Until this summer, Trevor Taylor’s “activism” was confined to a ninth-grade English classroom at San Antonio’s Wagner High School, where he teaches. But the 2017 Baylor University School of Education graduate said that when protests started in San Antonio over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, he stepped out of his comfort zone to become part of something bigger than himself.
“I guess I’m an activist in the classroom,” he said. But protesting in the street was something new. “In my classroom, I talk about these things, and I encourage my students to use their voices and to share their stories, because they have power. But it’s a different thing to show them as well.”
After joining peaceful protests in San Antonio, Taylor quickly became a leader and organizer, leading chants and speaking to crowds numbering in the thousands. He has been featured in San Antonio news coverage several times:
Taylor said protests in San Antonio were non-violent with only a few early exceptions, and he was leading only demonstrations that were peaceful — “but passionate and powerful.” Taylor has aligned himself with organizations promoting peaceful advocacy for social justice in the face of systemic racism and police brutality.
Having grown up in San Antonio and graduated from Wagner High School where he now teaches, Taylor said he is protesting for three reasons: “First, I am fighting for myself, because I deserve to live. Two, for my community because I grew up with people who look like the victims. And three, for my students. I don’t know how I would deal with it if one of my students became a hashtag.”
At one of the protests, Taylor ran into a former student who was participating. “She said she was out there because I had encouraged her to use her voice,” he said. “Just the night before, she had been tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets.”
Parents of students have also contacted Taylor. “They reached out to say their child had seen me on the news and was proud to call me their teacher or coach,” he said. “That means a lot, because they need to see their educators standing up for what’s right.”
While the Black Lives Matter movement began several years ago (by that name), Taylor said he felt people had become numb to stories of killings of unarmed Black people — or unwilling to engage.
“Something about these recent cases — George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor — was different, and things have shifted,” he said. COVID-19 certainly played a role. “The pandemic stripped us of our distractions. We had no sports to watch; we couldn’t go to the movies. People were forced to see it, and people began to feel it. People faced the reality of what it is to be Black or a person of color in America, and they had to make a decision about where they stand.”
Before this summer, Taylor’s biggest move outside his comfort zone was actually coming to Baylor. “I teach in a community that is majority minority,” he said. “And that is where I grew up. Baylor was different, because it was the first time I was truly a minority.”
Taylor said the Baylor experience was pivotal for him because he learned to have conversations with people from completely different backgrounds and viewpoints. “We had the same values, but they didn’t see these issues. Where I was coming from, I didn’t understand why they weren’t able to see these issues.”
The atmosphere of Christian faith at Baylor made it possible to find common ground and extend grace, Taylor said. And that’s why he had chosen Baylor, a faith-based institution, as the place to spread his wings.
In his San Antonio classroom, Taylor does what he can to bring diversity to the literature his students experience. “My main job is to teach the TEKS, and I do. But with whatever freedom I have, I try to find authors and characters in literature that look more like the students I am teaching,” he said. “They deserve to see themselves as the protagonist in a superhero story or as the author of a novel. It gives them hope that they can do something bigger than what they might see around them.”
Bringing creativity into his teaching is something else Taylor learned and practiced at Baylor, and he said he appreciates the preparation he gained in the School of Education. His favorite class was “Social Issues in Education,” with Dr. Leanne Howell as his instructor. “She allowed us to have tough conversations in the classroom and provided a safe space for us to discuss and process,” he said. “She showed me how to not only teach for the content, but to also develop better humans.”
Taylor said that a resource he recommends for teachers who lack a background in a diverse community is the book For White Folks who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, by Christopher Emdin.
“Almost everyone chooses a career in education with the right intent, but you have to know how to execute,” he said. “We are going to see a lot of different narratives that we didn’t see in textbooks. Teachers need resources, and I’d encourage teachers to also reach out to each other, because there’s somebody down the hall who has taught in these situations, or they grew up in it.”
Taylor said that teachers are role models every day, whether they like it or not. “Teachers should understand that the year 2020 is going to be in the history books, so we need to pay attention to what’s going on and bring it into the classroom,” he said. “Sometimes I think we don’t realize how much of an impact we have as teachers. We have so many moments to make an impact, because so many eyes are watching us.”
— Story by Meg Cullar
— Photos by Kendrick Washington (@solokennyy on IG), courtesy Trevor Taylor
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