Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Educational Reformers" Neglect Need for Vocational and Technical Education

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham, University

At a time when there is a huge need for technical/vocational education to train mechanics, vocational high schools are being shut down, to be replaced by small high schools, or charter schools which, when they work at all, train students for white collar occupations. To rebuild our infrastructure and shift to a Green Economy, we need engineers, electricians and construction workers, not clerks and brokers! But those with a 'one size fits all" approach to Educational Reform fail to see this

The irrationality of this hit home to me several months ago when I learend that Alfred E Smith Vocational and Technical High School in the
South Bronx was designated as one of 20 schools to be closed by the NYC Department of Education because of low test scores. I had visited Alfred E Smith last November to do a book event for Allen Jones Bronx memoir "The Rat That Got Away" and was tremendously impressed by the high morale of students and teachers as well as the huge auto repair shops the schools had. I remember thinking to myself how valuable an institution this was to have in the Bronx, where auto repair shops and body shops are among the most thriving of local businesses. When
I discovered the school was slated for closure, I was astonished. In a community where unemployment rates for Black and Latino youth approach 50 percent, you are closing the one school that actually trains them for decent paying jobs in their own community!

But the educational reformers, who seem to have "drunk their own kool aid" never let history, local conditions, or common sense affect the mechnical application of their test driven models. That other advanced nations, like Germany, have actually invested MORE in techichal education to help their society have the mechanical skills to adapt to a Green Economy never enters their calculations. That there will be millions of skilled mechanical jobs when ( if?) the US makes such a transition never crosses their mind either.

Someday, and I hope it is soon, people will challenge the union busting, test obsessed, charter school promoting lawyers and executives trying to remake American Education and develop a teacher centered, student centered, community centered approach that recognizes the wide variety of skills needed to have a vialble economy

Fortunatley this is happening in NY. Thanks to a lawsuit supported by the NAACP and others, Alfred E Smith High School has not yet been closed

Mark Naison
Sept 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Happens When Two Great Lyricists Meet

One of the great thrills of my trip to Berlin was watching an amazing young poet and free styler name Eleagel ( Ejar Ruiz) take over whatever
stage he was on, be in in a park, at a club, in the lobby of a Youth Hostel, or at a performance for the American Ambassador to Germany. His improvisational
skills were unparalled, but he also had the ability to piece together incredibly meaningful poetry on subjects ranging from gentrification to the the challenges
of love and romance

Today, I had the opportunity to bring together Eleagel with perhaps the most inspired lyricist I know, a poet and mc named Akua
Naru who spits fire about the plight of Black women in hip hop, and America generally drawing upon incredible images and producing effortless flow.

Today, I brought these two brilliant young people together in front of my Rock and Roll to Hip Hop and watched history being made. Eleagel and Akua
were amazed and inspired by one anothers talents and gave my class a set of performances, some practices, some improvised, that they will never forget

This was language stretched into an instrument of spiritual awakening, and acrobatics of the intellect. Two people from different cultural traditions(Mexican. African American) two different places ( Brooklyn, Colgne via New Haven), of two different genders, battling with total admiration and respect

It is so rare to see this, in hip hop these days, with a man and a woman, but here it was, for all to appreciate, right here in a classroom at Fordham University

It was a moment that I wanted frozen in time, but it is something that I hope to see repeated many times over. Both Eleagel and Akua will be coming
back to Fordham next Tuesday at 2;15 for a video shoot, but I would love to see them tour together, in Europe as well as the US

What happened today is something that many people all over should have the privilege of seeing

This is what hip hop his all about


Mark Notorious Phd Naison

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Akwasidae Festival Celebrates Fordham's Developing Relationship to The Bronx’s African Immigrant Communities

On Saturday, September 18, a historic event took place in the McGinley Center Ballroom on Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus. A cultural festival of the Ashanti people of Ghana called Akwasidae, held at 40 day intervals throughout the year, was brought to the Fordham Campus, to honor the University’s decision to offer a course on the Ghanaian language Twi during its 2010 Summer Session. More than two hundred people came to this event, from as far away as Ghana and Florida, most in traditional Ashanti dress, to celebrate the coming of age of the Bronx Ghanaian community- the nation’s largest- and to affirm Fordham’s ties to the growing African immigrant population living in the neighborhoods adjacent to the school.

This event, which included traditional rulers of the Ashanti people from New York State and Washington , a representative of the Asantafuohene ( Ashanti king) in Ghana, an extraordinary group of drummers and dancers, and an inspiring speech by a Ghanaian presidential aspirant, brought African culture, political discourse and the arts to the Fordham campus with a majesty and force that this writer has never witnessed during his 40 years at the school.

This event is the culmination of four years of work by the faculty of Fordham’s Department of African and African American Studies and the Bronx African American History Project to build ties with the African immigrant population of the Bronx, which comes from more than twenty countries and very likely consists of over 100,000 people if you count children of these immigrants born in the US. When our faculty realized, as a result of our research and community outreach, we hired Dr Jani Kani Edward, a sociologist and ethnographer who wrote a book on Sudanese women in exile, to coordinate oral histories with this population, culminating in a grant from the Carnegie Corportion of New York to fund this research. In the course of our research, we met a Ghanaian scholar, Dr Ben Hayford, who we quickly incorporated into a research team as a consultant. Through Dr Hayford’s contacts we began developing strong ties with Bronx Ghanaian religious leaders, educators,professionals. and business owners, resulting in a number of ground breaking interviews that gave us invaluable information about this highly skilled and energetic component of the Bronx’s population

Then, a little more than a year ago, a Ghanaian radio personality and cultural organizer named Kojo Ampah showed up on the Fordham campus as a student and immediately spawned plans to increase the African presence on the Fordham campus. He joined the Bronx African American History project research team as an interviewer and community liason and organized a new student group on campus called the African Cultural Exchange. All of a sudden, African musicians, artists and political leaders began appearing on the Fordham campus, some to be interviewed by the BAAHP, others to speak or make presentations to the larger campus community

The enthusiastic response of Fordham students and faculty to these events, along with the University’s decision to offer Dr Hayford a position teaching Twi, led Kojo Ampah and his associates, Mike Mohigh and Nana Anabel Brenyah, to try to bring the largest and most important Ashanti Cultural Festival to the Fordham campus.

After months of hard work, they managed to find a space for the event, locate community sponors who would help fund it, and gain valuable support from Fordham’s Office of Student Leadership.

But the most gratifying aspect of their work was the incredible response from Ghanaians in the New York Metropolitan area and indeed, up and down the East Coast. The fact that a major university was willing to open doors to this community, to recognize its language, to celebrate its culture, and affirm how important its role was in revitalizing communities in the borough of the Bronx had a powerful effect, both on ordinary Ghanaians and leaders of Ghanaian organizations.

The result was there for all to see in McGinley ballroom Saturday. Rarely has Fordham seen a more innovative and powerful display of traditional drumming and dance, more interesting ceremonies which honored heroes and ancestors, and more powerful speeches on the future of Ghana and other African nations. This was a moment when the power of and potentiality of the Bronx’s African immigrant communities was there to see for anyone lucky enough to be present

It was also a moment when this great Jesuit institution, where a social conscience is still honored, was recognized for reaching out in friendship and respect to an immigrant population which, for understandable reasons, is still fearful of how Americans will treat them in a post 9/11 world.

This was a great day to be Ghanaian, it was a great day to be African, and it was a great day to be at Fordham University in the heart of the Bronx

May there be many more occasions like this at Fordham in coming years.

Mark D Naison
September 19, 2010


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Appeal to the Mayor of Berlin to Support the Worldwide Anti-Gentrification Struggle by Saving Tacheles

September 18,2010

Dear Mayor of Berlin

As a scholar in Urban Studies and as an admirer of the tradition of political activism and urban revitalization in your great
city of Berlin, I am urging you to use all the powers at your disposal to prevent the sale of Tacheles to developers and the
destruction of this great community arts center that attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year

At a time when the world financial crisis is creating in cities around the world what Berlin faced after reunification- a landscape
of thousands of abandoned factories, stores, apartment building and shopping centers- the last thing we need now is the
destruction of perhaps the world's best known example of the transformation of abandoned property into a creative arts center.
Not only should Tacheles be preserved and protected, but to paraphrase Che Guevara, we need "one, two, three many Tacheles" all
around the world, in New York, in Miami, in Madrid, in Rome, in Detroit and in Johannesburg!!

Tacheles is the front lines of a global anti-gentrification struggle. If you, in your position as Berlin's most important leader, can
lead a community movement to preserve this powerful people's institution, complete with marches, rallies, and legal and legislative
action, than people around the world will follow your example and began occupying the abandoned properties in their cities!
In so doing, not only will you prreserve a precious economic resource for the city of Berlin- which attracts hundreds of thousands
of tourists and creates hundreds of jobs- you will give people all over the world- including my home city of New York- the courage to
take abandoned properties and turn them into community arts centers, youth recreation space, and housing for the homeless
simultaneously meeting community needs and revitalizing local economies

Make no mistake about it, "the whole world is watching" when it comes to the fate of Tacheles. What the people of Berlin did
after reunification, with the support of progressive elected leaders such as yourself, is what activists around the world need to
do to repair the damage done by a financial system out of control that left immense wreckage in its wake

Please, Honorable Mayor, use your office as a "bully pulpit" to lead the people of your city to resist the banks and developers
who are trying to turn one of Berlin's most important community institutions into a hotel or shopping center

If you lead, people will follow, not only in Berlin, but around the world


Mark D Naison

Professor of AFrican American Studies and History
Fordham University
Founder, Bronx African American History Project
New York, USA