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?