Monday, December 11, 2017

Street Renaming for the Chantels- Pioneering Bronx Music Group

It is with the greatest pleasure that I offer the enthusiastic support of the scholars and community partners of the Bronx African American History Project for a street sign on 166 Street and Prospect Avenue honoring the pioneering Bronx music group, the Chantels. When the Chantels recorded "Maybe" in 1957, they changed the course of music history. Prior to that time, all of the urban harmonic groups who sold a million records were male. "Maybe" broke the mold. Sung by five 8th graders at St Anthony of Padua Elementary School, the song not only sold a million records, it set in motion the phenomenon of the "Girl Groups," which swept through popular music in the late Fifties and Early Sixties. The Shirelles, the Crystals, the Chiffons, even the Supremes, all followed in a path that the Chantels walked first, Honoring the Chantels with a street sign not only gives this remarkable group the respect they deserve, it will inspire future generations of young people in the Bronx to learn how young people from their community transformed popular music in the US and around the world. Community Board 3 and the City Council have the opportunity to do something extremely important for the Bronx and its people. Naming a street sign after the Chantels will not only honor an important group, it will help secure Morrisania's reputation as a community which produced as many varieties of popular music as any place in the world in the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's
Dr Mark Naison
Founder and Director, Bronx African American History Project

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Why I Won't Miss Al Franken

When it came to education policy, Al Franken symbolized everything wrong with the Democratic Party. He was a tireless advocate for charter schools, Teach for America, and test based evaluation of schools and teachers- someone who persistently ignored the voice of public school teachers in his own state. I am not in the least bit sorry to see him go. The only way the Democratic Party can become a credible opposition party, and eventually lead the country out of the deep hole trump and the republicans are digging, is by repudiating the neo-liberalism that most of its leaders espouse, and presenting a vision of a future where the voice of ordinary people counts more than that of billionaires. And that means a break with cynicism and the discovery of a genuine moral compass that not only rejects sexual harassment but refuses to countenance demonization of teachers and other important sections of the nation’s work force. Al Franken showed no capacity to do that. I won’t miss him at all

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Young People and the US Political Crisis- A Commentary by Dr Brian Purnell

Personally, I think we frame the issues incorrectly. We are, for the most part, reactionary. The other side is winning because it unifies around single issues - anti-choice, homophobia, guns, and low taxes. It paints its supporters as victims. And it dismisses all opposition as fake and contrived.
What is the counter narrative? I don't think our students have one.
They have an analysis. And it angers them. And they have positions. But being "woke," like the post-60s growth of "consciousness," does not give people a narrative to support, or a story to believe in.
The targets are too amorphous and disconnected: privilege, systemic injustice, inequality, power. They know more about the macro-systems and micro-aggressions, but less about weaving a unified vision of justice, peace, and yes, love.
I have no doubt that individuals and some resistance movements push those greater goods, but as far as advancing a broader agenda that can mobilize, energize, and focus a powerful opposition capable of mounting an effective attack against the neo-fascism taking over our country and Europe -- we have failed to advance a vision that brings people together to do that.
Obama used "Hope and Change," but he was too beholden to the aggressiveness of global capitalism to deal with so many people excluded from the economy.
Bernie and Occupy used "We are the 99%" but it fails to deal with the reality of our culture: we don't want to be like everyone else; we want to be special and different, even when we fight for the collective.
We have "Black Lives Matter," but it has not moved the needle enough on the legal and procedural protections that enable corruption in municipal politics, especially policing.
We have "Me Too" and the pelts of some major sex predators to hang on the wall, but a Predator-in-Chief as our national leader, and a soon-to-be Senator accused of serially preying upon teenagers.

These frameworks are not working. They inform. They inspire self-reflection. But they do not really inspire.

That is why our students do not seem determined. Determined for what, and why, and how?
That is why the other side is hungrier. It fights for its vision of civilization and nation and family.
Until we tell our story in the same types of ways, we will keep losing.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

My Three Goals for the Next Year

1. To tell the truth about what is happening in this country- and explain what we look like to the rest of the world- no matter how much it scares people and how much it hurts.
2. To get in the best shape I have been in for 30 years by sustaining a healthy eating regimen that reduces pain as well as takes off pounds.
3 To show love for the people I live with and work with, to be there for people who need me, and to never turn my back on people in pain.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Toughest Year of My Life

The year since the election of Donald Trump has been one of the toughest times in my life. Not only did Trump's election represent a rejection of many of the principles I have spent my life fighting for, it left may of the people that surrounded me traumatized, depressed and fearful. Never in my life have I felt more pressure to comfort, reassure and defend people who felt vulnerable, whether they were my students, my colleagues, or people I worked with in the Bronx community, And I had to do so in uncharted territory. How much of an immediate threat to people's personal safety were the racists and white nationalists who saw the election as a license to attack? How much of a long term threat were the policies Trump planned to implement, be it the travel ban, mass deportations, the construction of a wall or the destruction of Obamacare and changes in tax law?
All I knew was that people around me needed me to be strong and steady because I had been through crises before and because I was not afraid to take unpopular stands.
But how could i do that when I was filled with rage? Losing my temper, I realized, was a luxury I could not afford. Not only could it get me in trouble, but it could potentially incite the kind of communal violence I desperately wanted to avoid. As much as I wanted to beat up Nazis and white supremacists, I realized that it was more important to calm people down and prepare them for a long hard battle for causes they believed in than to stir them up for actions that might be emotionally satisfying but could land them in jail
And herein lay the challenge. I not only had to organize meetings and forums and private gatherings which brought people together in ways that made them feel stronger and less alone, i had to remake myself into a person capable of being a positive leader in dark times.
I tried everything that would help me do that. I listened to music, both live and recorded, that gave me courage and inspiration. I reached out to people whose activism inspired me and made a large group of new friends. But I also turned to a time honored method I had of dealing with adversity-- getting in shape. Starting in June, I dramatically changed my eating habits in a way that significantly reduced the amount of pain I dealt with on a daily basis, either from playing tennis, or walking long distances. By the fall, pounds were peeling off and i was feeling better than I had in years
. And the confidence from that experience peeled off into my political life. As the pounds came off, I started to become confident that I had to power to outlast Trump and his supporters and make sure they could not undermine all the things i was doing to strengthen schools and communities and build partnerships between Fordham an the Bronx. All of a sudden, living and being active for the next 20 years no longer seemed improbable. I was fitter and in less pain than I had been in many many years
So, with this year under my belt, I not only see my self as a Resistor, I see myself as a Survivor. I will outwit, out maneuver and outlast this malevolent group of leaders that seeks to turn back the clock.
And will do so knowing that many people in this contry support what I am long as I keep my activities on a higher moral ground than the people I am fighting.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What I Would Do If I Were President

1. Try to create thousands of community schools modeled on PS 55 in the Bronx with in school health clinics, indoor and outdoor agriculture programs, and great arts and sports programs
2. Produce tweets and press releases every day that say "Climate Change is Real" and invest in solar and wind power on a massive scale
3. Make it a National Mission to rebuild Puerto Rico and every other part of the country devastated by recent storms
4. Make healthy eating a National Priority and use the Presidency as a "Bully Pulpit" to discourage meat consumption and urge people to reduce reliance on fast food.
5. Make immigrants of every race and nationality feel at home in the US, halt deportations of children, and refuse to deport heads of households unless they are found guilty of violent crimes in a court of law
6. Rebuild highways, bridges, subways and rail lines and invest in all forms of transportation which reduce reliance on private automobiles.
I will never be President, but I wanted to put these ideas out there as someone may choose to run with them..

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Things I Am Thankful For

1. That I am married to Liz, my hero as well as my partner in life.
2. That I have amazing children, who are married to great people, and amazing grandchildren.
3. That I love my job and have great students and colleagues.
4. That I have friends all over the country and all over the world who represent many races, religions and nationalities.
5. That i work in the Bronx, a place which challenges me and inspires me every day.
6. That i survived situations of great danger in my youth and as a result go through life with very little fear.
7. That I wake up every morning filled with joy and anticipation and remain optimistic no matter how bad things may seem.
8 That no matter how well life treats me, I always feel compassion for those who are suffering, and will make time to support them