A Guest Post by Rev. Bill Howard: On Newark Education

That there is robust discussion about public education in Newark is, in my view, a very good thing, and it would be unfortunate, no tragic, if this window of opportunity were missed to markedly change the poor quality of education that too many receive in Newark public schools.

There are differing opinions about what to do, but there is little, if any, disagreement about what the broad parameters of what a “good education” is.  Some say less dependence on standardized tests and and more emphasis on critical reasoning and writing skills. But by and large, there is more consensus than some may think.

Where disagreement may surface in the days ahead is in how the “good education” will be delivered.  Will it come through a massive closing of existing schools, replacing them with alternative charter schools, or will there be a genuine effort to infuse existing schools that are failing with proven best practices, in collaboration with the teacher’s union, as shown in the case of Brockton (Massachusetts) High School, and reported in the 9/27/10 edition of the New York Times? While I expect the current discussion of the content of education and school atmospherics is valuable, more focus should be upon the issue of structural delivery.  This is especially important because there is a well-organized, well-funded movement in favor of trashing the old structures and replacing them with something totally new.  Whether this latter approach is sustainable over the long term is yet to be proven.

Whatever is to work must be largely homegrown, built from the inside out, like all fundamental social change—with a very measured, cautious dose of what well-meaning folk not directly invested in the outcome have to offer.

Author: Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr., Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church

Originally posted at http://revbillhoward.blogspot.com/2010/11/newark-schools.html

my challenge: what can i/we do for others in need

I received an email yesterday from a friend regarding the death of, yet, another beautiful soul, Mosey Alexander. I didn’t know Mosey; yet, my heart was/is torn.

I am feeling challenged today because it is clear to me that beyond my/our need to truly dig into and deconstruct my/our understandings of suicidality among LGBT youth (and adults)…beyond my/our desire to call out the systems, the ideologies, the theologies, the state practices/regulations and the isms that oft serve as the invisible hands that kill others…beyond my/our need to pontificate and debate, march and testify in this moment…I am left to consider what it is that I/we are possibly being called to interrogate?

I can recall the moments in my own life when I considered suicide and made actual attempts to take my life. In retrospect, it was in those moments when I felt as if I had been wading through violent waves and my cries for help, as silently-loud as they may have been, had often gone unheard. I remember calling friends and literally fumbling over words as I asked for help. Is it that friends were unable to read my cries for “help” when they were coded by statements like: “I don’t know. It has been really hard for me to get pass this heaviness” or “Sometimes, I just want to end it all” or “Yeah, I know it will get better, but when?” or “I can’t take it anymore”? I actually remember sleeping through the most beautiful and sunny of days on a bustling college campus only to wake up at night–after having missed classes, crying and hiding under my blankets, while situated in a dark room where the sun was blocked out by curtains–to walk and talk with others, while in pain, and, yet,  feel alone the whole time.

But, what is my point? I think that we are being presented with opportunities to intervene in the life of another. Indeed, we have to consider the big system issues (i.e. intersectional structures of oppression, state practices/laws, media affects, theologies etc.) that weigh down on folk, but we must also consider the mundane practices (i.e. they ways in which we relate to family members, friends, and strangers; our presences-or lack thereof-in the lives of those in need; our willingness to listen when others speak; our desire to help when others cry out for our help; our responses-and our responsibility-to say and do something when others may hint at suicidal ideation, etc.)  that order, or dis-orders, our lives daily. In other words, we actually have a responsibility to ensure that we live lives that don’t feed into the systems that we critique as oppressive.

It’s quite basic, what I/we can do:

1). Stop hating! Literally…I am challenging myself to think and utter positive things about other people. We kill with our words and our actions…conversely, we can also give life with our words and our actions. I have to cease the jokes that hurt others…I have to cease the eye rolling, the harmful gesturing, the ignoring, the hubris, the stuff that marks others.

2). Be present! I am challenging myself to not only be by the side of others (beyond moments when they are in need) but to be PRESENT: attending to the spoken and unspoken cues; putting my phone down when we are together-this is difficult for me; empathizing with their situations; answering the phone when others reach out when, in fact, they may be calling out of need (I’ve been there. I’ve called friends many-a-time in pain only to speak to voicemails. I am also guilty of not answering calls when others needed me). Essentially, I am challenging myself to practice what it means to be human, that is, what it means to be a relational being.

3). Take care of SELF! I am challenging myself to get in touch with my own “stuff”…my desires, my ideologies, my prejudices, my dislikes, my joys, my pains, my ish, the negative energy that I might disperse, my vulnerabilities…Not doing so prevents me from being present and possibly perpetuates the kinds of negative energy that harms others. Even more, when I am in touch with self I am better able to be in touch with others.

In sum, our activism doesn’t have to wait. Change, does not have to be imagined as something forward.  It starts with us…now! It begins with me/us answering: Who will I love today? Who will I help? Who will I hug? Listen to? Attend to? Whose tears will I wipe? Who needs a smile? Who needs food? What can I do to make someone else’s cloudy day full of light?

all love…darnell

Creating Space to do the Heavy Lifting: The Potential of Autonomy within the Newark Global Village School Zone

Every day in Newark Public Schools (NPS) hardworking, committed, and knowledgeable people are engaged in the arduous work of transforming schools.   They are principals, teachers, parents, students, and community partners.  Yet, in the flash of press cameras, front-page national headlines, charismatic leaders, and unprecedented private gifts, the work being done as seven public schools join together to dismantle the underperformance shared by their schools is easily forgotten.  Layer on a climate of reform that glamorizes the kind of top-down control that prohibits the collaborative efforts required to transform public schools (or any organization for that matter), this work may even seem obsolete.

However, on a flawless October afternoon a few principals from these seven hardworking schools sit together excitedly recounting how their teachers returned from a professional development day not only brimming over with instructional strategies they believed would improve their teaching, but also convinced they needed time during the school day to observe and learn from each other.  In their conversation, it is quite evident that what has started to take place in these schools is far from immaterial.  It is, in fact, the work that in the long-run matters the most to changing schools.

Supporting the implementation of the very collaborative and deep localized professional learning discussed by the principals are two Memorandums of Understanding (MOU). An MOU is a legal document that creates formal agreements between two or more parties.   The first MOU is an agreement between Newark Public Schools (NPS) and the seven schools in the heart of Newark’s Central Ward that formally joins these schools as the Newark Global Village School Zone (NGVSZ) and grants the NGVSZ schools autonomy from district policies and procedures in numerous areas.  The second MOU is between NPS and the Newark Teachers’ Union (NTU) and establishes modifications to the collective bargaining agreement including among other things compensation for extended-learning time, teacher transfers, and professional development.  These MOUs are the framework through which the NGVSZ will transform the conditions, expectations, and accountability for public education in the Central Ward.

As is the work of any legal agreement, the MOUs are technical articulations of the roles and responsibilities of the NGVSZ schools and their relationship to the school district and teachers.  However, the roles and responsibilities articulated in the NGVSZ MOUs are directly tied to best practices in core aspects of school organization, teaching and learning, community engagement, assessment, governance, and accountability—all of which are widely held levers for creating excellent schools.

While it’s true that much of what is laid out in the MOUs has been done—for example, school based decision making, local governance, and extended-day—what chomps at the bit of change are three things. First, is the acknowledgement that to build sustainable change these aspects of schooling must be transformed in concert; change must occur across every domain of the educational process simultaneously. Second, is the recognition that to have meaningful impacts on the opportunities and outcomes experienced by students, transformation must occur at every point on the developmental pipeline along which children travel; resources must be mobilized to address every aspect of children’s lives. Lastly, is the belief that sustainable change requires those most impacted by the problems that exist in schools and communities are an integral part of identifying problems and creating their solutions; organizing parents, teachers, students, and leaders to produce critical analyses of problems leads to transformational solutions.

At a time when the public debate about how to solve the problems of public education is locked into caricatures of superheroes and villains and dichotomies between the “status quo” and “real innovation,” the NGVSZ MOUs concretize a vision of what it takes to do the work everyone is talking about.  When Newark Public School Superintendent, Dr. Clifford Janey, charted the path of the NGVSZ schools in this direction, he drew on a long history of experiences that had shown him over time how public schools could use autonomy to achieve greatness while remaining part of a larger school system.  For example in Boston, where Dr. Janey was previously superintendent, a network of autonomous schools called the Boston Pilot Schools have lower retention rates than other Boston Public Schools, and higher test scores and higher college persistence rates for their graduates.  But, students in the Boston Pilot Schools are not just scoring higher.  They are scoring a lot higher.    In fourth grade—just to pick a grade—the proportion of students scoring advanced proficient on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was 59% in ELA and 76% in math.  The framework through which the Boston Pilot Schools Network was able to utilize autonomy to achieve this success while remaining a part of Boston Public Schools was made possible through the collective efforts of the superintendent, the mayor, the teachers union, and the school committee in a school district under Mayoral control.

When the MOUs for NGVSZ were crafted, the principals of the seven schools went directly to the Boston Pilot Schools’ model for a blueprint of what needed to be in place to support this kind of student success within the zone, and within NPS.  What they encountered were policies, structures, and practices that had created the flexibility called for at the school-level to organize schools, staffing, and curricula in ways that best meet the needs of the students in each school.  This autonomy allowed the Boston Pilot Schools to differentiate their practices to support the specific strengths and needs of their school communities.  With a well-documented and scientifically evaluated model to guide the direction of their vision, the NGVSZ principals incorporated the following policies from the Boston Pilot School model into the NGVSZ MOUs:

  • Waiving of rules and policies that are not specifically applied to NGVSZ or that are necessary for compliance with state/federal laws or applicable collective bargaining agreements.
  • The flexibility to plan, design, and implement curricula and assessment developed by teams of classroom teachers, Department Chairs, coaches and other relevant professional and to work in collaboration with university partners with expertise in these areas.
  • The option to extend the school day for all instructional personnel or stagger the schedules of all instructional personnel according to the work hours required by the current collective bargaining agreement.
  • Authority as to allocation and expenditure of site-based per-pupil allocations, including Title I funding and grant funds, consistent with regulations of the state of New Jersey.
  • Collaboration between NGVSZ and NPS in the hiring of principals and development of a process for selecting and assessing teachers and paraprofessional.

Some will say what worked in Boston will not work in Newark.  Others will argue that when something has been proven to dramatically transform schools it should be tried in other places.  In my experience, both perspectives are correct.  Of course, very few things can be replicated in exactly the same way in new contexts where they are influenced by entirely different sets of relationships, histories, politics, cultures, and events.  However, that does not mean a good idea should not be considered because it took root some place else first.  It does mean, that a critical part of replication is understanding the particular local context and assessing how this context maps onto a “good idea” or a scientifically proven program or a best practice.

I might suggest that creating a zone among a feeder pattern of NPS schools is just one way in which the local context played out in determining how to move autonomy within a network of schools forward as a best practice in NPS.  Another example of how local context is extremely relevant to NGVSZ is in the extensive work that goes into building support across many layers of stakeholders in Newark.  While the Boston Pilot School network was developed out of partnership among Boston’s mayor, the superintendent, and teachers union, in Newark building the collaboration where stakeholders from every level hold NGVSZ and NPS accountable for meeting the terms of the MOU is an essential underpinning of the work.

At the heart of autonomy are vision and accountability.  When the teachers mentioned earlier in this post returned from their professional development session they were not only invigorated by a vision of what their practice could look like, they were inspired to open their classrooms, thereby establishing a level of public and collective accountability that by most accounts did not exist before.  Supporting this energy requires that principals and the schools they lead can deliver what these teachers need to reach the pedagogical expertise they envision and to ensure that accountability becomes an authentic tool for driving meaningful teaching and learning.  Research shows that this depth of responsiveness requires the kind of attention to school-level needs—the local—that the vision of autonomous schools set in motion by Dr. Janey and articulated in the NGVSZ MOUs call for.

The state of public education is at a new high in the public imagination.  While public schools may be the “sexy” reform agenda of the moment, our children and communities have been calling for the best education possible for much longer than the public memory will allow.  NGVSZ has created the scaffolding through which it can bring everyone’s focus in on the work of building great schools that are responsive to students and communities they serve. There are, of course, bumps in the road, fit and starts if you will.  However, the true vision of NGVSZ resides in what can happen when those who work directly in schools and classrooms have the opportunity to respond to the learning and other needs they see their students and colleagues struggle with everyday.  For those who doubt that the majority of teachers and principals we already have can do the heavy lifting or make the professional choices that this change demands all you have to do is look to Boston for strong evidence that autonomy yields achievement.

Lauren Wells, Ph.D.


The Broader Bolder Approach to Education

Metropolitan Center for Urban Education

Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development

New York University





The Trouble with Intellectuals and the Culture of Poverty

by fayemi shakur

As a young person, being identified as an intellectual always made me cringe. In elementary school, I loved it because it seemed to make me special in some way. By the time I reached high school, I seriously disliked the association and rejected opportunities to attend a school for the academically gifted. Even in college I gravitated more to community meetings than classrooms. Back then I couldn’t articulate why the academic intellectual label rubbed me the wrong way. It’s a good thing to be a person who thinks. However, intellectuals go too far sometimes and yet not far enough. I am cautious and mindful of the way intellectuals share their gifts and how much authority and influence they are given to define people and places.

My brilliant friend and cultural anthropologist, Dr. Aimee Cox, shared a recent New York Times article about the culture of poverty making a comeback among scholars. It reminded me all over again why some intellectuals and intellectualism still rubs me the wrong way.

The article shares “new” studies that are surfacing about the culture of poverty. For those who remember or studied the Moynihan Report of 1965 similar studies were used back then to influence policy in ways that negatively impacted impoverished communities. So this resurgence of scholarship on culture makes me stop dead in my tracks.

Why? The article acknowledges that the topic generates much interest on Capitol Hill because so much of the research intersects with policy debates.

Then I read this:

To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”

“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?

Researching levels of moral cynicism and disorder, Sampson did a tired and lame study dropping stamped envelopes around a housing project to see who would mail it back as a sign of caring about members of their community. Is he serious? That’s what he’s using to judge whether or not these communities look after each other? And he teaches at Harvard?

Next the article mentions a favorite topic: why low-income women are unmarried. The findings report these women noted potential partners are not “marriage material”. Simplistic, trite findings like this don’t give me much faith in what these studies will report. It should be common knowledge that marriage rates in low-income communities are low due to the high numbers of men who are incarcerated and under the probation system and therefore unavailable. Some women are also rejecting and reconsidering marriage altogether for an array of reasons. The research doesn’t go far enough. It still sounds like making judgments based on values.

I get seriously territorial and protective when I hear things like this. I want to know who is doing the studying, how is it begin done, why is it being done and how it will be used.

Forget the conversation about values and morals. We know the answers already but nobody’s listening. Crime is connected to joblessness. Duh.

Morality? No, how about a discussion about spirituality, overall health and the impact the lack of quality supermarkets and high concentration of fast food restaurants has on low-income communities? Or what about how media programming influences young people?

Education? I can’t. I’ll be here all day. All types of excuses are used to explain why our children are left at a disadvantage, underprepared for their futures, and guaranteed a continued cycle of poverty –and how we, not government must fix it. It’s a sad truth but then where’s the accountability. It’s just not the same in places like Montclair, NJ and don’t tell me it’s because the parents are more involved. I’ve seen them, most of them just drop their kids off at school like most people do.

Attempting to explain why or how neighborhoods become “poverty traps”, blaming a “culture of poverty” or “shared understandings” sounds dangerously close to blaming the victim. I don’t support the idea of victimization. I’m glad some social scientists are willing to examine sustained racism and economic factors that create the isolation and “culture” in the first place. But, the fact that these studies are being reignited at all tells me that low-income communities are under the microscope again and policy related decisions will soon follow.

The only point that matters to me is: these challenges low-income communities face are honestly too big to expect individuals to be able to overcome on their own. The pull your self up by the bootstraps philosophy may have worked for some, but that type of individualistic thinking rarely helps the collective. Some people need more support than that and we should care more.

Thank goodness there are some intellectuals who really get it. Be an intellectual by all means, but be an intellectual that affects policy with a clear understanding of the people’s needs, rather than an elitist or simplistic perspective.

It’s always fascinating to me that some elitist intellectuals hold so much value but because of their own conceit they don’t know how to best use their influence to help others. Some just don’t care to think about it in that way.

In 2004, I had an opportunity to help organize and produce the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. There I met hundreds of grassroots activists from all over the country doing incredible work. No one waited or cared about the results of any study to roll their sleeves up and get involved in affecting real change. From prisoner rights groups to reproductive health activists, these young people were on it and truly involved in the communities some people only talk about it. Why not work with them and frame new perspectives and solutions? Some scholars actually do this and believe in the value of collaboration over mere research.

One amazing woman I met briefly was Adrienne Brown, an activist from Detroit and current Director of the Ruckus Society and a National Coordinator of the 2010 US Social Forum. Reflecting on a short story by Ursula K. Lee entitled “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, Adrienne recently wrote an analysis of Lee’s work. Her words stay with me. She says “we must transform ourselves to transform the world. We have a moral imperative to reject happiness or luxury that relies on the systemic dehumanization of another – even if we don’t know what the alternative might be. We have to be willing to confront and walk away from systems founded in inequality…and we need to evolve our community organizing practices to be collaborative, not competitive.”

Is the academic community ready for that? Should policy decisions be made based on intellectual pap? I know lots of brilliant people who can do this effectively. If the academic community seeks to define our communities it should be done by intellectuals who inspire, support and create solution oriented action in a forward direction. And they need to really think out of the box. We don’t need Moynihan revisited – at all.

Notable Newarker #3: An Interview with Allen Kwabena Frimpong

1. When did you move to Newark, NJ? What brought you to the city?

April 29, 2009, was the date I moved back to Newark– from Piscataway (yeah I am giving P-Way a shout out)–to be exact. It’s funny how I can recall the exact date, right, but I think it was an abrupt transition in my life when I decided to return back to my birthplace. My parents were selling their house and going their separate ways and I just was making a huge transition in my profession starting to do international organizing work in the drug policy field all while returning to school to get my masters in urban planning. It was the right opportunity to actually live life on my own, so like Elaine Brown, of the former Black Panther Party says, I had to ‘seize the time’.

I had done some prior organizing work in Newark with young people for about two years. I had worked with several community-based organizations and schools conducting focus groups and interviews with young people from all walks of life. A lot of my engagement with social justice issues has been centered on public health.  At the time, I was a Fellow at Young People 4, a program of the People for the American Way, where I worked with the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City. The Harm Reduction Coalition is an organization that promotes the health and dignity of those affected by drug use through advocacy and education. I was responsible for the creation of an initiative for young people to address issues of drug use called Brick Rebuilding (play off of Brick City..or “brick” aka a kg of drugs- rebuilding the knowledge and understanding we have about drugs and drug use). Before this I had made some really solid relationships with other Newark residents in helping coordinating outreach to people who were homeless in Newark in addressing issues around housing, food, their rights -basic needs. I think a lot of that engagement with folks was different for me in that I was really having exchanges with people that usually I wouldn’t be having – because they were homeless and on the streets. These lived experiences were really teachable moments for me, and the new friendships that came out of those experiences is what really pulled me to return to Newark.

2. How is Newark different from other places that you have lived? What characteristics are unique to Newark?

I think Newark is going through growing pains. In some ways healthy, in others not so much. You section off the side of town that borders the city where you can clearly see that the town has green grass and gates with ranch style houses (i.e Montclair), but then where the border of the town is…is the city with a sign that says welcome to Newark with abandoned housing, cracks in the concrete with cracked bottles. It’s a patchwork of those images mixed together. It’s going through attempts to be gentrified. Newark to me is a forced mixture of those two environments, and I feel like the people reflect that forced mixed environment. As there are people who move in and out of the city who most likely work for places like city government or Prudential..transient groups of people who don’t have homes, people who are invested in the city with friends, family, or maybe even lack thereof and those who are just trying to survive given their circumstances. Cities and towns are designed-it’s almost like being in a state of what is called cognitive dissonance where you know what the norms are, you know how people act, behave and when they are introduced to a new concept that they feel may or may not be of benefit to them..they are at a state of maybe confusion or resistance in some way, and I feel like that is how I see Newark. It’s the fear of the unknown.

Clearly, its different from Piscataway, because Piscataway I think is reflective of just any other suburb in New Jersey, especially the way its designed. Suburbs are designed as getaways (gateways) from the urban environment. I think Piscataway was very diverse in culture as it pertained to race, ethnicity, and class distinctions now that I look back at it and I think a lot of that exposure early on shaped my view of how I understood those very same things now and how those things impact society. Many people use the Newark rebellion as a reference point because it was such a big representation of an attempt of class suicide for Black people to rid themselves of a system that continuously was doing them harm. I think the thing to remember about Newark and other urban environments in America are that they have always been struggling to survive and live in structures that were designed and orchestrated to keep them out of spaces of privilege and power. In fact, before the rebellion of ’68 there was the rebellion of 1844 so you see Newark has always been at a constant state of struggle till this day.

3. Describe one positive experience that you have had in Newark since living here.

Well, I recently just saw one of the participants in the Brick Rebuilding project, a young brotha that attended Barringer High School who was just really getting into a lot of trouble, and had joined a youth organization as one of the peer leaders when I was coordinating the program two years ago. I saw him two days ago on Broad St. when I was walking to Penn Station to go to work. He yelled my name out, and I saw him wearing scrubs. He was in school studying to be a medical assistant and that really made me feel good that day. I remember at the close of the project I had taken the participants to Baltimore for a conference about people of color and the war on drugs, and so my participants were able to meet other young Black people from Baltimore and DC to share their experiences of how drugs affected them and what positive things they were going to do to change their community. For many of my participants it was the first time they left Newark, including him. He actually got to meet one of the cast members from “The Wire” who actually used to be a major drug dealer in real life, and I remember him along with everyone else really liking the experience and learning a lot so when I saw him two days ago it just really made me remember how much people can grow and progress out of struggle.

4. In what ways do you “give back” to the City?

In my international work I felt really disconnected from the things that were going on in my own neighborhood. I think part of that had to do with the fact that people in the international community don’t view the United States as a part of that community, particularly in the global south despite the fact that many of the issues they face are comparable to the issues marginalized people in the U.S. face. Now that I have parted from that for the time being and have returned back to doing national policy and capacity-building work I feel like the skills that I have gained are transferable in really valuable ways in how I can engage with people in my community better and be more present. One of the things that I would like to start doing is really reframing how we utilize people in our communities to develop self sustaining communities. When we say we are “giving back” I think one of the basic things to think about is – Why do we give back? (For what purpose?) Motivation and intent are very important for me and I feel like those things are driving forces that give us the ability to believe that we can succeed in our endeavors. More importantly, it allows for us to be transparent and honest with why we do the work we doThe other question that I think we should think about is who are we really giving back to? and to what end? I want to start really doing work from a place of asset building rather than from deficit, because I do think there are skill sets present in the community already that could be tapped to help develop safer communities, sustainable communities. I think it’s because we are conditioned to work from deficits we maintain deficits. I’d like to start engaging with environmental justice issues in Newark more, so since I have spoken it into existence hopefully it will happen.

5. In your estimation, what challenges and opportunities await Newark?

I just talked about working from deficit right? Just as a case example…I was just reading about how the American Civil Liberties Union of NJ (www.aclu-nj.org) filed a petition to the U.S Department of Justice to intervene with handling the abuses and misconduct of the Newark Police department. While I do agree that there needs to be some level of accountability on the part of the Newark Police Department a part of me also wonders what will be the way forward for them in improving the way they operate, and how will the Department of Justice influence that. Again, working in an asset-based framework what ways can we have the community in Newark uphold justice in their own community. What ways can they use their collective efficacy to hold people in the community accountable to a set of standards agreed to by the community? What restorative justice models has the city considered in dealing with its issues of crime? In what ways has the city improved community and police relations? What has been the end result? How does the city define community policing? And, again, who does it ‘serve’ to ‘protect’? I think answering these questions can open the door to some opportunities in improving how we sustain and maintain healthy communities not just in Newark but in other urban communities facing the same issues. We do not need to continue a cycle where communities are going through their own cycles of recidivism, and punishment. People who want to be invested in the safety and security of our neighborhoods should put their energy in building better relationships, and better communities, not conspiring on getting people in the community to snitch on each other and creating community distrust, stopping people and frisking them without any real probable cause, beating and locking up people- violating their rights.  Questions like this would be central in moving forward with changing how Newark Police Department operates.

Allen Kwabena Frimpong is from Newark, NJ currently working at the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City as a capacity building assistance specialist for HIV prevention programs nationally. Harm Reduction looks at using public health interventions that meet people where they are at in mitigating the harms associated with potentially risky behaviors such as using drugs and having unprotected sex. He was the International Network Coordinator of Youth RISE the only youth-led global harm reduction network working on youth and drug policy issues internationally. Before Youth RISE, he coordinated HIV testing/counseling and support affected and infected youth in NYC. He is also an independent consultant whose work focuses on capacity-building with community based organizations, and also has a background in youth development & childhood safety/prevention. Allen has a strong history in doing community organizing work around social justice issues. He currently is obtaining his master’s degree in Urban Affairs and Planning at City University of New York, Hunter College in New York City.

Love in the City: All bricks no love?

Can I be honest?

On occasion when I come back to Newark a sense of gloom engulfs me. In contrast to the gentrified fantasy so many other downtown destinations offer Newark appears miserable. It lacks polite aesthetics and diverse upscale amenities. Even the city’s sole accessible Starbucks came and closed in a heartbeat. The chic restaurants and graceful parks where lovers and friends would gather in other cities seem limited in Newark. Underneath the surface lies crime and crisis and above the State’s suburban centric policies and the racist/classist decision-making of upscale retailers are situated. All of this leads me to ask and answer how people may find opportunities to connect hearts and minds in a city that seems to lack a “lover’s lane”.

An old neighbor once told me that he decided to purchase a house and settle in the city of Newark once he developed quality friends. For me, his decision was the literal interpretation of the phrase “home is where the heart is.” The first question a new arrival to Newark might ask is how did he meet those friends? Better yet how does love take root in a city like Newark?

I understand the love my old neighbor found in the city despite the visually provoked depression brought on by my travels back there. I grew up in a family that chose to move to Newark during the derisive 80’s. The decision was based on the thought that too many other communities were striving to be privileged while Newark was inescapably a microcosm of the world. Still racially diverse and segregated, impoverished and affluent, full of calm and crisis, historically rich and systematically underserved I think they were accurate. They knew what my neighbor learned: joy in the city exists not in the attractiveness of its market place but in the robustness of its people.

In the past two decades so many other cities, towns and villages have become atheistically identical. As a result finding relatable people in other cities may be as easy as getting cups of coffee with a recognizable “starbaucks” taste. In Newark, lover’s lane still has no street sign; yet, my experience has been that the human connections, development and life in general are that much more authentic.

bryan epps

Martin Luther King Jr. – Where Do We Go From Here? by Richard Cammarieri

Although we have several months to go before we, once again, turn to the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a spirit of remembrance and celebration, we’ve decided to post this timely essay, penned by Richard Cammarieri, as a means of reflection on and critique of our times and those who attempt to hijack King’s vision of social justice. As we trek forward in Newark let us examine our ideologies and practices by way a rubric of justice, equity, uplift and harmony.

MLK at Southside High School (Malcolm X Shabazz)

Once again we are in the midst of another January filled with programs and celebrations that lay claim to honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately many – not all certainly – but far too many of these observances dishonor Dr. King’s memory by trying to transform his life into a kind of Hallmark Card with simpleminded platitudes about ‘brotherhood’ and ‘kindness’ or ‘compassion’. And while these things informed the essence of Dr. King’s mission (after all he did say “We must all live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”) it is morally wrong and historically wrong to reduce him to these vague virtues and ignore the concrete challenge with which he confronted our society.

His real legacy, the real action he took in life to challenge the profoundly ingrained elements of racism, of economic injustice for all people, of imperialism and militarism as practiced by the United States is corrupted by those who simply want to reduce him to a sanitized, safe symbol of ‘brotherhood’ and ‘kindness’; those who only want to refer to Dr. King’s “dream” as though he was just a dreamer and not, using his words a “drum major” for fundamental social change.

The fact is many of the people and institutions that claim to honor Dr. King today would have had nothing to do with him when he was alive. Many of the institutions honoring him would fail the scrutiny of his eye for social justice were he still alive. The fact is many of those pretending to honor Dr. King know little more about his critical social analysis than the slogan “I have a dream.”

For those people who seem to profit in more ways than one off of that slogan, I would ask if they have read the entire speech he gave that 28th day of August 1963? Did they understand the stinging indictment of American hypocrisy he put forth in the image of America having “defaulted” on the “promissory note” of equality promised by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Do people understand that Dr. King lived five long years after that speech? He made many other speeches that clearly outlined the social issues and solutions our society should have addressed. Have those people whose notion of Dr. King begins and ends with “I have a dream” even read any of his speeches, especially those written over the last years of his life and especially his last book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

And if you think his tone did not change from 1963 to 1968 then just consider one example in two references to Abraham Lincoln. In the first paragraph of his  “I Have a Dream” speech he refers to Lincoln as “a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” Five years later in his last speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” given the night before he was murdered he refers to watching “a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.”

There are many essential things Dr. King said that one probably will not hear at most Dr. King “lite” ceremonies. In ‘Beyond Vietnam’ a speech he gave on April 4, 1967 he talked about the need “to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history” and later states that “Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.” This kind of thing would have him branded un-American today and probably exposed to arrest under some Patriot Act clause.

He called for our nation to “undergo a radical revolution of values” that we must ‘shift from a thing-oriented society to a people oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” And later, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” This theme of racial injustice, economic exploitation through unregulated capitalism and militarism reflected his own axis of evil, a message he would return to consistently over the last year of his life.

In his speech “Where Do We Go from Here? On August 16th, 1967 he called for a national full employment policy. He called for a “guaranteed annual income” and provided an economic rationale to support it. He questioned capitalism. “Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. I’m simply saying that more and more we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.” And that “…the problem of racism the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”

In “The Drum Major Instinct” on February 4th, 1968 he noted the interracial and class issues of economic exploitation. He talked about speaking with white wardens in the Birmingham jail who objected so strongly to civil rights and integration and intermarriage but when talk turned to the subject of money he said:

“And when those brothers (the white police) told me how much they were earning, I said, ‘Now you know what? You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes.’ And I said, ‘You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white…”

He even raised the notion of reparations for Black people in  “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” on March 31, 1968. He takes on what is still a popular theme of neo-conservatives, including many Black neo-cons when he cites “…another myth that still gets around: it is the over reliance on the bootstrap philosophy.  There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty … he must do it all by himself… must lift himself by his own bootstraps. They never stop to realize that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. The people who say this never stop to realize that the nation made the Black man’s color a stigma. But beyond this they never stop to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery two-hundred and forty-four years.”

He then makes a very cogent economic argument comparing the lack of resources provided Black people freed from slavery with the economic subsidies provided European immigrants through land grants, training and loans.

In Dr. King’s final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? he continues and expands upon many of these themes, especially economic justice. He notes the “need for a radical restructuring of American society…For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die a new set of values must be born.” He called for affirmative action in establishing proportional job set-asides. He called for a direct attack on poverty by providing a guaranteed annual income as noted in an earlier speech and called for government subsidies for businesses to employ people of limited training and education.

These are the words and ideas of Dr. King. These are the things that should be highlighted and discussed by those who say they want to honor him. We should read him and study him. We should teach our children about his ideas for social transformation and not just reduce his memory to a competition for ‘acts of kindness’.

We should truly honor his memory by making his ideals real today through our actions and work to confront and challenge that which is unjust in our society. Every aspect of our society from education, employment, housing, health, law enforcement, and criminal justice just to name some major areas, reflects in various measures that fact that racism, discrimination, economic exploitation and militarism still infects our society locally and nationally. And it is our charge as responsible, moral beings to help expose and cleanse these wounds whenever and however we can – protesting as best suits our convictions.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

About the author:

He was born, raised and remains a lifelong resident of Newark with a long family history in the city that began with the immigration of his maternal grandfather from Southern Italy in 1899. He has had extensive experience in Newark grassroots community organizing and neighborhood policy development.  He is a published poet and has had featured readings in Newark, surrounding towns and in various venues in New York City and he has served as the poetry editor for the Newark Arts Council Newsletter. He graduated from Rutgers University Newark with a Bachelors Degree in English.

A Response to a Response to a Response: On White Liberal Organizing

So, I recently responded to an email correspondence between several Newark-rooted LGBTQ leaders/activists and a few representatives from a larger, regionally-focused organization regarding our responses to the tragic shooting of DeFarra “Dean” Gaymon at the hands of an undercover police officer in Branch Brook Park in Newark. In sum, I argued that their approach was wrong (as it is often, in my opinion) and a rep responded by ostensibly suggesting that responses like mine impede collaboration. I’ve decided to post the conversation (and a response from a comrade) because it speaks to the problem of macro-level organizing that doesn’t account for people, communities, and cultures on the ground.

Here’s my response to a Board Member’s argument for the opening of space for partnership between the larger, regional organization and that of the local organizations/groups:

Dear Friend:

Thank you so much for your note/testimony! I am glad that we were able to sit next to one another yesterday, as well.

Personally, I am quite thankful that this discussion, particularly as it relates to collaboration and “community”, is taking place. I think that such times push us to re-examine our relationships and those aspects of our relationships that, both, advance and impede our activist projects. Yet, it also presents us with the opportunity to speak honestly about the ways in which power and privilege operate in our interpersonal and system-oriented relationships. Let me try to explain what I mean by referencing, what I think were, teachable lessons from my short time/work in Newark.

When I began work in Newark, I thought that there existed a monolithic “thing” that we could name a “LGBT” or “queer” community.  I was of the opinion that every LGBT person in the city (because I imagined that there were many) knew about the programs and community-based organizations whose missions and work focused on LGBT issues. I thought that we could organize one meeting to discuss LGBT issues and everyone would come out of their concern for the “community.” It wasn’t long before I discovered that there were many points of difference that complicated this notion of a unified/monolithic community in Newark. I soon realized that economic status and perceived class factors kept certain LGBT contingencies from venturing into different parts of the city, from attending certain meetings, from buying tickets to specific events. I realized that race and ethnic identification would play a strong role in group formation, and community partnerships. I realized that age, neighborhood, religion, historical era, Newark nativity vs. Newark newcomer status would sooner have a stronger impact on the ways that one would imagine “community” than the mere sharing of a particular “sexual identity” category or politic. In other words, I realized that to get to place of shared politics, concern and collaboration much work would have to be done on my behalf to ensure that I HEAR the different perspectives maintained by other folk (who lived in different Newark neighborhoods than me) and to RESPECT that some folk didn’t prefer my approach to organizing (because some felt that I maintained a top down approach that didn’t consider the needs of those who lived in economically-stressed neighborhoods, folk who weren’t in my intellectual/academic/social circles, folk who walked balls, danced at the Armory near Baxter Street Terrace Housing Projects as opposed to those who look down at the ball scene and preferred exclusive parties in the brownstones of James Street). This is my experience. But, what I am sharing it? What am I trying to say? Well, for starters, I think that we need to acknowledge the following:

1. While I will not/can not argue against [said organization’s] amazing national and regional work and people-strength (e.g. many thousand members across the county, including more than thousand plus in Newark), it is my opinion that [said organization] comes to the “table” with the belief that our ideals, politics, advocacy positions, and modes of activism are the same. Again, this, in my opinion, and is a problem shared by many large regional and national LGBT organizations, namely, the belief that the work done at the “macro” level speaks directly to the needs and interests of an imagined LGBT “community” at the “micro” level-or on the ground. That understanding does not allow for a serious consideration of the multitude of spaces we inhabit, the diverse perspectives we maintain (e.g. we may be LGBT but some of us choose not to fight for marriage equality because it does not cohere with our politics), or the reality that we need to examine and check the blind spots that may prevent us from seeing how our practices and perceptions shield us from engaging in ways that are equitable.

2. Why Gaymon’s tragic story is not owned by Newark and, indeed, is the story of a man who lost his life in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, it is one that pulls at the heart of those who live in this city, whose bodies daily maneuver through the streets here in Newark. And, why strong connections can be made to Maplewood and South Orange, the real-time effects of racism (i.e. the disproportionate number of people of color who are victims of police perpetuated violence and institutionalized oppression at the level of the courthouse and jailhouse) and economic injustice (i.e. the disproportionate number of economically distressed and working class folk affected by the same) and heterosexism (i.e. the number of cases of folk harassed on our streets by citizens and cops) makes cases like the Gaymon story that much more “real” and “felt” in the lives and bodies of those living in Newark. The maintenance of analysis at this level, in my mind, signals a respect for the space and place that certain communities exist in and a nuanced understanding of the systemic issues that plaque such communities on the ground.

3. Lastly, collaboration does not necessarily mean that everyone should be at EVERY table. Collaboration means maintaining an understanding (and process) that is advanced by the group regarding who the group feels should speak, when they should speak and what should be said. Yet, collaboration, at least as I understand is, is a continuous process of engagement. That is, we don’t sit at the table when a situation spews but are always already present. I am thankful that despite the many challenges leaders face here in this city, many have taken heed to the idea of commitment and presence. Frankly, [said organization] shows up when it is campaigning for marriage equality and when high-profile incidents take place. There are meetings taking place all the time…Pride celebrations…scholarship dinners…positive/asset focused events that I have not seen [said organization] reps or its 1200 Newark members present at.

I apologize for the length, but am sharing my thoughts in love. In some ways, I felt inspired to do so by your free sharing. Let’s start a fruitful discussion regarding how we might “collaboratively” collaborate.



The response of the organization’s representative:

Darnell, thank you so, so much.   We would be delighted to attend Newark-based events on a regular basis anytime the invitation is there – when we’re invited, we almost always show up, even when we know that sometimes we’re going to be in the figurative hot seat.  That’s okay.  We will never give up on trying to have closer relations, even if the road is bumpy.   It is worth it to invest the time into another, so we don’t base our perceptions on assumptions – whether assumptions about Newark’s LGBT community or assumptions about [said organization].

By the way, about a third of our work is on marriage equality, and most of the laws we’ve passed and actions we’ve taken over the years have had nothing to do with marriage equality.   Other issues on which we’ve worked so hard include transgender rights, youth at risk and equal employment opportunities, and we’ve done particular organizing in faith communities.

We respect the unique role that Newark LGBT organizations have regarding a tragedy that occurred in Newark.  X’s view that [said organization], too, has a role in this situation, as other statewide organizations do reflects that of our other members, to whom we’re responsive.

And, now a metaphorical response to the problem of White Liberal Organizing by a comrade, C. Riley Snorton:

Dear White Liberal Organizer*

I realize that your tone — a mixture of condescending self-congratulation and bureaucratic coldness — is a reflection of two larger problems: the non-profit industrial complex and the inheritance of certain white liberal traditions, which probably prevent you from even understanding what’s wrong with your response both to the email, which proceeded your own, and to the tragedy of the fatal killing of Mr. Gaymon by a Newark police officer.  Please understand, WLO, that the indignation in this letter is really not about you, at all.  Rather, it is about a need to articulate the weariness produced by witnessing similar types of responses time and time again.  It is tiresome, WLO, because of the systemic nature of it all and the variety of responses (similar to yours) that undermine the race, class, gender, and sexual specificity of the tragedies for which your organization feels it should be responsive.  It is also tiresome that an email that is supposed to be in support of local grassroots responses to Mr. Gaymon’s murder is principally about protecting the interests of an organization who implicitly feels a need to defend itself against perceptions and assumptions that it is pursuing a mainstream gay agenda.

Before changing careers, I worked alongside you as an employee of two major LGBT non-profits.  So please understand that when I say, it’s not about you, it really isn’t. I know the position you’re in–the role you play–very well. But the problem as I see it, is that the more we internalize the values of the economic structures that support and unfotunately implicitly lead the kinds of work we do, the less we are able to understand and undo a cycle of paternalism that structures the road of organizing (for pay).  I believe it is also this set of systematic incentives from our funding structures that cause larger organizations to deride local community organizing as either ineffective or threatening–making the path to cooperative action and social justice bumpy indeed.

So let me conclude this letter with an invitation.  I invite you to show up–not simply physically, with your bodies, at a community action, but to show up with some reflexivity and a connectedness to the materiality of social justice.  The price of a human life should never register as an obligation to respond to one’s members.


Tired Black Activist

* This note is my version of a letter to a young (white liberal) activist.  To be clear, this letter is not an actual response to the content of the email but a metaphorical response to the kinds of rhetoric that characterize what is most problematic about white liberal organizing.

Introducing COINewark: A Community of Organic Intellectuals in Newark

We know.  And, it’s because of our “knowing” that our voices, testimonies, experiences, narratives, identities, politics, visions and bodies are perpetually in danger of subsumption.

Knowing is dangerous for many of us who are read as (non)sense materiality, commodities [and producers of goods], daily burdening the market and state.

Knowing, then, is dangerous, indeed, for non-white non-male non-bourgeois non-straight non-masculine non-native non-American non-polis non-abled bodies: for these bodies are carriers of local knowledges, histories, political struggles, memories, visions, truths that negate negations and  resist structures of dominance.  We know.  We’ve known. We know now.

This blog is a cyber space intended for critical inquiry and problem-solving, community-building and structure-razing, revelation and revolution, remembrance of pasts and imaginings of futurity that takes the city of Newark, New Jersey as its focus.  As a writing/thinking/doing collective, COINewark (A Community of Organic Intellectuals in Newark)  has developed this blog as a site/sight for examining Newark as place, as a medium through which the typified narratives of the urban brickspace can be complicated, and as a storehouse of those knowledges that are transmitted through the various bodies living/surviving in our shared space/place. We believe that theorizing from within presents a necessary challenge to the politics of knowledge production and consumption that occurs without.

As a collective, we seek to accomplish what most text book chapters [whose language and analyses are disconnected from the people, from the ground, from the spirit of this place that some of us call home and others a stop on our longer journeys, that is, Newark] do not, namely, the performing of a personal-political act of resistance: the telling of our stories and providing testimony of experiences! In so doing, we seek to subvert,  resist,  undermine, challenge domains of power that constrict us: our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our pockets and we celebrate, re-imagine, remember, and call into being our selves and our communities