by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
I recently received an email from my friend, Jitu Weusi in reference to the proposed closing of Paul Robeson School in Brooklyn (see below), and I thought, now this has gone absolutely too far. The hits just keep on coming in terms of the assaults on the Black community.
With each day there is a new way to try to drive Blacks out of Brooklyn. To gentrify the communities we live in. To push people to the point that it’s no longer a desirable place for us to live, while our communities are supplanted by more “palatable” ethnicities (did I put that correctly?).
And while everyone blames Bloomberg, I think the issue is even more organic than some miscreant who has usurped the mayoralty for a third term. I think the heart of the matter really lies with us – we Black folks – who appear to be content to mutter and complain, and put together weak demonstrations (not you, JiTu).
Those of us who sat on our behinds during an election that was ours to lose, and allowed him to sneak back in for four more years of even more insult to injury, are now finding themselves in the crosshairs of his gun site. He is proceeding unabated in his efforts to dismantle the Black community, and to make Brooklyn the “new Manhattan.” Some part of the culpability of the desecration and the denigration of the Black community must also be attributed to Borough President Marty Markowitz, who does not seem to be looking out for the best interest of the constituents, either. These schools are in the communities over which he has some jurisdiction; yet there is silence from Borough Hall.
By the way, before I go any further, just want to know if anyone has noticed the synchronicity and timing of this whole thing? We have the debacle at Medgar Evers, with a perpetrator in the role of president who clearly means neither the university or the community any good. And while we’re fighting that battle, we now have to close ranks on Paul Robeson School.
But, at the risk of pissing everybody off, I am going to say that the real culprits are we ourselves – we the Black/Caribbean/African/African American/Afro Latino residents of Brooklyn – who make up 85% of the population, but get pushed around as though we are less than 10%.
While I wholeheartedly support Brother Jitu Weusi, I had to wonder just how many really know who Paul Robeson was, and what his significance is for us as Black people? How many of us know who Paul Robeson is? Apart from those of my generation and older, how many have had the pleasure of watching one of Paul Robeson’s classic movies, such as “The Emperor Jones,” or “Sanders of the River,” (which was the original movie about King Solomon’s Mines).
How many have ever heard this wonderful man’s bass-baritone mellifluous voice, or viewed perhaps one of the handsomest Black men ever to walk the planet? How many know what a real honor it is to have a school named after such a man?
I personally have always called Brother Paul Robeson F.I.N.E. = Focused, Intelligent, Natural, Elegant – he was an all round athlete, actor, activist – he got a law degree in 1923 from Columbia Law School, in a day and age when Black men weren’t even allowed to “practice” law. He was an all around athlete and intellectual. He came from a family of intellectuals – father a minister who graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (my alma mater!!); mother a member of intellectuals from Philadelphia. He was raised in Princeton, NJ., graduated from Rutgers. He was what was called a credit to his race – meaning us Black folks – and indeed Robeson did us proud.
He was so positive and powerful that he was allowed to make movies on themes that were outside the bounds of Jim crow racism – in London, of course – you know they’d never allow him to do that here back in the day of lynchings and castrations. Robeson was a hero – and he was and is a personal hero of mine and my family. I just watched a DVD of “The Emperor Jones,” a movie I will never tire of, and watched as took us through a complete range of emotions. The brother was a fantastic actor. To this day there have been few who have come close to his talents.
That a school was named in honor of Paul Robeson shows there was a consciousness in the community of providing the students with an individual, a role model they could look up to.
What has happened to cause this to no longer be the case? Well it certainly can’t be the students. It has to be a combination of the administration, faculty, staff – but more importantly, it has to be because the parents have allowed the school to slide into a low level of standards.
If you have a high standard for your child, there is no way that you are going to allow the teachers to do less than the best. If they are now trying to close the doors of Paul Robeson, our parents have to look at what it is they have or have not been doing that has allowed this to happen. Then we have to turn it around and at the same time take a stand, draw line in the sand, and let Bloomie and his henchmen know that we are not going to close the school, but we are going to demand a regime change in terms of the faculty and staff. That we are going to set the standards. We are going to make sure they are implemented.
In addition to demonstrations and negotiations, there has to be some activation of parental involvement. Whose community is this? Whose children are these? Don’t want to hear that you don’t have time because you have to work. Don’t want to hear that Bloomie is going to do what he wants to anyway because he has lots of money. At some point it can’t just be about the money. We are either the majority and of value, or we are just ineffective complainers.
Bloomie has shown that he has little to no regard for any of our feelings or needs. So let’s don’t think that you will be able to appeal to some sense of humanity – some sense of reason. He has more of a specimen approach when it comes to African Americans. He will try to get his way one way. If that doesn’t work, he’ll pretend to relent, and come at you in another way. He’ll pit two ends against the middle, and while we’re focusing on solving that emergency out of no where, he sneaks up the middle, or from the back and does what he originally intended. Remember, he’s the democrat who turned Repuglican to run for mayor. Then he stated he was an independent. Now what is he? He’s the one who pledged to uphold the two term decision, then vacated it via fiat, and stood stone faced while New Yorker after New Yorker stood in City Council voicing their anger, and still put a third term in place. He barely noticed them, because he had already decided that we didn’t count.
We now have Kathie Black, female puppet, in charge of our children’s education. New carte blanche as she rubber stamps Bloomie’s policies.
So if there is nothing new and different about his behavior and policies, there had better be something new and different about ours. We have to do more than protest. We have to do more than circulate petitions. We have to circle the wagons and begin to protect our communities.
Sadly, we lost Johnnie Cochran a few years ago, and we’ve not had our own mouthpiece since then. We’ve not had someone who has had the Blackbone to take on the administration when it violates our rights, and take a principled stand in our behalf. So we need to either cultivate or hire our legal eagles, while at the same time putting together our activist crew, while at the same time putting together a parents brigade. We have to shut the city down and make sure that this man knows that the people in Brooklyn are as valid and powerful – as large and in charge, as they are in Manhattan.
Notice that I did not say don’t protest. We have to attack on all fronts. We have to make it clear that nobody moves until we get what we want, or stop them from doing what we don’t want.
But we then have to make sure we know what we want. We have to have standards and a criteria for education, and them make sure that we have the people who can step in and get the job done. If we want quality education at Paul Robeson, we had better make sure at the end of the day we have teachers who are qualified and committed to our children, and a higher standard than the ones Bloomberg and Black are putting forth.
We have to make sure that we have a curriculum reflective of the man the school was named for. You can’t just name the school after Paul Robeson and not have academic standards that will turn out Paul Robeson clones. We definitely could use a cadre of Robesons. And we have to make sure that we don’t compromise our standards for some crappy concept that has nothing to do with our children’s intellectual development.
We now have to be about it. We now have to let those who walk around paying lip service to autonomy but cower in the shadows when it comes time to make a stand.
Brother Jitu Weusi has always been in the forefront of our education and rights. He’s carried that banner and still carries it because we lack those who would come behind him and take the baton and keep on going. His love for us is evident and unwavering. Now is the time to make sure we give him the support, take some of the weight off him, while at the same time learning from him so we can go forth benefiting from his wisdom and expertise.
You had better be about saving Paul Robeson School as well as any other Black institutions in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Westchester, Long Island – they represent and belong to us. Now is the time to stand up for them in order to have a future. What we do now will determine what happens tomorrow.
(To read Jitu Weusi’s letter click here and scroll to the end of Gloria’s column)
bullet Columnist Gloria Dulan-Wilson Is a veteran New York City Journalist. Her experiences, perspective & sense of history are an invaluable combination. “check out my blog:” www.gloria-dulan-wilson.blogspot.com