For Zayid: Some Brief Impressions From My “Blacksonian” Visit

My friend Annette Alston, who signed and sold 40 of her Harriet Tubman books there Sunday, told me Zayid Muhammad–an activist and poet who is a member of the People’s Organization for Progress (as is Annette)–wanted me to write a few words about my impressions of the “Blacksonian.” So, Brother Zayid, this very poor Amiri Baraka imitation/homage is dedicated to you:

*****

This is as much truth as white people can take and give in 2019; of that, there is no doubt. It turned out at least some of them had listened to Baldwin, and perhaps now Coates, and began to at least take the first step toward understanding. Not that I cared about that at first; I had read not one but two highly critical pieces about the NMAAHC in The New Yorker magazine, not exactly a known journalistic forum for Black radicalism. What’s so bad to merit such a harsh Black critique from a white liberal bastion? I came to Dee Cee like a Black Johnny Storm: Hate On!

What I found was eye candy for the Race Man and Woman, a serious feast for all five senses. (The food in the caf… ) The Smithsonian has used all it has learned and has created by all accounts an extraordinarily powerful experience.

So, Sankofa. We go down to the bottom of the historical well in an elevator that makes me, a certifiable geek, think of an African-American TARDIS, and as we move upwards from Africa to Africa-America (hmm!) we are bombarded by photos, documentaries and exhibits. Harriet’s shawl.  A slave cabin. Funder-approved themes such as “The Paradox of Liberty” greet us. (Us was in paradox?) “Life and Work.” (Wait, slavery is equivalent to work?) Ulp, no time to think, because now we’ve been emancipated and still we rise.

The Jim Crow era had all you could expect: the coolest segregated lunch counter you will ever see, with interactive video Tony Stark would love. I was all, blah-blah-blah, yeah-yeah, saw-the-movie….and then I went into a corner with a guard out in front of it, should we forget that what lay in state ahead of us was not for cameras. So I disappeared into the corner, cynical as hell, and then it confronted me.

Emmett Till’s casket. The actual one.

My critic’s haughtiness fell off of me like a jacket quickly yanked off. I stared. One minute. Two. Then I had to walk away. I couldn’t look at it. Like a good American, I immediately tried to bury the memory and move forward.  But the casket followed me for a long time.

Movin’ on up, I was bombarded by Barack Obama’s voice and face on the big screen. (Of course; reminds me when I heard in 2009 that nonfiction book publishers on Black topics made an edict that every Black nonfiction book had to end with Daddy-O painting the White House Black.) Wait, there’s an Oprah Winfrey Theater in here? Not even stoppin’ to check the part about my birth year, 1968, I refused to be present; I didn’t want to be told that I had overcome because Spike Lee and Queen Latifah have had long careers.

The reason that (two Black writers at) The New Yorker was pissed was that it saw what I saw: a muted historical voice. I walked up to the small but nice Black press exhibit, and it said the same thing I have read millions of times. Malcolm X’s exhibit had nothing about his Pan-Africanism–his trip to 13 African nations as an unofficial Black American head-of-state, his attempt at World African Revolution. I looked in vain for any discussion of Black Marxism. Yes, Kwame Ture was there, permanently frozen as Stokely Carmichael before he split (the American from his mind). A friend of mine who walked around told me he didn’t see anything about the Million Man March. The what? Minister who? There is a high level of sophistication in the air: in the 21st century, Oreos are out and smoothies are in, didn’t you know that?

Ironically, museums and exhibits are not in stone. So let’s grat the Newark brother who built it (’cause this ain’t no con!) but follow The New Yorker’s lead and be as critical as possible. The more criticism, the more the Blacksonian will evolve, the more the white psychic rubber band will be forced to stretch.

 

My Root Article On The Post-Election Panel At The IBW-21’s “State Of The Black World” Conference……

trump-and-omarosa

…….is here.

My 30th Anniversary In The Black Press (Thank You, Deborah Smith-Gregory!)

AFRO

Thirty years ago today, at the ripe age of 17, I covered my first news story professionally. I covered a huge anti-apartheid rally in Newark, N.J. for The New Jersey Afro-American newspaper, the “baby” of what then was a chain of weeklies that went up and down the East Coast. Deborah P. Smith-Gregory, my journalism teacher at Seton Hall University’s Upward Bound project in 1983, brought me into The AFRO. She allowed me to share her byline with her. The article made it onto the front page, and I never looked back. Thanks, Mrs. Deborah Smith-Gregory!

Reinstate Marylin Zuniga!

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Got this the other day.

Marilyn

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 18, 2015

Contact:

Larry Hamm, People’s Organization for Progress, 973-801-0001

Donna Nevel, Communities for Marylin Zuniga, 917-570-4371

Supporters Fight to Reinstate Talented Teacher

School Board capitulates to pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police

In an outpouring of community support, hundreds of community members, educators, and parents called for the immediate reinstatement of Marylin Zuniga to her position as a third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary School in Orange, New Jersey. In spite of this overwhelming support, the Orange Township School Board terminated Ms. Zuniga from her position because she allowed her third grade students to write get-well letters to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

As educator and minister Nyle Fort, who is working with Communities for Marylin Zuniga, pointed out: “The Orange Board of Education is supposedly accountable to the community. After the public meeting, in which people spoke overwhelmingly in support of Ms. Zuniga, the school board adopted a resolution identified only by its number, and then got up and left the room. Until calls were made to the school the next day, no one knew that the board had decided to terminate her. That is hardly public accountability.”

Further, according to Alan Levine, one of Ms. Zuniga’s lawyers, “The Orange Board of Education flagrantly violated Ms. Zuniga’s right to due process. She never received a notice describing her misconduct, and had no opportunity to confront her accusers or to present witnesses on her behalf. Her termination lacked those constitutional safeguards designed to insure that government agencies act fairly.”

Hundreds of educators across the country sent a letter to the school board in which they “insist[ed] that Ms. Zuniga be immediately returned to her position as third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary with supportive mentorship. The educational community is looking to you to develop, and not punish, this committed and qualified educator.”

Educator Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price also added that “Ms. Zuniga’s termination was grossly disproportionate to whatever offense she may have committed. Clearly, her termination was not about her student’s education or safety, but, rather, a reflection of the Board’s capitulation to outside pressures of the Fraternal Order of Police.”

As Mark Taylor, community activist and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary made clear, “ At the heart of this matter is the question of who controls what happens in public school classrooms. As long as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) can influence what our children can and cannot learn, the right to democratic education is lost.”

“Marylin Zuniga was beloved by her studentsand was a wonderful teacher. If we are thinking about what is best for the children, which should be our only concern, Ms. Zuniga would be back in her classroom, “ said Tamia Chatmon, one of the parents of a student in Ms. Zuniga’s class.

Ms. Zuniga has asked her lawyers and her union to challenge the termination so that she can be reinstated to her classroom

Relevant links and attachments:

statement from educators and scholars across the US:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ktO2D3Vu0dbrJS9jfLH9bH5zIU4ppH74tGTxMn9vrzU/viewform

EMAJ letter posted for Zuniga, April 13, 2015

http://www.emajonline.com/zuniga/

statement from National Lawyers Guild

https://www.nlg.org/news/releases/nlg-demands-reinstatement-new-jersey-teacher-marylin-zuniga-suspended-after-students

news post: Putting Our Children First

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-nevel/putting-our-children-firs_b_7108800.html

Free Marylin Zuniga!

The above video is from April. The photos and video below are from last night.

Mother

Mother2

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Zuniga Crying

Zuniga

So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice.”–Mumia Abu-Jamal

(That’s the issue, right? Boy, irony abounds in Black/Brown life! :))

The next meeting of the Orange Board of Education is Tuesday, my old newspaper said.

I’ve long argued Mumia Abu-Jamal was a political prisoner of the First Amendment, and I understand that what Ms. Zuniga did was not in regulation with Orange Board of Education policy, but this looks like she’s a prisoner of the First Amendment, too!

MAY 15th UPDATE: Sad, but not surprising.