenous communities.
Morrell is selected as one of ten national teachers whose work is helping change the scope of America's education system.
“The way we did it here in Buffalo — we really started with reading books that actually helped us to shift the thinking around what Black children can and can not do and how the stereotypes are so pervasive and we don't even really realize that we have unconscious bias,” Morrell remarked.
Morrell says her work takes on a higher meaning as Buffalo tries to make sense of the horrific mass shooting at the Jefferson Avenue Tops where the suspect, who investigators say is a white supremacist, wrote about targeting Blacks.
“I’m very, very concerned that we're not, in our predominately white classrooms and communities, we're not disrupting and dismantling some of these ideas about racial stereotypes and white supremacist notions of superiority and that has to be disrupted,” responded Morrell.
But Morrell says the city has a deep, history of segregation which allowed the gunman to more easily target Buffalo's Black community.
“But there are issues around racial segregation right here that allowed him to even pinpoint a neighborhood because if we weren't so divisive among racial lines — perhaps, just perhaps he could not say I’m going to right here because this is where all Black people are,” Morrell explained.
Morrell says she wants to let those who touting the so-called “white replacement” theory are making a very dangerous statement.
“Please do not be threatened by us. I would say be careful with spreading falsehoods about people because it can lead to horrific occurrences through violence for people of color,” Morrell stated.
Morrell’s work on the school curriculum has faced controversy in February of 2021 it made national headlines when a Fox News article wrote the district tells students 'all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.' That story is based on an article from City Journal, a publication from the think tank think the Manhattan Institute. But she defended it saying it was taken out of context.
“A lot of people say ‘well who's writing your lessons’ — they're the teachers of Buffalo — predominately those are white teachers that are writing our lessons, but are fired up and ready to go to combat racism,” noted Morrell.
I asked Morrell what she would say to the shooter who killed her community members.
“I hope Jesus sees you and forgives you — that's what I would say to him and then I would have nothing more to say,” replied Morrell.
Morrell says there is so much trauma left from the mass shooting. But says she is seeing some positive results from the new curriculum and is proud of students for not lashing out against this violent attack.
“We just don't hate in that way in the Buffalo Public Schools. We don't know how to hate people for their skin color,” reflected Morrell.
A trophy sits on Morrell's desk that truly sums up her work for students — it states “Guardian of Equity.”