by Stanley Kinard
My condolences go out to the natural and cultural family of Baba Ishangi who made his transition in Gambia, West Africa last week. This was a very shocking loss to the African cultural community of which Baba Ishangi served as a spiritual leader, performing artist, and educator. He was as much a dancer as he was a drummer excelling in both disciplines. Baba Ishangi had a major influence on the development of most of the cultural leadership of Central Brooklyn, in particular the East Cultural Center and Dance Africa. In losing this icon we have gained another powerful ancestor to join this year’s African ancestral orchestra, joining ranks with Nina Simone and Baba Olatunji. Baba Ishangi was buried in Gambia; however, a memorial service is being organized here.
Randy Weston, another Brooklynite and African elder is currently serving as an Artist in Residence at NYU. He recently hosted a series of cultural events as part of this residency of which, I attended a forum on African Drums. The forum was well attended and it brought together for the first time in the same room master drummers from throughout the diaspora including the United States, Cuba and Ghana. The panelist included Chief Bey, Abraham Adzenyah, Candido, Dr. Joe Gaines, Danny Dawson, and Randy Weston. Neil Clarke, a panelist, needs to be acknowledged for his work in coordinating this event. It was the first that I have ever attended an event where we heard directly from the drummers. The African drum was banned in certain parts of this country for a period of time. Drums were not allowed in certain places because the slave masters understood the power of the drum and its importance as a tool of communication. There was also some controversy surrounding Baba Olotunji development as a drummer. The panelist attempted to clarify this development however, because of concerns around how African drumming began in this country another forum will be planned in the near future to address African drumming in the United States, its origin and pioneers.
Every African child in the public school system should have access to the history of the African drum. In the same way that drumming was forbidden in churches and public facilities has never been included the public school curriculum. In a prior article I spoke of the need to take a spiritual and cultural approach to education. Well the drum is a cultural spiritual tool that has been taken out of the learning equation in the public schools. We intend to put it back in. Let’s fight for Drums in Schools and declare 2004 the Year of the African Drum. I know some of you think I must be kidding but really I am dead serious. The African drum is the most powerful tool we have, so let us use it. It can be used to teach, discipline, math, culture, rhythm, history, etc. Any educators interested in sponsoring a drum program should contact me.
2003 marks the 100th year since Dr. WEB Dubois wrote his seminal work The Souls of Black Folks where he stated that the problem of the 20th century is the color problem. As we approach 2004 we have still not addressed the color problem within the Department of Education, which has yet to acknowledge slavery as a crime against humanity. There is still no substantial dialogue or policy in place to address the issue of racism, which should be a responsibility of the school system, which faces racially sensitive issues on a daily basis. African children make up more than 40% of the school system and suffer more than any other group because of this racism and because of the post-traumatic slave syndrome. Given our history the idea of African people calling each other niggers is an example of low self-esteem and self-hatred. This problem is of epidemic proportions however to date neither African educators nor ministers have collectively stepped up to address this issue. There is no call for an African Centered Educational strategy, which, in my opinion is the only way that our children will get the intellectual development and cultural healing that they are in need of.
“Nappy Hair”, “Nigger”, “Jew Boy”, and “African” are words that have triggered mass reactions, firings and protests that have spanned over a 30-history in the New York school system. The following are four examples of racial tension in response to these words used by educators in the New York City school system.
Recently, a white woman training a group of English teachers read from a short story, written by an African male, which she referred to the word nigger on multiple occasions. The African Educators in the room got angry and walked out. They are calling for her resignation while Regional Superintendent Farini says she won’t be fired. The question is should she be fired because she is a white woman that read from a story that said nigger while we say it all the time. Also, is there a double standard for African Educators and White Educators? I believe that there certainly is. Finally, does the discussion need to take place and who is qualified to lead it?
1. Over 30 years ago an African educator read a poem on WBAI written by one of his students called “Jew Boy”. He was labeled anti-Semite and his career as a brilliant educator was set back significantly.
2. A distinguished African master teacher who had received outstanding evaluation for many years was unjustly fired because she told her students that they were Africans. A white substitute teacher took offense to this when he asked one of her students to play the role of a thief. The student refused and informed the substitute that he was an African and not a thief.
3. The African community took offense several years ago when a white teacher read the book Nappy Hair written by an African author. Our community hosted rallies and demonstrations demanding that this teacher be fired and demanding our apology.
Someone needs to call a conference or host a weekend retreat to deal with the impact of racism in New York City schools. The current reform effort fails to address the issue of racism subsequently continues the perpetuation of the post-traumatic slave syndrome. We cannot continue to cover-up this festering wound. It needs to be healed.
The Center for Law and Justice hosted a conference at Medgar Evers College calling for a People’s Education Commission. This commission will monitor the affairs of the Department of Education as well as establishing an educational agenda. The People’s Commission will hopefully give a voice to communities that are currently voiceless. Congressman Owens, City Council members Barron, Clarke and Vann were all in attendance and appeared to be supportive. Education Activist Michael Hooper, Jitu Weusi, Agnes Greene and Basir McHaw were also supportive. Our Brother Sam Anderson should be commended for keeping us all of this updated of the changes in the system and for coordinating this event. Let’s continue to build, stay spiritual and let’s spark the African genius.