Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Memory in African American Culture: Short Piece Written for an Art Exhibition in Berlin, Germany

Dr Mark Naison

“it started with that slave ship that set the journey flaming.”

Akua Naru, “The Journey” from her 2011 Album, The Journey Aflame

The lines between past and present in African American culture, consciousness and experience are rarely clearly drawn. The past is alive in African American discourse, sometimes as trauma, sometimes as heroic example

. Images of slavery and Jim Crow, sexual assault and rape, mass incarceration and lynching can be found in virtually every form of cultural production and political agitation Black Americans have created, from songs like “Strange Fruit,” to art and photo exhibits highlighting lynching or convict labor camps, to campaigns for reparations from slavery or compensation for 20th Century pogroms like Tulsa Riot of 1921 ( which has been the subject of several books), or the Rosewood massacre of 1923, which was the subject of a feature film.

But heroism and endurance have been as powerful a force in African American memory as trauma. The popularity of Negro spirituals in the early and mid twentieth century, whether performed by Black college choirs or concert singers like Paul Robeson, the persistence of songs and folktales honoring late 19th Black strongmen like John Henry and Stackolee, the constant invocation of Malcolm X and Rev.Martin Luther King Jr as standards against which current Black leaders are judged, all are testimony to the power of heroism in the African American imagination. Even hip hop, widely condemned as ahistorical, is filled with ghosts of heroes past, sometimes in the form of jazz and R&B samples, sometimes in explicit tributes to individuals who paved the way for or inspired the artist, such as this one on Tupac Shakur’s “Thugz Mansion”:

Seen a show with Marvin Gaye last night, it had me shook
Drinking peppermint Schnapps, with Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke
Then some lady named Billie Holiday
Sang sitting there kicking it with Malcolm, 'til the day came

You cannot live in the African American community, or study African American culture, without encountering historical memory on a daily basis. Sometime it is in the form of ghosts from times past as literary characters, as in Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved; at other times in titles of historical works such as Worse than Slavery, or

Slavery by Another Name; occasionally in the form of symposiums and panels discussing whether African Americans are still suffering from “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” as a result of their slave experience. African American feminists have extended historical memory globally, by claiming Sarah Bartmann, a Khosian woman from South Africa put on display in museums throughout Europe in the 19th Century under the title The“Hottentot Venus,” as a metaphor for the continuing humiliation of Black women, and exoticization of Black women’s bodies, in all spheres of popular culture. Bartman has been the subject of books, art exhibitions, plays and academic lectures which see the way Black women are depicted in advertising, film, and hip hop videos, sometimes under the direction of Black males, as continuous with the way Black women were viewed by white men in the heyday of European colonialism

This fusion of past and present, fiction and history is likely to remain a defining feature of the African American experience for some time. African Americans not only see the past as shaping the present, they feel they must honor their ancestors in order to sustain integrity and self respect in a world that still too often denies them power and recognition.

No work better exemplifies the power of the past to inform the present than a song called “The Journey” by a contemporary African American poet and hip hop artist named Akua Naru who was born and raised in New Haven Connecticut and now lives in Cologne Germany.

I will close with the text of the song, whose stories and images cover four hundred years of African American history in a explosion of poetry that invokes Black women’s endurance and resilience and pain, a pain which , unfortunately, is not yet fully honored, much less fully healed

the journey…(aflame)

song lyrics by akua naru. “…The Journey Aflame” © 2011 akua naru


at once

we were people on our land

African feet touch the sand

free woman and man

stand tall

respond call

conga djembe

we sing a song for our first born

skin uncovered unashamed original names

we served god through a pantheon, then secular world came

some prisoners of war betrayed by our own others chained, some sold stolen from

the shores by a foreign man we never seen before, families torn

put in chains

the chattel slave trade,

black bodies chained, whipped, burned, maimed,

many tongues speaking the same pain,

confused, i cant understand a damn thing,

world view rearranged, in el mina’s castle caged, somebody say a ship came,

forced board. feet lusting for my soil, what the fuck is going on?

“aint i a woman?”,

somebody just jumped overboard

cross the atlantic, skin branded, left stranded, laid in fractions

heart in fragments, captured, deemed as savage, pull my body backwards.


“no chords could strum the root of my pain/they set the journey aflame”

second v.

white man.

crush my womb. shattered. scraped, raped. battered.

another miscarrage. another baby born to a world of shackles

fire crackers, havin flash blacks. the middle passage,

spoon fashioned, semen, blood, urine, dragging. human organs splattered,

scattered cross caribbean. carolina.

reduced to fractions divided by my black vagina ,

enter in the battle, in this so-called “new world”

look at this nigger-girl on iriquois/pequot earth

(turn around) u up first

smile, teeth strong, assess my worth,

on the auction block, they say im ripe for birth, strong stock, look at my buttocks,

hair like wire u need brush not,

nothin pretty to rub hot ,

behind my chest heart beats the first seeds of hip hop,

fire burnin rage is... gun cocked,

my water breaks. the beat drops.

mic chords bind me. stop rewind me

let my memories rock, enemies drop,

oh lord, let us fast forward. promise to let my tape rock

and it wont stop.


“no chords could strum the root of my pain/they set the journey aflame”

third v.

sometimes i want war for these muthafuckas

and im restrained, nigger, negro, colored, nigra, bitch, hoe,

mammy, harlot, minstrel

aunt jemima kinfolk

nicki minaj instrumental

sista stomp hard!! but we forced to tip toe

three-fifths of a human, two-fifths cause you woman

abandoned oshun, praying for Christ second coming

jiving, shuckin corn, word is bond

used to sing work-songs about being free

now freedom comes (w)RAPped in porn

buying european wigs, Italian designers

manolo blahnik, gucci and prada

somebody baby mama

rhyme about the dollar

identity draped in male desire

the illusion of free, but we for hire, lost in buying power

who got it made? last week we was the maid

breast-feeding white babies

they grow, sell our children as slaves

billie holiday, hang from maple trees

a game of make-believe

log on to facebook, forget the rape of centuries

grammar stays in present perfect

but us, we simple past on it

degraded by our brothers, they say shake your ass on it

constructed before the white face

now its music on my space

body parts separated from soul

bought and sold

nothing new though

my question crucial

whats the worth of a black woman, who go

cross the atlantic, stranded

on plantations


college loan payments,

exploited, captured and framed in

white imagination

black male sex arrangements

christian names

master’s house the first stage

that made my body famous.

beauty caged in


behind the lust for blue eyes and blond manes and im saying

it started with that slave ship that set the journey flaming.


“no chords could strum the root of my pain/they set the journey aflame

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jeffrey’s Story: A Tale of Demographic Inversion
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University
During the 15 years I spent coaching and running sports leagues in Brooklyn, one of my favorite players was Jeffrey A. Jeffery was a tall, muscular, incredibly sweet Puerto Rican kid who was one of the best rebounders his age I ever saw. During the four years he spent on the CYO basketball team my friend Ed McDonald and I coached, our team always came in somewhere between 2nd and 4th in Brooklyn, in large part because Jeffrey so dominated the backboards. He also left a trail of bruises and broken limbs on opposing players, not because he was mean, but because he was so strong and hyperactive that he sent bodies flying whenever he hit the boards
But the reason I am writing this is not primarily to laud Jeffrey’s basketball skills, though he did go on to play high school and college ball, but to talk about the bittersweet residential odyssey of Jeffrey’s family , which epitomizes a phenomenon now taking place in Urban America which scholars call ‘demographic inversion.”-- the displacement of poor people and working class people from the inner city to the suburbs. This pattern, quite common in Europe, especially Paris, is now become the norm in the US as wealthy people migrate from the suburbs to the inner city and take over many communities which were once working class and minority.
Jeffery’s family turned out to be an exemplar of this trend. When we recruited Jeffrey for our team in the mid-90’s, his family lived above his grandfather’s liquor store on Smith Street near Bergen in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. During those days, Smith Street was a pretty rough place. Only four or five blocks from the Gowanus Houses, it was a tough gritty shopping strip that was an occasional gathering place for crack dealers and stick up kids who made life tough for the working class Puerto Rican and Dominican families who made up the majority of the neighborhood’s residents. Jeffrey’s father, an electrician for the city who was a member of Local Three of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker, wanted to get his family out of the neighborhood, fearful that his children would be victims of violence, or drawn into negative activity, so he saved all his money and bought a beautiful home in a suburban community, Brentwood Long Island. The family moved while Jeffrey in 10th grade and still our team, and he actually commuted in from Brentwood twice a week so he help lead our team to another 2nd Place finish in the Brooklyn CYO Championships.
This should have been a happy ending for this hardworking Puerto Rican family, but no sooner did Jeffrey’s family leave Smith street that it began making a transition into Brooklyn’s hottest restaurant district, filled with chic cafes which served French, Spanish, Italian and Caribbean cuisine to a population of mostly white brownstone owners and apartment dwellers which swelled the population of adjoining blocks. And as for Brentwood, the arrival of Jeffrey’s family coincided with a wave of white and middle class flight which turned Brentwood into a majority Black and Latino town plagued with violence and gang problems which Jeffrey’s father thought he had left behind in Brooklyn.
This transition did not overnight. It took a full ten years for Smith Street to evolve into a place where wealthy young white people live shop and eat, and it also took that amount of time for Brentwood to deteriorate to the point where it was a place upwardly mobile minority families wanted to avoid, rather than migrate to.
But this transition was not idiosyncratic. It mirrors a trend that can be found not only in neighborhoods like Harlem, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, but in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and other post industrial cities where the FIRE ( Finance, Insurance Real Estate) and Health Care sectors create high paying jobs in the Center City that attract wealthy people back while causing rents to rise in ways that drive working class people out.
More and more, American cities are going to resemble Paris, where the wealthy people live close to the Center, and poor people live in the suburbs. Social policy, and urban policy, had better adjust to this transition.
Mark Naison
March 25, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

School Reform- A New Notorious Phd Jam

School Reform

A New Notorious Phd Jam


America’s shame

Bankers screw up

And teachers get blamed


Love school reform

It keeps prisons full

and profits warm


School reform,

School reform

It keeps prisons full

And profits warm

You can’t lift students up

When you knock teachers down

It’s a trick to help the rich

Rule your town

But reformers keep shouting

Test, Test, Test

Driving out great teachers

Beating down the rest

Making students hate school

And take to the streets

Where their choice is prison

Or rocking dope beats


School reform,

School reform

It keeps prisons full

And profits warm

You can’t lift students up

When you knock teachers down

It’s a trick to help the rich

Rule your town

Union Busting

Is the Reformers game

Whether Walker, Christie

Or Bloomberg’s their name

They want to run teachers in

Then run them out quick

Before they learn

What makes students tick


School reform,

School reform

It keeps prisons full

And profits warm

You can’t lift students up

When you knock teachers down

It’s a trick to help the rich

Rule your town

So teachers and students

Need to take schools back

Tell reformers that testing

Sets learning back

Bring back art and music

Science, lab and gym

And march down town

So the banks don’t win


School reform,

School reform

It keeps prisons full

And profits warm

You can’t lift students up

When you knock teachers down

It’s a trick to help the rich

Rule your town

Sunday, March 20, 2011

WH the BAAHP is Starting a Bronx Column for African Trumpet

Why The Bronx African American History Project is Starting a “Bronx” Column in African Trumpet

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

If you ask people about the Bronx, the first thing most people would mention would be the Yankees. Next would come the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, after that Fordham University, then more negatively, a range of attributes associated with urban decay, such as gangs and drugs and arson, coupled with a some apologetic references to the Bronx’s significance in the development of Latin Music and Hip Hop.

What almost no one would mention would be African Immigration, yet that may be the most important single new feature of life in the Bronx today. The Bronx is home to the largest concentration of African immigrants in the Western Hemisphere, just under 62,000 according to Census estimates ( New York Times, October19, 2009) well over 100,000 if you speak to knowledgeable residents of this large and growing community. If you walk the streets of the Bronx, you cannot miss the African presence in the every corner of the borough’s life, ranging from the hundreds of new stores selling African products, to the scores of new churches and Islamic centers serving a mostly African population., to the colorfully dressed African women, many of them wearing hijabs, escorting their children to school, to the thousands of African men working as security guards at local hospitals and universities, fixing cars and driving trucks, and serving as street vendors or clerks in stores. You will also find thousands of African women working in area nursing homes, and tens of thousands of African children enrolled in the Bronx’s public schools, many of them graduating as honor students and attending the nation’s top colleges. Fueled by immigration from more than 20 Africa countries ranging from Togo to Sudan, from Algeria to Ghana and Congo, an African cultural, spiritual and economic renaissance is taking place in the Bronx which is transforming life in Bronx communities while creating excitement and hope in nations throughout the African Continent. “When I walk up Fordham Road.” says Kojo Ampah, head of Fordham University’s
African Cultural Exchange, “ it feels like I am in downtown Accra. I hear almost as much Twi ( a Ghanaian language) as I do English or Spanish.”

It was to document this extraordinary demographic revolution that the Bronx African American History Project decided, four years ago, to launch an African Immigration research initiative under the director of Dr Jane Edward, and it is for that reason that we have decided to start a special “Bronx Column” in the pages of African Trumpet. In the weeks and months that follow, we are going to bring you features on African life in the Bronx, ranging from a story about the remarkable music- a combination of hip hop and hip life- being produced in the studios of Ghanain music producer Felix Sarpong, to a report on the coming African Unity Day Parade in the Bronx, to an analysis of Christian Muslim relations in Bronx African communities, to a frank discussion of conflict in Bronx schools and neighborhoods between African and African American youth. We will also have portraits of interesting individuals of African immigrant backgrounds who live in the Bronx, such as the Ghanaian boxer Joshua Clottey, the French Algerian music promoters Karima Zerrou, and the remarkable Islamic leader Sheikh Moussa Drammeh whose approach to community organizing challenges every American stereotype about the Muslim religion.

We have great columnists lined up, some of them scholars like Dr Jane Edward and Dr Ben Hayford, some of them students and community leaders

We are deeply grateful to African Trumpet for allowing these voices to be heard.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Make No Mistake About It: When You Attack Public Workers Unions, You Attack New York’s Black Middle Class

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

During my forty plus years as a scholar, teacher, coach and community organizer, I have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in the outer boroughs, not only in neighborhoods adjoining Manhattan, but in places where the Manhattan skyline sometimes looks like a distant universe. Whether it was through conducting oral histories, coaching basketball and baseball games, doing workshops in schools or advising community organizations on how to better reach neighborhood youth, I can say, with confidence that I am spent time in every single neighborhood in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and in large portions of Queens and Staten Island

When I visit these neighborhoods, I can’t help but take note of the age and quality of the housing stock, the variety of stores in local business district, the atmosphere in the streets, and the demographic distribution of the population, not only in terms of race, but occupation.

I have learned many things from these visits, but one of the things that leaps at me is the size of the City’s Black middle class and the its almost complete physical separation from the majority white upper class that sets the tone, and has the power in Michael Bloomberg’s New York.

There are three large cooperative housing developments in New York City that I visit regularly that are majority Black and majority middle class—Rochdale Village in Queens, Starrett City in Brooklyn, and Co-Op City in the Bronx. Located at the very outskirts of each borough, more than ten miles from Manhattan- they are self contained communities with their own shopping centers, schools and ball fields. While they are not without problems, and have only a small number of white families left, for the most part they are safe, well kept communities which are good places to raise families and which, though they are far from Manhattan have excellent shopping, decent public services, and vibrant churches and community organizations.

There is one other thing about these communities, other than their racial composition that distinguishes them from most Manhattan neighborhoods and that is where the people who live in them work. Overwhelmingly, the people in these communities are civil servants or people who work in health care. They are teachers, transit workers, police officers, prison guards, nurses and nurses aids, bus drivers, and clerks and administrators in city agencies. Literally, they are the people who make New York City run.
And almost all of them are members of unions- the UFT, the PBA, the Transport Workers Union, DC 37, Local 1199. The people here – the older generation- are the ones who unionized
New York City’s health care industry in the 60’s and 70’s and helped those workers move into the middle class; they are the ones who led the Transit Strike in 2005, and they are the ones who stand to lose most if Andrew Cuomo’s budget goes through without a millionaire’s tax and
If Michael Bloomberg gets to lay off teachers without consideration of seniority.

Make no mistake about it, Cuomo and Bloomberg may think they are being “color blind” when they fire government workers and undermine the power of public sector unions, but the consequences of their policies are anything but.

Their budget proposals, if implemented, will have a direct and devastating impact on the New York’s large and vibrant Black middle class whose hard work all New Yorker’s benefit from, and will be felt with special harshness in Starrett City, Rochdale Village, and Co-Op City

Do Cuomo and Bloomberg, and their acolytes on the editorial board of New York newspapers know or care that this will happen? Probably not. After all, most of them have never been to the three housing developments I have mentioned, much less spoken to people who live there

This is Segregation, New York Style, in the year 2011.

And another good reason to stand up for unions and accept no attacks on collective bargaining rights in the City of New York

Mark Naison
March 17, 2011


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Notorious Phd on Teaching, School Reform and Social Justice in America- Talking Points for a Continuing Debate

Why I Support Teacher Tenure

Every good teacher I know supports teacher tenure because the harm that results from eliminating it would be greater than the harm that results from the small minority of incompetent teachers. Teachers work in the public domain and are beseiged with constituencies trying to influence what they do - often unfairly and unscrupulously, ranging from parents, to unscruplous politicians, to the media, to business interests trying to gain contracts in the schools. Teachers need protection from all of these, as well as the incompetent or authoritarian admistrators who occasionally come along. Far more public school teachers are heroes than incompetents. They are among our best public servants and we need to support them not make the scapegoats for our own failures as parents and citizens

Why Applying Business Models to Education Won't Work

Do you really think that business models would work in the classroom?. Are test results the measure of teacher performance? If I had people measuring my "results" as a professor at Fordham the way people want to rate the performance of public school teachers, I would have quit my job a long time ago. Students are not products. They are people whose imaginations need to be inspired and who need nurturing and support when they are in trouble and sometimes when they aren't. The most important thing great teachers do is build relationships. My colleague, Father Bentley Anderson says that the most important "results and outcomes" of teaching may take twenty years to fully emerge. Rating teachers on student performance on standardized tests will not only make students hate school by turning the entire experience into test prep, it will make every teacher withan ounce of pride leave the profession.

Why Public Schools May Be a Better Example of What's Right in the Nation than What's Wrong

What if this entire discussion is framed improperly. What if our public schools are the symbols of what's right in the nation rather than what's wrong. I can show you a public school in the heart of the South Bronx, surroun...ded by housing projects, shelters, and drug rehabilitation programs, that functions far better than any private business working in that neighborhod, or in any adjoiing community. It's a place where everyone greets you with a smile, where the walls are covered with amazing art work and exhibition of student projects, where community history is honored in an "Old School Museu," and where students, many of them living in desperate poverty, are loved and protected. This is PS 140, with Principal Paul Cannon. Not a charter school. This is America at its best. And does anybody ackowledge the people who work in this institution, and give them respect. No. Maybe private business should study how PS 140 works instead of trying to impose their operational model on PS 140

America's Heroes

To me, teachers, firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, people who pave highways and collect tolls and bridges- these are American heroes They work hard every day and never get rich. Their union protections give them security. Why take that away?

Young People, Unions And School Reform

The attitudes of young people, including my former students, toward unions makes my physically sick. Unions were resonsible for allowing working people including the descendents of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants, and Black people moving up from the South and the Caribbean to provide a decent life for themselves and their children in post war America. Will the young people growing up in the Bronx today have that opportunity. Do you think the "school reform movement: Is going to give it to them. When it is the richest people in the country, who stole the inheritance of working America, who are behind this reform. I used the think the school reform movement was led by idealistic but misguided people, Now I think it is the biggest hustle- or the biggest diversionary tactic- in the history of modern America, designed to take attention away from ecoomic inequality and regressive taxation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Things We Had When New York Was a Union Town

Things We Had When New York Was A Union Town

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

With collective bargaining rights having just been eliminated in Wisconsin by legislative fiat, and with more states poised to do the same; with union teachers everywhere being made scapegoats for the nation’s educational problems; and with the most powerful business interests in the nation funding movements to privatize government services and decertify public employee unions, I thought it might be useful to look back at a time in New York City’s history when unions had far more power than they have today.

When New York City emerged from World War II, the most dynamic sectors of its economy- garment, electronics, transportation, construction, and food processing- were all heavily unionized. These union gains in the private sector were soon followed by the acquisition of collective bargaining rights by teachers, employees of state and city government and workers in health care.

Given what is being said about unions by elected officials and the media, one might expect that time in New York history- the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s- to be one of educational and cultural stagnation. One would expect that New York City today is a much more dynamic and democratic city than it was during a time when more than half the city’s work force was unionized.

But when you do some historical research and ask yourself the question, “Does New York City have better schools, public services and cultural and recreational opportunities for its poor and working class citizens than it did 50 years ago” the answer you come up with is a resounding “NO”.

I have spent the last nine years doing oral histories with Bronx residents through a project I lead called the Bronx African American History Project, and to a person, the people I interviewed feel that young people growing up in the Bronx had better opportunities in the 50’s and the 60’s than young people growing up there today. As Josh Freeman points out in his wonderful book
Working Class New York, many of the programs that my interviewees talked about that made their lives better were fought for by the city’s labor movement.

Here is a list of just a few of the programs which New York City unions fought for that are no longer with us today. I will leave it to you to decide whether we are better off without them.

1. Supervised recreation programs in every public elementary school in the city from 3-5 PM and 7-9 PM, which included sports, arts and crafts and music. These programs were free and open any young person who walked through the door.

2. First rate music programs in every public junior high school in the city featuring free instruction for students in bands, orchestras and music classes. Students in those classes could take home musical instruments to practice. Among the beneficiaries of these school music programs were some of the greats of Latin music in NYC, including Willie Colon, Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, and Bobby Sanabria.

3. Recreation supervisors, as well as cleaners, in every public park in the city, including neighborhood vest pocket parks, who organized games and leagues and prevented fights. One of the greatest of these “parkies” Hilton White, organized a community basketball program that sent scores of Bronx youth to college on basketball scholarships including 3 who played on the 1966 Texas Western team which won the NCAA championship.

4. A public housing program that constructed tens of thousands of units of low and moderate income housing throughout the city and staffed these with housing police, ground crews and recreation staffs to make sure the projects were safe, clean and well policed.

5. Free tuition at the city university, at the community college, college and graduate levels, for all students who met the admissions standards.

6. Parks department policies which made sure that parks in the outer boroughs were kept as clean and environmentally sound as Central Park or parks in wealthy neighborhoods.

7. Free admission at all the city's major zoos and museums.

These policies, all of which were eliminated during the fiscal crisis of the 1970's, when a banker dominated Emergency Financial Control Board was put in charge of city finances, meant that children in poor and working class communities had access to recreational cultural and educational opportunities which are today only available to the children of the rich . These programs were not there because of the foresight and compassion of the city's business leadership. They were there because unions fought for them and demanded that elected officials they supported fund them.

This is not to say that unions are right in every dispute, or that they are immune from arrogance, greed and corruption. But it should give pause to those who think that our lives would be better in a union free environment.

Let me leave you with some numbers. In the early 1950's, when 35% of the American work force was unionized, the United States had the smallest wealth gap (between the top and bottom 20 percent of its population) of any advanced nation in the world. Now, when 11.9% of our workforce is unionized, we have the largest

Is this progress?

Let's think long and hard before we blame unions for the city's and the nation's economic problems

Mark Naison

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How Gentrification Has Destroyed Biggie’s Brooklyn

This is a wonderful tribute to Biggie, but it understates how much Brooklyn has changed since Biggie died! Bottom line, gentrification is remaking Biggie's old haunts, and JZ's old haunts, so that they are unrecognizable. Have you been to the Marcy Projects recently? It is surrounded by new housing developments put up by Williamsburg Hasidim, and more recently, by luxury housing aimed at yuppies priced out of Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. No great MC is going to come out of Marcy. We will be lucky, once the budget cuts come to public housing from Congressional Republicans, if most of Marcy's current residents aren't evicted

Everything you say in the piece about the continuing influence of Biggie's music is on point, but the Brooklyn that produced Biggie may be gone forever. All of North Brooklyn from Park Slope, to Red Hook, to Gowanus and Cobble Hill, to Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, to Bed Stuy and Bushwick, to Williamsburg and Greenpoint, have been transformed so that people who lived there 20 years ago wouldn't recognize them. And those people are being forced out, almost daily by rising rents. Black working class Brooklyn has been scattered and pushed South. You find it now, in dense concentrations only in Flatbush, Canarsie and East New York Public housing is also under assault. As section 8 subsidies are eliminated and funding for services are cut, the city will increasing plan to convert projects to market level housing

As for the music, your tributes to Biggies significance lyrically and musically, sent chills through me. But can you imagine a celebration for a deceased Brooklyn rapper. Brooklyn rapper taking place on Fulton Street today? Have you been to Fulton Street lately. One boutique and cute cafe after another.
And Sara J Hale HS where Biggie used to hang out- and Lil Kim and Big Dady Kane attended-(fondly called Sara Jail back in the day) has been divided into a whole bunch of mini schools some of which serve the fast growing population of yuppies in Gowanus and Cobble Hill.!

Look, no one will mourn the passing of the crack epidemic and the murders that accompanied it. But today's New York is the most unequal city on the planet and its young people of color have been scattered and divided and hyper policed to the point that they have virtually no voice in the public domain. Damn, Brooklyn doesn't even produce good basketball players any more, how can it produce great rappers

A little more rage, my brother, a little more rage. We've lost something precious and we have to COME HARD to get it back

Notorious Phd

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For All Those Waiting for Hip Hop, She’s Here” Akua Naru’s show at Rodrigue’s Café
Shows We Are Not Prisoners of Hip Hop’s Conventions and Cliches”

Last night, poet and rapper Akua Naru gave a lecture and performance in an intimate club setting on Fordham University’s Bronx Campus. The club, Rodrigue’s café, is set up like a living room, with couches and lounge chairs and enough floor space so maybe forty or fifty people could sit with their legs crossed. An unusual place for a hip hop performance, but then again Akua Naru is not your ordinary hip hop performer. Part poet (think Sonia Sanchez), part novelist ( think ToniMorrison) part jazz singer( think Billie Holliday) and part battle rapper ( think Lady of Rage) this artist kept an audience of 70 Fordham students mesmerized with stories told in prose and rhyme. In all my years at Fordham, I have only heard one other person combine lecture and performance that way without missing a beat –literally- and that was the great jazz percussionist and composer Bobby Sanabria.

But this was hip hop, not jazz. And hip hop as we know, is responsible for dumbing down and corrupting the great musical and poetic traditions of the African Diaspora, for privileging acquisitive individualism over communal solidarity, for sanctioning violence against women and reducing the metaphorical richness of African American speech to the mindless repetition of race and gender based epithets.

But when it comes to hip hop stereotypes, Akua Naru breaks the mold. Slim, dark skinned, with long dreads and a funky style of dress that more befits a doctoral student in American studies- which she is- than a stage performer, Naru draws in her audience through the richness of her imagery, the dexterity and speed of her rhymes, and her sly but infectious sense of humor. You have to listen pretty carefully to capture all the literary references and plays on words, but the subjects, whether they be drive by shootings, backyard barbecues, or slave auctions are so vividly rendered that you find yourself transported into different places and times. But those moments of reverie are short lived because you find your shoulders moving and your feet tapping to the beat. Naru is more like a sorcerer than a preacher. She takes you to the strangest places and reaches into corners where you worked hard to keep your emotions hidden, and by the end you are totally in her power, but she never raises her voice. You have been mesmerized by poetry set to rhythm. Think Billie Holliday; think Sam Cooke, think Ibrahim Ferrer ( Buena Vista Social Club) think the Odyssey. Different worlds open up to you, separated by space and time, and different emotions, too. No matter who you are, if you have an imagination and a heart, you become part of Black Women’s Historic Journey.

So this is hip hop, you say. It will never get on BET. It will never be on stage at Yankee Stadium. It will never be the sound track of the dance party or the strip club. You won’t hear it in Las Vegas, or when jeeps cruise the strip with the music on at top volume

But this night at Fordham University, in this small club, it is everything people ever dreamed of when they thought of what art can do to enhance the richness of human experience and expand the boundaries of imagination.

Or as Arkua Naru put it, in a song from her new album “For all those waiting for Hip Hop- She’s Here”

Mark Naison
March 9, 2011
.AOLWebSuite .AOLPicturesFullSizeLink { height: 1px; width: 1px; overflow: hidden; } .AOLWebSuite a {color:blue; text-decoration: underline; cursor: pointer} .AOLWebSuite a.hsSig {cursor: default}