Thursday, November 27, 2014

They're All Our Kids

At the end of the DVD for the Tom Hanks film "Captain Phillips" there are the added bonus features that accompany most releases today. In one segment, the film's technical advisor talks about when he consulted with the US Navy Seals. The Seals, when speaking of Somali pirates, told the man that the "...pirates aren't the problem. What's happening on the Somali mainland is the problem." The Seals were speaking of the fact that Somalia is a rogue state mired in poverty, corruption, gangs, and violence. These things force its people to go out onto the sea and perhaps do something they don't really want to do.

When the shooting of Michael Brown first occurred, I wrote a post asking the question "would you?" I explained how Ferguson's population has over 20% living below the poverty line ($23,492.00/year for a family of four).  In addition, the unemployment rate amongst black men is 50%. The Brookings Institute points out that in America's 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods with more than 20% below the poverty line doubled between 2008-2012. In addition, 2011 census data revealed the average net worth of black owned households in America is $6,314.00 dollars. The average value of white owned households: $110,500.00 dollars. We now boast a worse race related income gap than South Africa did during apartheid. Also, a black male is 25 times more likely to get shot by a cop than a white male. Five times the number of whites use drugs than African Americans, yet African Americans go to prison for drug offenses ten times more. Our black communities are the equivalent of a failed state, like Somalia, except these states border America.

There are other problems facing our inner-city communities, and I know this because I spent a year teaching at an inner-city school in Newark and then two years mentoring young men at the school. Now I teach at a High School for at risk inner-city kids where the population is all black and hispanic. The young men tell the same story as those in Newark: lack of a positive male influence in their lives. I am not dumb and know this factor plays a significant role in what's going on in urban communities. But instead of pointing a finger and shaking our heads, or driving by (quickly) with the windows up, or driving through on the way to somewhere else; maybe it's time to look at urban communities more like our cities and less like theirs. We look from the outside in and then have the audacity to claim there is a prevalence of white racism. No better example of this, then Ted Nugent's asinine post-Ferguson rants. A friend of mine who is a New York City policeman, and has a unique perspective on this recent mess, wrote a note to me saying Michael Brown "...completely scripted his own death".

Michael Brown didn't write his script. That script was written a long time ago when our inner-cities began rotting on the vine in the 60's and 70's. Brown was just the latest character in this tragic scene. My male students tell me stories all the time how they are followed by police or stopped. The boys constantly talk of the struggle they have with doing the right thing as opposed to falling into the narrative that has been written. They don't realize they can write their own narrative and this is largely because they're living a life mired in poverty, crime, violence, and lack a strong male to help build a sense of self expectation.

The one question no one has asked in this whole mess: How do you think Michael Brown viewed himself? Here was a kid who had graduated high school and was on his way to college. Was he an angel? No. But he was about to embark on a path that would have allowed the penning of a new script. Instead, he fell into his old part. We look at him and ask why. The fact is his story is not unique, it's constant (If you want to read a great example, check out the book by Jeff Hobbs which tells the story of Robert Peace from Newark. It will blow your mind). That's the problem here. We look at Michael Brown and shake our heads. We'll forget about him until the next one happens (there will be a next one), and then the same questions, accusations, and assumptions will be made. Here's an idea: Let's not wait. Let's do something to fix this problem because it's no longer a their problem. When young kids are dying in the streets either at their own hand or someone else's, it's time to take a step back and ask Why is this happening to OUR kids?

One of the most upsetting things about these incidents is too many people turn to the fact that black men kill black men more than cops do. Instead of constantly leaning on this, why don't we change it? Instead of looking at the young black men dying on our impoverished, dysfunctional inner-city streets and saying "it's their problem" why don't we take a step back and look at the big picture: This nonsense is happening in American communities. This is the greatest country in the world and, yet, young men and women with hopes and dreams never get a chance to realize them. Think of Michael Brown not as a "black", "minority", or "inner-city" kid. Think of him as what he really was: an American kid just like yours and mine.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Most of Us Don't Get It

I am a white man, thus I have spent most of my life in a white world.  Every school I attended until I got to college was predominantly white.  When I think back to kindergarten through sixth grade, I can barely recall two black kids throughout the experience.  Middle school (7th and 8th grade) were no better.  By the time I got to High School, I'm pretty sure there were three (3) black kids in the entire school.

There were no black people in our neighborhood until I was around eleven years old.  That was the summer that a black family - the Robinsons - moved in right behind us.  This caused quite a stir.  My mother was the only woman on our block who went over and welcomed them to the neighborhood (she brought a bundt cake), and she brought me, my brother, and my sister with her.  I can still see Mrs. Robinson's smile when my mother handed her the cake.  After that, we became friends.  Our backyards butted up against each other and we would say "hi" and chat over the bushes.  I remember one summer, the Robinson's had a big family barbecue, and they invited us over.  We were the only white people there and for the first time in my life I felt aware of my skin color.  After about three years, the Robinson's moved because of a job relocation. The day they left, Mrs. Robinson came over and hugged my mother to thank her for being so nice.  That's when it hit me that no one else seemed to talk to them while they lived behind us.  It was like there was something wrong with them.

How many white people go through life having black friends?  If you are white and live in a predominantly white community ask yourself how many black people you hang out with.  Have you ever been in a black person's house?  These are relevant questions right now and too many of the answers speak to our current state of race relations.

In a great piece from today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes how the current black/white income gap is is 40 percent greater than it was in 1967.  In addition, the average life expectancy of a black boy is five year's shorter than that of a white boy.  The net worth of of the average black household here in America is $6,314 dollars.  The net worth of the average white household: $110,500 dollars.  The US now has a worse wealth gap specific to race than South Africa during apartheid.  There's something wrong here.

Kristof also mentions a study done by The Public Religion Research Institute that states within a network of 100 friends, a white person, on average, has one (1) black friend.  There is a disconnect between "us" and "them".  We can all sit around and pretend that it doesn't exist, but we still live in a very segregated society.  Yes, we elected a black President, but obviously we need to do more.

How are we supposed to know or understand what's wrong in our black communities when no white people are going to them?  How are we supposed to understand the differences between blacks and whites when we don't really know each other?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Would You?

I wouldn't want to be a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.  I also wouldn't want to live in Ferguson, Missouri.  It (much like other predominantly black communities in the US) is mired in severe poverty, and all the subsequent nonsense that comes with it: bad schools, crime, poor health, and no sense of community.  According to the Brookings Institute, all of Ferguson's neighborhoods have over 20% living below the poverty line ($23,492.00/year for a family of four).  In addition, the unemployment rate amongst black men is 50%.  Ferguson is not alone.  Brookings also points out that in America's 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods with more than 20% below the poverty line doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012.    That's appalling.

Most people looking at Ferguson, see a largely black community, and react by saying "It's their fault." The thing is, poverty is not an "us" or "them" issue - it's an "our" issue.  If you notice, there's a key word in the Brookings information about poverty: suburban.  It is now spilling out of our inner-cities and into the suburbs.  It's no longer just their problem.

When I taught in Newark, I would walk some of my students home into the housing project behind the school.  I can tell you from experience that once I walked into the project I could, literally, feel the tension in the air.  Mind you, this tension wasn't aimed at me or anyone else in particular.  It was just there.  People who have never set foot into an inner-city public housing project do not understand this.  Those who have do.  This tension spills out into the surrounding neighborhood and affects adults, children, business owners, and the police alike.  It is a tension that is a result of not only frustration, but lack of pride, and low sense of self.  I believe this tension is the direct result of poverty.

Poverty is not a discriminatory condition.  It does not lend itself exclusively to African-American and/or rural communities.  It does awful things to anyone it comes in contact with.  It messes with emotions, self esteem, confidence, mental health, education, physical health, and the community at large.  Ferguson is an example of a community rendered dysfunctional due to poverty.  The people who live there have no civic connection.  There is no community pride...and why would there be?  The goal is not to give back, but to get out.

Michael Brown had just graduated High School, and was getting ready to go off to college.  In one of the first interviews after her son's death, Brown's mother spoke not only of her pain over the shooting death of her son, but of how hard it was to keep her son in school and on track.  Again, unless you have spent time in a poor, urban, black community - you have no idea of where this woman is coming from.  You have no idea how difficult graduating High School is for a young black man like Michael Brown.  He was just a few years away from getting out.

Imagine waking up every morning, and wondering if you have enough money to eat.  Imagine when your kids walk to school they're almost guaranteed a beat down.  Imagine if you had no sense of who you are, what you could accomplish, or what the word potential means.  Imagine if you had experienced the shooting death of a close friend, family member...or both.  Imagine if your neighborhood looked, and felt like it had been forgotten.  Imagine if young people in your community were dying at the hands of the police, and each other.    I sure as hell wouldn't want to live there...would you?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...EXCEPT...

I'm getting a little sick by the treatment of not just our own children, but children around the world.  Here in the US, our inner cities are inundated with gun violence.  Death by gun has simply become a part of life for kids who live in places like Newark, East St. Louis, and Chicago.  In addition, guns in our schools have become common place.  Going into June, we were averaging over one school shooting a week (1.37 according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety).  Summer came just in time to see images of angry people at our southern border chasing traumatized children from Honduras and El Salvador away (my personal favorites were the woman who held a placard reading "Not My Kid, Not My Problem", and a man with one simply stating "Who Cares?").

When the Puritans set sail for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, John Winthrop gave one of the most famous sermons in American history: "A Model of Christian Charity".  Many believe this sermon is the crux of what would become American Exceptionalism - an ideal where many Americans believe we are the example for the world.  It's no coincidence that the Puritans themselves were trying to escape a corrupt Church of England, and sought religious and moral freedom in the New World.  Basically, they were looking for a place where they could be themselves.  An image from Winthrop's sermon has become iconic in our national rhetoric: "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us."  That image of a shining city has been invoked by many politicians; most famously Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  It presents us as a beacon of hope for the rest of the world to see.  Perhaps this is what served to inspire poet Emma Lazarus when she wrote:
Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door

That poem would be placed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.  When you see what's going on with the children of Central America, and you see how we have been treating them...those words hurt.  When did we go from a nation of "Send them to us!" to a nation of "They're not our problem!"  In addition, I'm appalled by the treatment of our own children.  I was with friends recently, and the subject of my former student, who was shot and killed in June, came up.  Someone asked about the city of Newark and why it's so bad.  I answered with one single word: Poverty.  Before I could say something else, a woman (who claims to be a devout Christian) snarled "Well there shouldn't be any poverty!  God knows I'm paying enough of my damn money to those kids!"

I look at Newark and Honduras and I see the same thing: two places ravaged by corruption, drugs, gang violence and poverty.  That's pretty sad.  I also see two governments who have turned their backs on their children.  No decisions or policies are put in place anymore with children in mind - and that's not just here in the US.  It's gone global.  The personhood of corporations has taken precedent over that of our own kids.  The welfare of corporations, and their shareholders, takes priority over the welfare of our children.  Think about that for a minute.

In September of 1924 the Geneva Convention produced what it called "The Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child".  This was issued in the wake of World War I when the world, collectively, demonstrated what horrific destruction we were capable of.  In lieu of what was called The Great War, we all stepped back and realized our youngest and most vulnerable were truly our most important.  So much so, they deserved their own rights - separate from those of nations themselves.  Take a second to read them and ask yourself if our children are being afforded these rights.  You may be afraid to answer.

1.) The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
2.) The child that is hungry must be fed; the child that is sick must be nursed; the child that is backward must be helped; the delinquent child must be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and secured.
3.) The child must be the first to receive relief in times of stress.
4.) The child must be put in position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
5.) The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Its Time to Make it Stop

Yesterday we had yet another school shooting.  This one came at a High School in Oregon and claimed the life of a freshman boy.  The shooter then took his own life.

In addition to this, yesterday at 3:30 PM the first student I met on my first day teaching in Newark was shot and killed.  He was 15 years old.  He was a sweet kid who used to come in before school so I could give him piano lessons.  I used to tell my wife about how this kid's smile would light up the room.  One year he asked if I would help him find a job.  He was a good kid who got caught up in the nonsense of our inner cities.

I'm tired of this.  I'm tired of watching our children die for useless reasons.  I'm tired of guns on the street, and inside of our schools.  I'm tired of the fact that we, the greatest country in the world, have created a mindset that seemingly allows this to continuously happen.  I'm tired of the fact that our society seems to not want to stop it.

Where the hell is the anger?  How can we collectively sit back and watch this happen?  President Obama stated yesterday that we are the only developed nation on earth allowing this violence to continue.  Right now the US is averaging around one (1) school shooting a week.  That's insane.

When I met with my mentor group in Newark last Friday, I asked them to make a list of their best characteristics.  Of all the young men in the room five out of five included "I'm smart" as one of them.  They believe in themselves and want something better.

Let's get the guns off the streets and out of our culture.  Let's make our schools and neighborhoods safe for our kids.  Let's make this a priority so our smart, beautiful kids can grow up in an equally beautiful world.

RIP Couba

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Throwing Money at Everything But Poverty

There is an article in New Yorker magazine this week about Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million dollar pledge to Newark Public Schools.  The article states how the money is pretty much gone, and despite this fact, NPS still rank at the bottom in terms of performance.  It also mentions how the issue of poverty was never tackled with any of the appropriated funds that were pledged.  What most of the money ($20 million) went to was consulting firms, public relations (?), and data analysis (?).  Many of the consultants hired were paid a thousand dollars a day.  What is there to show for it?

I have written here about the effects of poverty on children.  This is the one issue that no one seems to want to discuss.  Being poor and/or jobless does terrible things to an adult's self esteem.  Imagine what it does to a child?  I can tell you (because I've seen it) that what it does is horrific.  Too many of the the children in Newark (and other American inner-cities) come to school hungry, dirty, stressed, and with an incredible sense of low self esteem - all because of poverty.  You can take a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg, and have him throw millions of dollars at a problem school district, but if you don't address poverty and joblessness...what's the point?

Part of me is cynical when I read how people like Mr. Zuckerberg throw money at Newark.  I look at what's going on with poor people in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and how housing prices are driving them - literally - onto the street.  Zuckerberg's Newark gesture was grand, but what about beyond that?  Was the gesture based in philanthropy or making sure his tax rate doesn't increase?  The young billionaires in that region seem less concerned with the poor than they do about getting a Tesla, and they have our government in the palms of their hands.  What do they know or care about poor people in our inner-cities?

I go to my old school in Newark and meet with two groups of young men/boys just to talk with them and see what's going on in their lives.  Two weeks ago one of them had a bandanna around his neck with a picture of a young girl and the letters "RIP" printed on it.  When I asked him what it was, he told me it was his tribute to a friend who had been shot and killed.  This boy is 14 - the same age as my son.  That same week another boy told me how his weekends are spent inside his house.  He goes home on Friday and pretty much stays there for the next two days.  When I asked him why he said "I don't wanna get shot."

These boys live ten miles away from me and, yet, their lives are vastly different than my children.  Why?  Why can't we fix this problem?  Maybe it's time for people like Mark Zuckerberg to give money directly to people on the inside.  People like teachers, coaches, community leaders, and churches.  These are the people who are with these children every day and see the effects that poverty has.  We also see the faces of young people who could very well be the next Mark Zuckerberg...if they're given a chance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Little Bit Goes A Long Way

I left my school in Newark back in 2012, but I never really "left".  I stayed in touch with my old teacher friends, and went to visit the school regularly.  Last summer the ruling in the George Zimmerman case was handed down regarding his shooting of Trayvon Martin.  As we all know, Zimmerman was found "not guilty" and this pissed me off.

In that time period I thought a lot about my old students.  Far too many of them are not aware of who they are or who they can be.  I saw too many of them in Trayvon Martin, and the thought of these bright young men going down the wrong road or being on the wrong end of a gun made me sick.  I decided to do something.  Last Friday I returned to my old school in the capacity of a mentor.  I will be going every Friday to just sit with some of the boys and talk to them.  My goal is to make them aware of their potential, and keep them on the right track.

Last week I saw two old students, and they made me so proud.  The last time I went to visit, these two were not doing so well (one was under house arrest and wearing an ankle bracelet).  But after sitting and eating lunch with them, I soon discovered they were back on track.  At the end of lunch they even expressed concern about another classmate, and asked me to speak to him.  This boy is in a bad way, but the fact that two others wanted me to help him says something.

I sat down with the other boy, and I could see the frustration in his eyes.  He looked tired and almost worn down.  This is a fourteen year-old child.  To my shock, he remembered my name - even though I had not seen him in two years.  I asked how he was doing and he shrugged.  Conversation did not come easy.  Finally at the end, I got a glimmer of hope, when I asked "Do you want to sit and talk next Friday?" he looked right at me and nodded yes.  Clearly he needs someone.

If I can help those three boys, that would be great.  That's my goal: Three.  If I can get more...?  It would be unreal, but I have to start slow.  Just saying a few kind words, and letting these young, black men know someone cares could change their lives.

We'll see...

Friday, February 28, 2014

Step One

Yesterday President Obama held a press conference to announce the launch of My Brother' Keeper, a Federal program aimed at giving young American men of color more opportunity.  In essence, this program is about building up young black and Latino men - something that has needed to happen for decades in our country.

President Obama spoke candidly and emotionally about his own experiences.  How he grew up without a father, and the subsequent anger and frustration he felt.  These emotions led to his making of "bad choices" and "...not taking school as seriously as I should have".  The biggest statement he made was "Sometimes I sold myself short."  These were powerful words from a man of color - the first to be elected President.  What made it even better was he stated these things with a group of young black and Latino men standing behind him.

This is a great first step.  When I was teaching in Newark I was an eyewitness to the anger and frustration the boys and young men in my school had.  I had countless conversations with them in my classroom about their lives.  Many told me about fathers in jail or who were just absent.  The ones who did have men in their lives didn't just differ emotionally and intellectually, but also physically.  It was unreal.

My Brother's Keeper is a first step.  President Obama himself said "It's going to take time.  We're dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds."  In addition to complicated issues faced by our young men of color, there is also poverty as well as mass incarceration.  Trying to get a handle on improving self esteem as well as responsibility and potential, again, is a great first step.

We will see what happens.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Are the Most Important Things?

According to section one of the Fourteenth Amendment:
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

If you notice, the word "person" appears three times within the text.  That word is key as it caused much debate in the post-Civil War era.  What is a "person"?  Who is a "person"?  When you read that you tend to think of a "person" as someone like you - a living, breathing human with a job and/or hopes, dreams and goals.  Perhaps you have a family or a wife.  Maybe you have neither and are single.  If you do have a family, they are also "persons" and therefore are entitled to the same rights listed above.  What you may have not known is that corporations are "persons" as well.  They, like you, are entitled to the privileges and immunities that we - the citizens of the US - are.  This means that Walmart, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup are, in the eyes of the Constitution, "persons" like you and me.  This is known as "corporate personhood".

This is a strange thing.  A corporation like Goldman Sachs (as one example) has access to teams of lawyers and, I'm assuming, much more money than most people reading (or writing) this.  They also have access to lobby groups, "super pacs" and government officials just because of the aforementioned money and legal professionals.  This means that, at the end of the day, corporations have many more rights and liberties than the average "person" here in the United States, and they have taken significant advantage of this.  They are now the most important "persons" in this country.  They control the media, due process of law, our electoral process, our system of government, and the food and drugs we put into our bodies.  Now, they also want to control our schools.

On February 27th, 2012 there was a shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio.  An assistant football coach and teacher named Frank Hall is credited with saving the lives of many students that day.  He chased the gunman out of the cafeteria and into the parking lot preventing further shootings.  He then went back into the school to comfort three young male students who had been shot as they lay dying on the floor.  Frank Hall stated recently: "We need to make a stand right now that our schools are the most important things we have in this country, not Wall Street, not Capitol Hill, our schools.  We need to determine that in our minds and heart that our school and our children need to be the most important thing we have.  That's the bottom line."

Sorry Goldman Sachs, but Frank Hall is correct.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Made In Their Own Image

The cover for the February 14, 2014 issue of Time magazine depicts the back of a graduate's head with the words "Just Hired" taped to her mortarboard. The accompanying headline reads The Diploma That Works.

The cover story is about Sarah Goode High School on Chicago's South Side - a very poor section of the city infested with gang violence as well as failing schools. Sarah Goode is new in many ways including the fact that it's only six years old. The students take courses that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes and when they graduate, they do so not just with a diploma, but also an Associates Degree. This is an amazing idea as well as a way to get kids in our inner cities out into the world earning money using skills that are severely lacking.

There is just one problem: Sarah Goode is a school whose "corporate partner" is IBM.

I don't have a problem with inner city kids being educated in ways that will accommodate our economy. In fact, I am gung ho on the idea. How ever, I must ask the question: Why can't state, and/or  Federal education create these schools and programs? Why does corporate money have to be involved - and how deep does IBM's influence run? Do they mandate the curriculum? Do they sell books and materials directly to the school?

The idea of six year High School is not new. In fact, there has been a rallying cry in terms of the way we are educating our kids for the future; but again I have to ask: Why do corporations need to be involved? 

The district I used to teach in - Newark Public Schools - are embroiled in the issue surrounding the fate of their public schools.  It would seem Governor Christ Christie (when not stumping for Trump) is attempting to turn the entire district into a "public charter" system. Like Chicago, they have committed financial help from a corporation: the Walton Family Foundation who own Walmart.

Back in 2010 Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (owner of Fox news) hired former New York City School's Chancellor Joel Klein. A few weeks later, News Corp purchased Wireless Generation - a New York based education technology company. Murdoch has stated his "interest" in helping improve public education, but in the wake of the Wireless Generation deal he also stated "When it comes to education, we see a $500 billion dollar sector alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed..."  In other words, he sees dollar signs.

Do we want corporations making American kids in their own image? Large corporations already run our government through special interest and Lobby groups. They have their grubby fingers all over our electoral process and have ruined our media. Now they want to run our education system? 

I thought we were supposed to be a country of free thinkers and innovators. The men and women who built this country were rebels at heart who also chose to color outside the lines and think outside the box. Now Rupert Murdoch is telling our kids what to study?  Do you want Walmart - a company who won't pay American citizens a living wage and imports most of its inventory from overseas - shaping the curriculum of our children? And while IBM has a massive amount of insight into what skills are needed today, that doesn't mean I want them walking the hallways of our schools making sure the individuals who come out are cookie cutter and ready to go to work...for them. How do we know that IBM or Walmart or News Corp won't make our schools "too big to fail" and threaten to pull their money unless we adhere to their standards?

This is all getting a little too Big Brother for me.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Right now in the city of Newark, school superintendent Cami Anderson is trying to systematically dismantle their public schools.  She is trying to turn Newark Public Schools into a "public charter" system.

Believe me when I say that Newark Public schools need work.  Yes, student test scores need to be raised as do the standards for most students.  But, what also needs to be addressed is: poverty, violent crime, the gang element, the needless incarceration of young black men, and the horrible self image many inner city children suffer from.  These things play a huge role in what inner city kids do, and do not learn.  I know from teaching in Newark that a young boy whose uncle was shot and killed over the weekend will never be in the right mindset to take a state mandated test.  I know that a young girl who is sleeping in a cold, bedbug infested public housing project will not be able to focus on school work.  I know that poverty does awful things to grown adults.  Imagine what it does to young children?

It was recently reported that the city of Newtown, CT would be applying for Federal Grant money.  According to an AP report, they are asking for $8 million dollars, and this money will go towards "...mental health counseling for hundreds of victims affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre" as well as "...local school security and other non-profit groups."  This money will "...come from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program, which has awarded money to victims of the September 11th attacks and other school shootings across the country."

By September 5th of 2013 the city of Newark had suffered 10 fatal shootings in 10 days.  The victims ranged in age from 14 to 24 years old.  Families and friends were devastated as they returned to school.  I wonder how much grant money Newark has received to comfort those victim's families?  Newtown suffered one shooting - which was a horrific crime - and received massive national press coverage.  They are now applying for millions in grant money.  I wonder if they will get it.

The Walton Family Foundation (Walmart) is apparently giving grant funding to the city of Newark.  Their money will go towards the hiring of over 300 Teach For America teachers who will replace those public school teachers who get fired.  What the hell does Walmart know about public education?  One thing Walmart does know about is having workers earn a minimum wage that keeps them within the definition of "working poor".  It has also been reported that Walmart employees receive (on average) over $1000 dollars in public assistance.  They need these subsidies because Walmart won't pay a living wage.

So now Cami Anderson is going to take money from them and for what?  To better improve Newark children's education?

Our corporations now have more rights than we do.  They run everything and/or have their hands in government, rule of law, campaign finance, and now the education of our children.  Does that make you comfortable?

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I think it's safe to assume that most have seen how the San Francisco 49ers/Seattle Seahawks football game ended this past Sunday.  If you have not, you missed Seattle corner back Richard Sherman tip a pass in the end zone in the final seconds of the game.  The tipped ball ended up in his teammates hands sealing victory for the Seahawks.  Then, in a post-game interview, Sherman spoke to on field reporter Erin Andrews and stated (rather loudly) that he was "the best" at his position and that Michael Crabtree (the 49er player he was defending) was a "sorry receiver".  In addition, right after making the play, Sherman went up and offered to shake Crabtree's hand.  Crabtree pushed Sherman away (by his helmet face mask).  As he walked off the field, Sherman made a "choke" gesture towards the 49er bench.

What followed was no less than craziness.  The Internet, Twitter and blogs exploded with people referring to Sherman as a "thug", "gangsta", "loud mouth" and, of course, the "N" word.  I don't know why I am shocked by this, but I am.

The amazing thing is that Richard Sherman pulled himself out of one of the toughest ghettos in the United States: Compton, California.  This is a community mired in gang violence, crime, and poverty.  With the help of his amazing parents, Sherman graduated number two in his High School class and went on to attend and graduate from Stanford University.  He was then picked in the fifth round (155th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft, pretty much as a nobody, and has since become a league superstar.  As Sherman will tell you - pulling yourself out of a neighborhood like Compton is an unbelievable feat.  The rest makes for what should be considered a great American success story.

The sad part is so many people chose to call Sherman a "thug".  The people making this accusation have no idea what they're saying.  I agree with Sherman who said that "thug" has become a safe way of saying the "N" word.

Sherman spent his whole life trying to get himself out of a community where actual thugs live and breathe.  He worked his tail off to get away from that, and then in his moment of redemption is called what he has fought his whole life to avoid being.  I look at Sherman and I see every young man I ever taught in Newark.  Sherman is a young African American man who was lucky enough to be made aware of his potential.  Imagine what could happen if entire communities of young men are given the same opportunity?

Sherman has said that his story is "remarkable".  He often returns to his High School and tells other young people from his neighborhood that nothing is impossible.  He is trying to make these inner-city kids aware of what they can accomplish.  This type of action and behavior coupled with a Stanford degree is not that of a "thug".  It is of a young scholar/athlete who is passionate about his work as well as what opportunity has given him.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Bridge

Here in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is knee deep in what has become known as "Bridgegate". If you don't know, the Governor's staff apparently gave permission for lane closures on the highway leading to the George Washington Bridge.  These caused massive traffic jams particularly in the town of Fort Lee.  Not by coincidence, their mayor is a democrat and did not support Governor Christie in his re-election bid and the closures appear to be some kind of cockeyed retribution.

With the media focused on this inane event, the Governor made his State of the State address in the midst of the circus.  In it he (of course) commented that New Jersey schools are "failing" and highlighted the inner-city schools of Newark and Camden.  I was struck by the fact that no where did he mention the word "poverty".  Regarding Camden, in particular, he spoke of how only two (2) students in the whole city graduated "college ready".  Again, no where did he mention the word "poverty" and the role this may have.

The children of Newark and Camden live lives of significant, abject poverty.  In addition, they live amongst extreme violence.  How is a child supposed to go to school and reach their fullest potential when they can't get a decent meal?  How is a child supposed to focus on school Monday morning when their cousin, brother, uncle or sister was shot and killed over the weekend?  How is a child supposed to reach their fullest academic height when they don't know if they're going to make it to school (or back home) without being shot...or mugged?

The politicians (and most of us citizens) who choose to comment on what's wrong with our inner-ctites have never spent any significant time there.  Maybe they have driven past one or stopped briefly to shake a hand or two, but they have never sat down for an extended period of time and spoken to a child.  I'm going to say that if they did, the bridge that everyone would be talking about would be the one that's being built to connect our inner-cities back to the mainland.  This is something that needs to happen.  I will say it again: The children who live in our cities are not "minority" children nor are they "urban" or "ghetto" children.  They're American children and deserve the opportunities and rights that all of our children have.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Public, Private and Charter

There is a huge movement happening now in Newark to make all public schools charter schools.  To many this seems like a no brainer since Newark schools (as well as other American inner-city public school districts) are being portrayed as complete failures.  When we read about inner-city public school districts we are immediately greeted with scenes of broken down buildings, inept teachers, corruption, or all of the above.  The film Waiting For Superman made it seem like the whole American public school system was a joke.

What films like Superman or articles and stories never seem to speak about is poverty.  In many of our inner cities kids are coming to school as victims of significant to severe poverty - but no one ever wants to talk about that.  At one point in our nation's history (the 1950's) Weequahic High School in Newark produced the most PHD's in the United States.  Now the powers that be want to shut it down and turn it into a charter school.  The mentality seems to be that if you get away from a public school model, instant success as well as prosperity will follow.  Again I ask: What about poverty?

No one seems to be talking about the fact that many children living in Newark (and other American cities) come to school every day living in significant to severe poverty.  This has a massive effect on the way a child learns regardless of the school model.

We have viable schools in place funded by public money.  Instead of bringing in charter schools (many of which are funded by outside and/or corporate sources) why don't we focus on improving communities?  How are we going to address those problems?