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'Black healing matters,' how one high school teacher is creating space

Tamiko French at North High School in Minneapolis is making sure her students feel heard during the Derek Chauvin trial.

MINNEAPOLIS — As the discussion of sequestering the jury came up in the courtroom again this week, all of us were reminded that the world does not stop for a trial.

"First day back and we're dancing!" Tamiko French said to her Dance 1 class at North High School, her eyes beaming, over her mask. "That is beautiful."

For French and her students, it's a new chapter. Some students have returned for in-person learning after Spring break. 

"As a dance teacher, I am using the artform to fuel celebration, joy, passion, inclusion around the student voice and what matters to them at these moments," French said.

The entire world, while it isn't necessarily holding its breath for a verdict, it also holds a harsh reality that the trial doesn't leave any room for much emotions. 

"We use dance as a coping skill, as a strength," French said. "As a way to say the unsayable. Also to really build a community. Because at the end of the day, when something goes wrong in our worlds, the support-- or lack of support-- could mean the world to a young person."

The task of being a catalyst for student expression is something French takes just as seriously as being a compassionate listener.

During class on Tuesday, French also created time for one of the students to read a poem she had written, out loud.

French said she did notice that students grieve in different ways.

"That's something that we as teachers are always dancing in," she said. "Especially in this time, is how to really address, how to be flexible, how to be open, and still be in your discipline and in your craft. And still really allow them to feel what it is you're trying to give them in an authentic way."

With a belief that a space that is safe for the body, is also safe for the mind, French makes sure the students of North High school are in step, not just with each other but also with their mental health.

"Black healing matters, inside of all of this," French said. "We have to find space, we have to elbow our way through the space, and say I need regeneration, I need restoration."

"Take the time, inside of this hard moment and breathe," she continued. "Really fully embrace, breath and embrace the regenerative nature of breath. How expansive and beautiful each one of us is."