Kevin Powwell`s blog

Queens, NY Principal Minerva Zanca calls African American teachers “big lipped,” “nappy haired,” and “gorillas”

June 27th, 2013

Two teachers that were preparing for tenure this year were denied and subsequently fired by a principal that referred to them as “having big lips” and “nappy hair.” John Flanagan, a Spanish Language teacher, and Heather Hightower, an ESL-Science teacher, were the targets of these remarks by Minerva Zanca, principal of Pan American International High School in Elmhurst, Queens, New York.

These two teachers, as well as tenured Theatre teacher Lisa-Erika James, have filed a discrimination claim against Principal Minerva Zanca within the Department of Education—Office of Equal Opportunity—for poor performance ratings and undue budget cuts that they feel were racially motivated.

Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo, who is also filing a harassment claim against Ms. Zanca, uncovered these comments in a written statement that discloses, in vivid detail, the targeting of these three teachers over the course of the 2012-2013 school year. In Post-Observation Conferences with Mr. Riccardo, Zanca states that Ms. Hightower “looked like a gorilla in a sweater with nappy hair” and asked, “Did you see his big lips quivering?” in reference to Mr. Flanagan.

“It is not only important to have high standards for our public school teachers,” says Kevin Powell, President of BK Nation. “But we must also support the good ones, like these teachers, who are completely dedicated to their young people. I find it unacceptable that a principal can engage in this kind of conduct without any repercussions. We are not going to stop until due justice and process is served here. We are calling on the school district and the DOE to review this matter thoroughly, to deal with the facts fairly, and to make it clear that racial bias and mistreatment of teachers in any form is not tolerated in New York City. We are also specifically asking for the support of City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who has a working relationship with Principal Zanca since the school is in her district, and for her to condemn this racist and abusive behavior and to stand with us in pushing for an investigation and justice.”

The New York City Department of Education’s Chancellor’s Regulation A830 is a strict anti-discrimination policy that protects its employees from discrimination based on race/color/ethnicity/gender and sexual orientation. The three teachers feel their Civil Rights have been violated and in return are pursuing their complaint in the hopes of getting their jobs back. Ms. James is asking that Ms. Zanca be held fully accountable in compliance with the Chancellor’s Regulations. Ms. James states “It is deeply disappointing that Ms. Zanca has made such hurtful racial epithets and is allowed to run a school where many of the children are of Afro-Latino descent.” There are currently no African American teachers left at the school.

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Thanksgiving, Sandy, and America’s soul

November 22nd, 2012

Thanksgiving, Sandy, and America’s soul
We know that Thanksgiving begins America’s annual month-long holiday season, and that it seems to bring out the best in Americans, a sort of giving spirit that represents the spiritual greatness of who we can be as human beings. I especially think about that this Thanksgiving week given the very ugly and divisive presidential campaign cycle we just concluded, and the equal ugliness of Superstorm Sandy that rocked us so badly in the Northeast that there are countless residents, of various backgrounds, still without house or home or, if in their own confines, without heat or electricity, or both.

Indeed I’ve not seen such nonstop calls for food, for supplies and resources since I did a year’s worth of relief and recovery work in the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now like then a gigantic disaster, ironically, produces a sort of magic in our America: It shows that we can come together as a people, irrespective of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion (or not), disability or ability. It shows that Americans are and can be a kind and generous people, can rally to the aid and comfort of those in dire need, including the organized democracy of Occupy Sandy, an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, where you see folks on both sides of America’s capitalism working shoulder to shoulder in places like Far Rockaway, Queens. In short, there is an awe-inspiring brand of selflessness happening, as we struggle through relief and recovery from Sandy.

But as great as the above is, I also think of something Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2, once said: we must understand the difference between charity and justice. Charity means we give money, a bit of our time, to a cause, a disaster, a relief and recovery effort, then we keep it moving with our lives where the hardened boundaries of, say, race and class, are perpetually alive and in living color in our America. I thought of this as I listened to some well-meaning New Yorkers, clearly of the city’s upper class, discuss their upcoming “trip” from their cushy doorman high-rise to Far Rockaway. It felt as if they were describing incredibly patronizing missionary work in some foreign land or, worse, what I call a cultural safari where people, albeit with good intentions, are so detached from those different from them that they do not even get they are peddling forms of classism and racism simply by virtue of the words dropping from their lips. What is a field trip to the ghetto for some is a permanent and hardcore reality for others.

Moreover, justice means even as we unite for American traditions like Thanksgiving we never forget to acknowledge the slaughter and genocide of scores of Native Americans for whom Thanksgiving means something entirely different than to most of us. This is why I say a silent meditation for Native Americans every year around this time because they were here first and were forcibly and savagely shoved over to the tattered margins of American democracy. Justice also means we are clear that we, human beings, are sisters and brothers, we belong to one big family called the human race. And that it does not matter if you have privilege because of your race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. What matters, because humans do matter, is that you use your privileged space to empathize, to understand, to listen and learn, and to support the communities that are lights years away from yours. Think of Bobby Kennedy, a White man of tremendous wealth who, in the final years of his too-short life, was able to reach Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and others in a way rarely seen in American history. Think of Dr. King who did the same and who, at the end of his too-short life, was so unafraid of crossing boundaries, that he of the Nobel Peace Prize and world fame was working with garbage men in Memphis when he was killed. And organizing a poor people’s campaign of working-class Americans, too.

And think of that very brief moment, in 2008, of the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. It had that same kind of soul and possibility. But it seems the exact moment he took the oath of office America tumbled backwards, the darkest chapters of its mighty saga updated and remixed for the 21st century. No, President Obama’s first term was not what many hoped for, not even remotely close. And I pray, very deeply, that his second term is far better, for so many reasons I cannot get into here. But unless you’ve lived under a giant boulder for the past decade or so there is no denying Mr. Obama was a superior presidential candidate to Mitt Romney in 2012. By a wide margin.

Yet if you do not believe in an America for we the people, if the America you believe in is for the haves and not the rest of us, is for people who look like you and think like you only, then you are also very likely to spew some of the most hateful, divisive, mean-spirited, and anti-human being comments, publicly and privately, we’ve seen since the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement. I am not playing the race card here because I have no cards to play, nor do I believe in games when we are talking about matters as serious as this. It is called truth-telling, completely, because that is the only way our country will ever go forward.

To be blunt, my friend Richard L. said it best to me just yesterday evening: there are White people in America and then there are those who happen to be White. White people are the ones who keep saying we need to take the country back. White people are the ones still accusing Barack Obama of not having a college degree, of not being an American citizen, of committing voter fraud, who are simply pissed that a Black man is sitting in the White House. So the questions beg themselves: Take our country back to where, from whom, and why?

But those who happen to be White understand that race is a human-made river of no return, that if America is to survive and thrive in the 21st century and beyond we’d better get to know our neighbors beyond the surface of charity, volunteerism, and writing checks to this or that non-profit in this or that ‘hood, or living vicariously through the coolest Black rapper or Black athlete of the moment.

But the burden is not simply on my White sisters and brothers. Black people and other people of color also need a soulful gut check, too, more than ever. Protesting just for the sake of protesting and reactionary politics are dead, and it has become very tired to blame every single thing on racism. Any leader of color who does that should not be respected nor followed. But it is also not an either or proposition to me: yes we need to be very loud and focused when there is clear and present racism: like the prison-industrial complex; like the police tactic of stop and frisk; like failing public schools in communities of color; like stereotypical and destructive images of people of color in the media, film, and tv; like the absence of diversity in corporate America or other institutions. Put another way, every American should have the opportunity to have an opportunity, just as I did, because of the Civil Rights Movement, and in spite of the terrible circumstances of my single mother and the poverty of my youth. And no American should have her or his life reduced to hopelessness and despair simply because of the circumstances of who they are or what they were born into.

Yet we also need to challenge, for example, Black and Latino elected officials who represent areas most devastated by Sandy and ask some very basic questions, like: What consistent resources and services were some of you funneling to your voters before this disaster hit? Like, Why were some of you not raising your voice before Sandy about the gross inequalities in New York City around race and class, and why are some of you silent now as it becomes very clear that even the recovery efforts are unequal due to race and class?

And I will most certainly point the finger at myself. I now deeply regret a “debate” I had with one Ann Coulter on Current TV, in the weeks leading to election day. I do not agree with anything she has to say. However, I should have never talked above her or put forth an energy that was not constructive to those who were watching. And I deeply regret the tone of the blog I wrote about her afterwards. For that I apologize publicly to her and to anyone who may have watched or read and did not appreciate how the exchange went down. That is not what we need more of in America, and that is not who I am these days, nor who I want to be. When we talk about America’s soul, we’ve got to bring ourselves and our country to a place where we can agree to disagree civilly, with grace, class, and respect. To a place where love is the way, not hate, and we need to fight as hard for love as others have fought for hate. We need an America where nonviolence and peace are our anchors, not violence in its many vicious forms, nor a spiritual chaos that keeps us torn asunder, from ourselves, from each other.

And we’ve got to get to a place, in our America, where Thanksgiving is not merely one day a year, or one holiday season, or about Black Friday and being consumed with material things, but instead a spiritual movement and awakening that has a lasting place in the hearts and souls of us all. Where we will no longer wait for disasters to hit before we find the generosity and caring that has been there all along. For when we do that we will truly understand what it is to be born, again, not for any religious purpose, not for any one holiday or season, but as human beings, for the rest of our lives….

Kevin Powell is a writer, activist, public speaker, and author or editor of 11 books. Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net, or follow him on twitter @kevin_powell

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NEW YORK/HURRICANE SANDY INFO & RESOURCES

November 2nd, 2012

Created by Kevin Powell

Out of great love and concern for our wonderful city my team and I have been posting to Facebook and twitter what we hope is very useful information as we’ve dealt with Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. Given my experiences doing extensive relief and recovery work around Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, we’ve decided to put together a quick info and resource guide for New Yorkers. We are certain it will change often, hence its place on my blog page. And we know it is far from perfect, but we do hope it helps New Yorkers of all backgrounds in some way. Here you go:

EMERGENCY SERVICES: Here’s a website for emergency info about Hurricane Sandy and a special hotline for New York residents: 1-888-769-7243 / 1-518-485-1159. For power outages and gas issues, call 1-800-75-CONED. Here’s the Red Cross website.

LOCAL SERVICES & 311: We have not been able to get through to 311 today due to call volume and busy signals, although we encourage you to try if you need to. As an alternative, you can reach out to your local elected official’s office. Click on these links to find your City Council Member, State Assembly Member or State Senator. Do NOT call 911 unless it is a real emergency!

Still need to find a shelter? Text SHELTER and a Zip code to 4FEMA (43362) Volunteers are needed in various areas; please click here for more opportunities.

New York State law forbids those selling essential consumer goods and services — like food, water, gas, generators, batteries and flashlights, and services such as storm clean-up and disposal — from charging excessive prices during an abnormal disruption of the market. If you believe you are a victim of price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline
at *800-771-7755* or find a complaint form online at: *www.ag.ny.gov*.

The District Office at 67 Hanson Place, and has been assisting residents in emergency shelters, and facilitating fallen tree removal and other Hurricane Sandy-related issues. The District Office may be contacted at (718)260-9191 or via email at teamtish@gmail.com (while City Council email addresses are unavailable).

A great resource to assist parents, children, teachers and those working with families affected by Hurricane Sandy is the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network. Their website includes very specific suggestions and guidance: click here

President Obama has declared New York City a federal disaster zone.  This means that ALL New Yorkers are eligible for FEMA support.

You can apply to FEMA for disaster assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.govor by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).  You may apply for this disaster assistance whether you have insurance or not

Types of FEMA Assistance

The following list shows the types of assistance that are available through IHP and what each provides.

Temporary Housing (a place to live for a limited period of time): Money is available to rent a different place to live, or a government provided housing unit when rental properties are not available.

Repair: Money is available to homeowners to repair damage from the disaster that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional.

Replacement: Money is available to homeowners to replace their home destroyed in the disaster that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to help the homeowner with the cost of replacing their destroyed home.

Permanent/Semi Permanent Housing Construction: Direct assistance or money for the construction of a home. This type of help occurs only in insular areas or remote locations specified by FEMA, where no other type of housing assistance is possible.

Other Needs: Money is available for necessary expenses and serious needs caused by the disaster. This includes medical, dental, funeral, personal property, transportation, moving and storage, and other expenses that are authorized by law.

JOBS/BUSINESSES:

The Legal Aid Society Is Providing Disaster Relief Legal Assistance For Families and Individuals Affected By The Storm: To help New Yorkers in need at this difficult time, The Legal Aid Society is providing disaster relief assistance to local residents affected
by the storm. Please visit www.legal-aid.org for a list of our services and local offices in your area or call our central telephone number at 212-577-3300.

CON EDISON has IMMEDIATE openings (900) for Safety Site Inspectors stationed in every borough. Duties to include placing yellow safety tape around areas with downed trees ensuring that the public stay away from trees or downed lines. Candidates must have their own vehicle, clean driver’s license and work boots. Shifts from 7AM – 7PM, and 7PM – 7AM paying $25 per hour. (Company will waive background checks).

Also, Bi-Lingual Customer Service Reps (any language plus English) stationed in Brooklyn to answer and field incoming calls. $17 per hour. These positions are open to the public at large. Resume and cover letter required—please carefully proofread your letter and resume before submitting. Email resumes or letter of interest to: dsullivan@winstonstaffing.com

The Queens Chamber of Commerce is committed to the safety and success of its businesses, so please do not hesitate to reach out to us should you need any assistance or have any questions at all. Please visit the following websites to learn more about the assistance available to you and your business: how to find assistance/apply for assistance, interactive map from ConEdison which lists outages and includes projected service times/dates, New York City Business Assistance Programs. Please be careful during this time of recovery. Many dangers may be hidden by water and debris. Do not hesitate to reach out to the Queens Chamber should you have any questions at all. Our phone number is 718-898-8500.

For small to mid-sized businesses that are facing business interruption, NYC Business Emergency Loans will be available, with loans capped at $10,000. For information, click or call 311.

For businesses facing displacement, the City is making short-term “swing” office space available at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, free of charge for 30 days. EDC has about 40,000 square feet of space at the Terminal that is now available for this use. Learn.
For businesses requiring other emergency assistance the SBS Business Outreach Team and Emergency Response Unit is available to help impacted small businesses. Learn.

For mid-to-large-sized businesses that need to undertake rebuilding, an emergency sales tax letter from New York City Industrial Development Authority (IDA) is available to allow businesses to avoid payment of New York City and New York State sales taxes on materials purchased for rebuilding. Please contact Shin Mitsugi atsmitsugi@nycedc.com for information.

NY Tech Meetup and New Work City are organizing volunteers with technology skills to help with relief efforts and help New York-area businesses and organizations get their technology back up and running after Hurricane Sandy. Fill out the info form here.

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce has created a resource guide with vital information and phone numbers businesses need to contact in order to get assistance and emergency loans. The guide can be accessed here www.ibrooklyn.com/sandy. Emergency loans will be made available to small-to-midsize businesses through the City, with caps at $10,000. Please see here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sbs/nycbiz/html/contact/manager.shtml, or call 311 for NYC Business Solutions.

Midsize-to-large businesses that need to rebuild should contact the NYC Economic Development Corporation for further information on an emergency sales tax letter from New York City Industrial Development Authority (IDA) that will allow businesses to avoid payment of New York City and New York State sales taxes on materials purchased for rebuilding. IDA will also waive all fees and look to streamline its normal procedure. This program is expected to offer economic benefits to reconstruction projects costing $500,000 or more. Please contact Shin Mitsugi at smitsugi@nycedc.com for further information on this program.

SANITATION:

The Department of Sanitation is making scheduled garbage collections as conditions permit. Recycling collections are suspended at this time.

CITY PARKS:

City parks are closed until further notice. Mayor Bloomberg indicated today that they will hopefully be open by the weekend.

The city has not lifted its mandatory evacuation of Zone A and will not until the areas can be completely inspected.

POWER/PHONE CHARGING/SHOWERS:

IF YOU LIVE ON UPPER EASTSIDE OF MANHATTAN, my friend Jeff Halevy and is his fitness center, Halevy Life, are making space available to those in need of showers, cellphone recharging, etc. 802 Lexington, at corner of 62nd Street. BUT you must email to let know you are coming: info@halevylife.com

Here is a list of evacuation shelters where you can go and or volunteer in all 5 boroughs: http://tinyurl.com/8q8eh4x

NEW YORK SPORTS CLUBS: go to the website to find locations near you.
http://www.mysportsclubs.com/regions/

Cellular service is very limited in certain areas related to the power outages, please locate someone with a traditional “land-line” hard wired home phone in case the need to make emergency phone calls may arise – develop a plan!

As of October 31, 2012, Con Edison was able to return service to many Manhattan and Brooklyn customers who have been without service since Hurricane Sandy touched down. If you are still without service, please report to 1-800-75-CONED. The Con Ed outage map is available here: http://apps.coned.com/stormcenter_external/default.html Please be aware that the NYPD has set-up light towers in areas that continue to be without power.
The Department of Buildings has begun inspecting buildings in Zone A areas to assess their structural integrity. By and large, these inspections are taking place outside of the 35th District.

However, please be aware that buildings will be tagged with one of three
color placards to indicate their safety:
*Green*: the building is safe to enter
*Red*: the building is not safe and may not be entered
*Yellow*: it can be occupied conditionally (i.e. one floor may be safe while another is not.) These conditions would be explained on a placard attached to the building.

AT&T OFFERING FREE CELLPHONE CHARGING AT THESE LOCATIONS IN THE 5 BOROUGHS:

Redfern Houses Playground

1462 Beach Channel Drive (Redfern and Beach 12th St)

Rockaway, Queens

Hammel Playground

220 Beach 85th Street (84th and Rockaway Beach Blvd)

Rockaway, Queens

Conch Playground

51st & Rockaway Bch Blvd (near Ocean Bay & Beach 41st)

Rockaway, Queens

Surf Ave Playground

West 25th and Surve Ave

Coney Island, Brooklyn

Chelsea Park

27th between Ninth and 10th Ave

Chelsea, Manhattan

Red Hook East and West

Red Hook Coffey Park, 85 Richards

Red Hook, Brooklyn

Vladic Playground

Tenth Ave between Ave C and Ave D

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Smith Playground

Catherine Street between Cherry and Monroe

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Hamilton Fish

Pitt and East Houston

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Halletts Cove

Veron Blvd and 30th Rd and Astoria Blvd

Astoria, Queens

Parking Lot

Corner of Mill Road and New Dorp Lane

Staten Island

Confucius Plaza/Beekman Gold Pearl

Confucius Plaza on Division Street

Manhattan

Empty Lot

Yetman and Hylon Blvd

Staten Island

Grand Street Settlement Houses

413 Grand Street

Manhattan

FOR HOMEOWNERS AFFECTED BY SANDY:

The Federal Government has a website that allows people to apply for assistance online: http://www.disasterassistance.gov/ .

This website consolidates the application process across several Federal agencies, including FEMA and the Small Business Administration. The website also reduces the number of forms you will ultimately have to fill out, shortens the time it takes to apply, and allows you to check the progress of your applications online.

If you want to apply by phone rather than the Internet, you can call 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362).

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a guide to New Yorkers recovering and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, including tips on how to avoid scams as they restore and rebuild their homes and businesses. The Attorney General’s guide includes tips to protect consumers from scams related to home repair, clean up services and tree removal and he’s urging individuals who believe they have been scammed to contact his office at *800-771-7755*.

“New Yorkers have already suffered tremendous losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy and I will fight to make sure they are not victimized again by unscrupulous individuals,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As hurricane and flood victims work to get their lives and property back in order, it’s important to know how to identify, avoid and report scammers.”

*Recovering from the Storm:

*Property Cleanup and Repair* Repairing buildings and driveways, clearing downed* *trees — you may need to hire professionals to complete* *these jobs. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
*Check with your insurance company.

*Before making any decisions, be clear about what will be covered and any steps you will need to take.

*Ask for references, check for licenses.
*Ask about local work contractors have done. Talk to the people who hired them; look at the jobs if you can. Make sure the contractor has any license required by your local government.

*Estimates are important: get it in writing.
*Ask that all estimates for work be in writing and include a description of the material to be used. Be clear that you will not pay for work done that is not agreed upon in writing. Verify that the material used is the same as described in the estimate. Make sure any changes to the estimate are in writing.

*Use a contractor with an address you can verify.
*If your contractor is “here today and gone tomorrow,” you may find it difficult to enforce the guarantee.

*Never pay the full price up front.

*Establish a payment schedule and adhere to it. Withhold final payment until the entire project is completed to your satisfaction and all required inspections and certificates of occupancy are finalized.

*Always be sure the contractor has valid insurance.

*If a worker is injured, or damage is caused on your property, you could be held liable if your contractor does not have the required insurance.

*Check with your town or city for required permits.

*Don’t let a contractor work without the necessary permits. Failing to get approvals can delay your project, or prevent you from occupying a completed building.

Around the district, there are still many downed trees. While it is little consolation if one of those trees is in front of your home, there are many neighborhoods that still have hundreds of downed trees. We have been in touch with many of you who have a downed tree on your block and are working with the Parks Department to ensure that they are dealt with as soon as possible. Parks staffers have been doing amazing work, pulling 16 hour shifts, but there are only three teams in all of Brooklyn, so it will take a while to deal with all of the trees.

GAS:

GAS BUDDY (application for phones), you have to click on the gas station and scroll down to comments. They inform you of long lines or no gas.

FOOD:

Food Distribution Center opening at 1pm…

FAR ROCKAWAY

Beach 51st Street and Rockaway Beach Blvd
Beach 84th Street and Rockaway Beach Blvd
BROOKLYN
West 25th Street and Surf Avenue
STATEN ISLAND
Mill Road and New Dorp Lane
MANHATTAN
West 27th Street bet 9th and 10th avenue
East 10th Street bet Ave C and ave D
Pitt Street and East Houston
Stanton and Pitt Street
Also go to www.nyc.gov for more food distribution centers and info regarding Ready for NY and organization that deals with disasters.

TRAFFIC/TRANSPORTATION:

As the MTA and New York City Transit recover, Governor Andrews Cuomo has announced that free transit will be available for Thursday (Nov 1) and Friday (Nov 2), and limited subway service will be available. WNYC has a helpful Transit Tracker available here: http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news/2012/oct/28/transit-tracker/. Multiple outlets are reporting that the MTA-operated Brooklyn-Manhattan “bus bridge” is slow-moving, as is acquiring gas. Please be aware that cars entering Manhattan must have 3 passengers between the hours of 6:00AM to midnight. Roughly 4,000 taxis and livery cabs are available and allowed to do street hails and pick-up multiple fares. The city suggests an additional $10 charge per fare and notes that drivers must quote prices up front.

At least 4,000 taxis and livery cabs are on the streets and are allowed to pick up multiple fares. The city suggests an additional $10 charge per fare and notes that drivers must quote prices up front.

Staten Island Ferry will be running starting at Noon 11/2
NY water taxi providing free rides from Ikea to lower Manhattan

Useful Links and Resources for public transportation updates:

MTA Updates – http://alert.mta.info/
NYC Government Updates- http://www.nyc.gov/html/index.html

The Transit Forward Coalition has launched a service to help New Yorkers impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

If you need help or would like to volunteer to help New Yorkers, please visit our Hurricane Sandy Assistance pageat http://www.transitforward.org/hurricane_sandy_assistance

To view the Hurricane Sandy Modified Subway Map, click here or visit http://www.mta.info/sites/default/files/pdf/HurricaneRecoveryMapOct312012.pdf

Special thanks to the incredible hard work of our City’s transit workers to make this happen in less than 72 hours.

Below please find the Transit Foward representatives in your borough.

Manhattan: Yetta Kurland | 917-701-9590

Queens: Jacques Leandre | 347-613-2315

Bronx: Mona Davids | 646-807-4191

Brooklyn: Rodneyse Bichotte | 718-744-8410

Staten Island: Ahmed Tigani | 718-312-9105

VOLUNTEERS/DONATIONS:

Our friends at New York Communities for Change have been working tirelessly to deliver aid to those in need in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island—and they’ve already run out of food and diapers at one of their distribution centers.

The NYCC Downtown Brooklyn office will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day and is in urgent need of donated supplies, which can be dropped off at their conveniently-located office. They’re also accepting volunteers—especially those with vehicles who can help deliver aid. Have questions? Email Info@nycommunities.org or call (347) 410-6919 extension 286. Their address is 2-4 Nevins St, 2nd Fl Brooklyn, NY 11217.

Here is a list of supplies needed:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottled water
  • Baby food
  • Baby blankets
  • Diapers
  • Batteries of all sizes, but especially D and AA

Make the Road—If you can make it to Staten Island, Make the Road needs supplies to distribute there, especially non-perishable food and warm clothes and blankets. Their Staten Island office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 479 Port Richmond Avenue, Staten Island, NY, 10302. For more information, email Daniel.Coates@maketheroadny.org or call (718) 727-1222 extension 3445.

While neighboring communities are on the way to normal following the storm, Red Hook is still in bad shape. The neighborhood, which includes thousands of public housing residents, is without power, meaning that people have been without running water, lights, a refrigerator, or other electronics since Monday.

Red Hook Initiative is coordinating and dispatching volunteers to where they are most needed in the neighborhood. You can contact RHI at 718-858-6782, or show up to volunteer at their office, located at 767 Hicks Street. There is a particular need for volunteers with medical training.

Red Hook Initiative is also in need of donations. To make a financial contribution, visit their website. The following much-needed items can also be donated at their 767 Hicks Street office: non-perishable food, baby formula, diapers, and baby wipes, ice, water, batteries, flashlights, candles, toilet paper and other toiletries, garbage bags, rubber gloves, cleaning supplies.

The Park Slope Armory shelter needs volunteers who can work at least an 8 hour shift, even longer would be great. Shifts start at 8 AM and 8 PM. If they have too many volunteers, you may be asked to try again another time, so be prepared for that.
Also, if you have experience providing physical therapy for seniors and are interested in volunteering, please contact my office.

The John Jay High School shelter (237 7th Avenue, between 4th & 5th Streets) needs overnight volunteers (especially, but not only, people with medical training). You need to be able to dedicate at least 6-8 hours and cannot bring your children.

Staten Island : Visit https://statenisland.recovers.org/ to see where you can help!

Update on the current state of the Lower East Side Manhattan:

We are still without electricity. Some developments now have water but many are still without. We are especially worried about our seniors – those who are unable to leave their apartments without the elevator as well as those who are out of money, as EBT cards and ATM machines are not working in the neighborhood.
Info for residents:

National Guard will be dropping off food and water today at 3pm at the following locations: -10th St Playground between C & D (Dry Dock) -Hamilton Fish Park at Pitt and Houston -Smith Houses Playground at Catherine and Cherry St. -Confucius Plaza in Chinatown -Vladek, location not confirmed

NYPD will also be going door to door to each home to check on folks and let people know about emergency relief.
If you are in need of an ATM, there are buses running uptown – there are working banks and ATMs above 40th St. as well as 24 hour Duane Reades north of 40th bewteen 2nd ave and Lexington

Info for Allies:
We would love support in the following ways: 1. Donations: we are in need of flashlights, batteries (AA, AAA, D), nonperishable food, candles, first aid kits, vehicles or bikes with trailers (to bring supplies around). We are also accepting donations via our website www.goles.org (top right).

Volunteer: We need help knocking on doors to distribute supplies, calling our members to make sure they’re ok, posting information, coordinating, etc.
If you are able to offer either, our office is located at 169 Ave. B between 10th and 11th and will be open today between 3-6 and tomorrow (Friday) between 12-6.

Social Media: We have very little internet connectivity right now. Can you coordinate volunteers, repost needs, and be in communication online, from the LES, NYC or from afar? Email margot.seigle@gmail.com or maisha@goles.org .
We only have one phone line working at the moment 212-358-1223 or you can call Maisha @ 646-765-8604

VOLUNTEER: Occupy Wall Street is working with our allies to organize volunteer opportunities in Red Hook, Chinatown and other areas affected by the storm. Check out their Twitter feed. VOCAL can also use volunteers with harm reduction services and supporting HIV/AIDS housing programs affected by the storm. Contact Jaron at (718) 864-3932 or jaron@vocal-ny.org.

VOCAL EVENTS: Our events are cancelled for the rest of the week. Get in touch if you need anything or want to volunteer!

If you lost food during the storm, e.g. spoiled food due to an electricity outage, you can apply for emergency food stamps. Go to the nearest HRA or HASA Center and fill out a 2921 Form.

St. Francis de Sales church will be a place to give and get supplies like clothing and toiletries. There are a bunch of bags of clothes nearby and more on the way. Also, wanted to share some bars that are accepting donations and acting as drop-off centers. They are:

Good Co., 10 Hope Street, Williamsburg
Pour House, 7901 3rd Ave, Bay Ridge
Mullanes, S. Elliot & Lafayette, Fort Greene
Park Ave. Tavern, 39th & Park, Manhattan
Sean James Aiken, 118 Freeman St. b/t Manhattan & Franklin, Greenpoint (not a bar, just a house I think.)

Please share this info and encourage people to go to SFDS if they need things. We’ll be sorting through everything tomorrow.

Council Member Letitia James urges Brooklyn residents to consider volunteering or donating toiletry items to Brooklyn Technical High School, which is currently serving as one the New York City’s 65 emergency shelters following the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Currently, towels and other personal supplies are desperately needed by the Brooklyn residents currently displaced and staying at the school. You may deliver items to: Brooklyn Technical HS at 29 Ft. Greene Place, between DeKalb Avenue and Fulton Avenue in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn.

Please donate financially to help Masbia provide hot meals at Park Slope Armory: Yesterday, the Park Slope Armory got more than 500 evacuees from Adult Care Homes in flooded parts of the city. Everyone who is staying there needs special attention, including elderly people and many people with physical or mental disabilities. People came in cold, wet, and hungry – and the Armory had only limited cold food for them to eat. For people in wet socks who can’t go home, you can imagine how important that was. They are doing the same thing this evening, but it is a big expenditure for this small non-profit, so help them raise funds to help Masbia cover its costs: https://www.masbia.org/donate.asp

Shane Paul Neil and Valoneecia Tolbert of Rapid Realty will be having clothes; toy and food drive to assist the Brooklyn victims of Hurricane Sandy. Drop offs can be made at the South Park Slope Rapid Realty office located at 681 4th Avenue. Brooklyn NY 11233. Any questions feel free to email Shane at sneil@rapidnyc.com or call 347.850.3278.

There will be various ways to volunteer to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – Want to Volunteer? Please email nycservice@cityhall.nyc.gov with your name, email address and borough. There will be ways to volunteer today and over the next week as opportunities arise

Volunteers still needed at the Park Slope Armory (361 15th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues). Volunteers needed for this evening and overnight (especially at this Armory).

If you live in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill neighborhoods, please know that Brooklyn Tech High School, South Elliott between DeKalb and Lafayette, is now an evacuation shelter and can use volunteers. Just show up and sign up. They are bringing residents from the Coney Island section of Brooklyn there.

If you see any downed trees or other debris from the storm, your first call should be to 311 (If there is an immediate danger to life, call 911 right away). Make sure to write down the tracking number from your 311 call. We should remember that the effects of this storm are being felt across New York City, and agencies will rightly be prioritizing trees on power lines and other especially dangerous situations.

Where to Volunteer & Donate

The Red Hook Initiative is collecting toilet paper, water, candles, food, flashlights, cell phone chargers, batteries, paper towels, and paper for printers for those who have been without power for three days. If you’re in the neighborhood and would like to donate supplies, Freebrook Academy at 375 Stuyvesant Ave. (at Decatur St.) is accepting donations and will drop them off tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.

Brooklyn Technical High School at 29 Fort Greene Place is currently being used as a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Brooklyn Tech is currently serving a large population of evacuees from Rockaway Beach nursing homes and they need your help to serve and prepare meals! Volunteers are most needed after dark, when daytime volunteers go home. All meal times listed below:

Breakfast: 7am-9am
Lunch: 11:30am-1pm
Dinner: 5pm-7pm

If you can’t donate time at Brooklyn Tech, they are also taking donations of money and baggy clothing. Please visit www.nycservice.org for more information.

Park Slope Armory
361 15th St between (6th & 7th Aves.)
Is an emergency shelter site in need of people & donations

John Jay HS Evacuation Center
7th Ave (between 4th & 5th Streets.)
Is need of volunteers

Before Sandy arrived in the Northeast there were already a record number of homeless families in New York and a total of 46,000 homeless individuals filling NYC shelters. With the central office and email blacked out, HELP Staff across our sites serving this same population pulled together to organize emergency shelter, transportation, and provide calm when it was needed most. Now more than ever, for our permanent housing sites and for our general shelter residents, we need your help going into the Holiday season.

People in the tri-state area are in emergency need of food, water, batteries, clothing and household supplies. Please make a donation to HELP USA so we can provide these essential services www.helpusa.org/donate.
Donations of food, water, and batteries can also be sent directly to the following locations: Newark at our Genesis JBJ Soul Homes 68 Mt. Pleasant Ave. Newark, NJ 07104 http://www.helpusa.org/Housing/Permanent/newark, Clinton Hill Apartments 640 Clinton Ave. Newark, NJ 07108, Lower Manhattan (Genesis RFK Apartments 113 East 13th Street New York, NY 10003 http://www.helpusa.org/Housing/Permanent/genesis_RFK_apartments).

Now more than ever HELP is seeking to provide more housing and to expand our job training program to continue to provide solutions to homelessness for veterans, families, the elderly and single adults. To support this work you can contribute now at www.helpusa.org/donate.

St. Bernadette’s Church is accepting donations for hurricane relief. Items can be dropped off to the rectory Mon-Fri 9am-12pm, 1pm-4pm and 6pm-8:30pm. 8201 13th Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11228 (718) 837-3400

NYPD Community Affairs Bureau Request for Donations:

In order to provide assistance to our fellow New Yorker’s in this time of urgent need we have established a donation point at the following location: Resort World Casino (Former Aqueduct Racetrack) 110-00 Rockaway Blvd ; Jamaica, NY 11420, Next to JFK airport – Enter from 109th Street & Rockaway Blvd. Any questions can be directed to the Community Affairs Bureau at 646-610-5323 or via email at communityaffairs@nypd.org *Store owners, or other large businesses interested in bulk donations should contact the above number to coordinate logistics.

Helping Hands for the Disabled Request for Donations:

Many of our clients lost food due to power outages. We could use some food or gift cards to help them recoup. If you can help call 718-606-9712, Helping Hands for the Disabled of NYC.

Here are the Donation Centers organized by boroughs and state:

Manhattan Bowery Mission
Open 24/7
227 Bowery Street (Between Houston and Christie)

Park Ave. Tavern
39th & Park, Manhattan

The Saloon
83rd and York, Manhattan

CAAAV
10am-7PM
46 Hester Street
New York, NY

Salvation Army Thrift Store
www.use.salvationarmy.org
208 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
(212) 532-8115

The Salvation Army Greater New York Division
120 W 14th Street, New York, NY 10011

Happy Warrior Playground
Annunciation Park
Carl Schurz Park
Anne Loftus Playground (at Fort Tryon Park)
Randall’s Island (Friday and Saturday only)
Click here to volunteer in Manhattan

Brooklyn
Prospect Park
McCarren Park
Click here to volunteer in Brooklyn

Fort Green/Clinton Hill
45 Waverly Avenue
just off of Park Ave in Fort Green/Clinton Hill
(Hours for Nov 1: 10am-6pm)

Park Slope
New Hope Church
120/122 16th St btw 4th and 5th ave
Contact: Pastor Craig: (718) 768-5275

Good Co.,
10 Hope Street, Williamsburg

Pour House,
7901 3rd Ave, Bay Ridge

Mullanes, S. Elliot & Lafayette, Fort Greene

Sean James Aiken (private house),
118 Freeman St. b/t Manhattan & Franklin, Greenpoint

Red Hook
The Red Hook Initiative
767 Hicks Street
Contact: Mariya (347) 770-1528 (but please just show up!)

Specific Requests in Redhook:
(Will be updated at redhook.recovers.org
prepared food (including food for children)
batteries, flashlights, power strips, toiletries (including toilet paper and paper towels), utensils such as spoons and bowls, jugs of water

Bay Ridge
Residence
9108 Colonial Rd. Brooklyn 11209 #E9

Sunset Park
St. Jacobi Church
5406 4th Ave
Contact: Ronnie 646-353-5194

Specific Requests in Sunset Park:
steam table foil pans full or half size w lids, blankets, cleaning supplies, tin foil, and saran wrap

Williamsburg (starting Nov 1, 10am)
Residence
306 Leonard St, apt J1 (between Conselyea and Metropolitan)
Contact: Jennifer (917) 586-4153

Bedstuy
Residence
136 Jefferson Ave, apt 2 11216

East Billyburg (Beginning Thursday Nov 1 at 12 noon)
House of Yes
342 Maujer st
Contact: Kae Burke (525)217-7209

Downtown Brooklyn
NYCC
2-4 Nevins Street, 2nd Floor

collect toiletries and clothes (esp. socks, underwear, sweatshirts) and bring them to any of the locations below:
Park Ave. Tavern, 39th & Park, Manhattan
The Saloon, 83rd and York, Manhattan
Good Co., 10 Hope Street, Williamsburg
Pour House, 7901 3rd Ave, Bay Ridge
Mullanes, S. Elliot & Lafayette, Fort Greene
Sean James Aiken (private house), 118 Freeman St. b/t Manhattan & Franklin, Greenpoint

Staten Island
Rab’s Country Lanes
600 Hylan Blvd. in Dongan Hills
They need clothing, blankets, food, towels, water, pet food and anyone willing to volunteer at the site– report to Rab’s.

Petrides Evacuation Center
715 Ocean Terrace
Staten Island, NY 10301

Wagner HS
1200 Manor Road
Staten Island, NY 10314

Queens
Queens (Friday and Saturday only)
Brookville Park
Baisley Pond Park
Click here to volunteer in Queens

Evacuation center at Tottenville High School
100 Luten Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10312
Needs volunteers, soap and other basic supplies.

Bronx
Van Cortlandt Park
Orchard Beach
Click here to volunteer in the Bronx

Long Island Lindenhurst

DONATE MONEY
TO NEW YORK CARES
Text iCARE to 85944 to donate $10.

TO THE RED CROSS

Blood Drives in NYS
Kingston Donor Center
51 Albany Ave, Kingston, NY
1:00 pm to 8:00 pm

IBM East Fishkill Donor Center
2070 Rt 52, Bldg. 320, Hopewell Junction, NY
1:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Elmsford Donor Center
525 Executive Blvd., Elmsford, NY

8:00 am to 8:00 pm

Upper East Side Donor Center
310 E. 67th St., NYC

9:00 am to 7:00 pm

New York Blood Center- Westbury
1200 Prospect Ave., Westbury, NY

9:00 am to 9:00 pm

Brooklyn Donor Center
120 Lawrence Street, Brooklyn, NY

8:30 am to 8:00 pm

Staten Island Donor Center
2791 Richmond Ave, Staten Island, NY

12:30 pm to 7:30 pm

Rockville Centre Donor Center
290 Sunrise Highway, Rockville Centre, NY
7:30 am to 7:30 pm

Lake Success Donor Center
2500 Marcus Ave., Lake Success, NY

7:30 am to 7:45 pm

Poughkeepsie Galleria Mal
2001 South Road, Poughkeepsie

10:00 am to 8:00 pm

Grant D. Morse Elementary School
70 Harry Wells Road, Saugerties, NY
3:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Orange County
30 Harriman Drive, Goshen, NY

9:00 am to 7:00 pm

Sugar Loaf Engine Company
1408 Kings Highway, Chester, NY
10:00 am to 8:00 pm

Avon Products Midland & Peck Avenues, Rye, NY
8:00 am to 2:00 pm

SUNY New Paltz- Student Union
75 South Manheim Road, New Paltz, NY
12:00 pm to 6:00 pm

SCHOOLS:

The Department of Education schools are closed Thursday (Nov 1) and Friday
(Nov 2). Teachers and administrators are expected to report to work on
Friday for updates.

CUNY is open on Friday (Nov 2), except: Borough of Manhattan Community College, College of Staten Island, Baruch College and Kingsborough Community College.

MEDICAL/HEALTH:

NYC Health Department is urging people to exercise caution when using portable generators in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use stove burners or ovens for heat. For more information: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/poison/poison.shtml
2) Tips on food and water safety after a flood. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/ehs/floods-food.shtml
3) For tips on coping with stress caused by Hurricane Sandy, please see these fact sheets
Protecting Children from Disturbing Media Reports During Traumatic Events
Tips on Coping with Disasters and Other Stressful and Traumatic Events
Tips on Taking Care of Your Family During Stressful and Traumatic Events
4) The New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene advises that direct contact with the Hudson River, East River, New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay and the Kill Van Kull for recreational activities such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing or any other water activity that would entail possible direct contact with the water should be avoided until further notice

Water Distribution sites:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/misc/html/2012/foodandwater.html

CONed Dry Ice locations:
http://www.coned.com/newsroom/news/pr20121101_2.asp

HHS information on protecting health immediately after a hurricane or to prepare for disasters is available at www.phe.gov/emergency. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have health tips available by texting SANDY to 87000. Additional information about the storm and status can be found here.

Food and Water Distribution Stations:

For a list of NYC food and water distribution locations, please visit: http://www.nyc.gov/html/misc/html/2012/foodandwater.html. Additional sites will be added to the list as information becomes available.

HASA: The 14th Street, Coney Island and Staten Island HASA Centers appear to be closed. Please call to confirm. You can go to the closest HASA Center if yours is currently closed. Please scroll down to the bottom of this email for a list of HASA Centers and phone numbers. The HASA Service Line is 212-971-0626, although no one was answering the phone today.

HASA CENTERS – HIV AIDS SERVICE ADMINISTRATION

MANHATTAN

AMSTERDAM CENTER
400 8th AVENUE, 3rd FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY
(212) 620‐5128 / (212) 971-2054

HAMILTON CENTER
530 WEST 135th STREET, 3rd FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10031
(212) 690‐9764 / (212) 690-9239

WAVERLY CENTER [Appears to be CLOSED temporarily - call to confirm]
12 WEST 14TH STREET, 1ST FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10011
(212) 352-0444 / (212) 620-9420

BROOKLYN

GREENWOOD CENTER (around the corner from the VOCAL office at St. Marks and Fourth Avenue!)
88 THIRD AVENUE, 2nd FLOOR
BROOKLYN, NY 11217
(718) 694-8994 / (718) 694‐8774

BROWNSVILLE CENTER
94 FLATBUSH AVENUE, 3RD FLOOR
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 11217
(718) 637‐8830 / (718) 637‐8928

CONEY ISLAND CENTER [Appears to be CLOSED temporarily - call to confirm]
3050 WEST 21STSTREET, 1ST FLOOR
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 11224
(718) 333‐3340/41 / (718) 333‐3343

BRONX

CROTONA CENTER
1790 GRAND CONCOURSE, 3RD FLOOR
BRONX, NEW YORK 10457
(718) 716-‐3352 / (718) 716-‐5168

GRAND CONCOURSE CENTER
1790 GRAND CONCOURSE, 4th FLOOR
BRONX, NEW YORK 10457
(718) 716-2687/80 / (718)716-3471

JEROME CENTER
1365 JEROME AVE, 1ST FLOOR
BRONX, NY 10452
(718) 590-6553/6554 / (718) 590-7425

KINGSBRIDGE CENTER
260 EAST 161st STREET, 7th FLOOR
BRONX, NY 10451
(718) 664-1040 / (718) 664-2057

QUEENS

QUEENSBORO CENTER
33-‐28 NORTHERN BOULEVARD, 2nd FLOOR
LONG ISLAND CITY, NY 11101
(718) 610‐3844 / (718) 610-3888

STATEN ISLAND

STATEN ISLAND CENTER [Appears to be CLOSED temporarily - call to confirm]
207 BAY STREET, 1ST FLOOR
STATEN ISLAND, NY 10301
(718) 390‐8531/ (718) 390‐6757

METHADONE: Methadone maintenance treatment programs appear to be offering guest dosing and multiple days for take-homes. If you cannot get to your regular program, go to the nearest one and ask them to call your counselor to confirm your dose. To find a program near you, visit this OASAS website. We have been unable to reach OASAS staff regarding any troubleshooting, but please let Fred know if you have problems: (646) 321-5282 or fred@vocal-ny.org

MEDICAID: Fee for service Medicaid is waiving prior authorization requirements for urgent health needs during the state of emergency. Contact the CSC Call Center at 800-343-9000 for more information.

Bronx Emergency Blood Drive This Friday:

The New York Blood Center (NYBC) has lost approximately 4500 units of blood due to cancellations Mon – Wed. They anticipate that they will continue to be forced to cancel blood drives throughout the weekend and perhaps even into next week. In all, NYBC will likely have lost 6000 or more donations, and types O-, B- and platelets are in extremely short supply. The Bronx was hit very hard in the storm but if there is anything you can do to help we would really appreciate it. This Friday from 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. at the Bronx County Building.

Bronxworks and Resources for Bronx Residents:

Bronxworks Drop-in Center has remained and will remain open 24 hours a day. They have been transporting individuals to and from hospitals and other evacuation shelters throughout the Borough. Their team is currently canvassing Bronx neighborhoods and checking on fragile individuals. To find out more information go http://tinyurl.com/239rp2e.

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Weather Expert Speaks on Sandy, Climate Change, Presidential Election

October 31st, 2012

As someone who has lived in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area my entire life, I know we do not get hurricanes. Or at least we did not, until very recently. I’ve spent the past couple of days, along with several others, trying to help as much of my community as possible through this devastation, while also hearing again and again questions on how and why Hurricane Sandy could happen, and happen here. While I will continue assisting others by every available means I also think it important that we in America make this a teachable moment, that we have more serious talk about climate change and global warming and whether or not those things help to create super storms like Sandy.

So I decided to do an interview with Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, president-elect of the American Meteorological Society (he takes office January 2013). AMS is the largest and oldest professional/science society in the United States for the meteorology, climate, and related science
fields. He is also Director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. Before joining the UGA faculty in 2006, Dr. Shepherd spent 12 years as a scientist at NASA. Dr. Shepherd is brilliant, honest, to the point, and I think it will do all us Americans some good if we pay close attention to his words, below. I also encourage you to follow him on twitter @AMSPresElect

KP: What, in your opinion, caused Hurricane Sandy?

JMS: Sandy was a unique and unprecedented storm that was, from a
meteorological perspective, the perfect convergence of three weather
systems: a late season hurricane, an early season Nor’easter, and a
persistent high pressure system over parts of the Arctic and
Greenland. We knew, several days out, that we were dealing with
“Jekyll and Hyde.” The hurricane would be a minimal hurricane but
quite impressive for so late in the season. It had the lowest
pressure of any hurricane this season. However, the bigger concern
was that the storm would transition near landfall to a “Nor’easter”
that typically causes big northeast snowstorms later in the season.
Literally, the hurricane went from a system deriving its power from
the ocean (hurricane), to one deriving its power from the jet
stream/weather system coming from the interior U.S. The High Pressure
system that I mentioned to the north caused a “roadblock,” if you
will, and prevented Sandy from veering out to sea, instead steering
it into the United States. The sheer size, path, and speed of the
storm coupled with horrible timing, in terms of high tide, a full
moon, and elevated sea level from climate change made for a
catastrophic storm surge coupled with rain, persistent tropical storm
force winds, rain, and blizzard conditions on the back side. One
encouraging note, many of our computer models picked up on this
unique set of events several days out, so we knew what was coming,
and this probably saved many lives and reduced the economic damage,
which still may be in the $20-100 billion range.

(Please see Dr. Shepherd’s recent blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2012/10/28/hurricane-sandy-and-the-waning-finances-of-u-s-meteorology/)

KP: How do you explain climate change in the simplest terms for
everyday Americans?

JMS: Climate change is quite challenging to explain. I published a
scholarly paper in the journal Animal Frontiers called “Carbon,
Climate, and Controversy” (http://animalfrontiers.org/content/1/1/5.abstract) which tries to
explain many of the concepts. Additionally, the AMS recently issued
its “Information Statement on Climate Change” and is a good read for
the layperson (http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/2012climatechange.html).

I basically establish that our climate changes naturally due to solar
variation and changes in Earth’s orbit (this is why we have ice ages,
and we will have them again). However, to play on James Carville’s
“It’s the economy stupid” line, “it’s the rate of change, stupid.” The
rate of warming that we are seeing happens on time periods of decades
to 100 years and is related to human contributions on top of the
natural changes. Such changes, naturally, use to take 10s to 100s of
thousands of years. “Joe” and “Jane” public (and my wife is a good
litmus test as she says “will we notice 1-5 degrees warmer on
average?”) will say, “what is the big deal with a rise in average
temperature, just makes the winter’s warmer or my vacation in Aruba
nicer, right?”

Umm, no. I try to get people to focus not just on the
warming aspect but the total changes in our weather and climate
(e.g., changes in rainstorms, droughts, heatwaves), new threats (e.g.
mosquitoes/diseases like Dengue, Lyme Diseases in places they
couldn’t thrive, loss of our ability to produce grains/corn for
market, national security vulnerability as Arctic ocean opens, water
scarcity emerges, etc.). The analogy is a sick child with a fever. If
a child is running a 1-3 degree fever, is that a big deal? Yes, if
sustained it can cause the body’s various systems to respond. Same
with our Earth.

A couple of other points. The public struggles with the difference
between weather and climate. This causes them to ask questions like
“Dr. Shepherd, it is snowing, I thought there was global warming?”
My response, it is February and winter, it snows in winter and always
will. Weather is your mood today, Climate is your personality.

Many in the public also don’t recognize that, as renowned author Upton
Sinclair noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand
something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
There are sectors of our society that have a vested interest in
creating confusion and misinformation on the topic even as the
overwhelming majority of scientists and published literature are
clear. It is the old Tobacco Industry strategy playing out.

KP: You referred to climate change as storm steroids in a tweet to me. Why?

JMS: There is vigorous discussion on whether climate change “caused”
Sandy. I think such language is too speculative and early, let the
science play out on this more. I think that we can make a better
case, without jeopardizing credibility, that climate change factors
affected aspects of Sandy. For example, climate change has caused
rising sea levels, which would certainly amplify the horrific storm
surge that we saw with Sandy. Further, peer-reviewed studies suggests
that with warming climate and seas, future hurricanes may be more
intense because warm water is their “fuel” and warmer air can hold
more moisture. However, can we definitively attribute causation of
Sandy? Not so fast. I think of it like steroids in baseball. We know
that the steroid era in baseball was leading to more and longer
homeruns although it would be difficult to link any particular
homerun to steroids. This is how I look at storms like Sandy.
However, is Sandy a harbinger of future storm impacts in a “new
climate?” That is a fair question.

KP: Why do you think climate change has barely been mentioned in this
year’s presidential election campaigns and debates?

JMS: The climate silence discussion is interesting. President Obama did
mention climate in one debate. I do argue that the “energy debate”
in the campaign is implicitly a “climate” discussion. Choices we
make on fossil fuels and renewables will impact climate. Studies do
show that the American public is coming around on climate change, and
many are finally recognizing that it is not a “left” or “right”
litmus test, but a “test of humanity and our kids’ future.” Some of
the key winners and losers in climate change solutions and policy are
also heavily investing in the campaign too, which may provide some
clues, but I am only speculating.

KP: What can we do as regular Americans to deal with issues of
climate change and global warming, like very basic things?

JMS: Americans can become more climate literate and consume information from vetted, peer-reviewed sources, and not just any website, radio host, or show. Know the experts. I don’t take advice on my hearing from a cardiologist (NOAA’s climate.gov or climatecentral.com are good sources of information for the public).

Clearly, more sustainable and green activities (changing lights, public transit, etc.) can chip away at the carbon emission problem but candidly, I believe that the public has to understand and weigh in with policymakers on the large policy issues that can really get at the problem (e.g. cap and trade, carbon taxes, carbon capture), adaptation strategies
(build sea walls, put AC in older urban apartment buildings, etc.),
and geoengineering (changing the Earth in some way to mitigate).
Finally, many people don’t realize that certain groups are more
vulnerable to climate change. In our country, for example, African
Americans and Latinos overwhelmingly live in urban areas, which will be even warmer, work in climate change sensitive industry (farming, auto,
etc.), and have health ailments particularly sensitive to heat or air
pollution. So knowledge is power.

Kevin Powell is a long-time community and political activist, a nationally-acclaimed public speaker, and an award-winning writer. Kevin is also the author or editor of 11 books, including his newest title, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Learn more about Kevin’s work at www.kevinpowell.net/about.php, or follow him on twitter @kevin_powell

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Surviving Breast Cancer: One Woman’s Story

October 16th, 2012

I first met and became aware of Kupenda Auset (born M. Joette Harland), as the super-talented writer she is, in the early 1990s. Kupenda is a native daughter and life-long resident of Atlanta, Georgia. At that time she was a recent graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, the famous women’s college, and was among a large number of students from that era who were very gifted intellectually, artistically-inclined, community-centered, and, without question, unapologetically about the empowerment of women and girls. Indeed I can say that Kupenda had such a great impact on my life during those very wild 1990s that she was among the first who got me, a man, to think about manhood, about sexism, about how males relate to females (or not), in a very profound way. So you can imagine my shock and fear many years later when Kupenda announced that she had breast cancer. Ever the warrior, Kupenda has carried on and although we have not been in touch as much as we were in our earlier lives, she remains someone near and dear to my heart. Given that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I asked Kupenda Auset if she would discuss what it is to have breast cancer, to be a breast cancer survivor, in her own words. She graciously agreed, and it is her first time ever speaking so publicly on the matter. If you’d like to send Kupenda a note after reading her very moving thoughts please feel free to email her directly at Kupendasplace@gmail.com

KP: At what age did you learn you had breast cancer?

KA: Age 37

KP: What was your initial response to the diagnosis?

KA: I was terrified. I felt like I was doomed with a diagnosis that I could do nothing about. I was terrified of the possibility that I would die and leave my two school-age children without a mother. I didn’t want to die.

KP: How did your daughters, family members, and other loved ones respond to your telling them you had breast cancer?

KA: I don’t think my youngest daughter understood fully at first. My oldest daughter was scared. It felt like Doomsday. It’s not a diagnosis that anyone would want to hear.

KP: What steps did you take initially, emotionally, spiritually, and medically, to deal with breast cancer?

KA: First, I told a co-worker and then Stephanie Hughley, who is a cancer survivor. She told me about 3 important books and she made sure that I got them. One was “A Cancer Battle Plan” and another was “You Can Heal Your Life.” I also let my immediate family members know. After reading “You Can Heal Your Life,” I understood more the relationship between emotions and illness. I am not a person that tends to hold grudges but after reading that breast cancer is believed to be related emotionally to deeply held resentments, I made a list of everyone I could think of in the course of my whole life who I thought I needed to forgive.

Physically, I got a second opinion and then I chose doctors. I began to read everything I could to understand what was going on in my body. I did not want to do conventional treatment methods. So I educated myself as much as possible about all of my options on survival and research about conventional methods, alternative ones, and complimentary methods of treatment.

And I prayed. I didn’t ask “Why me?” but I did want to try to understand the meaning of the experience. I wanted to understand what the message was and what any deeper healing beyond the physical that needed to occur.

KP: Did you go through a period of shock, denial, fear, all of the above?

KA: Fear and shock, for sure. Not denial.

KP: What have you learned about breast cancer since your diagnosis?

KA: That question is so loaded that I could not possibly say it all here. So much!!! So much!!! I have learned that some cancers can be prevented. That food and lifestyle can factor in greatly to disease and to health. I knew those things but I know them so much more now. One of the most important things I learned is how precious life is. How much my family and living meant to me. I gained an incredibly deeper appreciation for everything. Like every morning I woke up or after taking a nap, I’d think “Yes! I woke up! Thank you, God!” I savor everything. I learned that many things we think are so important are nothing compared to things like health, love, peace, kindness, gratitude, and quality time with people we care about. I learned that one of the most important things in life is “to be happy,” but not while harming or at the expense of others. Otherwise, what is the point?

KP: How did you deal with the removal of a breast, with the mastectomy?

KA: The mastectomy was a scary idea at the time. But the chemotherapy is what scared me the most. The left breast, the one over my heart, or nearest my heart, is gone. That means I had radiation that could have affected my heart. One of the things I remember very vividly is that right before the surgery I was being so grateful for excellent caregivers. I was thanking all the people who were taking care of me every step of the way to surgery.

(Kupenda starts to cry)

I did not realize this was going to be so emotional. Feels like it was another life. Like a dream, then I woke up. When I was in recovery from the surgery, which lasted 6 hours, my family was there but my daughters were at school. My youngest daughter was so afraid she would be called aside at school and told I had died. (Kupenda cries again)

During the 6 hours I was there for my mastectomy a total of 18 different women had come to the hospital for the same surgery. Two were from my mother’s church. It is too common, so common. And it is largely preventable. So many people survive it, but so many do not. More emphasis needs to be placed, by the healthcare field, on the prevention of breast cancer.

KP: How old are you now, and how have you managed to continue on with your life and all your activities?

KA: I am now 45. It took me a long time to recover from breast cancer. It took time to regain my physical energy and functioning. It took me longer to recover emotionally and mentally. I didn’t know it would take me so long. I thought after treatment I’d just resume my life and the plans I had before the diagnosis pretty immediately. That didn’t happen at all. People who go through the experience of surviving cancer experience it in different ways.

KP: What kind of work or employment have you been able to do since your life was changed because of breast cancer?

KA: In retrospect some things that happened before breast cancer have taken a very very long time to move forward. Now I am perfectly capable of working a job but I feel like that breast cancer has led me to realize the work I have been most effective at is raising my two daughters. I do not qualify for any disabilities so I pay the bills very sporadically doing various projects, like writing, public relations, marketing, program coordination, and producing events. I am also a freelance blogger for cascadepath.com, a local online publication. I also do consulting for a local organization that trains women small business owners. I have tabled House of Life for a few years. House of Life was my cultural arts presenting organization. It was tabled because I had to recover from my battle with breast cancer. I tried to do something after that and it was just too much for me.

KP: Are you or have you been a part of any circles of women who are also breast cancer survivors?

KA: Oddly, no. I did (and still do) have a strong support system of women friends in my life. That makes a tremendous difference in living.

KP: What advice do you give to women who do not have breast cancer?

KA: My advice is not to take health for granted when it is good. To focus on preventing breast cancer first and foremost. If women cannot be behind “the 8 ball” don’t. It’s much better to do everything possible to prevent it. To take great care in emotional health, balance, and especially in what they eat. And to not be afraid to go to the doctor to get anything unusual checked out. It might be nothing. But it might be something. If it is something, getting diagnosed early can make all the difference in the world. Learn how to live in more healthy ways (especially stress reduction and good eating, exercise, etc.) and teach our children and others, by example, a better way to live.

KP: What do you say to men who want to understand better what breast cancer is and how it affects women?

KA: I’d suggest that men educate themselves about breast cancer through independent research. One thing they may be surprised to find is that men can also get breast cancer, although it is far less common than in women. Also, if a man knows someone who has breast cancer and that person doesn’t mind talking about it, he could ask that person about it and find out what he can do to help support the woman who has it. Emotional support can go a long way and can help in the healing process.

KP: Have you been able to date, to relate to men, given all you’ve experienced?

KA: Some of the first things doctors ask is how old are you, do you have children, because chemotherapy puts women in premature menopause. So I was a little apprehensive about my dating life going forward. I talked to other women who had gone through it. It was helpful. But I have not had a problem with dating or my sex life. Besides, if it is not a significant man in my life there will be no sex anyhow. (Laughs) In many ways I am forever changed, and in many ways I am still me. Amputation did not remove that at all. For example, I had a non-sexual encounter with a man. He had had a terrible accident and parts of his body had been disfigured. So we had a moment when he showed me his injuries and I allowed him to touch where my breast had been. His disfigurement was a not a turn-off to me, because he was alive. When he touched me where my breast had been it was a moment of such joy and endearment. And understanding. Unlike somebody who had not experienced that kind of thing, who may have not have understood.

KP: What are your thoughts on how breast cancer treatment is done, traditionally, on alternative treatments, and how breast cancer awareness has become a very popular brand, to the point where major sports have their athletes wearing pink during games in October?

KA: I think it is important to use the best of “complimentary treatment” for breast cancer. At all times and not just when a person gets sick, it is important to do things that keep the immune system strong, such as rest, sleep, drink plenty of water, eat and drink lots of green food, get natural sunlight, take daily walks, take time for relaxation. These things may not sound like things that could help address or even prevent or survive breast cancer, but they are vital. A strong immune system can help a person to survive the harsh therapies of conventional breast cancer treatment. Alternative therapies can be effective but they are much harder to measure. They are not as well researched and documented in terms of their effectiveness. So relying solely on alternative treatments is a “slippery slope.” That is what someone once said to me, and it is true. I spent one year addressing breast cancer through very aggressive alternative and natural treatments that were based on lots of research and talking to people who had done the same thing. I do believe that it is possible to heal from breast cancer via alternative and natural therapies but the risk is great. I didn’t not trust how long it would take me to heal from breast cancer as compared to how quickly the cancer could spread. There is great risk in conventional therapies too. There is more knowledge about survival rates, effectiveness, diagnostic tools, etc., than alternative/natural therapies. That isn’t to say that alternative/natural therapies are hocus-pocus. I think the best thing that can be done to prevent, diagnose, eradicate, and survive breast cancer as an epidemic is for Western medicine and Eastern medicine to meet. There is so much ignorance and fear surrounding Eastern medicine and Naturopathy. That is a shame. Too many lives are being lost to all kinds of diseases because of economic profit and because of the lack of balance in our lifestyles. Some of the alternative treatments for me included Reiki Healing, sound therapy, and a Native American rock reading. And because I was so resistant to the idea of chemotherapy, I decided to perceive it as a healing elixir, rather than as a toxic implosion. I could say so much more. So much more… Especially about all of the natural things I did that were helpful to me. Sadly, sometimes people do the things I did both natural and/or conventional and they transitioned (died) any way. That saddens me greatly.

The Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns are beautiful expressions and ways to raise awareness. Many of them are also a marketing ploy to get consumers to buy products. For example, some foods that have the breast cancer awareness symbol on them are foods that have been linked to breast cancer. I am concerned that too much of the campaigning will de-sensitize people and they will lose their effectiveness. What I think we are missing is the crucial opportunity to support and know about campaigns that support breast cancer prevention and survival. If people can prevent having breast cancer in the first place, that is best. I would recommend that people support The Cancer Project (www.cancerproject.org) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org).

KP: What is on your mind these days, being a breast cancer survivor?

KA: Being a survivor is something else. When you see famous people you grew up with, like Ed Bradley from “60 Minutes” or August Wilson, the great playwright, die from what you have, it is mind-blowing. Just makes me think a lot about the thin veil between life and life. I have life insurance but I do not have a will. I should have more life insurance than I have, and I should have a will. But I cannot bear to think of me not being here. I want to live for a long, long time, and with a good quality of life. And I intend to. And I pray that I will. And I am so thankful I did not pass away when my children were young. My youngest daughter use to always ask “Mommy, if you die, who is going to take care of me?” (Kupenda cries softly) I am so glad I have been able to raise my daughters. I feel if I were not here tomorrow they have such a strong foundation that they will be okay now.

Kevin Powell is a long-time community and political activist, a nationally acclaimed public speaker, and an award-winning writer. Kevin is also the author or editor of 11 books, including his newest title, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Visit Kevin’s website at www.kevinpowell.net, email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net, or follow him on Twitter, @kevin_powell

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@AnnCoulter: An Un-American and Very Dangerous Mind

October 3rd, 2012

Very sad and tragic that some people will do virtually anything to be famous, and practically anything to sell a book, even if it means spewing hatred, division, and manufactured lies and half-truths just to get a rep, as the late rapper Guru once rhymed.

Case in point is Ms. Ann Coulter, the right-wing political commentator, syndicated columnist, and omnipresent media personality whose new book, “Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama,” is so bad, so poorly written, so drenched in shameless historical revisionism that one has got to wonder if she, Ms. Coulter, believes anything she has put on paper.

In this her eighth book Ms. Coulter’s itchy trigger finger takes aim at those dreaded White liberals who’ve made big power plays off the backs of us poor and misguided African Americans. Colored folks, mind you, who do not comprehend that our Civil Rights Movement has been pimped by said liberals, and unfairly expanded to include, among others, women, immigrants, and gay people. What Ms. Coulter refuses to grasp is that while the Civil Rights Movement definitely was kickstarted and propelled by Blacks, it was to make the entire American democracy experiment better for all. So little wonder that, say, women, the LGBT community, persons with disabilities, environmentalists, and immigrants have cited and continue to cite the Civil Rights era as a tremendous galvanizing force for their own movements. In other words, none of us live in a bubble, each and everyone is interconnected, whether we like, admit, or acknowledge that fact or not, so it is nearsighted and inhuman to pretend as if we do not shape and influence each other’s lives.

Ms. Coulter goes a step further, in her book and on her endless publicity tour, to paint Republicans, “the party of Abraham Lincoln,” as the real protectors of the rights of Black people, and Democrats as the ones who not only did not support Civil Rights in America historically, but who have created the racial stand-off in our country. Divisions, mind you, stirred by the numerous Democratic-initiated “welfare” programs we Blacks have become depended on. And divisions stirred by these liberals, these Democrats, whenever they need to point fingers at Republicans, especially when it comes to racial problems, real or imagined.

However, this is nothing new. I came of age during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, as a teenager, as a college student, and I watched right-wingers, politicians and pundits alike, meticulously produce a game-plan to pit Americans against each other: liberals versus conservatives, Whites versus Blacks, people of color versus White people, straight people versus gay people, the poor and middle class versus the wealthy, American citizens versus immigrants, you against me, us against them, and America versus the entire world….

Rather than discuss and champion a United States where we can bring people together, in spite of our differences, and deal with the hardcore issues of everyday Americans, these right-wing activists hustle and flow in the red zone of divide and conquer. As long as we who share this land are at each other’s throats, they continue to wield power. A kind of power that controls the direction of national conversations: which ones we have and do not have, and how and why, in our America.

Take, for example, my very recent “debate” with Ms. Coulter on the Current TV program “Joy Behar: Say Anything!” It was neither a discussion nor a very productive and solution-oriented dialogue, as you can see here:

trib.al/NVOoQZ

Instead, Ms. Coulter did what she always does: she makes up “facts” as she goes along, she talks at the level of a rebel yell with no ability nor care whatsoever for listening to others, and when challenged and called out for who she is—a racist peddling books for a buck—she resorts to attack mode because I dared to speak to her as she habitually does to others. I have watched Ms. Coulter on panels and debates long enough to know if I did not jump in and meet her at her level I would have never gotten a word in edge-wise. Because, for her, this is not about educating and uplifting people. It is about entertainment and the media circus that documents her rants ad nauseam. Ms. Coulter was visibly shaking on the set next to me with raw anger and refused to shake my extended hand when I was leaving. This is an immature schoolyard mentality, yet I have witnessed young people behave more rationally and speak far more logically about serious social matters.

That is because individuals like Ms. Coulter are neither intellectually equipped nor emotionally or spiritually-grounded enough to engage in sincere and honest dialogue about the huge challenges of our times. Ms. Coulter claims to be a Christian and I do not doubt her belief in God and Jesus Christ. But the God I as a Christian worship is about love and understanding, not hate-mongering and people-bashing. God is about kindness and grace, not mean-spiritedness and a reckless disregard for the feelings of other human beings. Clearly love, understanding, kindness, and grace are not prime preoccupations for Ms. Coulter. Right-wingers like her are strictly about book sales, media ratings, sensationalistic shock value, and pissing people off and keeping people separated and in perpetual states of paranoia, rage, and mistrust.

That, to me, makes Ann Coulter and so-called thinkers like her very un-American, very dangerous, and the exact opposite of E pluribus unum, the seal of our United States which translates, in Latin, as “one from many.” But ultra-conservative activists do not think in terms of “we.” It is “I,” and there is the conundrum.

That certainly explains why every single time I either appear with a right-winger on radio or tv, or write a blog discussing an issue from my perspective, a barrage of offensive and hateful tweets and emails flood my inboxes, like this one from someone on Twitter a moment ago:

“kevin_powell You’re one racist nigger hell bent on keeping racism alive in America. Someone should drag you under a truck 12 city blocks!”

I’ve received so many threats and disses through the years that I’ve become immune to them. But of course the great irony, above, is in one breath this gentleman calls me both a racist and a nigger. Too damaged emotionally to get he is doing what he is accusing me of. Furthermore, given the community work I have done for nearly 30 years, in nearly all 50 American states and globally, how many workshops and trainings I have led or participated in that have been about bringing people together regardless of their race, culture, or ethnicity, and how extensively I have written on diversity and cooperation between different groups, it is abundantly clear to me that many people in our great nation simply do not read, listen, or bother to do basic research via Google.

Put another way, hatred and ignorance are so ingrained in the minds of some, logic flies out the window and you have to wonder if some actually realize what they are saying as they hide behind fake names and fake photos on the social networks, uttering the most disdainful things to those either different from them or whose views they detest so profoundly. Additionally, you begin to wonder if some of these folks are so wired with knee-jerk reactions that they cannot see that the most divisive forces in America’s conservative movement do not even care about them, regular everyday Americans doing their best to make ends meet.

Thus what we are left with is an American climate so bullet-ridden with hatred that you pray to God (at least I do) that the sort of assassination attempt that happened to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords does not spread, like a vicious virus, because some of the more mentally and spiritually unstable amongst us have decided to match the hyper-aggressive and violent rhetoric with violent action.

That is why an Ann Coulter is so very dangerous. She and right-wingers like her do not genuinely care about working class and middle class White Americans who’ve been so deeply affected by our tough economic times any more than they care about Blacks, Latinos, Asians, or immigrants of any background. What she and her peers care about is money, power, fame, privilege, and manipulating the masses. For sure, they scream, “we are taking our country back” for a reason. But I sure do wonder how Native Americans feel about that one dropping from the puffed out lips of these particular kinds of folks given they are the original owners of this land? But these ultra-conservatives do not care what anyone thinks because they do not really care about us. What they care about is blowing wind, very hard, onto the burning fires of alienation, disillusionment, fear, and anger, and creating moving, breathing targets that would otherwise be allies. After all are not most Americans struggling financially regardless of our background? Do not most Americans want access to better public schools, better jobs, small business opportunities, basic healthcare, and a decent and affordable place to live?

Racism wins, White, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red people, when we permit someone from outside our neighborhood-community-environment-reality to dictate to us who we should and should not like, who we should and should not trust, based on ancient fears and divisions created back in the day to keep human beings separated and under the thumb of the powerful. Nothing wrong with power if it is used for good, used to bring people together, to uplift and motivate people. If that power is born from love. But if it is not, my God….

And that is why it is such hogwash for Republicans to continue to say they are the party of Abraham Lincoln. First of all, Republicans like Ann Coulter are not; Lincoln was trying to save the Union, not burn it to the ground with hateful rhetoric. Second, even Old Abe had serious issues around race and flip-flopped quite a few times, publicly and privately, around ending slavery, so it is a bold-faced lie to continue to perpetuate the myth that Lincoln was that clear-cut in his vision around African Americans and slavery. He was not.

But, to be fair, of course I will acknowledge and honor what Lincoln and other Republicans did on behalf of civil rights, on up to President Dwight Eisenhower during the Little Rock 9 school integration battle in the late 1950s, and President Nixon’s support for Affirmative Action initiatives during his first term. But, by and large, the Republican Party of yesteryear is not the Republican Party since the Nixon era (Black folks who know will never forget how Nixon’s law-and-order tactics shut down, literally, the last vestiges of the Civil Rights Movement, for example), and if we are going to be honest, we must be honest about that. I do not think even Mitt Romney’s dad, nor Abraham Lincoln, for that matter, would survive in the 21st century version of the Republican Party. Not with the fire-breathing fury of the Tea Party and Ann Coulter out there stage far right.

And to imply or outright say that Democrats, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson, did close to nothing is another bold-faced lie. And a double lie to suggest that Blacks have no criticisms whatsoever of the Democratic Party, of President Barack Obama, when we do, and it is stated very visibly, and very often, in blogs, on the social networks every single day. You just have to look, and read. Blacks, to be brutally honest, have stuck by the Dems because it is, one, the lesser of two evils as I have heard more than a few elected Black Democrats say themselves. And second because at least the Dems make an effort to be inclusive. Republicans, meanwhile, are ridiculously pathetic in that regard.

Finally, it needs to be stated that Black folks have been in America far too long to think either party represents our empowerment or salvation. We have been both Republicans and Democrats in our American journey and, not for nothing, we have always been a group who knew we had to do some things for ourselves no matter who is representing us at any given moment. Yes my mother and I needed welfare at one point, and yes I got help going to college, but to suggest that Black people have done nothing more than look for handouts from the government is not merely a lie, but a great disrespect to who we are historically and culturally in the context of America. As a matter, my life work of public service is partially because I feel so blessed to have gotten help when I was growing up in poverty. So I cannot imagine not helping others to succeed, too.

Beyond the above, most Black Americans don’t have the time or energy to debate who are the good White folks and who are the bad White folks. We do not even think like that. Our challenge is historical and present-day racism, whether it comes from a White liberal or a White conservative, and God knows we’ve gotten it from both sides, equally. But do the vast majority of Black people hate or blame White folks for everything? No, not even close. I know. I am Black, and I am in Black circles all the time, all across America. So racism even lifts its ugly head when certain White Americans believe that Black people are somehow so obsessed with race, with racism, with playing the so-called race card that we just sit around discussing them all the time. That is funny, at best.

So it is abundantly clear from Ms. Coulter’s writings, my “debate” with her, and her many appearances around this book that she has never lived with nor around vast and diverse groups of Black people for any extended period ever, has never studied Black history on any high level, ever, and does not get that it is even inherently racist, as a White person of privilege, which she is, to assume you can speak for an entire race of people on a movement and matter so central to their existence and sojourn in America. I would never do that to my White sisters and brothers, or my Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Jewish, Arab, or Native American sisters and brothers, and I do not want anyone doing that to and for me. The path to racial and cultural harmony in America has to be based in the respect for any people to tell their own stories, on their own terms, with my voice equal to yours and yours to mine.

My problem with the Ann Coulters of the world is that there is no real critique of the system of racism, just flash moments to prove some twisted point that suit their immediate agenda. When I attempted to raise to Ms. Coulter the issue of stop and frisk in New York City, she was dismissive. As if the lives of Black and Latino young males are so tragically worthless that our getting stopped by the police more than any other demographic in New York, in America, is somehow insignificant. That is when you know this person could care less about anyone except herself and her bank account. And maintaining a status quo run by ultra-conservative old school wealthy White males who are so terrified of the multicultural America that sits upon their doorstep, with a hiphop soundtrack bursting from its loins, that they will do and say anything to stop the hands of time. That means voter I.D. laws. That means propping up a mediocre presidential candidate like Mitt Romney. That means making sure an Ann Coulter will always have a platform and always be a New York Times bestselling author even if her books are as dangerous and disposable as the worst fast food.

Finally, I always find it interesting when people say they do not agree with my politics, as Ann Coulter’s supporters have done nonstop since our Current TV debate. My politics are real simple at this stage in my life: I believe in love, nonviolence, peace, and truth-telling, even when it makes some uncomfortable. Only way the world ever changes is for us to confront lies, untruths, oppression, and the marginalization of any and all people. We are in this together. I really believe that. Sad and tragic some people truly believe, in the darkness of their souls, it is us against them. We have a choice in life: be bridge-builders or be bridge-destroyers. Folks who are bridge-destroyers are also known as racists, sexists, homophobes, religious bigots, anti-Semites, haters of persons with disabilities, and classists. Bridge-builders are also known as human beings. Better to be human than to be inhuman. For the good of yourself, for the good of us all.

Kevin Powell is a long-time community and political activist, a nationally-acclaimed public speaker, and an award-winning writer. Kevin is also the author or editor of 11 books, including his newest title, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Learn more about Kevin’s work at www.kevinpowell.net/about.php, or follow him on twitter @kevin_powell

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Chicago Teachers Strike: 2 Educators Speak

September 14th, 2012

NOTE: Chicago is America’s third largest city, and its teachers’ strike this week has rocked this bustling Midwestern town, and our nation. Once more we are hearing heated and angry debates about public schools versus charter schools, teacher pay and teacher competency, and children being pawns in the local and national education battles. But in the spirit of the late Studs Terkel, that legendary Chicago author and historian who taught us how to listen to the voices of everyday people, below, in their own words, are two Chitown educators speaking from the heart about this strike, about education, about our children, about why they do the work that they do. They are Mr. Reed, a teacher and union delegate, and Stephanie Hicks, who works with a citywide coalition called Teachers for Social Justice. I purposely asked them the same questions, and certainly raised same issues I have been hearing in the mainstream media and reading on Twitter and Facebook. For once we need to learn how to respect and listen to each other, even where there may be disagreement. As a product of America’s public schools myself, and a single-mother led household and dire urban poverty, too, I know what a quality public school education and caring teachers did for me: saved my life, quite literally. Mr. Reed and Ms. Hicks do not agree on everything, as you will read, but they certainly are committed to education, and to our children. As rumors swirl of a pending resolution (or not), these hard conversations still need to be had, and heard, across America long after this Chicago teachers’ strike is over.—k.p.

MS. STEPHANIE HICKS:
1) Are you yourself a teacher, or ever been?

I’m not a Chicago Public School K-12 teacher or member of the union. But I have taught adult education (GED) classes, and I currently teach college students. (I’m a PhD student in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.) I’m also a proud Chicago Public School grad, and I come from a family of Chicago Teachers Union teachers.

2) What is Teachers for Social Justice, please, and how long has it been in existence?

Teachers for Social Justice is a citywide grassroots group of teachers (public, charter and private, Pre-K through higher ed), school staff (social workers, administrators), parents, students, community members, and youth activists that organizes around issues of social justice in education in Chicago. We’ve been involved in resisting the school closings and turnarounds of Renaissance 2010 (city government/capital’s plan for privatization of public schools) since its inception in the early 2000s. More recently, we’ve been involved in the struggle to save Ethnics Studies in public schools in Tucson, AZ and nationally. We’re most known for our annual TSJ Curriculum Fair, which brings together nearly 1,000 educators and community members each Fall to share curricular resources, improve social justice education practices, and support activists in the struggle to defend and improve public education.

3) What led to the Chicago teachers’ strike, in your opinion, very specifically?

The teachers have been working without a permanent contract for at least the past 3 years, and they’ve been negotiating around the issues of a better school day, job security, and fair compensation since November of last year. The better school day includes bringing back rich curriculum like world languages, music, art and physical education that have been diminished as preparation for repeated standardized tests has come to dominate the curriculum. Job security for teachers means that they will be protected from unfair evaluation polices based solely on the results of their students’ standardized test scores. Teachers are also seeking fair compensation (particularly benefits) for the work that they do, which has become more strenuous as the Board has instituted a longer school day without resources to support it. Teachers ultimately want better working conditions for themselves and school staff, and better learning conditions for their students. Concretely, schools have operated without air conditioning in 90-plus degree weather for months. There are schools without libraries, without social workers or staff psychologists, and Chicago Public School students have been exposed to high levels of violence without the emotional support that they need. The teachers union is fighting for these conditions, and the fact that neither the Mayor nor the CEO of the Board seriously began to negotiate until a strike was authorized forced the teachers to take action.

4) Are you a native or long-time resident of Chicago? If so, what are your thoughts on what has happened with Chicago’s public schools,
and public schools in general?

Yes, I’m a native Chicagoan! I was born and raised on the South Side, and have an immense amount of respect for CPS teachers. The students served in CPS are predominately Black and Latina/Latino, and from low-income neighborhoods. While teachers are fighting for better conditions for all students, I think it’s important to remember that CPS students in low-income neighborhoods of color have been facing massive amount of school closures, turnarounds, displacement (layoffs) of teachers, and increased surveillance (by police and security) for years. This has meant, at the very least, instability, and at the most, an outright inability to receive quality education and thrive in neighborhood schools. And these same things are happening in urban districts around the country (New York, Detroit, Philly, etc.). While corporate “reformers” are touting charter schools and high-stakes testing as the answer to educational problems, the results of massive turnovers of schools to charter networks and heavy standardized testing are not improving schools, but in many cases, the opposite. When schools are closed, students are shifted to other school buildings, often losing connections with the faculty and staff of their community schools, and heightening tensions that have existed between folks of different neighborhoods, without support for these transitions. Heavy standardized testing often results in the standardizing of curriculum, which means that students miss out on the rich curriculum they deserve. So in the past decade especially, as the privatization of public education has been rampant in our city and beyond, we’ve had a school district that has completely underserved the large majority of its children. And at the same time, competition to get kids into the few schools that seem to offer great educational resources has been high. Because parents see what’s happening in most of the district, they’re clamoring to get their kids into the few schools that are well resourced. And of course there just aren’t enough seats in those schools for everyone. The current system isn’t designed to accommodate that. I’m very proud of my CPS education. But because we have a Board that isn’t focused on providing each student with a quality school in their own neighborhood, only a few choice seats in a few schools, less and less Chicago Public Schools alum will be able to say the same.

5) How do you respond to those who say teachers are asking for too much?

To those who say that teachers are asking for too much, I’d say that the conditions under which teachers teach, and students learn, make a world of difference in the educational process. If teachers aren’t compensated fairly, if they don’t have adequate affordable healthcare, and time to attend to their families, or the resources they need in the classroom to teach effectively, their students are going to suffer. Just as students should be able to go to school in healthy, safe, supportive environments, teachers should be able to work in them.

6) How do you respond to those who say teachers’ strike is affecting the children?

I’d say that the strike is affecting them in the best way possible: they’re learning the most valuable lessons out there on the picket lines! I’ve been at two of the big rallies in the past week, and student and parents are out there in solidarity with teachers. High school marching bands provided the background music to the chants. First graders were waving hand-made signs calling for lower class sizes and showing support for their teachers. Many parents understand that teachers aren’t striking to hurt kids. They’re not striking because they’re lazy. They’re striking because they’ve have had enough of the disinvestment and want better for their students.

7) How do you respond to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s charge that this is a strike of choice?

The Mayor and the rest of the Board members (all appointed by the Mayor) made the choice not to take negotiations seriously, thereby backing the union into a corner. If there was any choice in this situation, it was the Board’s choice not to listen to the demands of teachers that brought this strike on.

8) How do you respond to the growing chorus of folks in America who, in the past few years, have been steadily blaming teachers and teachers unions for the problems with this nation’s public school system?

I think that certain politicians and media outlets have done a great job of casting teachers as lazy, incompetent people who are only concerned with getting Summers off. And because banks and corporations (those at the forefront of the movement to privatize education) have access to almost limitless funds and resources to further their message, it’s no wonder that people have adopted that messaging. Parents and community members look at reports on standardized test scores, which are hailed as the only/best indicator of school performance (though we have vast amounts of research to the contrary) and see the poor results of America’s public schools. Then they hear rhetoric about how our students are faring so much worse than students in other countries. They see a dismal job market, they may have even lost jobs themselves, and they think about how hard it’s going to be for their kids to get into college and get good jobs if public schools are failing, and all of these things pile up. This national anxiety just builds. And who’s supposed to be responsible for young people’s education? Teachers. But the truth of the matter is teachers are dealing with so much more than teaching young people how to read and write. They’re doing that, plus trying to provide spaces where students feel safe and supported. They have to teach every student that sits before them, and in a large urban district like Chicago, that means teachers are addressing issues of poverty and violence and health disparities every day in their classroom, which we know greatly affect students’ learning. So in reality teachers are teaching under immense pressure without the wrap-around services (school nurses, social workers, therapists, bilingual resources) that make it possible for students to learn. And teachers and teacher unions that recognize that these social issues need attention aren’t the problem with the educational system; they are actually part of the solution.

9) Do you think public schools and charter schools can co-exist? And why so much tension and anger between advocates on other side, in your opinion?

Do I think they can co-exist? Anything’s possible!!! Seriously, I think that some of the original intentions of charter schools were good ones. Charter schools were intended to be spaces in which those who had historically been kept out or pushed out of the public school system could have some semblance of control over education in their communities. That’s extremely valuable. They were also spaces in which educators could experiment and model new practices to find out what works in schools. Also extremely valuable. Today, we hear stories about charter schools in urban districts that have made huge gains in standardized test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates. However, I think we need to be critical of those stories. We have no credible research that tells us that charter schools as a whole perform better than neighborhood public schools. And what we do know is that because charter schools have different levels of accountability to parents and the broader public, we can never be sure that the test scores, graduation rates and college acceptance rates of these schools are based on the whole population of the students who attend the school, or if they’ve been calculated after certain populations of students have been marginalized (i.e. special education students, English language learners, etc.). Charter schools have been touted as the solution to problems facing urban districts, making them attractive to parents and families in low-income neighborhoods of color. These schools usually spring up as the shining alternative to decrepit public schools: they have beautiful facilities, young, bright faculties and staffs, and seemingly endless resources. Of course they seem like the obvious answer to parents who’ve been dealing with poorly resourced neighborhood schools with high teacher turnover and low-test scores, always on the brink of suspension or closure. But corporate charters, after all is said and done, are businesses. Their main goal is profit; we’d be wise to keep that in mind. That profit is increased as charter networks take over more and more schools and replicate and distribute their curriculum, not necessarily because they’re educating kids well. And for as long as that is true, there’s going to be tension between those who want quality public schools in every neighborhood for every child, and those who want to privatize schools and make them compete against each other. I hope that tension continues, actually. I would hate for communities and cities and states and nations to wholeheartedly accept the charter model. It’s not what’s best for children.

10) Finally, how long do you think this strike will last?

On the issue of compensation, the union and the Board are said to be close, but they’re still said to be far apart on benefits and the school day, so I can’t honestly say. But I believe that teachers will strike as long as necessary to get the conditions students deserve. And I think as long as they know that parents and students and community members are in solidarity with them, they’ll be able to keep fighting.

MR. REED:
1) Are you yourself a teacher, or ever been?

Yes, I am a teacher.

2) What transpired this week significance around this strike?

What transpired on 9/11 around this strike was nothing of significance. Chicago Public Schools had still not decided to take us seriously at that time.

3) What led to the Chicago teachers’ strike, in your opinion, very specifically?

What led to this strike was a group of politicians decided that they were going to bully the teachers into accepting the blame for students’ progress, or the lack thereof. They believed that it would be easy to blame teachers, paint us in a bad light, and open charter schools for their cronies to make money. All in the name of education.

4) Are you a native or long-time resident of Chicago? If so, what are your thoughts on what has happened with Chicago’s public schools,
and public schools in general?

I have lived in Chicago for 48 years. Nothing in particular has happened to the school system itself. What has happened is that the drive of the student population has taken a drastic downturn. Today’s CPS student lives in an environment that breeds despair, desperation, and an inherent sense of hopelessness. These children are not dumb. They simply do not see the value of an education in a society that is increasingly shutting them out. It is hard to educate a child that does not value education. The school system sees this trend and instead of addressing the social ills that have caused this mindset in poverty stricken areas, they constantly try to come up with new ways to teach these children; instead of addressing the true question of why they DON’T WANT TO LEARN; they waste time retreading and renaming old teaching methods to constantly go around in circles trying to address the falsehood that they CAN’T learn.

5) How do you respond to those who say teachers are asking for too much?

Teachers are not asking for too much. We are asking for respect, and job security. We are also asking for the resources to actually try to help the same children that CPS professes to care about.

6) How do you respond to those who say teachers’ strike is affecting the children?

I agree that the strike is affecting the children. But if we don’t strike, or lose this strike, the instability that will be wrought because of the agenda that the CPS wants to implement will affect the children in an exponentially more negative way than a teacher strike in which we are fighting for stability and resources FOR the children.

7) How do you respond to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s charge that this is a strike of choice?

YES, IT IS A STRIKE OF CHOICE. WE CHOSE THIS ROUTE TO RESPOND TO YOUR BULLYING AND DENIGRATION OF TEACHERS.

8) How do you respond to the growing chorus of folks in America who, in the past few years, have been steadily blaming teachers
and teachers unions for the problems with this nation’s public school system?

One may be able to blame the school system which is actually enabling students to fail by not teaching them that they don’t have to be accountable and by not making them face motivational consequences; but one cannot blame the teachers. Until we are given the freedom and resources to really teach we are just pawns in the game.

9) Do you think public schools and charter schools can co-exist? And why so much tension and anger between advocates on other side, in your opinion?

I do not think that public schools and charter schools can co-exist. One reason is that the proponents of charter schools DO NOT WANT THEM TO CO-EXIST! Charter school advocates are politicians and rich people that plan to privatize public education to make money. Public schools stand in the way of the privatization of the educational system, so they must go. In order to get rid of public schools, older teachers must go and teaching in public schools must be made as unattractive and intolerable as possible to incoming teachers.

10) Finally, how long do you think this strike will last?

I think it will last about one week for political reasons.

###

Kevin Powell is a writer, public speaker, and author of editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell, or email him, kevin@kevinpowell.net

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Aurora, Colorado, through her eyes

July 25th, 2012

Their eyes are watching Aurora, Colorado, home of the awful mass shooting last week by James Holmes. They are the American media machine, law enforcement officers and specialists, gun control advocates and opponents, politicians, religious and spiritual leaders, and the usual assortment of talking heads, pundits, pontificators, and people who just like to talk ish on facebook and twitter.

Still, their eyes cannot see what Mrs. Montiqua Lewis can see. Montiqua is 37-years-old, and married with two daughters, ages 20 and 14. She is a banking services representative studying to become a licensed broker. She was born in Denver in the 1970s, in the Black part of town, but when she was 3 or 4 her dad decided, as did many African Americans on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, that the family deserved a better life and the kind of options and possibilities woefully missing in ghettoes like Denver’s.

But Black and Latino families moving into Aurora meant the same kind of White flight that swept other parts of America in the 1960s and 1970s. Notes Montiqua: “As more and more Blacks and Hispanics moved to Aurora, the Whites and Asians moved further and further South.”

That flight also meant in Aurora, as elsewhere, the draining of money and resources from those now mostly Black and Latino ‘hoods. And with the great influence of California street activity, by the 1980s Aurora and Denver both, according to Montiqua, “started having an influx of the Crips and Bloods.”

So, yes, Aurora, Colorado does have the diversity that has been highlighted in the media, and evident in still photos and video clips of the mass murder aftermath. But it is also a semi-segregated metropolis, like other American cities and towns, with deep divisions by race, culture, and class. James Holmes, in fact, lived in the hub of Aurora’s gritty urban enclave.

“The area where the shooter lives is in the lower income part of Aurora, close to where I grew up.”

An area, Montiqua points out, that has been “hot” the entire Summer with a plethora of gang activity and shootings. In other words, inner city Aurora ain’t no different than any other impoverished ‘hood where the public schools stink, jobs are limited, and hopelessness, rage, and violence reign supreme.

This, Montiqua emphasizes, makes the shooter’s choice of residence even more bizarre: “He is White and the areas he targeted, his apartment and the movie theater, have a high concentration of minorities.”

Why James Holmes chose this neighborhood is anyone’s guess, but it is not unusual to see young Whites living in poor communities of color throughout America. These 20something Whites, like James Holmes, have led the charge toward gentrification, pushing poor Blacks and Latinos out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for years. Neighborhoods, says Montiqua, where the residents suffer through multiple kinds of indignities, including regular racial profiling by local police.

“I do not support racial profiling, which happens a lot here in Denver and Aurora, but maybe if the police turn their efforts less on the minorities and more towards what White Americans are doing they would catch some of their heinous acts before they happen.”

Montiqua and her husband are very thankful the Aurora tragedy did not directly affect them. Their 14-year-old daughter had gone to a midnight screening of the Batman film, but luckily it was at a different theater. Although, Montiqua adds, “my sister-in-law’s son knows two of the victims. One of them did not survive. Right now the community is in shock.”

A shock that makes Montiqua wonder how people are just allowed to stockpile weapons as James Holmes did. And, she says to me matter of factly, she heard on tv that the ratio of gun dealers to McDonald’s in America is 9 to 1.

“Is gun control the answer? I don’t know. Maybe there should be a national registry of gun owners and put a cap on the number of guns people can own. I believe people should have the right to protect their property. The question I ask is how many guns does it take to do that?”

Until then Montiqua says she and her husband will continue to instruct their daughters on how to deal with a world that is violent.

“They are both book and street smart and they know sometimes things happen that are out of their control. They know they have to watch their own backs.”

As we all must, sadly, in these times—

Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author or editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays” (www.lulu.com). Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell

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Manhood, Mental Illness, and The Colorado Massacre

July 23rd, 2012

“How come all these crazies are White boys?” my White male friend Michael Cohen asked me via email in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. It is something I have been hearing nonstop these past few days since 24-year-old James Holmes murdered 12 and wounded nearly 60 people in a horrific mass shooting at a screening of the new Batman film.

The question also makes me recall that Chris Rock stand-up routine where he said he fears angry White males more than he fears angry Black males because you simply don’t know what the White dudes will do when pissed off. Or something to that effect.

However, to reduce this to mass murderers being “White” and “crazy” would ignore that an Arab-American man, Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, killed 13 soldiers and civilians and wounded more than two dozen at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. Or that South Korean-American Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people, and himself, on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007.

But, too, very defensive folks in America’s Black and Latino communities will have you believe that we do not do things like that. Case in point is a conversation I had with a Black police officer in my Brooklyn, New York ‘hood just last night where he swore, up and down, we Black and Brown folks ain’t like them White folks when it comes to killings. How then, I asked, do you explain the record numbers of Black and Latino young males shooting maiming paralyzing killing each other from New York to Chicago to Oakland and pretty much every other large or small American ghetto this very bloody Summer of 2012?

The officer, who ought to know better given his line of work, maintained it was different. What really is the difference between one violent White man taking out a dozen at a time and a dozen violent Black or Latino men in the same ghetto killing one person each? Is not the total still 12 people dead, senselessly? While many of the reasons why White males shoot people are very different from why Black and Latino males shoot people, the bottom line is that murder is murder.

But, for sure, these “mass murders” happen daily weekly monthly yearly in neighborhoods of color but those stolen lives barely make the news, if ever. If not for the oral reporting of hip-hop and brilliant songs like Nas’ “Accident Murderers” from his new cd, we’d have no idea that life is the complete opposite of good in the ‘hood. So while I have complete and total compassion for the lives that were taken, wounded, and altered by what happened in Colorado, it also saddens me extremely to know that when it comes to Black and Latino people being murdered rarely are their lives given much public attention. It is that unfortunate and painful reminder that in the eyes of our America their lives don’t matter as much.

Beyond the above, I feel the problem is that we in America are not only unwilling to engage in real and raw conversations about the root causes of violence, but we also are ducking and dodging any dialogue about how we define manhood and what, exactly, mental illness is, and how dangerous it is for everyone when warped notions of manhood collide with someone who is very emotionally unstable.

Put another way, Albert Einstein once famously said insanity is saying or doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. When you look at the massive media coverage of the Aurora theater shooting, you could easily be watching the same coverage of Fort Hood, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine, in Colorado, way back when Bill Clinton was president.

What we gloss over or completely ignore is that there is something profoundly wrong with how we define manhood in America. The definition is as old as this nation. And we know that definition begins with immigrant men from Europe ransacking the land of Native Americans and enslaving Africans. And that definition of manhood means the long American journey has been one riddled with men and boys who think it their birthright to use brute force to achieve their ends. Yup, there is a straight line from so-called explorers to cowboys to gangsters to rock stars to whichever rapper is hot this current moment to the hate-baiting mouthpieces on the Fox News Channel. 

It means our notion of manhood is actually based in myth-making, in mythology, and these myths of who and what the American man is or suppose to be has been spread, since we were boys, from school history lessons to our religious institutions, and practically in every kind of book, magazine, tv show, film, or video game we absorb.

That is why when you look at the ever-expanding list of the worst mass murderers in American history, you cannot find a woman. They simply do not get down the way we men do. Women do not sexually harass men the way we sexually harass them. Women do not rape men the way we rape them. Women do not commit acts of domestic violence at the level we do to them. Most women do not wind up in seedy extramarital affairs as often as we men do. And women do not cover up the rape and abuse of children at a major university the way the men of Penn State did, just to protect a storied football program.

So the problem, to me, is that we are in denial about who we have been taught to be as men, how much of what we say we are is addicted to violence, to twisted ego trips and narrow-minded visions of power, to mindless competition that leads us to destroy each other (and ourselves) over and over again. Where it ends, always, we know. It is called that theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It is called certain types of male police officers gunning down Black and Latino young men who are unarmed with names like Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, or Ramarley Graham. It is called what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin. It is called the tragedy of Penn State. It is called the bloodshed on the streets of urban America.

And it is called mental illness, y’all, for what else are violent behavior but the work of someone, well, who is simply not well? On the surface James Holmes appeared to be a genius and nothing more than a shy and introverted young man. He was an outstanding undergrad student at the University of California-Riverside, and many of his former classmates from high school and college talked about what a good person he was, and how shocked they are by this eruption.

I battled depression, low self-esteem and, yes, violent and physical outbursts in my past lives, and I know that we males, particularly, have not been socialized or encouraged to discuss our true feelings. Only because of years of therapy and involvement in multiple men’s groups and healing circles was I able to think about the root causes of what was bothering me, of what was triggering specific actions and reactions in my life. Most men do not go to therapy, and never will. Men are taught to be “strong,” to hold back emotions, to talk little about our internal struggles. Instead, like James Holmes, we will repress, hide, and even create a cover for what is often seen on the surface as just anti-social behavior. Again, in Holmes’ case, he was just dismissed as shy, as socially awkward. And only someone whose identity is that fragile will be driven to recreate himself as a new person entirely. For Holmes that new person was the fictional Joker character from Batman. Where he felt completely disempowered previously, to the point of even giving up on grad school, he now was omnipotent, emboldened by 6000 rounds of ammunition, four guns, tear gas, and an all-black costume just like the character Bane’s in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Call it self-creation through violent means, because that is exactly what it was for James Holmes.

We still do not know what the tipping point was for James Holmes. Was it his struggles with grad school? Was it the ending of a relationship? I think often of a former friend of mine, who lost his cushy corporate job and his marriage around the same time about six years ago. Many had always considered him a bit of an outcast, but the twin traumas of career and marriage collapse pushed him over the edge. So much so, in fact, that many people avoid him and have joked that “he seems like one of those guys who will snap at any moment and shoot a bunch of people.”

Yeah—

But it is not a joke. Not when the path to personal pain and low self-esteem is layered with resentment that becomes paranoia. And if that man starts to retreat into a self-made world of rage and self-pity, he becomes more isolated. I saw my friend who lost his job and marriage spiral into that universe of thoughts and fantasies of revenge, of intentionally scaring people, because it made him feel powerful. As a matter of fact the last time I was ever with him, he drove 100 miles an hour across one of New York City’s bridge, with me in the passenger seat, for no reason other than he felt he could. I thought we were going to die that very day, and I have not seen nor spoken with him since. I was suddenly that terrified of him.

But it is simplistic to reduce men and boys who may have emotional problems and past pains they are coping with, to being crazy or weird, to medicate them with drugs, without rolling back the layers of who they are, without creating spaces, once and for all, where men and boys can open up, talk, share, and, yes, own what it is that is causing them pain or trauma. I cannot tell you how many emails and private Facebook and Twitter messages, for example, I get from American men and boys of various backgrounds every single week asking for help in some way. For some it is because they have battered or abused a female partner. For others they simply do not know what a man is, are terribly confused, and are seeking answers and guidance, or some word to move them from their state of arrested development.

And those answers will only come, in America, if we begin to have the kinds of conversations women and girls have long had to talk openly and freely about all that is happening to us. That is not to say murder, including mass murder, will stop, nor that men who committed violent acts should not be held accountable for their actions, because they should be. Nor is it to say we do not need better and tighter gun control, because God knows we do. The mere fact that James Holmes was able to purchase so much of his ammo online is disturbing beyond words.

But how many lives could we save in our entire nation if that national conversation on violence we so badly need to have also includes an honest and open discussion about manhood, about mental health and mental illness?

Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author or editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays” (www.lulu.com). Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell

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Batman, Colorado, Guns, Terrorism

July 20th, 2012

A friend and I were going back and forth about the opening day midnight showings of the new Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Both of us are huge Batman fans dating back to our childhoods, and we were feeling the rush of excitement tied to what promises to be one of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters in history. Ultimately, I just did not have the stamina to sit in the theater at that hour.

When I awoke this morning I glanced at my iPhone and dug my palms into my eyes to clear them because I was stunned to see tweets and text messages about mass murders at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. The gruesome news of at least a dozen dead and possibly as many as 50 injured was simply shocking to absorb. That could have been any of us at any theater in America….

Indeed they were, be it the three-month-old baby who miraculously survived, first, the tossed tear gas then the shootings and wild stampede as bodies scampered for their lives. Or the bodies of various sizes and ages that were riddled with bullets from the guns of 24-year-old James Holmes, the one suspect now in custody. Apparently this young man, who only recently described himself as “quiet and easy-going” in an apartment rental application, was anything but: He had at least four guns—an “AK type” rifle, a shotgun and two handguns, plus some form of explosives were found in his home after he gave up, without resistance, in the theater parking lot.

In the coming days we will learn more about James Holmes, who was a student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine until just last month. What we do know is that this has instantly brought back uncomfortable flashbacks of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, of other mass murders in American history. We will hear the debates, on repeat, between gun control advocates and the powerful guns rights mouthpieces. We will decry how easy it is to get tear-gas canisters, and the dead, God bless their souls, will be eulogized for days and weeks. And then the headlines and back-stories, except for the families of the murdered and the wounded, will fade away.

What will often not be said, or not heard very loudly is that America, our America, is a nation dominated and driven by violence, a violence so cancerous that it is spread every single day of our waking lives. Including in films like “The Dark Knight Rises.” Including in our reality television shows, our video games, our pro football player bounties, our out-of-control stats around domestic violence, and even in the verbal tear gas tossed to and fro by innumerable talking heads on radio and TV. Including how we are constantly being led into one war after another that never seems to have a conclusion. All of this for the sake of profit, fame, and ratings, or ego, competition, and pathetic notions of power. With little regard for how we the people are inhaling the belief that the only solution for conflict or beef, for feelings of loneliness or isolation or fear or, yes, hatred and powerlessness, is to pick up a gun and aim it at another human being with no regard for the consequences.

We also will not hear that this was an act of terrorism, but what else is it when someone who clearly had an agenda or is emotionally disturbed—or both—think it his basic right and freedom to unleash tear gas and bullets into a theater packed with innocent human beings? The point of a terrorist, be it overseas or domestically, is to bring profound fear to the lives of others, to paralyze them emotionally, spiritually, and socially.

I do not know about you but I certainly I am now thinking twice about going to see the Batman film after this. And I wonder how soon the day will come when Americans will have to walk through metal detectors just to watch a movie?

Perhaps the day is here, as I have duly noted that in my city New York police commissioner Ray Kelly made this statement about the police presence at screenings of the latest Batman feature:

“As a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is playing in the five boroughs.”

Finally, I for one definitely want to see gun control in our America, a tighter, stricter, more enforced brand of gun control. Be it the ghettos of urban America or a movie theater or high school in suburban America, enough is simply enough. Guns and bullets do not discriminate. They kill us equally.

Yet all the gun control in the world will mean nada, as I have said before, if we as Americans do not come together and have a national conversation about the root causes of violence, where it comes from, what fosters it, what each of us does in our own ways to spread it, allowing it to fester, to paraphrase the great poet Langston Hughes, until, yet again, it explodes?

Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author or editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays” (www.lulu.com). Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell

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