Category Archives: Hill District

Black Teachers and Black Students: The Unromantic Love Story

From Thursday to Saturday, I attended Teach For America’s African American Corp Member Summit, where about 200 2nd year Black TFA corp members convened to share their experience as black educators. While I often think about my role as a Black teacher and how I can be most effective, rarely have I thought about what my presence as a Black teacher means for my students. While there is some research that has been done, which shows Black students often perform better academically when they have a Black instructor, this framing does little to explain why this is the case. Moreover, it is limiting to confine the value of Black teachers to data metrics which our students are able to meet under our guidance. Here is my attempt to give some light to the value of Black teachers.

First and foremost, Black teachers inherently recognize the humanity in our students. Often people say, “Black teachers can identify with their Black students,” however, this ignores the multiple dimensions of the Black experience. Yes, Black teachers can identify with the race of their students, but good teachers have the ability to connect with a large amount of their students on the individual basis. Our students are still developing their racial identities and figuring out what it means to be Black. Most of my students, if I were to ask them how race has impacted their life would they would not identify the segregated community they live in, the segregated school they attend, the fact that the government has worked to suffocate both their black community and predominately black school as effects of their race; rather they would look for their rather limited experiences with White people. Consequently, the Black teacher’s gift of connecting with students comes from Black teachers connecting very personally with their students and seeing their problems as our problems that we must work together to solve.

Still, the problems of Black students are not only outside of school, but a fair amount are created in the schools Black teachers work for. Solving the problems that your employer does not see as a problem is quite the challenge. For example, Black teachers are forced to negotiate oppressive school policies (some examples: forcing students to walk down the hall silently in a straight line with their hands behind the back, not allowing students to the bathroom without an escort, rules on hair) with keeping their job, managing their students who are rebelling against often dehumanizing policy, and attempting to give their students the education they deserve and are so often deprived of. The ability of Black teachers to reach their students in the face of the aforementioned challenges (plus countless others) comes from a place of love. Here, love is not always manifested through affection and is not the romanticized story of the Black teacher who gets results by simply telling his or her students “They are somebody.”

This is a story of love contextualized in learning, in which Black teachers in the process of building personal relationships with their students (not to get them to score well on a test – which students see right through anyway – but because they recognize they are human beings) and set sky high expectations for our students because we know Black students must work three times as hard to get 1/3 as far as White counterparts. This is a story of love involving Black teachers risking their job security, as we challenge administrations who often only see Black children as numbers and data points who are needed to get funding. This is a story of love where Black teachers create curriculum and resources to insure their students are not being fed lies about their history and identity. This is a story of love that is seen as insignificant by school administrations who think a good teacher has the ability to control Black children and prepare them for standardized tests whose original function was to prove the intellectual inferiority of Black people.

As I sat and talked with my fellow Black teachers, it gave us the opportunity to be for each other, what we attempt to be for our students. All of us spoke of our exhaustion. The school system exhausts us, the children exhaust us, and our personal lives exhaust us. Still, we have a deep commitment for our children which allows us to ignore our exhaustion, as we know if train our children properly they will be able to take care of us when we finally are able to rest.

DeVos’s Appointment is the Latest Attack on Public Education

In the recent days following the confirmation of Besty DeVos as Secretary of Education, I have seen a great deal of social media posts critiquing both DeVos’s nonexistent experience in public education and her pro-privatization, pro-Christian education stances. As a current Teach For America corps member and middle school teacher in a Detroit charter school I have an up close and personal view of everything that is wrong about Besty DeVos as the Secretary of Education. However, I am concerned that critiques focusing on DeVos and the Trump administration as extremist and not the logical progression from past administrations undeservingly assists the Democratic Party in its narrative of “the opposite of Trump or the anti-Trump.”

To understand DeVos as the next step in the privatization of public schools, we can look no further than the Obama Administration and his two Secretaries of Education Arne Duncan and John King. Duncan infamously stated, “I think the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.” Duncan here is arguing that the Louisiana Recovery School District, composed of exclusively charter schools was an improvement from the New Orleans Public School District. While Duncan may not have argued for totally religious charter schools, he is arguing for the eradication of public schools. I might add, Duncan would never have dared to argue for charter school expansion in white suburban school districts where the public schools “work.”

Similarly to DeVos, John King’s appointment was met with criticism from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klien, and Karen Lewis (President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union). The central critiques of King were his resume as a corporate education reformer and failed policies which led to protests that factored into his resignation as New York State Education Commissioner before being working for Duncan and eventually being appointed by Obama. Even Cory Booker, who has recently objected to DeVos’s appointment, worked with DeVos on the board of the Alliance for School Choice.

As I continue to resist the Trump Administration I feel the need to consider history and how Trump is using the decisions of previous administrations to further his agenda. If we properly contextualize the Trump administration as an evolution of past administrations, we have the ability to not only hold Trump accountable, but also to call for and make much grander change than just getting replacing Trump with business as usual Democratic Party

Lentil Walnut Burgers

So, I like to cook a little bit and after seeing the film Forks over Knives at the behest of my DP and good friend, Chappale Burton, I’ve been on a vegan diet. Started as a 30 day thing, but I may hang out here for a sec, at least more often for sure. So, here’s an easy lentil walnut burger recipe and pretty tasty too. From the Moosewood Cookbook with a few extra spices added by me. Ingredients: cup of dry lentils, peanut oil, small onion, bunch of garlic cloves, 7-10 mushrooms, cup of walnuts minced fine, handful of spinach, black pepper, paprika, salt, cayenne and cup and half of bread crumbs. To make: Cook the lentils In just enough water that it is boiled away after 45 min of cooking the lentils (maybe an inch above the lentils). Simultaneously, sauté onions and garlic for 5 minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients except the bread crumbs. When the lentils are very soft and water is boiled away, so that you really don’t have individual lentils anymore, add the onions etc and then then read crumbs. The bread crumbs hold it together, so don’t scrimp there. The refrigerate for an hour. This refrigeration is what makes this more of a lunch next day meal then a same night prepare and eat meal. Maybe quick zapping it in the freezer would do it. The fridge and the bread crumbs are key. Tried it without this the first time and just had hot lentils in a pan 😳 With the tomato and lettuce it’s a solid 4 lip smacks out of 5. 

Standing Rock & Negro Removal #NoDAPL

nodevelopmentbeyondthispointThanksgiving Day and sickened and angry about the physical, cultural, economic violence being perpetrated by Energy Transfer Partners against the #StandingRock Sioux Tribe and the more than 300 Indigenous tribes and other peoples standing with them as they prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thinking about the organizing against DAPL in relation to the Hill District takes me to when the Hill District and folks like Ms. Alma Speed Fox organized to say “no further” in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s forced removal of residents and businesses from the Lower Hill. The removal and redevelopment stopped and thank goodness, if it hadn’t been stopped I might not even be here writing this post. 50 years later the entire effort delivered almost nothing on its promises and had to be “fixed” by having its development rights essentially given to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so that they would not leave.  About ten years later there’s still really no development on the Melody Tent site in the Lower Hill. To make a contribution to support the protesters, here is a link to support those at the Sacred Stone camp. They have been there since April. #NoDAPL

Sixteen Hundred Below

In 2012, after the 2nd election of President Obama, I posted he had lost Hill District votes since 2008  and in reviewing Hill District voting data from the Allegheny County Elections Division, the trend of fewer people voting in the Hill District continues. Here is the raw data I’ve been compiling and there are some other interesting things here. The Hill District, as we Black people generally do, overwhelmingly votes for the Democratic Party. This past election the Hill gave Hillary Clinton almost the same % of our vote as we gave Obama in 2012, 92% vs 94%, and  70% of us voted straight Democratic and by this I mean hit the button to autofill the Democratic Party. However, alternative choices have crawled up a bit, and by this I mean Green, Libertarian or write-ins, with this number tripling its very small number since ’08 to go from  less than 1% of total ballots cast to about 3% total. I am one of those who can be counted in that number (Green), and, yes, I still feel I made the right decision.

But, the big news is the large drop in registered voters over the last eight years in the Hill District. In 2008, there were 10,507 registered voters, but in 2016 there were just 8,878 registered voters. That is a loss of 1600 registered voters in 8 years. 16%. Not good for Hill District power. How did this show up for Hillary? Well, Obama got 6,071 votes in ’08 and HRC got 4,786 this time. More than 1,200 fewer votes. My guess is that this is the result of all of the public housing that has been removed from the Hill District, but public housing has been taken down all across the city and country. What effect will this have on Black urban power over the next decade.

This is why my wife, Dr. Bonnie Young Laing and others have advocated for Build First anti-displacement policies that make sure people are found housing in the neighborhood before they have to vacate their house so that the housing can be replaced. Democratic President and a Democratic city, but somehow there is weakened electoral power for this community. Is there a neighborhood that has contributed more or been more loyal for the Democratic Party than the Hill District. When those voters come back, who will they be racially, economically, politically. The continued drop in Hill District registered voters represents one of the important indicators, although not the most important, to take away from Election 2016.

 

 

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Digging this view coming down Wylie Ave. Bomani Howze was the person I knew who really campaigned to connect Wylie Ave to downtown for the Hill’s economic benefits. I hadn’t thought about the aesthetic benefits. The reports that this connection has now been made are greatly exaggerated , but the plans are to get it to Washington Place, so I am good with this first connection to Fullerton.  I get a relaxing breath just going down this street. A piece of the Greater Hill District Master Plan that is coming to pass.

Affordable Elegance Comes to Centre Ave

Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I img_4515-0type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.

To reach Affordable Elegance, email affordable.elegance22@gmail.com or give a call to 412.224.0653.