A sacred space is disappearing from our communities with too little fanfare: the Black bookstore. Recently, one of the largest Black bookstores in the nation—Hue-Man Bookstore—announced it would shutter its doors in Harlem, the proverbial capital of Black America. Hue-Man is just the latest in a line of Black bookstores in particular, and bookstores in general, that are disappearing from the urban landscape. As bookstores continue to go out of business— if we’re not careful—a culture of literacy, interpersonal engagement and community building may disappear with them.
I am part of the problem. I spend more time and money purchasing books online than going into brick and mortar bookstores. But there was a time when the bookstore was one of my favorite destinations because it held a wealth of information and people who showed me another side to my community, culture, and intellectual life. Black bookstores have never been mega-stores like Barnes & Noble but often have been small individually-run libraries of community enrichment.
Additionally, I was featured in video for the Manhattan Times that discussed the closing of the Hue-Man. Special thanks to Sherry Mazzocchi. Also, don’t forget to support Hue-Man at their online portal and look for pop-up events in the coming months.
Recently, a picture has been floating around the Internet of a children’s book called “The Night Dad Went to Jail: What to expect when someone you love goes to jail” by Melissa Higgins. The book cover features a portrait of “Sketch” the main character whose father is arrested for breaking a law. Many of my friends who have seen the book cover have shared commentary on how the book represents the break down of American cultural values and suggested we are “teaching our children the wrong things.” I do agree that the book represents a breakdown in American values, but not the ones people are accusing the book of disregarding.
Sadly, the United States has become the leader of incarceration in the world and it is incarceration that is undoing the sanctity of our communities. not books. Unfortunately, if we don’t begin to prepare children and adults for what has become the virtual inevitability of dealing the prison system, we’ll be attempting to live in a fairy tale. We have come to the point where real life non-fiction is necessary for children and adults.
Summer is finally here! I can remember sitting in my desk in school looking out the window wondering when I would be allowed to throw off the shackles of homeroom and homework, and frolic into the days that I’d fondly recall later in my life. As a child, summer was magical. It was the time felt I should be able to do as I pleased and if I had my way, it would have been filled with video games, basketball, and television. Thankfully, my mother had a different plan for me. Each summer, I was carted off to spend my time in structured activities ranging from sports camps to summer reading challenges. It was only many years later that I learned my mother’s parenting was ahead of the curve in stopping “summer setback.”
For more than two decades, educational researchers have noticed a pattern: during the summer, Black and poor children tend to have their academic growth stunted and in many cases have their educational achievement rolled back. While all kids fall back some in learning during the summer months, poor and Black kids are particularly susceptible to greater fall offs in achievement. This is known as “summer setback” or summer learning loss. Summer learning loss is most often tied to a family’s socioeconomic status (particularly things like income and wealth) and what activities their children do during the summer months.
I recently found myself in a conversation with three White males. As we made small talk, one asked me, “So what do you think of this Stop and Frisk thing?” I took a moment before responding and asked, “What do you think about it?” The questioner responded, “I don’t know. Seems unfair. But doesn’t it make New York safer?”
Unfair? Yes. A safer NYC? Definitely not. I reminded my chat mate that only 2 percent of stops result in contraband being found and that 88 percent didn’t end in any summons or arrest. I told them by any metric it wasn’t effective policing but it could be seen as effective harassment of Black and Latino youth in New York City.
The men’s eyes began to widen as I rattled off statistics and expressed my concern for my younger brothers and sisters who were too often viewed as the embodiment of delinquency by the New York Police Department. One man responded, “That sucks!” I responded, “Until people who are not likely to be stopped and frisked begin to conscientiously object to it, this practice is going to continue.”
America has entered new territory when it comes to issues of sexual diversity: “Toleranceville.” Never heard of it? Sure you have! It’s that peculiar zone where individuals and organizations that formerly did not approve of a thing (or remained mysteriously silent on it) have experienced a rare moment of social consciousness and begin to express their support. Currently, it is the issue of same sex marriage that has become a surprise cause célèbre, bringing an interesting group of new advocates to the land of “Toleranceville.”
From President Obama’s landmark announcement that he supports same sex marriage to Beenie Man posting a video asking for forgiveness of his past homophobic songs, tolerance is in! However, tolerance is not justice. In fact, tolerance basically boils down to finding something unobjectionable. Tolerance is the lowest form of acceptance because it allows one to support in words but not follow up with actions. If we are not careful, our tolerance will only serve to maintain the status quo. If we want to move from tolerance towards justice, it will take more than not objecting to same-sex marriage, it’s going to take a commitment to fight injustice and create safer communities for all. Read More
Just last week, the United States celebrated the 58th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision which made segregation in public schools illegal. Sadly, in the 58 years that have followed the landmark decision schools have become more segregated and we are having fewer conversations about these segmented opportunities. In a moment when the nation is happy to declare race no longer an issue and poverty as perpetrator, it’s going to take a more nuanced conversation to emerge. Here’s my take on Ebony.com.
Despite the rhetoric of change and racial transcendence the schools that our children attend are deeply segregated. In fact, according to scholars like Gary Orfield, schools are more racially segregated now than they were in the Jim Crow South. However, today’s segregation is so pernicious because it is overlooked and we, as a country, continue to fail to address school segregation’s root in housing segregation. If we are to address the issue of quality schooling and segregation we must move beyond two common errors. The first error is believing that segregation is the problem. The second error is believing that segregation is not a problem. Read More
Sixty four schools will likely close in Philadelphia. New York is aiming at closing forty seven schools this year, down from its original target of sixty two schools. These numbers should be alarming to all of us. They should be a rallying cry for helping our schools and children. Instead, school closings have become so commonplace that we barely react when we hear about them–even in large numbers. Just like many of us have become desensitized to gun violence and reports of death, we have become desensitized to the educational violence that befalls our children and community.
Philadelphia’s recent announcement to close these schools has not been a media lightening rod. Instead, the case of Philadelphia is just the latest in a string of national stories of struggling urban districts shuttering school building doors to keep budgets afloat in turbulent financial times. But is that really all there is to it?
If we look more carefully, the patterns of national school closing are tied to poor academic performance among schools, but also the formerly controversial trend to close traditional public schools and opening charter schools. I say “formerly” controversial, because under the Bush administration there was a national debate about the expansion of charter schools, school choice, and educational privatization. Yet under President Obama, all three of these issues have gained traction with little national resistance or Democratic party challenge. Read More
As I climbed the subway stairs on an unusually warm and sunny Spring day, I saw the shadows of two people in conversation. I could see from their body language they were in a conflict. One was male and the other female. As I waited for my shuttle, I could not take my eyes off the way the young man, likely in his early 20s, was speaking and gesturing towards the young woman, at best 18 years old. I stopped the music blaring in my headphones to listen.
“I’ll beat the shit out of you, b*tch. You think I won’t. Keep talking slick to me!” My heart sunk and the heat of the day intensified. The young woman stood leaning against the wall as her companion berated her. He then demanded her phone and said he’d call whomever she had been speaking to “speak to them.” She refused. The more he yelled, the less she engaged him. Enraged by her silence he continued on, “Oh, so you think you’re smart? You think you’re a woman now? You ain’t no real woman! You’re immature. You’re a little girl. You spend your money on dumb things like clothes and red bottoms [the popular and expensive Christian Louboutin heels] You ain’t not woman, I’m a man. I take care of myself. I get money. I put a roof over my head. I’m in school.”
As he barked, I then noticed something: I was the only one watching. We were on 145th and Saint Nicholas in Harlem at one of the busiest train stations in New York City and the corner was well populated. But no one, besides me, was paying attention. Read More.
The arrest and charging of George Zimmerman can be the start of a movement for justice or it can be a flashpoint moment where we foolishly think “justice has been served.” In this piece for Ebony.com I discuss the potential of moving from a moment of discontent to a movement for justice.
The recent arrest and charging of George Zimmerman with the murder of Trayvon Martin is cause for celebration. However, this is only the beginning of a long struggle for justice, not just for Trayvon but for all. As concerned citizens we can take a second to congratulate ourselves, but we cannot wait too long before channeling the energy of a moment into a movement for justice.
In the past twelve months, the names Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis and Oscar Grant have been forced into the national consciousness via news, protest marches, as well as social media, but as quickly as they’ve come into our minds…they then disappear. I’m not sure if short attention spans drive short news cycles or if short news cycles drive short attention spans, but the two correspond. Recognizing this means we must make sure justice is pursued in each case and that we must also make sure our activism doesn’t end when we feel a case has been settled. Read more
This past week, the world lost a giant intellect and talent. Gil Noble, one of the architects of critical Black journalism, transitioned to the ancestors. I prepared this obituary for Ebony.com:
The media, the Black world, and the nation have lost one of our most powerful and fearless voices. Gil Noble passed away on April 5th at the age of 80. While his name may not be known by all, Noble’s programming was nothing short of genre redefining and revolutionary. His path through journalism and the mark that he left on media are indelible. With his passing we have lost more than a man, we have lost a cultural institution. Read more
I have also received more information on Elder Noble’s funeral arrangements and ways to contribute from the FB page of Dr. Leonard Jeffries:
Wake: Thursday, April 12th from 7-10pm
Funeral: Friday, April 13th at 10 am
Both will be held at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, West 138th St. between Malcolm X Blvd and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd in Harlem, NY
In lieu of flowers the family is asking that donations be made to the Gil Noble Archives
Gil Noble Archives Fund
PO Box 43138, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043
It is a not for profit set up to digitize his work for posterity. We urge everyone that realizes the importance of his rich legacy to contribute to the fund.