The last quarter of 2012 was enlightening, and tragic. My enlightenment was put into proper perspective by the devastation of the hurricane and  the horrific loss in Newtown. But, there were a few speaker series that I was excited about attending knowing that they would inspire me personally and inform the RIISE community.

Late in November I hit the Schomburg for NYCDOE’s Division of Equity & Access and Empowering Boys Initiative sponsored event, Closing The Achievement Gap Speaker Series: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy-Race, Practice, and The Achievement Gap. Say that fast two times, I dare ya! The big deal for me was that it focused on Black & Latino Boys. Raising a boy of color, I had a vested interest. Rich Milner’s book Start Where You Are but Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classroom was cited often, and a copy was in our goodie bags!

Achievement gap was the predictable theme. But, the series kicked off with a challenge – to shift the theme from achievement gap to opportunity gap.  Achievement=Test Scores, where as Opportunity=Empowerment. The latter places great emphasis on teachers ability to shape culturally responsible education making a huge difference in impacting the world inside and outside of the classroom. Naturally,  I wondered if  the gaps showed up in private schools too. In public schools the deficiency can be in academic resources, but with private schools the deficiency can be with resources that support discussions on meritocracy, race, conflict resolution, and social justice.  Note upcoming blog on Riverdale’s new student resource group Change Makers and their new MS blog that supports their  capacity for strong social development.

Parents and teachers, check out Milner’s interview on YouTube

Next, I finally met world-renowned social psychologist Dr. Joy Degruy Leary, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). Heavy stuff but it makes so much sense. Here is a quick synopsis of her work: While African-Americans managed to emerge from chattel slavery and the oppressive decades that followed with great strength and resiliency, they did not emerge unscathed. Intrigued? Read more, and order book. I took my 6th grade daughter with me to Dr. Joy’s forum in Westchester which elicited: “Mommy, thank you so much for bringing me!” (score one for ME!); a fifteen minute bawling session (she knew about it, but now she connected with it); a resulting and cherished one on one with Dr. Joy  (her ancestral healing begins); an email from my daughter’s dean on how proud she was of her that she lead a discussion in history class on cognitive dissonance and slavery (the past can empower the future).

Dr. Joy works closely with Tim Wise and we look forward to having her address our community soon. Here is a sneak peek at her work

We move on to an insightful presentation at Riverdale by Josh Aaronson, Associate Professor at NYU, another renowned social psychologist who developed compelling research with Claude M. Steele called Stereotype Threat. Stereotype Threat is a contributing factor to what is already experienced with racial, social, and educational gaps. It does not discriminate, all groups experience stereotype threat. It is, itself, an experience of anxiety or concern when a person is presented with a situation where there is potential to confirm a negative stereotype about their social group. As this NYTimes article shares, you are not going crazy or being hypersensitive when confronted with certain situations that make you feel superlatively unintelligent. How might this affect our kids with education, testing in particular? Will stereotype threats affect our kids whether we want to admit or not? Recognized as early as 6-years old. And what are we going to do about it as parents? We need to meet it head on in 2013. For example, acknowledge that the test will be difficult, and it makes most people feel uncomfortable, so, take three deep breaths!


And then there was Django Unchained! I can’t recall the last time a movie that centered around US Slavery created such hot commentary. Perhaps, because its been decades since this part history has made it to any screen. Well, there’s Lincoln, but this is no Lincoln. Unlike the Jewish Holocaust, the Black Holocaust does not get much attention in our curriculum. It is America’s dirty secret, one that we can’t or won’t bring our selves to examine deeply, heal from, and be empowered by.

I encourage Spike Lee to change his stance and check out the movie. I saw it twice, the second time I took my 11-year-old. It is a movie that examines the institution of slavery through an economic and social purview. The spaghetti western style added comedic relief to what is a horrific and heinous time in our history. Personally, I did not feel my ancestors were dishonored. In fact, it reminded me of the thousands who valiantly and tragically took measures into their own hands by running away, jumping off ships, sacrificing their children, creating revolts. Perhaps, the use of the incessant use of N word (all in context mind you) will make us reflect and shift it’s use in today’s pop culture.

A narrative later in the movie by Sam Jackson’s character, Steven, struck me as it referenced a particular mining plantation “that will take your name and give you a number”, it made me immediately think about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and mass incarceration.

But, what I loved most about the movie was that Django, a black man, gets revenge as the hero, rescues the love of his life, his wife Broomhilda, the heroin, and the white slavers were the villains. This is a fairly new perspective on any screen. Here is a link to a great NYTimes critique. And, an op-ed from Charles Blow. No YouTube clip here…you have to go see the movie!

Comments welcome!

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  1. Posted January 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Yesterday, I attended Riverdale’s 10th Annual Reginald E. Zelnick Memorial Lecture. Open to all, it was part of RCS’s Deconstructing America course for upper school students. The speaker was Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor at Columbia and author of Fiery Trials:Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. The book examines Lincoln and his transformations leading up to Emancipation.

    Foner, historian and great lecturer, reminded us that the movie Lincoln was just that, a movie and not history. For example, it did not share the invaluable roles Freedmen like Frederick Douglass and slaves played in the transformation of his views over time.

    Below are 4 things I didn’t know before lecture:
    1. The number of writings about Abe Lincoln is second only to Jesus Christ
    2. Lincoln hated slavery but initially worked within the system to get slave owners to cooperate by proposing gradual emancipation (state by state), reimbursement for loss of property (slaves), and colonization (slaves back to Africa, Caribbean)
    3. Lincoln transitioned to immediate emancipation, nullifying initial offer when states refused offer, coupled by a sharp increase in number of runaways to union lines and the need for black manpower during the war.
    4. In Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural speech – Eric Foner-Our Lincoln (Nation 1-7-09)
    ‘In essence, Lincoln was asking Americans to confront unblinkingly the legacy of bondage and to think about the requirements of justice. What is the nation’s obligation for those 250 years of unpaid labor? What is necessary to enable the former slaves, their children and their descendants to enjoy the”pursuit of happiness” he had always insisted was their natural right but that had so long been denied them? Lincoln did not live to provide an answer.”

    Good video from Foner on Lincoln

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