Here’s to Brooklyn! And to Bedford-Stuyvesant, the capital (in exile) of Wakanda… Brooklyn, a grand & rich cultural village. A bountiful reservoir for enriching a child’s out-of-school learning experience. The place where Prince’s purple reigns, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the Brooklyn Public Library, Theater for a New Audience, Richard Beavers Art Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, Park Slope Food COOP, Coney Island, The Aquarium, The Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, Prospect Park (Zoo, Pedal Boats & Carousel), Weeksville Heritage Center, Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, great post-high school intellectual capital investment, 20+ colleges and universities–a Law & Medical school, Tom’s Restaurant, Bed-Stuy (do or die) YMCA, a Bodega Breakfast to go, BAM’s DanceAfrica, Junior’s (the really real) Cheesecake, the West Indian-American Labor Day Parade, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, 3 Black Cat’s Café, the NBA Nets, the Promenade; the abundantly rich diversity of churches, masjids, synagogues, temples and other spiritual worship places; the Nostrand Avenue Cuisine Tour– from Jamaican veggie patties to Trinidadian Roti, Barbadian Flying Fish; International African Arts Festival, BRIC, Brooklyn Bridge, Little Sun People, Bushwick arroz con pollo. Every part of the world’s culture, architecture, language, food and history can be found in Brooklyn. Brooklyn, a 2.65 million people town that thinks and acts like an international city!
And how do you know you are from Brooklyn?
Because you know that not all Caribbean people come from Jamaica. That Africa is a continent, not a country! You have some hope for America because the vitriolic and ugly Trump rallies are not taking place in Brooklyn. The voices you hear in Derek Walcott’s (Saint Lucian) poem: Omeros, you can hear on the streets of Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, Flatbush and Canarsie. That it’s Trinidad and Tobago (And if you claim to be ‘woke’ and have not read Eric William’s Capitalism and Slavery, well just go back to sleep!) You love the beauty and dignity of the many characters who live in the books of Edwidge Danticat (Haiti) because they remind you so much of your Haitian neighbors. Guyana, although rich with Caribbean cultural flavor, is actually geographically in South America; but that Guyana also produced one of the greatest historians in the world Dr. Walter Rodney. (And no self-respecting Brooklyn Bajan will ever let you forget this!) That Barbados has one of the highest literacy rates in the world; and so why do we only speak of U.S. Black children’s learning capabilities in “gaps” and “deficit” terms?
You have probably eaten Bruschetta, Kimchi, shrimp fried rice and Fufu (that bachelor’s Tupperware leftovers combo meal), and washed it down with either Soursop juice, Aguas frescas, Palm wine, Ting, Sangria or Sake. Or had peas and rice, eggs, coconut bread (or “baked”) and Milo for breakfast.
You know that Latinos are from a lot of different places; i.e., the Dominican Republic, not just Mexico! You know that Puerto Ricans are Americans (even though they are not treated as such). You may be a Christian, but Muslim-Americans are your family members, friends and neighbors, and you love (not fear, hate and want to ban) them! You (having grown up in Crown Heights) can read Martin Buber & Joseph Soloveitchik and immediately recognize the Hasidic theological connections. And you can differentiate between Korean-, Vietnamese- and Chinese-Americans!
More than likely, you could care less who people want to love and marry, and there is a lack of interest on the part of men (many long past their own reproductive capabilities) to want to control what women want to do with their own reproductive organs. There is a good chance that things like diversity, religious tolerance, and integration don’t bother you.
You have to love Brooklyn’s resilience, because although many of her residents are struggling to survive, and there is a great deal of poverty, dislocation and unemployment, Brooklynites soldier on. The level of governmental disappointment, leadership abandonment and betrayal in areas like public housing is devastating. (You know things are bad when Trump’s Justice Dept. says that you are mistreating people of color!) In the “County of Kings,” the NYC public school system has essentially doomed too many Black and Latino young people to a life of marginalized modern serfdom. And yet, Brooklyn is a place where the people would never build walls that sought to negate the humanity of others, organize hate rallies to marginalize and vilify the less politically powerful. Choose to vote in callus bigotry as an official governmental practice. The Brooklyn response to socioeconomic pain is not to inflict an even greater pain on the “other,” and that’s because all of Brooklyn is the other!
And so now, I am returning to the great city of Brooklyn (sort of). I am honored and humbled to join the family of that great Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant-based, but widely read and respected newspaper, Our Time Press, as a regular Education Columnist. My hope is that I can bring information and a greater understanding of educational issues to parents and all (that’s everyone) citizen stakeholders who care about our young people and the nation’s future. So let’s talk about education!
Michael A. Johnson has served as a public schoolteacher, Science Skills Center director, principal and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.” [http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]