Saturday, December 23, 2017

Immigrants: A View from The Bronx

Immigrants didn't red line the
Or burn its apartments
Or close its firehouses
Or shut down 
the great music programs
in Bronx schools
They came
to neighborhoods 
big money 
had given up on
And rented apartments
Opened stores
Built churches and Islamic Centers
And produced valedictorians
and new forms of music
which changed the world
Face it
When you attack 
You plunge a knife
into the heart of the

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Message to Young People on Confronting Unexpected Hardships

During the course of my long life, I have had to cope with three completely unexpected tragedies- the Vietnam War, the burning of the Bronx, and the crack epidemic. In each of these instances, immense suffering ensued that required years, if not decades to recover from, while millions of people suffered injuries from which no recovery was possible
I put the Trump Presidency in the same category. Two years ago, no one could have predicted that someone with his character traits or background could have ascended to the Presidency. But he is here and here to stay and the damage to our social fabric he is inflicting is deep and lasting.
If is a very difficult thing to realize that the kind of tragedy that you have only read about in history books has entered your life and experience. You may have to do things you never dreamed of doing. But those who aren't crushed by the experience do ultimately adapt, and try to either live around the destruction or minimize the damage.
For better or worse, you are going to have to play the hand you're dealt. And try to survive with some semblance of self respect, along with compassion for those going through this with you.
I have done this three times. And am busy working on a fourth.
You can do it once.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Street Renaming for the Chantels- Pioneering Bronx Music Group

It is with the greatest pleasure that I offer the enthusiastic support of the scholars and community partners of the Bronx African American History Project for a street sign on 166 Street and Prospect Avenue honoring the pioneering Bronx music group, the Chantels. When the Chantels recorded "Maybe" in 1957, they changed the course of music history. Prior to that time, all of the urban harmonic groups who sold a million records were male. "Maybe" broke the mold. Sung by five 8th graders at St Anthony of Padua Elementary School, the song not only sold a million records, it set in motion the phenomenon of the "Girl Groups," which swept through popular music in the late Fifties and Early Sixties. The Shirelles, the Crystals, the Chiffons, even the Supremes, all followed in a path that the Chantels walked first, Honoring the Chantels with a street sign not only gives this remarkable group the respect they deserve, it will inspire future generations of young people in the Bronx to learn how young people from their community transformed popular music in the US and around the world. Community Board 3 and the City Council have the opportunity to do something extremely important for the Bronx and its people. Naming a street sign after the Chantels will not only honor an important group, it will help secure Morrisania's reputation as a community which produced as many varieties of popular music as any place in the world in the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's
Dr Mark Naison
Founder and Director, Bronx African American History Project

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Why I Won't Miss Al Franken

When it came to education policy, Al Franken symbolized everything wrong with the Democratic Party. He was a tireless advocate for charter schools, Teach for America, and test based evaluation of schools and teachers- someone who persistently ignored the voice of public school teachers in his own state. I am not in the least bit sorry to see him go. The only way the Democratic Party can become a credible opposition party, and eventually lead the country out of the deep hole trump and the republicans are digging, is by repudiating the neo-liberalism that most of its leaders espouse, and presenting a vision of a future where the voice of ordinary people counts more than that of billionaires. And that means a break with cynicism and the discovery of a genuine moral compass that not only rejects sexual harassment but refuses to countenance demonization of teachers and other important sections of the nation’s work force. Al Franken showed no capacity to do that. I won’t miss him at all

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Young People and the US Political Crisis- A Commentary by Dr Brian Purnell

Personally, I think we frame the issues incorrectly. We are, for the most part, reactionary. The other side is winning because it unifies around single issues - anti-choice, homophobia, guns, and low taxes. It paints its supporters as victims. And it dismisses all opposition as fake and contrived.
What is the counter narrative? I don't think our students have one.
They have an analysis. And it angers them. And they have positions. But being "woke," like the post-60s growth of "consciousness," does not give people a narrative to support, or a story to believe in.
The targets are too amorphous and disconnected: privilege, systemic injustice, inequality, power. They know more about the macro-systems and micro-aggressions, but less about weaving a unified vision of justice, peace, and yes, love.
I have no doubt that individuals and some resistance movements push those greater goods, but as far as advancing a broader agenda that can mobilize, energize, and focus a powerful opposition capable of mounting an effective attack against the neo-fascism taking over our country and Europe -- we have failed to advance a vision that brings people together to do that.
Obama used "Hope and Change," but he was too beholden to the aggressiveness of global capitalism to deal with so many people excluded from the economy.
Bernie and Occupy used "We are the 99%" but it fails to deal with the reality of our culture: we don't want to be like everyone else; we want to be special and different, even when we fight for the collective.
We have "Black Lives Matter," but it has not moved the needle enough on the legal and procedural protections that enable corruption in municipal politics, especially policing.
We have "Me Too" and the pelts of some major sex predators to hang on the wall, but a Predator-in-Chief as our national leader, and a soon-to-be Senator accused of serially preying upon teenagers.

These frameworks are not working. They inform. They inspire self-reflection. But they do not really inspire.

That is why our students do not seem determined. Determined for what, and why, and how?
That is why the other side is hungrier. It fights for its vision of civilization and nation and family.
Until we tell our story in the same types of ways, we will keep losing.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

My Three Goals for the Next Year

1. To tell the truth about what is happening in this country- and explain what we look like to the rest of the world- no matter how much it scares people and how much it hurts.
2. To get in the best shape I have been in for 30 years by sustaining a healthy eating regimen that reduces pain as well as takes off pounds.
3 To show love for the people I live with and work with, to be there for people who need me, and to never turn my back on people in pain.