“Black Lives Matter” Flag Once Again on Display at Marblehead High School
Update October 25, 2023 2:45 p.m.: The School Committee's policy subcommittee will meet on Friday, October 27, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. on Zoom. The agenda includes a discussion of the flag display policy.
As of Monday, October 23, 2023, a Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag is once again on display in the Marblehead High School cafeteria. The flag was removed last week by “an unauthorized individual” and has since been put back up, according to a statement sent to Marblehead Beacon by Acting Superintendent of Schools Michelle Cresta. “The matter is the subject of an on-going investigation,” she said.
The BLM flag was previously the subject of controversy in May and June of 2021 when a petition requesting its removal was submitted to former Superintendent of Marblehead Public Schools John Buckey. The petition stated that “BLM publicly declared their support for a Palestinian terrorist group known as Hamas who has been shooting rockets into Israeli civilian centers.” An article published in the Jewish Journal at that time quoted Buckey as saying that the BLM flag was being displayed “as a message against racism, which is a philosophy that we, along with the rest of the community, must be committed to eliminating.”
While Buckey did not agree to remove the BLM flag, he did accept the donation of an Israeli flag that hung near the BLM flag for most of the 2021-2022 school year. Karen Tal-Makhluf, who initiated the petition and donated the Israeli flag, provided Marblehead Beacon with a copy of the letter she submitted to Buckey. “Hanging the Israeli flag would remove the fears many have who are concerned for the antisemitic rhetoric being disseminated in the name of [Black Lives Matter],” she wrote.
According to reports received by Marblehead Beacon, both the Israeli flag and the BLM flag had been removed when school re-opened in September of 2022. The BLM flag reappeared in February of 2023. It is unclear what happened to the Israeli flag.
Conversations surrounding the BLM flag began again in recent weeks in the wake of the tragic events that took place in Israel on October 7, 2023.
Much of the discussion surrounding the BLM flag involves whether the flag itself communicates a simple message—that black lives matter—or represents support for the official Black Lives Matter movement. Pastor Jim Bixby of Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, who supports displaying the BLM flag, argues that “it is a slogan first and foremost,” which communicates the incontestable message that black lives do matter. In a conversation with Marblehead Beacon, he also emphasized the same message he shared during a community discussion about antisemitism held at his church this past Sunday. “This situation is not complicated. It is complex, but not complicated. We must unequivocally condemn violence and assert that all people deserve to be treated with human dignity and respect.” Bixby notes that the BLM flag is part of the effort to send this message.
Not everyone agrees. Sharman Pollender, who wrote a letter to the Marblehead Reporter at the time of the original controversy, spoke to Marblehead Beacon to reiterate the beliefs she expressed at that time. “The flag is not merely a statement that black lives do matter, as they most certainly do. As a person of color myself, and a parent of boys who are POCs, I would be hard-pressed to say my life doesn’t matter.” However, she continued, “the BLM flag is not merely a statement that black lives do matter. Capital B-L-M is a very specific designation. It is an outfit that was founded by avowed and proud Marxists, people who openly stated that the nuclear family is negative. Its leadership as well as multiple chapters around the country have endorsed and stood by as billions of dollars in damage have been inflicted on small businesses, including black-owned, during riots. There are questions about antisemitism among its ranks.”
The question of what exactly BLM represents is further complicated by the fact that there are many different groups that include Black Lives Matter in their names, including independent chapters loosely affiliated with the national Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN) – which owns the blacklivesmatter.com domain name—and offshoot organizations including Black Lives Matter Grassroots and Black Lives Matter At School.
While BLMGN has not made a statement with regard to the hostilities in Israel, Black Lives Matter Grassroots links to a “Statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian People” on its homepage that reads, in part, “When a people have been subject to decades of apartheid and unimaginable violence, their resistance must not be condemned, but understood as a desperate act of self-defense.” Black Lives Matter at School includes a document dated October 17, 2023 that says that, “Palestinians are reminding us that decolonization is not a metaphor or abstraction, but requires real, daily struggle.”
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization founded in 1913 to fight antisemitism and bias, has stated that “Black Lives Matter chapters are run independently from the national Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, and many are completely unaffiliated. The Black Lives Matter national organization has not yet commented on the current Israel-Hamas war.”
In that same article, the ADL lists a number of BLM chapters that are “expressing support for Hamas’s atrocities,” and “sharing further support for terrorism and violence, as well as expressing antisemitic rhetoric.”
The groups included on the ADL list include BLM Philadelphia, BLM Phoenix, BLM Detroit, and BLM Chicago, as well as BLM Grassroots.
The BLM Chicago chapter has in particular received significant media attention as a result of a post on X (formerly Twitter) immediately after the October 7th attacks showing an image of a paraglider and the message “I stand with Palestine.” Paragliders were used by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and attack civilians. The post has since been deleted.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore, located in Swampscott, called for the national BLM organization to actively denounce the statements made by other groups who—whether officially or unofficially—are operating under the BLM banner. “Until the national Black Lives Matter organization can publicly and officially distance themselves from or delegitimize the groups making these statements,” Lipsker told Marblehead Beacon, “we can’t in good conscience endorse BLM flags in our public schools. The Black Lives Matter movement as a whole is complicit unless they step forward to actively refute the groups that are condoning violence and using the BLM name to do so.”
Rabbi David Meyer, emeritus Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, told Marblehead Beacon via email, "It is terribly sad and very disturbing that certain BLM affiliates are continuing to promote hatred and prejudice against Jews and Israel under their banner that was conceived as an expression of opposition to racism and bigotry. While it remains meaningful for our students of color to feel welcomed and respected within our school community, as antisemitism continues to rise as the world's most prevalent expression of hatred and prejudice, it is vital that our Jewish students likewise feel safe and respected and proud."
Currently, according to Assistant Superintendent Cresta, the Marblehead schools “do not have a policy regarding the flags that are displayed in or outside our school buildings.” She said that she has requested the School Committee to take up this issue. School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told Marblehead Beacon that the School Committee’s policy subcommittee intends to do so as soon as possible. Marblehead Beacon will continue to provide updates as they become available.
Editor’s note: School Committee member Jenn Schaeffner is a Marblehead Beacon founder and editor. She is recusing herself from Marblehead Beacon’s coverage of the School Committee and anything pertaining to Marblehead Public Schools.