President's Blogs: 2007
December 20, 2007
It is unusual that I recommend a film before I've seen it but there is always an exception to the rule and this is it. The film, The Great Debaters, premieres on December 25, 2007. For those that are so inclined, please make the time to see this film. All too often, films such as these are pulled after a brief run due to lack of interest. I hope that we will all do our parts and drum up interest. Why do I say this? Beyond the fact that it tells the story of an important piece of history that many of us might not know of but should be aware of, it tells the studios to keep making movies that matter - not all special effects and "rock and sock 'em" films.
Whenever I see a movie based on historical facts, I try and find out as much as I can about the real events. When I use these films with students, I have them research reality and compare it to the film as this also points out to the students a director's perspective - what did she/he include or not include, why did they emphasize this particular scene over another, etc. Call it an exercise in critical thinking. As with any 2 hour film, I also point out to the students that a story that, in reality, lasted months or years cannot possibly cover everything in such a short period of time. The question is not what the critics think, the question is what those who lived through it think and what they, the viewer, have learned.
The Great Debaters tells the true story of Wiley College, an HBC in Texas, and the story of its 1935 debate team. This film and the events depicted here, takes place during Jim Crow - a period in our history given short shrift in our classrooms. Further, it draws your attention, both in the article and the film, to the history, past and present, of HBCs and to a greater or lesser degree, shines a light on the history of the U.S.
I urge you, give yourselves a gift and go and see this film. I will be interested in knowing what you all think of it.
December 15, 2007
I often talk with or get e-mails or letters from people, both TAP members and non-members, talking about how bad racism or heterosexism or anti-Semitism is in the southern part of the United States. As we talk about the hate that is faced by those residing in the south, and what constitutes the south is always shifting depending on where you live and your perspective, I think about what, if any, are the differences between regions, north, south, east, west, central, etc. While there may be differences in terms of how racism or any other feeling of hate is articulated on a daily basis, no one region "wins" when it comes to the hate that unfortunately, still exists in our society, and by our society I in no way limit this to the United States. No location is immune though some, through education and discussion might have less likelihood of an "occurrence."
Below you will find an article from the Fairfield County Weekly of Connecticut. Since I have resided in Fairfield County for almost 10 years, I suppose it is fair to say that it is my local paper. As you will see when you read it, there have been 13 nooses found hanging around Connecticut since October. One noose is one too many. Thirteen nooses are an abomination and perhaps yet again indicative of the mentality which says "that would never happen in my backyard." Well, with 13, count 'em, 13 nooses, I doubt anyone who resides here in Connecticut can say that it has not happened in either their front or backyards.
When I post to the listserv and urge you, in your classrooms and in your homes, to talk about this with your students and your own children/kids, it is because pushing it under the carpet doesn't make it go away anymore than moving the furniture to hide a stain makes the stain go away. It might not be visible but it is there. If you don't know how to talk with your students/kids or how to incorporate this into your curriculum, just let us know and we will help you - it is one of the reasons that TAP exists. Don't assume that your kids could never be part of incidents such as these. I am sure that there are plenty of parents and teachers out there that thought the same thing only to be confronted with reality. If not your kids/students, what about their friends or others they come in contact with? Never, never assume that by not talking about something it will go away. Also, never assume that a "quick fix" is the answer either. Having a guest speaker come in once is not a solution, it's a band aid, a step in the right direction but still a band-aid. Each of us needs to not only be committed to making change happen, in and out of our schools but also take action to ensure this.
It is easy to get tired, tired of reading about this or thinking about this but think for a moment about the impact of these nooses, or swastikas or gay-bashing, think about how much more tired, and frightening, it is for those of us for whom it was intended - not only an immediate or local "victim" but for those who read about it and know that it could have been intended for them.
It is yet another reason why history does not and should not go away. History has shown that in periods of economic downturns, and in the U.S. as in other parts of the world we are in the middle of one right now, hate crimes and scapegoating rise. So, being tired is not a good enough excuse. As to your students, if they ask why they need to discuss this or why you are raising the issue again, and even if they don't ask, becaue they might be thinking it, ask them why this is so important. I guarantee you, someone in your class or home under the age of 18, will have the answer.
When you raise these issues of prejudice and discrimination or when you push for them to be raised at your school you will probably not be "the most popular kid in the playground" or the most popular colleague. Sad but true. If you are in this to make friends, it might be time to take a look at your own motivations. Far too many people don't want to talk about this, look at this, or look in their own hearts. Regardless, if you are in this to open minds and effect change in your school or local community you will get hit by barbs and comments but you will also get support though maybe not enough. You might think you're in an uphill battle. You are certainly in a battle. However, if we were all to say it's too much and/or give up, nothing will change. When you speak up, you will also learn who your allies are - and don't assume they're all going to or not going to look like you or believe as you do. But, whatever motivates them, they are in this with you. Developing alliances is one of the most important things you can do. Learning how to do this, Forming, Building, and Growing Alliances, is one of TAP's offerings.
Have things changed? Well, yes. Incidents such as these were once OKed or covered up by the government and the police so yes, there has been positive movement as these crimes, when brought to the attention of the police are most often, at minimum, investigated. But, as I have said, these crimes continue today. So, instead of sitting back and "tsking" when we read articles such as the one below, let it be instead a call for and to action, beginning in our own communities and schools. After all, with all the holiday food you have consumed or will consume a little exercise is definitely healthy.
One noose, one swastika, one incident of gay-bashing, one incident of Anti-Muslim behavior, one hate crime, is one too many.
November 21, 2007
On behalf of the board and advisory board of TAP I would like to extend to all of you our best wishes for a warm, wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving. One of the things that I appreciate about this holiday is that it makes no difference what religion you are or whether you believe in G-d at all. What matters is that you take a moment to reflect on all that you are thankful for and also actively thank and remember those in your life who add so much to it. It goes without saying that this should not be a one-day event, but with our busy lives it is important to thank and acknowledge those we love and those we care about. In that vein, thank you to all of you, our TAP family.
Beyond that, I ask you to also pause a minute and remember those who have gone before us and who have sacrificed so much. Think about the Native Americans or First Nations Peoples without whom there would have been no Thanksgiving and also, recommit yourselves to honoring their descendents and those to whom not only the U.S. but many other countries as well have done countless injustices to over the years. If you reside in the U.S. or plan on visiting, schedule a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) with locations in both Washington, D.C. and New York. If you are too far away, pick up a book at your local library. I have a couple that I will be recommending in the coming month. Remember, you wouldn't be here if they weren't.
In addition, I don't know how many of you saw the FRONTLINE program last night on Darfur and Chad.. I have seen many productions on Darfur and they all bear witness to the horrors of genocide but last night's program highlighted the ineptitude of those in power, from the U.N. to the world as a whole. If you did not see it, you can order a copy from PBS. It clearly shows, in a timeline, how we, the world can cry "never again" but indeed it is happening again. The only way to end this is through pressure on all those involved including China. Want to know how China figures into this? See the program. As in Rwanda, things do not happen in a vacuum - genocide and ethnic cleansing requires money, arms, and complacency. Combating genocide takes commitment.
Whether or not you personally or nationally celebrate Thanksgiving, tomorrow, wherever in the world you are and whatever time zone you are in, please, do not forget those who will not be sitting down to a meal, to whom a meal is something that they can only hope for and vaguely recall. It takes nothing away from your own meal, turkey, tofu or takout, to do this. And please, take a moment in your celebration or during your meal, to educate those around you. Those of us who are attending or hosting a Thanksgiving dinner know that they tend to be long events. Take 30 minutes out of your time to encourage those with whom you break bread to become active in standing up against genocide. If you need suggestions on how to do this, let us know and/or see the forwarded e-mail.
We, who have so much, yes regardless of socioeconomics, we all have a roof over our heads and something in the refrigerator, can be thankful and helpful at the same time. That, dear members, is the true spirit of thanksgiving, thanking and helping.
In peace, thanks, and remembrance,
November 15, 2007
Just a reminder that tonight on CNN you can watch the next Democratic Presidential Debate. The next Republican Debate will air on November 28, 2007. On a personal note, I still have not made up my mind as to who I am voting for. With each debate I watch, my opinion shifts and occasionally, includes or eliminates a candidate from the list of possibilities.
Of course what this is all leading to is that I hope, if permitted, we are all registered to vote in our country of citizenship, regardless of where we live or what nationality we are. Additionally, while those of us in the U.S. might think, how many debates can I watch. . .think of this. . .some of us live in countries where there is either no election or not every citizen can vote. How much more does that behoove those of us with this right not only to vote but also to take time out of our hectic schedules to find out, from the candidates own mouths, what they have to say. For those of us in the U.S., the % of the population voting is shameful. I trust that each and everyone of us will be encouraging everyone we know to educate themselves and to vote, not for a particular candidate, but to be part of the "make up your own mind" critical thinking process. Please, be part of the primary vote, not only the general election.
I am off to Washington, D.C. in a few minutes. Tomorrow, at 10:30am, I will be at the U.S. Senate building accompanied by Constance Mattox, TAP Advisory Board Member. TAP, represented by the two of us, has been invited to attend and will be attending the 24th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award ceremony which will honor Dr. Mohammad Ahmed Abdallah of the Republic of Sudan. He is a physician and medical treatment director at the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of victims of torture in Darfur. Dr. Ahmed is a respected community leader, peace negotiator, and human rights advocate.
I am sure that Dr. Ahmed would welcome the opportunity to vote in democratically held elections in Sudan. Let us all work on making that possibility come true and let us all remember that unfortunately, the right that many of us squander is the same right that far too many have given their lives to help ensure.
October 26, 2007
Might Genarlow Wilson be able to join his family on Friday and be able to say, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank G-d almighty, I'm free at last!" Think about, while we hopefully can join in the Georgia Supreme Court finally coming to its senses:
1. The title of the article
2. The fact that the decision was 4-3 which, again in my opinion, is unbelievable (should have been 7-0) but see the rationale in the article below
3. What this still young man, will have to go through to get his life back
Please join me in wishing Genarlow the strength to go forward. Also, let this case remind all of us that things can change but only if we fight for what is right and don't close our eyes.
PS Don't let the headline fool you. For those of you who don't know what this is about it is about a 17 year-old being sentenced to 10 years in jail, and having served two years already, for having consensual oral sex with a 15 year-old. Neither I nor anyone else I can think of, advocates oral sex for teenagers. Yet, this happens in almost every high school in the U.S. every day. I can think of no other case where one of two consenting teenagers has been sent to jail for this. (If anyone knows of a similar case, please let us know.) And therein lies the miscarriage of justice.
October 24, 2007
The actual title of the article I just posted is New York Lawmakers Consider Noose Ban. What's in a title? A lot! Does this mean that nooses are OK, now? I found it interesting that when the article was forwarded the title was changed. It's an interesting exercise in critical thinking and the power of words to bring to the attention of your students.
On a similar note, last night, CNN was supposed to air their special investigative report on The Noose: An American Nightmare. For those of you who were tuned in last night, you would have seen that not only was the show preempted by the wildfires in California BUT
1. Anderson Cooper's special Planet in Peril aired at 9pm EST as scheduled.
2. There was no information broadcast either on CNN itself, on the scroll at the bottom of the screen, nor on CNN's website. I felt like an "investigative reporter" who was searching high and low only to have to wait till this morning when again I searched CNN and found that the special on The Noose had been rescheduled for this coming weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm EST.
A question to raise here is why one special went on as planned and the other was pulled without informing viewers. That certainly sent a message to me. This is not at all to be seen as negative towards Planet in Peril which was a well-researched and informative special. This is also not to say that I would not recommend seeing this show - I would - rather, it makes one wonder how these decisions are made and what takes priority.
While I'm on this subject, I am sure that most of you have been watching at least some of the coverage of the California wildfires and the number of homeless, how they are being helped, where they are being housed, etc. Yes, this is relevant and I join all those in sympathy for those who have lost their homes and/or their livelihoods. BUT, how many of you have heard newscasters comparing these wildfires with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Sorry but this is like comparing apples and oranges from start to finish. While both were disasters (and hence, both fruit) everything from the causes (nature vs.man-made), how many people had the wherewithal to leave their homes, and yes, unfortunately both the number of victims, the socioeconomics of most of the victims, FEMA's response, makes this a tragedy in both California and Louisiana but also an unfair comparison. When TV reporters in California talk about how hotel owners have opened their doors and stores have offered supplies, I compare this to the fact that most hotels and businesses were underwater for so many days and weeks in Louisiana. Further, thank goodness, while most of the homeowners in California have insurance, many in Louisiana even if they had insurance, are still fighting the insurance companies.
I ask only that, while you listen or watch coverage of the wildfires listen carefully to the language used and the analogies made and ask yourselves if in fact, such comparisons are, as Anderson Cooper would say, "keeping them honest," are fair and truly speak to a level-playing field. This in no way belittles the sympathy that one might feel for the people of California but rather speaks to a greater truth.
October 10, 2007
A few weeks ago, I wrote that what happened in Jena is not unique to one community. Unfortunately, that is true. Nooses have been found in other communities and other states as well, in each of our "own backyards." Even more troubling, when you stop and think about it, is how many of these horrific symbols have been found at schools and universities, not only Columbia University, not only at Jena High School, but, also, recently, at the University of Maryland, and others. Talk to your students about this. Ask them what they would do if they happened on this or any other symbol of hate. This is for all students, middle school on up through university. It is not enough, it is never enough, to say how horrible something is; a deeper question is, "What would we do if we see or happen on a noose, a swastika, or any other symbol of hate and violence?". . .and "How do we prevent it." Answers do not come in the form of a magic wand but through ongoing dialogue, by including this in the curriculum (at all levels) and by learning that standing up to such realities is not a project but a way of life. While you're talking to your students, ask yourself what you would do. . .
October 1, 2007
In the wake of Imus/Rutgers and the Jena 6, I thought I would share with you Errol Louis' column on the Bill O'Reilly melee. I thought my longer message and the article below would come through on the previous e-mail, but it did not. I read Errol Louis almost every day as I respect his opinions and appreciate his viewpoint. I also think it is important to see that not every issue is "blue" and "red" - "black" and "white" having been used too often, in my eyes, to represent polar opinions. I know, I know, red and blue are usually associated with politics but I decided to use them in a different context.
There is a lot to learn here. If you know about the O'Reilly "incident", this gives you yet another perspective. If you don't know about it, this should give you a chance to do a little research. It certainly gives all of us the opportunity to delve a little deeper AND to raise this discussion with our students and among ourselves. Notice also how Mr. Louis raises the issue of movies and television reinforcing stereotypes.
Caution, you're about to enter a no spin zone,
PS The question mark in the subject line above is mine. It's up to you and your students to determine for yourselves if Mr. O'Reilly deserves your applause.
September 23, 2007
With the Jena 6 march still in mind and with the nooses found subsequently in Alexandria, Louisiana and in North Carolina in recent days, it is imperative that we think of 50 years ago, as today is the anniversary of the Little Rock 9.
Note: If you haven't seen the documentary on Jena, it is being re-aired tonight at 7pm EST on CNN. I urge you to see it if you haven't.
Then, think forward and backward: How much has changed in 50 years, and it has, and how much still needs to change, and we still have a ways to go. . .together.
In honor of those who have gone before
September 19, 2007
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the Jena Six, trying to raise awareness of this case and wondering why it wasn't being given much media coverage. If it weren't for the protests planned tomorrow in Jena, Louisiana one might still ask that question as it is still being given relatively short shrift what with everything going on in the lives of OJ Simpson and Britney Spears (and yes I am being slightly sarcastic). With that in mind, CNN is devoting an hour of its prime-time programming on Thursday night at 8pm EST to Judgment in Jena. I urge you and your students, friends, families to watch and to follow up on viewing with discussion and research including questioning whether there is injustice/inequity in the justice system. You can start off with asking why the white students were suspended but the black students have been charged with attempted murder, if they think that is fair and what they think can be done to improve the system (which of course leads to larger discussions and action) that is, of course, if they think it needs to be improved.
Although of course, our own opinions matter, what is potentially more important is posing that question to our students for they are global citizens and classmates now and will be the jurors, the judges, the lawyers, possibly the defendants, etc. of tomorrow. It is also unfortunately true that this "incident" took place at a high school. While the media is focused on this case in Jena we all need to look into our own backyards for in reality similar incidents (with and without nooses) occur in our own neighborhoods and in our own schools. Any time that a person, let alone a child or young person, feels that they are not equal and that they are not safe in their school, neighborhood or city, we should be sending up a hew and cry (or hue and cry, both are acceptable) and not, what is all too often true, brushing it under the rug/carpet/flooring of your choice. This is exactly why TAP exists and why we know that a one-shot diversity workshop or speaker alone doesn't do it—all work must be ongoing.
To start you off, I am forwarding two powerful videos which were sent to me by one of our members. (Thank you Thom!) Please cut and paste the links into your browser. I have seen both and believe they offer good background on this most horrific incident not from 1907 but from 2007.
I also urge you to go to the website: www.colorofchange.org, sign their petition for the Jena Six (if you are so inclined) and find out more about the September 20, National Day for Action. Also, please note that September 21, 2007 is designated by the UN as the International Day of Peace. More information can be found at www.un.org/events/peaceday/2007. What better way to celebrate an international day of peace than making sure that justice is served for these six young men and for others throughout the world. And remember, not everything can be accomplished in one day—it only serves as a focal point, a start. Our work and that of each and every one of us, must continue throughout the year, all 365 days.
One last thing: as powerful as on-line petitions are, the reason the media is covering the Jena Six now is because of the people who will be protesting not from behind their desks but out in the open. It is, in fact, the power of the people and no machine or technological advance will ever replace that. Support it, get the word out, but never replace it.
Power to the people and justice for all.
July 23, 2007
About a month ago, we were contacted by Karin Muller, a documentary filmmaker who has worked with National Geographic and PBS, among others. In the past month we have had numerous conversations. The reason Karin contacted us is she would like to work with TAP high schools on a new project she will be shooting on the crisis in Darfur. Karin is looking for 3-5 high schools to work with, after she has shot the footage, to edit the footage and turn it into a documentary. Interested schools should contact Karin directly and let her know that you heard about this project through TAP. Please also let us know if you plan on pursuing this project. Time is of the essence so please, if you are interested contact Karin as soon as possible!
As Karin says, "I am looking forward to working with TAP, TAP members and their schools on this important project." We hope you will find the project interesting and even more importantly, educational for your students as they can play a huge role in bringing the plight of Sudanese refugees to the world's attention.
If you cannot open the attachment but are interested, please e-mail me at email@example.com or call me at 203-801-0257.
We are the world. We can work towards creating more pain or help alleviate its suffering.
May 31, 2007
Well, tomorrow is the first of June and with that thoughts for many turn to school vacations and summer reading. Of course, not all of us either have the summer off nor are we necessarily heading into summer - for some of us, winter is just around the corner! But, whether you intend to do your reading on a blanket or under a blanket, I wanted to share with you 18 diverse books which I have read, cover to cover, over the past two weeks.
On the attached list, you will find books for elementary school, middle school, high school and college with authors, names, ISBN, and descriptions of each title. (FYI: Some of the titles are listed for more than one level which I hope is self-explanatory.) These additions will be posted to the website in the coming weeks but I wanted to make sure that all of you got to see them first!
Also, please note, if you haven't done so already, visit the website and download the winning essays in our 7th annual essay contest. Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say, download the winning movie plots, scripts, stories, and video game scenarios as that is what the 2006-2007 contest called for. Keep in mind that our 8th annual contest will open in September 2007! If you find yourself wanting to read more come fall, you too can be an essay contest judge!
In conclusion, I encourage everybody to look at the attachment. I should probably add that I actually read 23 books in all but 5 did not make it on this list as they were either inaccurate or didn't fit any aspect of "the bill." From those that are recommended, I can honestly say that I learned much from each and every one of the books and hope you do as well.
With that in mind, I wish you many hours of thoughtful reading.
May 16, 2007
Yesterday, two influential people passed, Jerry Falwell and Yolanda King. Never in my life did I think I would find myself writing about these two people in the same posting. Jerry Falwell and his "moral majority" seemed to want to define morality. All those who did not agree were deemed to be "immoral"—this to me defines much of what divides a society—an individual human being defining morality and excluding others.
On the other hand, Yolanda King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, sought to raise awareness and unite. In the previous sentence I mention both Yolanda's mother and father. One of our TAP members recently sent me the autobiography of Coretta Scott King by Octavia Butler (highly recommended—thank you, Barbara) which served to truly make Mrs. King come to life. Now, with Yolanda King's passing, I look back on what I read and how both her parents, living and dead, influenced Yolanda and her three younger siblings.
It is not often, when a "famous" person has passed, that I can share personal recollections based on having met someone and having stayed in some form of contact. Most people on the current TAP board don't even know this. Let me take you back to Miami, Florida, December 2004 and the annual PoCC (People of Color) conference. For many years, PoCC has held a culminating dinner at the end of the conference and has always provided "entertainment"—often music, sometimes an individual performing a dramatic piece. To be honest, the one that sticks in my mind, for reasons that will be clear, is that dinner back in Miami in December 2004, when Yolanda King took the stage. I was sitting with about eight people, Constance and Jeff, (TAP members) among them. A number of the people had been at TAP's workshop earlier that day. Yolanda King came on and performed a one-woman show, a discussion or walking illustration of prejudice, discrimination, and what needed to be done to make her father's dream, and subsequently hers and others, a reality.
The discussion at our table centered on how closely linked were TAP's and Yolanda King's message and how much of what she said had been talked about earlier in our workshop. It was heartwarming to see others make the connection and I thought it would end there. It didn't and, in fact, didn't end until her death yesterday. . .
I'm sure you've all been in situations where you really need to "use the facilities" as my mother used to say, but you didn't want to get up in the middle of something. Well, as soon as Yolanda King finished, Constance and I were off to use the restroom. We had the place all to ourselves and while we were doing our business, we kept talking about the parallels, sometimes almost word-for-word, of TAP and Ms. King's work. We didn't hear the door open and close, at least I don't think we did. Coming out of our "you know what", who was standing there but Yolanda King who had overheard part of our conversation. So, right there, in the ladies room of this hotel, Constance and I started talking with Yolanda. She asked for my card and all I can tell you was, and I clearly remember this, when reaching for my card I found I only had one left and said so. Yolanda said that this must mean that this card was meant for her and a way she went with my last business card. . .
About two weeks later I received an e-mail from Yolanda telling me that she enjoyed meeting us, thought our organization was really interesting (she had visited the website) and telling me she would keep in touch. Of course, how many times does one hear that, not necessarily someone with a household name, but in general and I thought, that's the end of that. Except for the fact that about once a week from her inner peace call-in clinic (guess I was added to the mailing list), I would receive an e-mail and, once every blue moon, one from Yolanda herself. When Coretta Scott King died, I remember watching the funeral, watching Yolanda and her siblings, hearing from commentators who were all weighing in on "the King children" and I found myself wondering how many of them had met either Yolanda, Dexter, Martin III, or Bernice. It's the kind of thing I always find interesting like people criticizing a film before they've even seen it.
I have never met Dexter, Martin III or Bernice. I have followed some of what they have done through interviews I have seen. I find myself wondering, as I wondered aloud the day I met Yolanda, would they have the forum to do what they were doing if they weren't the children of their parents? How many people have a message that needs to get out but they don't get the coverage because they don't have a name? How much is circumstance? The truth is, we'll never know the answers to these questions. But, once people do have the stage, what they do with it is also relevant. Yolanda tried to open eyes and raise awareness—one might not agree with everything she had to say, but she did try to incorporate finding her own identity while meshing that which she had learned as a child and young adult.
So, Yolanda King and Jerry Falwell are both gone. If there is something after this life, and personally, I don't think so, but am open, I do hope that there is a dialogue going on about the commonality that we all have and that the only way ultimately, for the world to thrive is if, instead of denigrating each other ,we learn from and celebrate both our commonalities and our differences. We don't need to speak with one voice but we do share one world.
Rest in peace, and thanks for making me aware that you never know who might be listening even when you think you're alone (and yes, I say this with a smile),
May 2, 2007
Today, I have lyrics playing over and over again in my mind, a powerful reminder of the power of music. Stuck somewhere between Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Ohio. . .For those of you who don't know why I might be bombarded with the words to these songs or not know the lyrics of the two songs, above, let me enlighten you: Friday, May 4, 2007, is the 37th anniversary of what is known as the Kent State Massacre.
I was 12 years old when the events in Ohio (a protest against the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia—not unusual on college campuses back in the 1960s and 1970s), which killed 4 young college students, injured nine others on campus, and seared their way into both the hearts and minds of people everywhere (young and old) occurred. Much like Hurricane Katrina, more recently, I remember wondering, How could this be happening in the US? Naïve, huh?
Back in 1970, the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War which in some ways, felt like a civil war: hawks (pro-war) on one side and doves (anti-war) on the other, although this is too simplistic an explanation. Many who had been hawks were watching pictures beamed into their living rooms every night and asking, was this death and destruction truly what they wanted? Was "victory" worth the price? It is hard to imagine, in this day and age, the scenes playing out again and again of coffins arriving home and of funeral after funeral. They say that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and this was never truer than in those years. We watched our televisions (no portable DVD players or iPods back then) horrified by both what we witnessed at "home" and by the images of Vietnamese men, women and children. . .running, frightened, killed, burned.
Thirty-seven years later and we are in another war. While the politicians dither over funding, more and more people, US military, coalition military, and Iraqi civilians are dying. In the lyrics of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? there is a verse:
Where have all the young men gone?It goes on. . .
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone to soldiers everyone
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the soldiers gone?You know, that song is permanently etched in my mind. I learned it so many years ago but I did not need to look up the lyrics—I have never forgotten them. I can hear some people say, "that was then and this is now" and/or "there was a draft then, there is none now" and therein lies a difference? (Question mark is intentional)
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards everyone
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
I think it important, as teachers and parents, as friends and colleagues, that we take time to reflect back not only on what happened 37 years ago but what has happened over the past 37 years. I think it important that we bring the example of Kent State into our classrooms and ask our students questions/opinions or, better yet, have them do research, read articles and have them ask questions. Regardless of your own opinion on the war in Iraq, why are there not the type of protests we used to see? Is this a different war or are we a different people? Have them compare and contrast schools, universities, the press and media, then and now. I am sure it would be a worthwhile activity.
The US, like many other countries, finds it easier to have discourse about problems and issues "far-removed" from us. These are "easier" conversations to have. But the difficult conversations are often the most important ones.
There are no quick solutions to many of the world's problems. There is no magic pill to make pain, suffering, war, and horror disappear. But we need to remember, it is people who cause these problems and it is people who can solve them.
Last Thursday, at my local public library, I finally got to see a film which I had wanted to see for awhile but, as I do not have HBO service, I had to wait. The film was Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. The audience, myself included, was not the quietest group of people. In watching the images play out on the screen of the events in New Orleans and surrounding towns and cities in 2005, we kept asking (sometimes shouting), how could this have happened and how can this still be left unresolved?
In 2007, I now ask, When will we ever learn? When will we learn that we should put our energy and our resources, human and financial, into bringing peace and equality, human rights and civil rights to all?
We need to not abdicate our responsibilities as teachers and family members, as citizens of a global society. We need to look at our own countries, not just others, and ask ourselves: What are we doing? and How well are we doing it? If such stuff doesn't start at "home", then we certainly have no right to ask others far away, to start it someplace else.
In memory of those killed at Kent State, in Louisiana and Mississippi, and in Iraq,
Lyrics can be found at lyrics.com
April 19, 2007
So many events. . .so many lives. . .
On Monday, 33 individuals (including the perpetrator) died on the campus of Virginia Tech. In so many ways, I am reminded of 9/11: innocent lives lost - people of different races, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, and probably socioeconomic backgrounds. A fear running through a community - then, Muslim-Americans or Arab-Americans or Muslims or Arabs or just "Arab-looking" - now, Korean-Americans and Koreans - a fear of being blamed for the act of a deeply troubled individual. Then and now, the nation, the world coming together to try and support all the victims. . .coming together for how long?
It seems whenever a tragedy occurs, and one that surpasses all "comparable" tragedies, we come together. After a period of time, we start separating and self-segregating all over again.
On Tuesday, I was asked to facilitate a discussion at a university on "Rutgers, Imus, and Duke." I opened the talk with more or less what I wrote above. . . how we all come together, in spite of our seeming "differences" when tragedy hits but for some reason, perhaps our short attention spans, forget what it is that brings us together when the tragedy begins to recede from our minds.
On Sunday, April 15, we had two commemorations: the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first appearance in the major leagues - a breaking of the color barrier. We also recalled those who perished in the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. . .how ironic that a survivor of the Holocaust died at Virginia Tech alongside a young woman, 18 years old, who was in Lebanon visiting her family, last summer, and survived the war there. For all that divides us there are so many ties that bind.
For me, when I sit there and think about how to honor those who die, it is to think about how all these people, from all backgrounds and walks of life, lived together on this college campus. When you hear the words of the survivors recalling their friends, you hear of a small city composed of people from different walks of life who, on this college campus, not only interacted with each other but loved each other.
The lessons that we should learn from this are many but one of the most important ones to me as I watch and look is that each and every person is an individual with their own personalities, dreams, and plans. The 32 people who were killed in Virginia and the 189 who were killed yesterday in Iraq had their lives cut short. It is easy to say we should all live each day to its fullest for we never know what can happen, but why don't we try living our lives with respect and openness towards all and nurture that in others - our students, our children, our friends, our colleagues and our families? Perhaps that is the highest honor we can give those who no longer have the ability to do so themselves. As Jackie Robinson and so many others strove for, we can break through self-imposed barriers.
In memory of Jackie Robinson, and those who died at Virginia Tech, in Iraq, and in the Holocaust,
April 4, 2007
Thirty-nine years ago today, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As we pause every year to honor his birthday, I think it also important for us to stop for a moment today and remember what we had and what we lost, when he was killed on that balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. I urge all of us to remind ourselves of what it is that we, TAP members all, fight for today: equality and respect for all.
Sometimes, we think of people we love on their birthdays, which is right and fitting. Yet, I am reminded of a tradition which I took part in last night as part of my holiday celebration: lighting a memorial candle for each of those who have passed. My celebration is a bit unusual, I light candles not only for family members I have lost, but each and every year I light one for Anwar Sadat of Egypt and for King Hussein of Jordan - leaders who cared more about their people than about continued violence. This year, I added another candle for the victims of Darfur and for all those who have been killed through acts of genocide. It makes me recall what hate can do and what peace and leaders with vision, can achieve.
Today, I am pausing to remember Dr. King and an individual who passed away last night at the age of 88: Eddie Robinson, the longtime football coach of Grambling College. Though I am not a football fan and am much more familiar with baseball's Jackie Robinson, I have learned much about Eddie Robinson over the past few days. Years ago, when Jim Crow still ruled the south, Eddie Robinson was much more than a coach, he also had to cook his players meals so that they could eat as most dining "establishments" would not serve him or his athletes. I have forwarded an article to the listserv on Eddie Robinson because the more I learn about him the more I think that he, like Dr. King, was a beacon not only to his many teams over the years, but as he kept on fighting and going even when the odds were stacked against him and Grambing, he too can serve as a light to us and to our students.
Let us take a few minutes to thank goodness that men, that human beings such as these, did live. It is up to us to keep their names and their work alive.
March 29, 2007
What a way to come home! I just returned from a powerful if not demanding week in Seattle in which I had the always wonderful opportunity to see many TAP members and to welcome many more. As is my nature, I have been watching news broadcasts and reading newspapers since my return - didn't have much opportunity to do that last week. Two items have captured my attention:
1. The Jewish Theological Seminary, which I attended many, many moons ago, has, in my eyes, taken a step forward in the religious evolutionary process, accepting openly gay and lesbian students into its rabbinical and cantorial schools. For those of you who don't know, the JTS is the major seminary for training rabbis who follow the Conservative branch of Judaism. This decision follows on the heels of a wide-ranging decision that came out of the Conservative Movement a few months ago - Conservative Jewish rabbis can now perform commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. While the decision does not mandate that Conservative rabbis must perform such ceremonies, it now allows them to. The Conservative rabbis that I have spoken with are looking forward to performing these ceremonies. Hallelujah! (Please note, I am honored to report that I just performed my 20th civil cermony yesterday! ) Please see press release below.
2. Today, the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen received the U.S.' highest civilian honor today, the Congressional Gold Medal, more than 60 years after the end of World War II. To say that this honor is too long coming, would be merely to state the obvious. These dedicated men not only had to fight the axis powers but the racism that was prevalent throughout the U.S. during and after they committed their lives to fighting the true "axis of evil." No tickertape parades awaited them on their return. No thanks and medals around their necks. What awaited these men was segregation and an unfair and biased GI bill. These men do not need me to say it but I will. Black History Month is over but our history, continues. Please, wherever you are and whatever age group you work with, bring the Tuskegee Airmen and their stories into your classroom and into your homes. They have much to teach us about honor, bravery, and dedication which transcends racial divides yet the reality of that divides needs also to be told. In a time when, in 2007, we are still dealing with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays and lesbians in our present day military forces, one needs only to reflect that those who willingly give their lives to serve their country (whatever country, whichever war, whether you agree with a particular military action or not), all bleed red. Yet, society still takes far too long and has far too many discussions on the equality of these men and now, women. Please see article below Let us honor the Tuskegee Airmen, let us thank them for their service, by working to tear down the artificial barriers which divided them, 60+ years ago, and unfortunately, still, divide many of us today.
In peace and thanks to the Tuskegee Airmen,
February 19, 2007
I don't like to make assumptions. However, unless you have been entirely avoiding the news as of late, you can't help but know that Anna Nicole Smith, or Vickie—which, thanks to all the news coverage, I now know was her given name—has died. Why am I so confident that you are aware of this? Because you couldn't help but be. Yesterday, CNN announced that 20% of all cable news for last week was devoted to stories on this one woman, who, yes, unfortunately for her family, passed away. One of the amazing things about this, beyond the obvious, is that the tracking week began on Monday, and the reporting on Ms. Smith began on a Thursday, which of course means that the actual percentage of coverage, since she died, was much higher than a mere 20%.
Now, what else has happened in this time period? Well, more Iraqis have died, as have more U.S. troops; the House and Senate debated on non-binding resolutions on funding the upsurge in Iraq; the rhetoric towards Iran has been ratcheted up, and the U.S. may or may not be going to war (declared or undeclared) with Iran. Unfortunately, on TV cable news, you would have been hard-pressed to have found much information on these urgent stories.
In addition, on Thursday on CNN, there was a story which I would not be surprised if most of you aren't aware of, as you would have had to sit through endless hours of "who's the father?" to find out one of the most compelling news items I have heard and which, for me, is a call to action: the plight of the Iraqi refugees and the appalling (that was obviously subjective) inaction on the part of the U.S. government. This to me reeks of prejudice, but that is just my opinion.
Here it is in a nutshell:
Throughout history, the U.S. has had a dismal track record when it comes to the number of refugees it/we allow in from countries under siege and/or attack. This is fact. Now, apparently, the U.S. has had only 500 slots per year for Iraqi refugees. Thinking back on how long this war/non-war has been going on, that would most likely mean, simple math, that a mere 2000 Iraqi refugees have been given asylum in the U.S., right? wrong! It's worse than that: The U.S. has taken in only 466 Iraqi refugees since 2003! One can think whatever one wants about Iraq's neighbors, but Syria and Jordan have taken in over 1.5 million Iraqi refugees! Now, apparently, the U.S. is changing its policy to allow in a whopping 7,000 refugees this year. To me, that number is still too low, but even that is better than our track record over the past four years. I, for one, want to make sure that, at a minimum, those refugees are not only allowed in, but arrive. I would also like to see the quota raised. We can all agree, I think, that the vast majority of Iraqis would prefer to stay home in Iraq, but, being unable to go to school, to market, or to work (if one is lucky enough to have a job) without fear of being blown up is not the current reality.
So, what can I do? What can you do? First, write letters to your own representatives in Congress, telling them of your support for fulfilling this pledge and, that, as your representative, you hold them responsible for ensuring that this happens. Second, bring this issue to the attention of your students; perhaps show them your letter, weave this into your curriculum, and ask them if they, too, would like to write their own letters.
If you were to query your own students, young as they may be, I will bet you that the vast majority of students could tell you that somebody named Anna Nicole died. They may even know that there is a new game on the cable networks called, "Who's the Daddy?" I think it is tragic that, while they will know this news, they most likely will not know of the hundreds, thousands, countless numbers of Iraqi citizens who no longer have a daddy or a mommy or this or that limb. We owe