Friday, February 21, 2020

R.I.P Dr Joe Rella- An Education Hero for Our Time

I just found out that one of the most courageous and inspiring educators I have ever met, Dr Joe Rella, passed away. At a time when every powerful politician in New York State was pushing Common Core aligned state tests to rate teachers schools and entire school districts as well as students, and when they were forcing special needs and ELL students to to take tests that were developmentally inappropriate, Dr Rella mobilized his entire Long Island district to refuse to take the tests. In doing so, he inspired thousands of parents and teachers, first throughout Long Island and then throughout the state, to follow his example! In so doing he helped build the most important Opt Out Movement in the nation, one that brought people from all points of the political spectrum together in a way that the state, and perhaps the nation, had never seen before. As this movement grew, I had a chance to speak from the same podium as Dr Rella on several occasions. He was as kind and compassionate and caring as he was courageous. He genuinely loved his students and that love motivated him to stand up to powerful forces which were humiliating them and jeopardizing their futures. He also had a spiritual force that made everyone around him a better person. I will miss his smile, his sense of humor, his boundless courage and his ability to bring Conservatives and Liberals, Republicans and Democrats together to protect everyone’s children. I will miss him terribly Never more than now do we need inspirational, unifying figures like Dr Joe Rella.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Symbolism and Historic Significance of the Sanders Campaign

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: the people guiding the US economy for the last 30 years have been so greedy and selfish, no matter which party has controlled the Presidency, that a self-described “socialist” is a serious contender for a major party nomination for President. This is a truly historic phenomenon. There have been Socialists in the US since the late 19th century, but not even in the Great Depression did one of them amass close to the mass support that Bernie Sanders has gotten. While some would attribute this to Sanders charisma, I would argue that the unprecedented level of inequality and the insecurity of life in a “gig economy” have created a constituency for socialism, especially among young people, that was never here before. And while it is not clear that Sanders will win the nomination much less the Presidency, the very strength of his candidacy sends a message that something is very wrong with how income and opportunity are distributed in this country

Monday, February 17, 2020

Why Donald Trump Hates Our Educational System and Demonizes Teachers- A Personal Reflection

Why Donald Trump Hates Our Educational System and Demonizes Teachers- A Personal Reflection
As someone who is exactly the same age as DJT and went to school during the same years, I look at his rise to the top of our society with astonishment. As a young person from a family of modest means, going to public schools in Brooklyn, I did everything people told me to allow me to move into the middle class and become a respected professional. I got good grades. I scored well on standardized tests and on my SAT's. I became a successful athlete whose exploits were written up in school newspapers and occasionally the local press I applied for every scholarship in sight. And it worked. I got into Columbia where, after a slow start, the same pattern emerged.Starting in my sophomore year, I got excellent grades in my major. My sports exploits were written up in the school paper. With the support of my professors, I received numerous fellowships to go to graduate school. Every single thing I mentioned here is a matter of public record- the grades, the standardized tests scores, the articles in school newspapers the fellowships. Yet our President, who went to school during the same years, is a person who not only didn't register those accomplishments in academics or sports , but has threatened to sue every school he went to to prevent his grades and test scores from being released! Not only that, he sees the people responsible for recording such information, the teachers, the school administrators, the journalists, as his enemy! And he has taken half of the country with him in venting his rage at the professional class, those with the credentials he never achieved and who he could circumvent because he had a multi millionaire father with limitless political connections. To DJT, intellect is something to be mocked; and those who have played by the rules just "suckers" to be laughed at, bulldozed, and pushed aside. That half the country cheers him on when he does this- using the term "loser teachers" to refer to people who work in our public schools- scares the hell out of me. We have seen this before, in Nazi Germany among other places.... and the results have always been disastrous.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Tragedy Facing the Garifuna People of Honduras- A Guest Post by Geraldo Sambola

As many Blacks in the U.S. face systemic violence and challenging policies threatening their livelihood, Blacks in Honduras, Central America also face distressing threats to their survival.  Last year 2019 Honduran Blacks also known as “Garifuna or Garinagu (plural),” faced unprecedented deaths from criminal acts.  Though many of their murders were associated with the cycle of violence in Honduras, some deaths were associated with Garifuna activist organizing and resisting seizure of their lands by outsiders.  

The largest Black population in Honduras are known as the Garinagu, a mixed Black and Amerindian group which established coastal towns along the Circum-Caribbean coast in Central America the late 1700s, there population concentration area.  Although Garinagu largest population is in Honduras they are also in Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and hold population segment in the U.S. specifically in New York with their highest concentration in the Bronx.  Due to their many contributions, including as soldiers in Honduras this Black population was recognized by their government in the 1821 Constitution.   Since the early 1900s till the present the Honduran businessmen, and government have collaborated with foreign businesses utilizing the Caribbean coastal areas, Garinagu region, to reap their economic development goals.  At first 1900s development initiatives were large scale banana plantation and railroad by U.S. based agro-industries, and 1970s cattle-ranching projects. This was followed by increase tourism development initiatives the 1990s.  At the turn of the century mineral extraction, hydroelectric plant projects and African palm growth and large-scale tourism continue challenging Garinagu subsistence. 

In the northeast Garifuna community of “Masca,” 25 miles from San Pedro Sula, several Garifuna community leaders lives have been threatened and some murdered.  On September 8, 2019 an unidentified assailant arrived at the restaurant of Mirna Suazo Martinez shot and killed her driving away on his motorcycle.  Mirna was president of the community board in the region.  The community board historically rejected the construction of a hydroelectric power plants in the Masca river.  Mr. Oscar Francisco Guerrero, was also shot to death the following month on October 18, 2019.  He was assigned as part of Mirna security team due to death threats she constantly received.  On December 28, 2019 Karla Ignacia Piota Martinez, Mirna’s sister was also shot receiving seven gunshot wounds and two weeks later dying.  Ignacia was seventy years of age and president of the Masca community board of trustees.  These occurrences continued from the past as, four years ago October 14, 2017 Garifuna community leader/businessman Silvinio Zapata Martinez was killed, shot 5 times by unknown individuals while closing his restaurant business also in Masca.  Zapata contributed in leading the community successfully resisting the building of the hydroelectric dam in the Masca river, which was to be supported by the United Nations Carbon Fund.  Community protests and involvement of the Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) resulted in pausing development efforts, nonetheless threats and assassinations continue.   

In another Garifuna residential coastal area, earlier last year January 24, 2019 Garifuna leader Celso Guillen was detained by authorities although he was freed from charges by a Canadian landowner in his community.  Mr. Guillen an activist from the Garifuna community “Guadalupe,” in the municipality of Trujillo, 140 miles from San Pedro Sula, was arrested and mistreated by police on October 2017.  A lawsuit and order of capture was filed by a Canadian businessman against Guillen for trespassing land he purchased originally belonging to the activist.  Canadian businessman Randy Jorgensen obtained about 1,500 acre of Garifuna land constructing tourism and real estate project in this Trujillo bay region of the Garinagu territory.  OFRANEH was successful in contacting the United Nations as well as the Honduran government Special Prosecutor of Ethnic group absolving and freeing Guillen of his arrest, nonetheless he continues facing threats. 

At a September 2019 meeting at “Casa Yurumein,” a Garifuna meeting place in the Bronx, Omar Suazo alongside other leaders explained challenges faced in their individual communities.  Suazo was imprisoned since May 2017 on false charges and eventually freed in 2018.  Mr. Suazo was the president of the village township association of Sambo Creek in La Ceiba, 85 miles from San Pedro Sula, and successfully for years resisted the building of a dam in the Sambo Creek river in which the Japanese International Cooperative Agency is involved.  At a public gathering in his hometown Suazo was attacked and sought to defend himself as he was thrown to the ground by several men and was knifed by one of them in his back injuring him.  Gun shots came from the outside injuring one individual and killing one of the Ladino individuals. The result was Suazo arrest and charges with murder and jailed with his injuries.  Suazo explained being accustomed to death threats and that he was set up because of his community activism.  He shared his thankfulness to all who rallied behind him resulting in his released imprisonment. Nonetheless, challenges continue as Honduran officials have re-opened the case again charging him with murder.

On August 2019 the Bronx based, Garifuna Coalition organization submitted a letter to the Honduran Minister of Human Rights expressing its solidarity with The Black Fraternal Organization OFRANEH demanding the government to comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, December 18, 2015 verdict.  OFRANEH filed the grievances 2006, focusing on two Garifuna communities, due to exhausting their possibilities of justice through the Honduran court system and the Special Prosecutor for ethnic groups.  Part of the verdict resolution declared that the Honduran government was to provide demarcation of land originally granted with collective ownership to the community of “Punta Piedra,” also to assign the demarcation of the land to the community of “Triunfo de la Cruz,” and ensure that the Garinagu have free access to their entire land undermined by mining regulations.  In addition, the resolution called for the government to investigate the past murders of Garifuna activists Óscar Brega, Jorge Castillo Jiménez, Julio Alberto Morales, and Jesus Alvarez.  The response deadline December 2017 passed, nonetheless the Garifuna community continues waiting for response to this and many others grievances filed regarding territorial challenge in their other coastal communities. 

An estimate of 47 Garifuna communities exist along the Honduran coast, and those mentioned here are just a few facing land challenges, violence and repression.  Meanwhile, with territorial and other difficulties, many Garifuna continue migrating to North America (some as part of the Central American migrant caravan) seeking safety from the cycle of violence, and better economic opportunities for their subsistence. 

By Geraldo Martinez

Dorchester resident fighting to protect Garifuna community, by Yawu Miller

A Letter to Honduras’s Minister of Human Rights by José Francisco Ávila López- Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. info@garifunacoalition August 27, 2019

El Exterminio del Nuevo Amanecer by Juan Almendarez January 10, 2020

La Ofraneh denuncia que la expansión de la frontera de agrocombustibles y el impulso de ciudades modelo, compromete la sobrevivencia de los pueblos ancestrales.

HONDURAS, HUMAN RIGHTS, INDIGENOUS RIGHTS, OFRANEH, Racism in Honduras: New Attack on Garifuna Leader in Masca, Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° on JANUARY 3, 2020

Silvinio Zapata Martinez

#WHRDAlert HONDURAS / Assailants kill Mirna Teresa Suazo, community leader and Garifuna territorial defender

IACHR condemns the prevalence of murders and other forms of violence against Garifuna women in Honduras REPORTfrom Inter-American Commission on Human RightsPublished on 24 Sep 2019 

Honduras: Policía detiene ilegalmente a Miriam Miranda defensora de la tierra y territorio, tras horas ella y su compañera fueron liberadas Autor(a): Criterio (Honduras), Publicado en: 22 April 2019

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Bronx's Revival Shows Why Sanctuary for Immigrants is Sound Policy

   From the early 1970’s, when an arson and abandonment cycle destroyed almost a quarter of the Bronx’s housing stock, through the Crack Epidemic of the late 80’s and early 90’s, which caused the borough’s murder rates to soar, the Bronx  served as a cautionary tale for everyone seeking to explain what went wrong in the nations cities. While scores of other cities in the Northeast and Midwest from Buffalo and Baltimore  to Youngstown, Gary and East St Louis would experience the same cycle of abandonment and decay, the Bronx was the example etched in everyone’s minds.

  Today, however, the Bronx  immortalized as an landscape of urban decay in films like “Fort Apache” and novels like “ Bonfire of the Vanities” is nowhere to be found! Every stretch of abandoned land where apartments and factories once stood has been filled with town houses, shopping centers and apartment buildings, the murder rate has plummeted to a fifth of what is was during the crack years, and hundreds of new churches mosques and restaurants have opened up.

      What has happened to turn the Bronx from a symbol of Urban Decay into the nations Great Urban Success Story. Some of this is a result of enlightened urban policy by New York’s state and city governments, some as a result of New York’s dramatic revival as a center of global commerce, but much of it is a result of the Bronx becoming a destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many legal, many undocumented. As gentrification has raised rents in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, the Bronx has been the recipient of large immigrant streams from West Africa, the Dominican  Republic, Mexico, and South Asia.  The results can be observed by anyone walking through, driving through, or taking public transportation through the Bronx. New stores and restaurants reflecting diverse ethnic cultures popping up everywhere, people speaking Twi and Bengali as well as Spanish on streets and public conveyances; and women in hijabs walking and shipping in neighborhood as far apart as Highbridge and Parkchester. The immigrant presence has also revitalized Bronx schools- among 100 student visitors to Fordham from PS 140 in Morrisania- we counted families from 27 different countries.

       If you want to know why policy makers in NY City and NY State support sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants, look no further than the Bronx and other once decayed and dangerous parts of the city that immigration has helped revive. Immigration may be the single most important engine spurring  economic revival of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, if you think I am wrong compare what has happened to the Bronx to what has happened to decayed neighborhoods in cities which have NOT received mass immigration- cities like Buffalo, Youngstown, Baltimore and Gary. The most decayed areas still look like they did 25 years ago.

   Intelligent policy makers and urban planners in New York know that any policy which destabilizes immigrant neighborhoods threatens the economic viability of the entire city. They will not only challenge the Trump Administrations narrative about immigration as a source of crime and danger, they will use every policy at their disposal to protect immigrants already here