Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Defend Gus Morales!

If you were going to "build a teacher" in a largely working class town where the majority of those enrolled in the public schools are students of color, one of the models you would work from would be Augustin Morales. Born in Holyoke Mass., part of that town's large Puerto Rican community, Gus spent several years in the military before returning to school to become a teacher. He was someone known for going the extra mile for his students and their families as well as his colleagues, and was given the signal honor of being elected President of the Holyoke Teachers Association in only his third year in the schools. Unfortunately, his outspoken, confident persona clashed with the worldview of his "reform minded" principal, and Superintendent and he was denied tenure at the end of his third year of teaching. Now he is being denied access to school property by his Superintendent to try to make it impossible for him to function as a union leader.This is a catastrophe on many levels. But unfortunately, it is an all too common occurrence throughout the nation where reformers have pushed out tens of thousands of teachers who grew up in the neighborhoods they are teaching in, favoring instead highly mobile teacher temps more likely to be compliant and less likely to bond with community residents. Someone needs to tell me why this strategy will make school better and communities stronger. To me, it will result in the exact opposite.
Want to help Gus Moralies? Write Holyoke Superintendent Sergio Paez at
spaez@hps.holyoke.ma.us and ask him what is going on

Friday, August 22, 2014

Creating Safety Without Guns-An Inner City Love Story

One of the reasons I am haunted by the death of Michael Brown is that I have worked with young people in highly charged settings and have seen what they can accomplish when people who command their respect guide them, challenge them, inspire them and love them. This is a story that will help you understand where I am coming from.

The year is 1994. The crack epidemic is still with us, hip hop has entered its golden age, and the city's murder rate is three times what it is now. The neighborhood where I live, Park Slope, is starting to gentrify, but there are still pockets of poverty and the drug trade is alive and well. I am very active in the biggest neighborhood sports program, the 78th Precinct Youth Council, as a coach and league director and it is in that capacity that I am offered an assignment

There is a basketball league for HS students at JHS 51, sponsored by the Youth Council, that is out of control The players are fighting with one another, parents are coming out of the stands to fight with the kids, coaches and referees, and neighborhood teenagers are coming to the games to join the brawls. The Council leaders ask me to come in and try to bring order to the league, threatening to shut it down if I fail

The first day the league meet, I size up the players. Half are Black and Latino, mostly from Bed Stuy, Prospect Heights, Sunset Park and Red Hook, all pretty tough neighborhoods; the white kids are almost evenly divided between middle class Park Slope and working class Windsor Terrace It is a pretty tough group, but with one thing in common-they all want to play ball and use this experience to get them ready for their high school teams I also take stock of the coaches Two thirds are Black- two of them are police officers, the rest teachers. The referees, both friends of mine are big strong guys who are great athletes. I take stock of the people and decide we can make this work if we take the right approach.

So here is what I did. I called the players together and told them what my rules would be. Anyone who throws a punch, for any reason, is thrown out of the league; any parent who leaves the stands will be escorted out of the gym. Showing disrespect for me, the coaches, or the referees results in automatic suspension. After I tell them the rules, I call up the six toughest kids in the group and announce that I am hiring them as security guards and people who keep the book. I tell them that everybody wants to close the league, but that I am determined to make this work along with the coaches and referees "You follow the program, and we are your protection" I tell them. "We are not going to let anyone hurt you when you are in here- not your parents, not the police, not neighborhood drug dealers. This is a safe zone for all of us, a safe zone for the neighborhood. Together, we can make this work."

What happened was nothing short of amazing. One league director, two referees, six coaches working together to help kids create a space where they could play top flight basketball without having to worry about defending their reputation or defending themselves form assault. There were no fights. No one threw a punch. No brawls involving parents or by standers Every time something was stolen from the gym, or the school, the security guards investigated and the stolen property was returned. Games were amazing, played before up to 300 spectators. Local drug dealers came to the games and caused no beefs.

What made it work was giving kids everyone was afraid of real responsibility and decent pay; coaches who took kids home with them when they were in trouble and helped them with problems ranging from failed tests to school suspensions; and an environment where strong physically confident adults commanded respect from young people and made them feel safe,

It was also a place where class and privilege were temporarily erased- I brought wads of dollar bills to every game and made sure that if anyone had pizza, everyone had pizza. And what happened, with order, and discipline, and predicability and love is that kids from every conceivable background were able to enjoy their love of basketball and showcase their skills before appreciative crowds. At least half of the players in the league, including several girls, ended up playing high school basketball, and a few ended up playing in college- one of those who became a starting point guard at Fordham,

For four years we held the league together without a single fight, or a single brawl though there were a few near misses It was physically and emotionally exhausting, for the referees and coaches as well a the kids, but we showed that young people who many people feared, who in some cases were huge disciplinary problems for schools and for their parents, could be part of an incredible group experience without every losing control.

The experience left a lasting impact on me. Every time I see a shooting death of a young person like Mike Brown, I think of how many young people in our league fit that profile and how with the right combination of firmness understanding and respect, those young people blossomed. It is also why I am reluctant to write off or give up on any young person.

I have seen what is possible and find it hard to accept anything less


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson Protests Highlight Link Between Growing Poverty and Militarized Policing

The problems of America's poor have been "off the grid" for some time. Politicians of both parties reserve their concern for the middle class, fearing that any reference to poverty will destroy their electoral appeal. The one mass movement against social inequality we have had, Occupy Wall Street was predominantly white and college educated. But in a society where a majority of people are now likely to find themselves in or on the edge of poverty at some time in their lives, it was only a matter of time where the voices of the economically-and racially-marginalized broke through, and that, I suggest is what is taking place in Ferguson right now. People do not protest this long and angrily against the killing of a youth by police if they do not have many deep and long suppressed grievances, and not just against police. Nor will their protest have this kind of resonance around the nation and the world.
We as a society have pushed the problems of the poor out of sight and out of mind, and have depended on huge, highly militarized police forces to "keep them in their place" in a society increasingly segregated by race and class. That is why the police are the target of protests. They are the surrogate for the economic and political elites whose policies keep so many trapped in poverty.
But if protests remain focused solely on police, we will leave many of the underlying source of people's suffering largely untouched. People need better jobs, higher wages, housing they can afford, more programs for youth, and schools which serve and uplift their communities as well as an end to the drug war and police forces which are less militarized
If those things all happen, alongside an honest discussion of how race shapes all these issues, perhaps we will save lives and avoid future tragedie

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why Michael Brown's Death has Sparked Protests Around the Nation

The protests in Ferguson not only reflect rage at the killing of an unarmed man, they reflect longstanding discontent of a Black community living in a small city where the reigns of power still lie in the hands of white leaders and major institutions are still white dominated. Ferguson is 67 percent Black but only 3 out of 33 police officers are Black and the school board is entirely white. Relations between police and the Black community have been polarized for some time.  Which is why this unfortunate death triggered 7 days of protests, with no end in site, Also, there are many cities and towns just like Ferguson where similar conditions prevail, hence sympathy protests have taken place all over the US.. In the last twenty years, there has been a substantial migration of Blacks out of the center of cities into small towns and suburbs and more wealthy people have moved into the inner city, And many of those towns and cities have majority black populations and overwhelmingly white police forces and political leadership, just like Ferguson. Hence what happened there has struck a chord

As for Barack Obama, his presidency has coincided with deteriorating conditions for the majority of African Americans  largely because of the spill over from the subprime mortgage crisis, where many African Americans lost their homes, and the Great Recession, where many African American lost their jobs.  He is admired in the Black Community but has not had the power to change trends in US society which have lowered wages, shrunk the middle class and concentrated wealth at the top, all trends which have disproportionately affected the Black community

As for the future, Black americans are going to have to fight for better job opportunities, less restrictive policing, less drug arrests and imprisonment of non-violent offenders, better schools, and higher wages.  Those are policies which can only be achieved as part of broad social justice coalitions

What A Difference A Year Makes: The Evolution of BATS

BATs is not the same group as it was a year ago. It is far more urban and multiracial and has changed its focus. It is now as concerned with school closings and school privatization as it is with testing and common core and with fending off attacks on teacher tenure and due process. It is also much more explicitly concerned with issues of poverty, racism and social inequality than it was when the group first began. This has been a gradual evolution and many people have left because they are uncomfortable with the change. But history does't stand still and neither did BATs . Some people may disagree with my analysis. But that is what I think has happened. The group is also far more collective in its leadership and I do NOT call the shots.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Racial Bullying in Small Town Ohio~Guest Post By Kelly Shoemaker Cooper

I feel that I must share my son's story from small town USA. Last school year my son was in 4th grade. He was being bullied and called racial slurs (nigger and porch monkey) by a 6th grader and a group of other boys. My husband reached out to the principal of his school to discuss what was happening to our son. He told my husband that bullying and racial intimidation does not occur in his school. A week later the group of boys showed up at our house trying to get my son and another black boy to go to the neighborhood park. They had baseball bats and intended to harm my son and his friend. The boy's father was waiting at the park. We contacted the police and filed a report. My husband contacted the principal regarding this incident. He was told that this isn't a school issue. The bullying and racial intimidation continued through out the week at school. Many days this group of boys would back my son and his friend into a corner, threatening them. Still nothing was done by the school or police department. That weekend the group of boys showed up at my house again. They were as bold as to knock on my front door. I told them to leave my property. They went to the corner and continued taunt us. One boy yelled "I am going to kick your nigger as." I contacted the police and filed a second report. The following Monday my son was cornered again by this group of boys in the morning and told "hey nigger, we will see you at recess." My son went to the principal and told him. He did NOTHING! Fast forward to recess. My son walked onto the playground and was immediately confronted by one of the boys. My son feeling threatened, had no choice but to defend himself. He put the boy down with 3 punches. Another boy started to jump in and my son's best friend ( who is white) jumped on the boy's back to stop him from attacking my son. My son and his friend were suspended 3 days! The school said my son and his friend planned to attack these boys. The other boys were given no form of punishment!!! The school filed a report on my son's friend with the police department for assault. They are 9 years old! The prosecutor finally charged the ring leader with disorderly conduct but the school still blames my son. Now anyone dare tell me race and education isn't connected! Where is the justice for my son? This is just one of many stories in the life of my son.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Imagination- A Poem for Michael Brown

I can only imagine
what its like to be
watched
feared
seen as a threat
when i walk
when i drive
when i go to school
Never knowing
when i will be
stopped
searched
thrown on the ground
or when words that
I say
and gestures that I
make
can lead to my
death