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  4. Understanding the Origins of BLM and the World’s Outrage Over George Floyd’s Death

In the evening hours of February 26, 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was returning to his father’s fiancée’s home in Sanford, Florida from a nearby convenience store when he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a member of the community watch unit, who thought Trayvon represented a threat to the neighborhood. Zimmerman was eventually tried but acquitted of the murder. In response to his acquittal, three black women – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi said “enough” and started on the path of creating a movement they would later call #BlackLivesMatter (BLM).

The movement is described as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. BLM is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression” (“Herstory”). 

The hashtag quickly grew in popularity. People demanded justice for those who were unfairly profiled and murdered due to their race. The names of victims of police brutality--Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Mya Hall, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, and countless others--soon sparked discussions around the epidemic of police brutality in the United States. While this grassroots movement gained ground, Black men and women continued to suffer injustice in the hands of police officers.

The real collision happened in May 2020, despite the strides made by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, when George Floyd was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer. There were many reasons for this, one being that the murder was recorded and it was shocking and gruesome. His last words: “I can’t breathe” installed a feeling of anguish and heartbreak among many. Another reason George Floyd’s death had such a dramatic impact on the public consciousness is because it occurred in the middle of a pandemic when people were at home, often with little to do, facing skyrocketing unemployment rates. The murder of George Floyd was ‘the last straw’ for many who were already tired and disillusioned with race relations in America. To make matters worse, the social and economic inequality that has plagued lower and middle class Americans for decades was only being worsened by the pandemic. The horrifying 9-minute video of Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer simply for using a counterfeit $20 dollar bill incensed an already discontent American public. Many decided to take to the streets to protest police brutality, and surprisingly enough of the protesters were very racially diverse.

On the day they are born, Black people are involuntarily recruited for the fight against racial injustice. After George Floyd’s death, suddenly many White Americans joined the cause. A sense of unfairness vibrated throughout America and led to one of the most racially diverse protests in the country.

The role social media played was also crucial – George Floyd’s death led to many demonstrations across the world. George Floyd’s death prompted protests and discrimination in their own society and culture.

The background of the rise of BLM in England, France, and Belgium is similar to its rise in the U.S. Xenophobia and racism are inheritances of self-labelled ‘progressive’ countries. These behaviors date back to colonial empires, times when European colonists took and spread their racist ideologies wherever they traveled. Colonialism was not just about exploiting people that couldn’t defend themselves but also making a profit from overworking them. It is said global capitalism began with the trade of cotton, tobacco and sugar and all three relied on a tremendous exploitation of the colonized population. Centuries after colonization and the abolition of slavery, the effects are still felt to this day. This is one of the reasons why, when the murder of George Floyd occurred, many people in such European countries felt the need to protest and open up the conversation. Their leaders were condemning what was occurring in the US, while at the same time ignoring what was happening in their own country, and this hypocrisy outraged people.

The countries outside the US that were impacted the most by the murder and subsequent BLM movement were countries that have seen their own issues of systemic discrimination. Countries such as Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Sudan, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand, and Australia still have their own work to do to set the stage for candid dialogue around the treatment of minorities.

In the UK, protestors reacted to George Floyd’s death by gathering in Trafalgar Square to kneel in solidarity. In Germany, Ireland, and Poland, crowds assembled outside the US Embassy. In Poland, people left signs and flowers paying their respects to George Floyd at the US Consulate General. There was a protest in Warsaw with thousands of people, as well as protesters kneeling outside the US Embassy with their fists raised. In Denmark, thousands joined a peaceful march against police brutality. They walked from the US Embassy to the Danish Parliament building and took a knee in solidarity with all protesters around the world.

Similarly, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in Dam Square in the Netherlands in solidarity with the fight against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. Graffiti artists sprayed Floyd’s portrait on the Berlin Wall. In New Zealand, approximately 2000 people marched to the US Embassy in Auckland, another 500 gathered in Christchurch, and a vigil was held at the Parliament building in Wellington. The reason some gathered in Christchurch was to also bring to light what happened in March 2019 – a white supremacist killed 51 people in mosques in the area.

Floyd’s death prompted citizens around the world to reckon with their own histories of racism and discrimination towards minorities. For Canadians, the death of George Floyd resurfaced the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her balcony and died as police were investigating a domestic incident in her building. Protesters used their voices as an attempt to secure justice for her as well as Floyd. In the UK, Floyd’s death brought back memories of unjust deaths that had occurred in the country. A large group of demonstrators went to Hyde Park and marched from there to Victoria Station, holding up signs demanding justice for many people like Belly Mujinga, a railway worker that died after being spat on by a man claiming to have coronavirus. Many other signs were being held for kids that were bullied and killed due to their religion. In France, Floyd’s death prompted citizens to call for justice for many deaths caused by racist police throughout the years. The most recent public death was Adama Traoré so his name was used to represent all victims. He was a 24-year-old black man who shared his last words with George Floyd – “I can’t breathe”. The protests ranged from peaceful kneeling and raised fists to torched scooters, reports of arson and tear gas used by police. In Italy, protests in Milan and Rome gathered peacefully, with many chanting “I can’t breathe” and kneeling as a sign of protest along with squeezing their necks using their hands symbolizing what Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd. In Brazil, Brazilians came together and walked to the square in the state government building to protest the government of President Bolsonaro as well as the crimes committed against people of color in the favelas. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. As far away as Tel Aviv, hundreds of people reacted to Floyd’s death by exclaiming their discontentment with the treatment of police towards people of color. In Sudan, Floyd’s death fell near the anniversary of the 2019 clash between citizens and security forces that led to the deaths of 241 people in Khartoum following pro-democracy protests. To commemorate the anniversary of this horrific event and show their solidarity with protesters in the U.S., Sudanese marched peacefully to bring attention to all unjust deaths caused by police. Floyd’s death sent shockwaves as far as Australia where Floyd’s death prompted national reflection on the fact that over 400 Indigenous Australians died in police custody since 1991 with no consequences for the police officers. In 2015, similar to Adama and George, David Dungay – an Aboriginal man – said “I can’t breathe” 12 times while police were restraining him.

The death of George Floyd was a catalyst that sparked protests and social unrest around the world in the middle of a pandemic. It is unsurprising that a global health crisis and the ensuing economic crisis provided the backdrop for the overwhelming international response to Floyd’s death. In a June 2020 interview with the BBC, Frank Leon Roberts, an activist who teaches a course on the Black Lives Matter movement at New York University, explained that "history changes when you have an unexpected convergence of forces.” Floyd’s death occurred during a time of stay at home orders, store closures, and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. As Roberts noted, “you have a situation where the entire country is on lockdown, and more people are inside watching TV... more people are being forced to pay attention - they're less able to look away, less distracted." Indeed, finally, the world paid attention.

The goal for many of the international protests was to raise awareness and apply pressure on governments to stop discriminating and start treating their citizens equally. George Floyd wasn’t just George Floyd. He was Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Adama Traoré, Trayvon Martin, Atatiana Jefferson; he was everyone that has lost their life due to unfair police brutality, anyone that has been discriminated against, he was every person of color in the world and that is the reason why the fight isn’t and won’t be over for a long time.

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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | A Comment on Our Times, Cortile 2021 Highlights

Revenge of the Fringe

Is internet culture driving America to extremes?

In December of 2020, historians in The Washington Post weighed in on whether 2020 was the worst year ever. Materially, the answer is clear: even in a year of tumult, we live in an era of superabundance. Since the turn of the last century, Americans have added decades to our lifespans, easy-to-source food to our tables, and secured health outcomes that, even in a bad year, remain better than anything our ancestors enjoyed.

By Jen Hollis - Former Teacher of IB History, St. Stephen’s School
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | Student Perspectives on Social Justice, Cortile 2021 Highlights

Understanding the Origins of BLM and the World’s Outrage Over George Floyd’s Death

"I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter... Our lives matter."

- Patrisse Cullors, Founding Member, BLM

By Tatiana Lima '15
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | Student Perspectives on Social Justice

Opinion: George Floyd’s Killing and the Black Lives Matter Protests Against Police Brutality

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was arrested and killed by Minneapolis Police after being accused of stealing from a store. Outrage followed when footage of the arrest revealed one of the officers--Derek Chauvin--placing his knee on Floyd’s neck during the arrest for eight minutes and forty-six seconds and ignoring Floyd’s desperate pleas of “I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe…” 

By Sofia Ghilas '21
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | Student Perspectives on Social Justice

Opinion: The Rise of Anti-Asian Sentiment

After the recent fatal shooting of six women of Asian descent in Atlanta, Georgia, last month, there is increasing alarm about the proliferation of anti-Asian racist memes, posts, and other online activities that may have set the stage for real-life violence.

By Lixuan Du ‘23
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | The Pandemic

Bloom Where You Are Planted: How and Why We Persisted During Covid

“They won’t let you board the plane?” I responded on my mobile phone, rubbing sleepy sand out of my eyes. It was 6 AM on a Sunday in February 2020, and half of our school was at the airport – or soon to be -- for Spring Trips, heading out to destinations like Oman and Morocco (the other trips had gotten out the day before).  So began my intimate relationship with the virus. Though we had been tracking the virus for weeks prior, that moment is the moment it all really began for me.  (And, yes, those trip participants literally pulled their bags off the airline conveyor belts, redialed the rental van, and returned, despondent, to their homes in Rome.)

By Eric Mayer - Head of School
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | The Pandemic

Reopening After a School Closure and Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

Dateline: 25 January, 2020

On January 18th, St. Stephen’s students and teachers returned to the classroom for the first time since late October. At 8 am on Monday, a line of excited students wound its way down Via Aventina, each student waiting their turn for morning temperature checks. All around them, teachers weaved in and out of the line, stopping to greet groups of students and remark on how surreal it felt to be back.

By Vittoria Giusti ‘22, Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | The Pandemic

At War With an Invisible Enemy

The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging issues the world has collectively faced in recent history. We are essentially waging war against a silent enemy--one who has no national borders, knows no social bounds, political systems, nor cultural norms or values. This silent enemy of ours has inflicted harm on whoever crosses its path, upending life as we have come to know it, surreptitiously taking lives, decimating industries, and destabilizing the world economy.

By Xara Al Said ‘23
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | The Pandemic

The Disproportional Impact of Covid on Black Americans

 Last year, as we watched the United States attempt to tackle the Covid-19 virus with mixed messages from the former President, spotty stay-at-home orders, at will mask-wearing, and widespread Covid testing, we observed a great divide between those catching the virus and recovering and those catching the virus and dying.

By Tanesha Alexander - Assistant Librarian, EAP Teacher, and DEI representative
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | Student Perspectives on Social Media and Bullying

Teens and Bullying

Bullying occurs a lot more than one would expect. Injuries, abuses, humiliations, threats, teachers offended while the class videotapes them, kids kicked, teenagers arrested for serious acts against peers.

By Emma Jansen ‘24
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | Student Perspectives on Social Media and Bullying

A Social Media Guide for Teens

The use of social media has become an inevitability of modern-day life. Whether you’re following your school’s Facebook account, chatting with your family on Whatsapp, or sending your friends pictures on Instagram.

By Sofia Ghilas '21
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us | Service

In the Spirit of Service

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope; you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama

By Dr. Helen Pope - Former Director of The Lyceum, Classics Department Chair and Teacher of Latin, St. Stephen’s School
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Chapter 2: Our Life Online | What Students Are Watching

Film review: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

IMDB Rating: 7.6

‘You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.’ Words from the great activist for black rights, Fred Hampton was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party from 1966 to 1969.

By Luca Vanderson '22
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Chapter 2: Our Life Online | What Students Are Watching

Film Review: What We Started

What We Started on Netflix is a beautiful documentary about the history of electronic music that follows its origins from the early 1970s until today. The film explores the genre through interviews with DJs and music producers.

By Matteo Scarfini ‘24
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Chapter 2: Our Life Online | What Students Are Watching

Film Review: Seaspiracy

The newly released Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, explores the damage the fishing industry is causing the blue planet.

By Gustav Franklin ‘21
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Chapter 2: Our Life Online | What Students Are Watching

Gone with the Wind: A Film Review for Our Times

I saw this film for the first time three years ago, and it is one of those movies that you cannot only watch; you have to think and read and write about it to understand it and its impact on you.

By Benedetta Bosco ‘22
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Chapter 2: Our Life Online | What Students Are Watching

Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age drama film directed by Stephen Chbosky, starring globally known actors Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller, and was released in 2012.

By Anita D’Alisera ‘21
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Chapter 2: Our Life Online | What Students Are Watching | Digital St. Stephen's

Our Favorite Online Events

This past year has challenged us to move our events online, from Zoom olive oil and wine tastings that transported us to the Tuscan countryside to gallery openings that brought us to the heart of the New York City and Roman art scene; we have made the best of this pandemic, seizing it as an opportunity to experiment with new mediums and new activities.

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Chapter 3: Creative Writing | Creative Writing

PAndemiNK

As the school's only student-run literary and artistic magazine, INK provides the grounding for your creativity to thrive.

By The INK Team
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Chapter 3: Creative Writing | Creative Writing

A Selection of Creative Writing

You’ve probably seen that meme: a child in a big armchair, cozily reading a book. All around her head are thought bubbles full of knights and dragons, maps and mountains, ships and seas. And below, the caption: “Reading Takes You Places.”

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Chapter 4: Departments | The Lyceum

New Initiatives at the Lyceum Take Off During the Pandemic

"All men by nature desire to know." (Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.980a22).

Nevermore than during the last seventeen months did these words from Aristotle ring true for me. We are so fortunate that through the Lyceum, we are able to create special opportunities for our students to learn about the ancient world, whether it’s through weekend trips and lectures or by inviting scholars, writers, and poets who through their workshops, lectures and readings enhance our classes and broaden our students' horizons.

By Inge Weustink - Director of the Lyceum, Classics Teacher
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Chapter 4: Departments | Exploring City of Rome II Class

Exploring the New City of Rome 2 Class

Between 1400 and 1700, Rome was reborn as a global city, capital of a growing world ‘empire,’ so to speak, for the first time since antiquity. The city today owes much of its historical appeal, its most eye-catching artworks, and monuments, to this, the Early Modern era (c.1400-1700 CE).

By Dr. Rebecca Raynor - Art History, Dr. Paul Treherne - History
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Chapter 5: The Arts

The Arts

This year our students have embraced the digital world, moving their drama and art shows online.

Image: Credit in here mentioning that the art work was selected for the cover

NicolaFormichetti
Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight Interview, Cortile 2021 Highlights

Nicola Formichetti ‘96

Fashion Designer / Stylist / Creative Director

By Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
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Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight Interview

Margherita Stancati ‘03

The Wall Street Journal reporter

By Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
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Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight Interview

Galen Druke ‘08

Host and Producer at FiveThirtyEight.

By Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
Diva Tommei.Photo credits Ilaria Magliocchetti
Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight Interview

Diva Tommei ‘02

Investment Director Information Technology ICT at ENEA Teach

By Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
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Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight Interview

Elizabeth Blackwell ‘86

Author

By Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
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Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight Interview

Rachel Sadoff ‘15

MA Candidate in Public Health at Columbia University

By Natalie Edwards '14 - City of Rome I, Core 9 Teacher and Alumni Relations Office
Healthy Campus team
Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Alumni Spotlight

Alumni serve as our Healthy Campus Team

With Italy’s many COVID restrictions, we’ve needed additional staff to greet and temperature check arriving students, walk the campus for compliance, assist classes if the teacher is working remotely but the students are here, and various other activities to keep us safe.  To our great fortune, four alumni came forward to help us for the year: Michael Alonzi (2013), Tatiana Lima (2015), David Rosales (2016), and Alessandro Cosmo (2017). We asked about the experience, and they had this to say…

By Eric Mayer - Head of School
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Chapter 6. Alumni Spotlight | Digital Alumni

Alumni Events Online

From alumni trivia and virtual reunions to happy hours and afternoon coffee breaks, our digital alumni events have enabled us to bring together alumni and current and former faculty members from around the world.