Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

13Mar/160

Oprah and Detroit’s Own Shaka Senghor — Full Episode on Supersoul Sunday

Oprah sits down with criminal justice activist Shaka Senghor, an author and mentor who turned his life around after spending 19 years in prison for second degree murder, to discuss the power of redemption and forgiveness. Watch the full episode now.

7Jan/160

Turns Out Monkey Bars And Kickball Might Be Good For The Brain: Old Knowledge Always Returns

Here's a very brief piece about the importance of "recess" within schools, something more and more schools are either decreasing, or completely eliminating, from the typical child's school day. It's from this past Monday (1/3/16) on NPR.

I won't add much commentary here, except to say that it's interesting that all of these creative and more developmentally appropriate "innovations" (more like returning to ancient practices) appear to pop up more frequently in places not heavily populated by Black and Brown people. I'm not sure about this particular effort, but I do know that in the schools closest to me, recess is either (nearly) non-existent, or has been turned into structured group (frequently quiet) time with minimal chance for children to be like children.

The piece is less than 5 minutes long, and the full article is can be read here. A few excerpts highlighting the major points are also provided just below. I encourage folks to do the quick listen and read, though.

But in one sense, recess at Eagle Mountain is different. Journey gets more opportunities to role-play than many of her peers, because recess happens a lot here — four times a day, 15 minutes a pop for kindergartners and first-graders.

That's much more time on the playground than most public school kids get in the U.S. Over the past couple of decades, schools have cut recess time to make room for tests and test prep.

Ask Journey why she and her friends get so much more recess time, and she giggles. "Lucky," she says.

But ask the adults, and they'll tell you it's because Eagle Mountain is part of a project in which the school day is modeled after the Finnish school system, which consistently scores at or near the top in international education rankings. The project's designer is Texas Christian University kinesiologist Debbie Rhea.

"I went over there to find out where they've come in the last 20 to 25 years. Yes, their test scores are good, but they are also healthy in many regards," she says.

The biggest difference Rhea noticed was that students in Finland get much more recess than American kids do. "So, I came back with the idea to bring recess back to the schools. Not just one recess, but multiple recesses."

This year, Eagle Mountain Elementary started tripling recess time, from 20 minutes to an hour. The program also focuses on character development —things like empathy and positive behavior.

Rhea is working with a handful of local schools already. More will join next year in Texas, California and Oklahoma.

Teachers at Eagle Mountain say they've seen a huge transformation in their students. They say kids are less distracted, they make more eye contact, and they tattle less.

And then there's the longer term impact on a school's ability to move through their curriculum, as well as key benefits to children's brain development...

Wells and fellow first-grade teacher Donna McBride have six decades of teaching between them and say this year feels different. They were nervous about fitting in all the extra recess and covering the basics, but Wells says that halfway through the school year, her kids are way ahead of schedule.

"If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you're giving them in their memory, you've got to give them regular breaks," says Ohio State University pediatrician Bob Murray.

He has compiled research that backs up what teachers at Eagle Mountain are seeing in class. Murray says brain imaging has shown that kids learn better after a break for physical activity and unstructured play.

He and his colleagues wrote up a policy statement for the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting that kids with regular recess behave better, are physically healthier and exhibit stronger social and emotional development. That's as school districts nationwide have been taking recess out of the school day.

4Dec/150

Some Reflections and a Song for the Evening: Marc Dorsey – People in Search of a Life (1995)

Feeling pretty tired after this week, and actually pretty disturbed by the increasing level of overt racism, violence and intimidation we see all around us. This includes a deep pain and sadness associated with the daily insanity that has evolved from our collective experience adjusting to and fighting racism and white supremacy in this country, as well as the state sanctioned violence directed at our people at alarming rates. While there is an intellectual component to understanding and strategizing against racism, this is no academic exercise. This madness is very personal, and can be seen and felt on streets and in homes throughout each of our cities and neighborhoods.

Our people are hurting. The stuff we're struggling with and fighting against is no joke. We have to take better care of ourselves and each other, good people. There's no magic day in the future when we can make time for doing things differently. Now is our time to bring some sanity back to this world. And within our history, we have examples of what that can and should look like. Don't give into the craziness that has been born of and normalized as a result of white racism and oppression. Fight back. We can and must create something better. And we have to put our people, and our struggles, and our aspirations and dreams, at the center from today forward.

Below is my song for the evening, as I think about the limits of resilience, and the increasing urgency for justice, voiced most effectively today by our younger generations.

There's no reprieve from the struggle, though. And the struggle will continue.

And we will win.

Marc Dorsey's People in Search of a Life (1995):

There is a place that is so hard to find
Behind the walls we build inside our minds
Some break the walls, some break the rules, some even get things changed
And when they do, that leads to truth
Their questions still remain
But all that it's sayin'

Chorus:
Somewhere in life there's a joy to be
Between the hope and reality
There in a mirror and then the street
That's where you'll find
People in search of a life

And what of love, is that a point of view?
And when you're alone, it can seem so confused
That's when a friend can pull you in, bring you a helping hand
But what happens when your only friend sells you out in the end
How do you face it?

Chorus x 1

Beyond the sheets of skin, beyond the rules of hate
Within the project walls
There is a cry that will not die
A cry for life
Life

Chorus x 2

In search of a life
Oh, tell me about people
In search of a life
Oh people, people
Looking for a life
Searching, looking in a bottle
Lookin' in a needle
Lookin' in the street
Searchin' everywhere

2Dec/150

Chicago Perspectives on the Growing Chicago City and Police Department Crisis: A Racialized Predisposition to Violating Peoples’ Human Rights

The issues in Chicago are far larger and deeper than the just-fired Chicago Police Department Superintendent. It's about the built-in operations of the police department that routinely violate the human rights of a whole segment of the Chicago community - a department that has done so for decades. These issues are deeply structural, and cannot be undone without acknowledging the underlying sickness.

From last week on Democracy Now, November 24, 2015...

Chicago Activist: City’s Call for Peace over Laquan McDonald Video Does Not Extend to Police Dept.

As Chicago braces for protests ahead of the release of video footage of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, we speak with Charlene Carruthers, the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. Her organization declined a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on Monday as the city tries to quell impending protests. "For us, it was important not to take a meeting with the mayor where it was clear to us that this series of meetings was about how are we going to quell our fears — being the mayor’s office’s fears — about what young, black people are going to do once this video is released," Carruthers said. "They’re very concerned with the city remaining peaceful, but unfortunately, the community, or the target, that is being told to remain peaceful is not the Chicago Police Department."

23Nov/150

As Chicago braces for release of Laquan McDonald shooting video; Learn about the 86 minutes of missing surveillance video

As the local and national news reporters talk more about the Laquan McDonald case in Chicago, and the impending release of the police officer shooting video, there's a lot more to this case that seems really troubling, and unfortunately consistent with the accusations Black youth and activists have been making for years about police misconduct, excessive force and department cover-ups in Chicago.

By now many people are aware of the shooting and killing of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald by CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke. According to reports and multiple media accounts, Laquan was shot 16 times from around 15 feet away, with 13 of the 16 bullets entering after his body had already fallen to the ground. Witness accounts and the medical examiner's report suggest that at least half of the bullets entered Laquan's back, or the back of Laquan's arms. Witnesses and the family's attorney have all said that Laquan McDonald was clearly walking away from the officer when fired upon, and that the lone officer continued opening fire on Laquan for more than 10 seconds after his body was already on the ground.

The shooting took place in October 2014, and officials investigating the shooting have thus far been unwilling to indict and prosecute the officer involved.

Early on, the story of the officers involved (note that only one officer actually decided to open fire) and other city and police department spokespersons, suggests that the officer was in reasonable fear for his life, and that the officer appeared to have acted appropriately. Contradicting the video evidence, the officer even stated that McDonald was lunging at the officer with a knife. Over time, the department and the city were less forthcoming about what happened, stating that they wanted to let the investigation run its course. Now, with the judge's requirement that the video be made public, we hear far stronger language from the mayor and others about the shocking, horrific and disgusting nature of the tragic shooting.

For more than a year, multiple media organizations have requested the video footage, and have been denied. In each of the instances, the city and police department indicated that sharing the video might hamper an ongoing federal investigation. Meanwhile, the city reached a five million dollar settlement agreement with McDonald's family, including a stipulation that forbids the family attorney from sharing the video. Now, after repeated refusals to release the video by the mayor's office and the police department, a Cook County judge has ordered the release of the video.

After all of this back and forth, and with the judge's ordering that the video be released, the mayor is for the first time unequivocally condemning the shooting, and acknowledging how horrific and tragic the shooting was. Moreover, he's gone out of his way over the weekend and this afternoon to meet with community activists and community organizers, including many who are critical of his polices and who he has otherwise been unwilling to meet with, all focused on preparing the community for the video's release and the potential anger and outcry it's expected to produce.

Now, and in the midst of all of this, there still is very little discussion of other and deeply concerning circumstances surrounding this shooting and its aftermath. More of this is described in the video below - dating back to May 2015 - with MSNBC host Chris Hayes interviewing McDonald family attorney Michael Robbins. In the video, Hayes and the family attorney talk about the lack of transparency from the department and the lack of an explanation for 86 minutes of missing surveillance footage from a nearby Burger King restaurant. The missing footage was detected after officers were allowed to spend 3 hours alone with the recording equipment in Burger King. Interestingly, this happened the day before officials from the department's internal affairs office came to inspect the video footage.

All of this is troubling to say the least. And unfortunately, it doesn't appear any of the major news organizations are willing to do the deeper investigative work that - in years past - used to characterize journalism in some parts of this country.

I really do hope something more akin to justice comes out of this more visible Chicago episode.  Even if not for the officer, who has the law stacked in his favor, at least for some more departmental changes. Not likely perhaps, but the struggle continues nonetheless.

Chris Hayes speaks to the McDonald family lawyer, Michael Robbins, about missing surveillance footage that may have shown moments before and after 17-year old Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by Chicago Police last October.

23Nov/150

Some States Are Trying to Find Better Ways of Ordering and Collecting Unpaid Child Support – The System is Still Broken

The child support system in this country is still broken. And for sure, that 'brokenness' is felt differently by the various parties involved.

Single parents - most often mothers - don't get the financial support they need to care for their child (or children). The other parent - typically fathers - have court-ordered (financial) child support obligations that they can't meet. Complicating matters more is that the little money the fathers do have they frequently prefer to use in ways they see as being in direct support of the child, including buying clothes, shoes, games and other toys, and even more generally doing activities with their children. In reality, however, for many men, the money they pay actually goes to the state, to recover the expenses they incur when the mother receives public assistance.

Furthermore, given the way many men are treated when they do get involved in the child support process, by each of the various parties involved (the public agency staff, the courts, etc.), we shouldn't be surprised so many of them stay away. Whether you or I would do the same, or perhaps handle things differently, isn't the point. The point is that the process for so many fathers is far more of a punitive and punishment-oriented process, with far less understanding and responsiveness to what so many fathers and mothers are dealing with every day in trying to meet the all around developmental needs of their children.

The bottom line, and one that more and more state and local governments and organizations are realizing, is that for many tens of thousands of people the current process doesn't work, and frequently undermines one parent's desire to have more consistent and substantive contact (not to mention relationship, something very much different from 'contact') with their children.

The brief NPR piece below gets at this dynamic a bit more, including some of the creative work being done between the child support administration in Maryland, the fatherhood programs at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, and the federal government.

I should also note that I found the title of this NPR piece offensive, Some States Are Cutting Poor Dads A Deal On Unpaid Child Support. I wouldn't call these innovative and experimental efforts some states are trying out as cutting the fathers some slack. I would call it waking up and realizing they have, for way too long, had the idea of strengthening families and supporting both mothers and fathers all wrong. I call that catching up with stupid, and finally realizing they have to do something different. This tinkering is usually good for the relatively few fathers and mothers involved, but the system is still - in the whole, and across this country - operating much more like it always has.

To the credit of the child support administration folks working in Maryland, however, and certainly the folks doing the fatherhood work in Baltimore and other parts of the state, they have been working to get at this for many years now.

My issue with the title is certainly more of an example of why I'm not a huge fan of NPR. The tone and substantive of their story-telling format tends to dumb down so many issues, and the presenters of the information couldn't be more disinterested in the content. Perhaps that's also because the stories I'm most interested in tend to have more impact on Black and Brown people, and the storytellers most often don't fit that profile. But... at least in this actual piece they get at some of the substantive dynamics behind the scapegoating and blaming of fathers our society does way too often.

You can listen to the full 4 and 1/2 minute report below.

Here's a brief excerpt...

When the state of Maryland wanted to reach dads who were behind on their child support payments, it started in the boarded-up blocks of West Baltimore, in neighborhoods marked by drugs, violence and unemployment.

In just four zip code areas, the state identified 4,642 people who owed more than $30 million in back child support. Most of that was "state-owed," meaning that rather than going to the child through the custodial parent, it's supposed to reimburse taxpayers for welfare paid to the child's mother.

This is a source of great resentment for many men, who say they want their money to go to their children. But most who owe it can't pay anyway, as they earn less than $10,000 a year.

"So even if we use taxpayer dollars to chase 'em down, and we catch 'em, right, and we go into their pockets, there's nothing in there," says Joe Jones of Baltimore's Center for Urban Families.

[Read the full article at NPR.]

19Nov/150

The Babies – Jasiri X

Introductory comments by Jasiri X, via The Perception Institute...

Samuel DuBose was on his way home to watch a movie with his 9-year-old son, Samuel Jr. According to Samuel Jr., “He was coming home that night and we had a projector so we were going to watch a movie on it but we didn’t get to do that … because he died.” University of Cincinnati Officer Ray Tensing shot Samuel in his head after pulling him over for a missing license plate. And while Officer Tensing gets to go home to his family after posting bond, Samuel Jr. and his 12 brothers and sisters will never see their father again.

“I can’t get him back,” Samuel Jr. told WLWT-TV, “he’s gone, he’s watching me right now, I can’t see him or talk to him or nothing.”

In April of this year the New York Times published an article called “1.5 Million Missing Black Men“:

In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South — from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo. — hundreds of thousands more are missing.

They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars.

What effect do these missing black men have on the most vulnerable members of our community, our babies? What impact does it have on children to be denied invaluable time with their parents? What does it do to the psyche of black youth to see the people they love being mass incarcerated or murdered? How do they feel when they see their peers killed by the police and their families receive no justice? These are the questions I attempted to explore in my latest video, “The Babies.”

Produced by Idasa Tariq, “The Babies” contains a sample of legendary poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron singing, “but no one stops to think about the babies.”  Sadly, I believe he’s 100 percent correct. We are often so contradictory in what we say to our children and the way we actually behave, it’s laughable. We suspend children for fighting, while we bomb our enemies. We punish them for lying and stealing, yet reward corporations and politicians for doing the very same thing. It’s my hope that this video will make us think deeply about the need for us to be involved in our communities, and what steps we have to take as a country, to truly make America a place of freedom and justice for all.

15Nov/150

Educate Girls

Took a picture of this sign at a charter school primarily serving African American and Latina girls in Los Angeles last week. We must prioritize the full education and healthy development of our young girls.

Given the increasing rates of incarceration, the increasing exploitation of our young girls through sex trafficking, and the relative inattention to the abuse of our young girls and women at the hands of law enforcement, one might reasonably conclude that the full and healthy development of our young girls is not a priority for our community.

While I, like most of you, remain clear about how important girls and women are within our community, I would also argue that we all need to express and affirm this in increasingly public ways.

10Nov/151

A Lovely Day — A Meditation Of Strength and Affirmation From Father To Daughter

From Father to Daughter - Sandias Mountains

good morning sweetheart.

just reaching out briefly.

wishing you a lovely day.

not sure what the weather is like there today, but if you notice a leaf blowing gently in the wind, know that it's me whispering a brief hello; encouraging you to keep growing, keep discovering, and keep learning more about yourself and your powerful place in this world.

i've always admired your strong conviction and determination, the clarity with which you see some things as just or not so just, in a world of infinite goodness squandered away with such deep injustice.

your insecurity is natural at this stage, you will grow more confident.

today, like every day, is your day to shine your light.

your courageous, intelligent, insightful and beautiful light.

you don't need permission, and you don't need to wait your turn.

your turn is always now.

the right place is wherever you find yourself, today and every day.

in African history and culture - as expressed wherever Africa finds her people, your people, you will find your unique source of energy.

our world needs you, not someone like you, our world needs you.

master your craft, for the limits of brilliance and excellence will always be in front of you.

reach for it, and you shall always be in its company.

master good speech, for all of your ideas spoken have power, and are impactful.

use your intuition and your energy - use your power - for good.

you will live a life that matters for others.

your children's children's children will then be healthy and well, in a society that is healthy and well.

the world will be thankful.

and the ancestors will be pleased.

the African world needs you now, daughter, and needs you to be you.

29Oct/150

Criminalizing Our Children in Schools and Classrooms – A Tragedy and Pattern

Schools, and the communities that sanction their policies and practices, are increasingly criminalizing our children and adolescents.

From yesterday's Democracy Now...

Cops in the Classroom: South Carolina Incident Highlights Growing Police Presence in Schools

We turn now to shocking new videos that have surfaced from inside a South Carolina high school where a police officer has been caught on camera slamming a teenage girl to the ground and dragging the student out of the classroom. The videos, which went viral on Monday, appear to show Deputy Sheriff Ben Fields approaching the student, who is seated at her desk, then wrapping his arm around her neck and flipping her and her desk to the ground. He then appears to drag her out of the classroom. The student was arrested. Another student who filmed the assault was also arrested and held on a $1,000 bail. The incident reportedly began when the student refused to give her teacher her phone. The incident is the latest in a series of cases of police officers in schools using excessive force against students. - Update: South Carolina authorities have announced the officer, Ben Fields, has been fired from his position.  (approximately 12 minutes)

Texas Student Spent 52 Days in Coma After Being Tased by Police at School

In one of the most shocking cases of police brutality inside a school, 17-year-old Noe Niño de Rivera spent 52 days in a medically induced coma after police tased him at school in November 2013. He was permanently brain injured. Last year Bastrop County in Texas settled a federal lawsuit for $775,000 with his family. We speak to his attorney, Adam Loewy.  (approximately 6 minutes)

Criminalizing the Classroom: Inside the School-to-Prison Pipeline

New York City has more than 5,000 police officers patrolling the city’s schools—that’s more than the combined number of school guidance counselors and social workers. Nationwide, more than 17,000 officers work in the school. What happens when students are arrested in the classroom? We look at what many experts call the "school-to-prison pipeline." (approximately 13 minutes)