Still Celebrating Life!

I saw the best minds of my generation drop out of school and get their education on the streets, in the schools of hard knocks: in group homes, reform schools, jails, reformatories and prisons. They dropped out of schools that didn’t teach The Pedagogy of the Oppressed; schools that didn’t understand the psyche of The Wretched of the Earth; schools that didn’t challenge; schools that placed a premium on memorization and rote at the expense of thoughtfulness and learning; schools incapable of tapping into the creative energy of these minds that were once trained in the greatest institutions of learning on Mother Earth, in Songhai, Ghana, Mali and Timbuktu; schools that taught history that excluded them and their contributions; schools that alienated them; schools that taught cruelty; schools with low ceilings and finite possibilities.

I saw the brightest boys of my generation descend into insanity. They were in the best high schools the City had to offer, but their minds were light-years ahead of the curriculum. We knew they were different, their heads shaped like eggs, but brilliant, not of the world they were relegated. They tutored others in math and science and instead of graffiti wrote formulas on the walls. They were bored in lab so conducted their own experiments, on stray cats and dogs – we saw their remains throughout the projects. They flew homing pigeons from coops on the projects’ rooftops, sent esoteric messages to other egg heads throughout the City’s housing developments. They experimented with mind-altering drugs – Acid, LSD and angel dust. They were our angels, not of the world they were relegated. They leapt off of tall buildings, believing they could fly like their pigeons, and they did, for a brief moment in time, only to crash land on the concrete, their wings crushed and their bodies broken.

I saw the best physical specimens of my generation, the fastest, the strongest, play three sports with effortless grace, not become all Americans. I saw them earn full scholarships to play basketball but drop out of school in their freshman year because they refused to ride the bench behind the starters, when they knew that they ran faster and jumped higher and that they shot hoops with the accuracy of marksmen. So they returned to the streets, their dreams of playing pro basketball dashed on the hardwood floors of colleges eager to exploit their talent; instead they played in the summer leagues, more dazzling than the sun. And when the sun set, not only did the freaks come out, but the gamblers collecting their winnings from the games, the pimps, hustlers, con men and gang members, the whole wide underworld. Then their physical prowess was put to other tests. I saw them outrun cop cars and motorcycles and police dogs. I saw them hurdle five-foot fences, leap from building to building, with cops in hot pursuit, and they seemed to always get away. Before extreme sports were invented, they were pushing their bodies to the outer limits, redefining the use of space. I saw them subway surfing and elevator surfing, engaged in thrills that could kill.

I saw the boldest boys of my generation, those that didn’t die young, graduate from petty to major crimes. It started innocently enough, playing hooky from school, stealing lunch from the bodega, but gradually escalated to shoplifting, burglary, armed robbery and even murder. From juvenile delinquents to juvenile offenders to youthful offenders to adult criminals. In the projects they hunted the rats for sport, with BB guns and bow and arrows; and it turned out that the animals’ remains I saw throughout the projects was not the result of tests of the brilliant egg heads, but the evidence of their torture. They were not only the boldest, but also the most alienated of my generation. They descended into another kind of madness, defined by cruelty. They hated a world that hated them – “The Hate that Hate Produced.” They hated this world of low ceilings and finite possibilities. They hated this world that would deny them their dreams. Thus they ended up in group homes, reform schools, jails, reformatories and prisons. A lawyer would later tell me that all of this was “inevitable,” which made me think of the Watchers, the Watchers from behind Venetian blinds, the projects’ old ones in the know, septuagenarian seers, who predicted that many of my generation wouldn’t amount to anything, that we’d end up in group homes, reform schools, jails, reformatories and prisons, that many of us would not live long, that many of us certainly would not live to see fifty years.

I saw the bravest boys of my generation find their way out of the projects and into basic training. They knew that there was no way they could be all they wanted to be in a housing development with low ceilings and finite possibilities. They went from leaping from building to building to jumping out of airplanes to fight in Granada and Panama. They were honor guards in championship games, those games the best physical specimens of my generation should’ve been playing in. They were in the Marines, in the Army and the Navy. They swaggered down the streets of Spain, ran with the bulls, found cheap thrills in Manila with “our little brown cousins,” redefined what it meant to be a warrior in Japan, fished in Korea and drank beer in Germany and convinced the frauleins that Hitler got it wrong, that these physical specimens were part of the Master Race – you could take them out of the ghetto – none of them came back to the projects. Later, I saw them, military erect, at the funerals of their parents and their younger siblings, casualties of the wars on poverty and crime. We looked at each other, nodding, acknowledging that we were still here, smart, sane, in shape and unbroken – celebrating life.

October 1, 2010

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The Massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church: A Year Later — Lest We Forget!

Recently I read a piece in the AARP Bulletin, the June 2016 issue, on the Charleston Massacre: A Year Later, “The Long Road to Forgiveness.”

As a student of history, I almost always think that we don’t remember what we have not only learned from history, but also what has been witnessed.  On social media I routinely post things about the past, that part of history, normally Black history, that most White Americans want to forget, with the legend, “Lest we forget!”

I am a Black man, born and raised in New York, in Brooklyn, in close proximity yet worlds away from the Hasidim.  Once I learned the history of Jewish people, and I’m not talking about what I learned in school about World War II, the Nazi concentration camps, the Holocaust or “The Final Solution,” and I’m not even talking about what I learned about church history in seminary, but going beyond those lessons in history, even reading historical novels such as The Source, by James Michener, and I know the saying that “the victors write their version of history,” but when you think of Jewish people in the aftermath of World War II, you can’t reasonably state that they were victors and wrote a certain narrative about the Holocaust.  In fact, there are even some revisionists that deny the Holocaust happened!

I know this seems like a digression from the Charleston Church Massacre last year, but what I’m saying is that I understand and have no problem with Jewish people looking at the Holocaust and keeping it “alive” in our consciousness, lest we forget.  I don’t agree with everything my Jewish brothers and sisters do because of their history, but I understand.  I understand their passionate “Never again!”  And even though the piece in the AARP Bulletin about the Charleston Church Massacre looked at forgiveness, I think if the people closest to the massacre can find it within themselves to forgive – and all have not – who am I to question this?  With that though, I would state that forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  The whole point of the article is to remember, but not once in it does it even imply “never again!” to such a massacre, that is, that we will protect our church against such racists like Dylann Roof, but the new pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Rev. Betty Deas Clark, has a “muscular man in a suit [that] never strays from” her, as well as the security cameras that shows 16 views of the church’s property.

Lest we forget, there’s a history of violence against the Black Church in America that long preceded Dylann Roof.  The Black Church was among the first institutions Black people formed in America, with such religious institutions as the African Methodist Episcopal Church being born and formed because of segregated white churches and white Christians treating Black Christians as less than second class Christians, which any Christian should know is an abomination in God’s eyes.  I’m not even going to quote scripture on this, but lest we forget, the Black Church has this long history in America of giving birth to freedom fighters, from Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Any attack on the Black Church is not only an attack on the freedom to worship, but also on Black freedom.

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From my award-winning epic poem, “Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present” – my tribute to the Greatest!



War was declared,

On two fronts:

At home and abroad.

As American troops fought

To make the world

Safe for democracy,

Or to end all wars,

Or to stop communism

From spreading

Like a communicable disease,

She was fighting

A domestic war


From the War for Independence

To the Vietnam War,

From sea to shining sea,

Blacks fought for American ideals,

The ideals America preached

To the world abroad

But didn’t

Practice at home –

Not for her

Black citizenry.


Reluctantly recruited

Throughout history –

Even during slavery:

The Slave Enlistment Bill –

Oftentimes volunteering:

The War of 1812 –

America now called upon

Her able-bodied Black men

To fight people of color.

Put them on the front lines.

It didn’t matter

That they had nothing to gain

In a separate and unequal world,

Their lives to lose.


The Greatest

Eloquently stated:

“People call me nigger

In this country

Every day.”

It was reported as:

“No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”


“Nigger, nigger, nigger!”


Those are fighting words!

If there’s fighting

To be done,

America’s a good place

To start.


Uncle Sam wants you!

A white finger

Pointing at a

Black male –

Selective Service.


If the Greatest

Wouldn’t fight abroad,

He wouldn’t fight at home.

Stripped of his license to fight

This heavyweight champ,

He fought his battle in court,

Won years later.

But Uncle Sam had called,

And if Uncle Sam wants you,

He gets you,

One way or another.

Uncle Sam

Always gets his man.


Now, we canonize

The defiant Black man

Who threw his Olympic gold medal

In the river.

He was great for doing that.

He was great for not

Fighting in a war

He didn’t believe in,

Against people who’d

Never called him nigger.


“Nigger, nigger, nigger!”

Those are fighting words!

If there’s fighting

To be done,

America’s a good place

To start.


We canonize him –

The Greatest –

For the wrong reasons.

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The Crimes of Bill Clinton Cannot Be Expugned

As Hillary Clinton sprints to the finish line, seemingly to be the democratic candidate for the presidency, I keep thinking of the role her husband, President Bill Clinton, played in the mass incarceration of the nation, specifically Black men.  Granted, it began with President Nixon’s declaration of war in 1968, that is, his War on Crime.  In any event, President Clinton’s continuation and escalation of this war was a powerful political move.  Not only did he steal the crime-fighting agenda of the Republican party, but he also out-Herod Herod.  This move effectively neutralized a generation of Black men, who  would not only carry the stigma of a criminal history for the rest of their lives, but also, because of their absence, created a black hole of chaos in Black communities across the nation, leaving another generation with practically no positive black male leadership or guidance.  (So much of this leadership had already been killed off or imprisoned in the 1960s and 1970s.)  Little wonder that the Crack Epidemic (1984 to the early 1990s) created such devastation in Black communities.

So as Hillary Clinton makes her run and might make history as the first woman president in United States history, I wonder what role her husband will have in her presidency.  In other quarters I have written how the Clintons have bamboozled and continue to bamboozle Black folk.  One thing I know for sure, President Clintons mea culpas ring hollow and his crimes against the black community cannot be expunged.

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BLACK MAN: Pardon me.

WHITE WOMAN: (REALIZING HER MISTAKE.)  Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were Mr. Ham.

BLACK MAN:  No problem.  It happens, well, not all the time, but often enough that I want to meet this Mr. Ham.  You know how it’s said everyone has a twin.  If I ever need an alibi, for whatever reason, it would be good to know Mr. Ham.



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The Miseducation of New York City’s Public School Children

Last Sunday (11/01/2015) I read an interesting opinion piece in the Daily News, “Worms in the Apple: A observer of the New York City schools sees a system infected, over three decades, with two stubborn problems,” (one, a “retrograde teachers’ contract,” and two, the “dominance of progressive-education ideas in the classroom”) by Sol Stern.

Stern’s piece was adapted from an essay in the Manhattan’s Institute’s City Journal 25th anniversary 2015 issue.  Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal.

I didn’t know this biographical piece about Stern until I had finished reading the article.  It is almost always a good idea not to know where someone might stand politically and/or philosophically when reading something they pen.  This is why, in part, I love that great scene from Dead Poets Society, when John Keating, played by the late Robin Williams, has the students rip the introductions out of their primary text.  Keating wants the students to read and form their own opinions before they read what others have to say.  I say this to say, had I known before I read the opinion piece that Stern worked for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think–tank, I would have expected and seen, based on my expectations, a certain bent that probably would have prejudiced me.  Granted, it’s an opinion piece, and almost everyone has an opinion, conservative or not.

Nonetheless, as I was reading the piece, I was already forming an opinion, not even knowing the author’s political bent.  His use of, and the way he used, certain terms, such as “progressive-ed pedagogy,” were clues to his rightward bent.

I would not argue with Stern, that we do in fact have serious problems in our public school system.  I would argue though with his thinly veiled attack, at least in my opinion, on multicultural education.  People like Stern, especially on subjects such as history, won’t admit that American history has been whitewashed, that there are “little white lies” and outright lies throughout the American narrative, and that most of it has been written from the “conquerors’” point of view, which is only one side of the historical record.  For example, Stern’s two sons attended PS 87, an “elite school” on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  His then fourth-grader had an assignment – granted, it wasn’t an assignment that should have been assigned for math – “to calculate the exact percentage of Arawak Indians living on the island of Hispaniola who perished because of Christopher Columbus’ depredations.  The assignment ended by asking the students to answer: ‘How do you feel about this?’”  I agree with Stern that this is not a math assignment, but social studies, taking away the calculation part, but Stern didn’t state whether or not this kind of question had any place in the public school system’s curriculum.

We recently honored Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day.  I seriously doubt that any descendants of the Arawak Indians think of Columbus in the same way as Italians.  (We choose, and sometimes make, our heroes, despite the historical record.)

Stern takes exception to “balanced literacy” yet, ironically, doesn’t see the “imbalances” in the Eurocentric curriculum and pedagogy that he espouses, which he calls “our civilizational inheritance.”  He probably doesn’t’ even know that there is a pedagogy of the oppressed, despite how he concludes his piece: “Progressives continue to betray the disadvantaged children whom they profess to champion.”  And conservatives?

There is something rotten in the Big Apple’s public school system, something rotten to the core, but it’s certainly not “progressive-education ideas in the classroom.”

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In the Line of Duty

The heroes are dead and nothing else matters
Under a gray sky the women are dressed in black
At the grave site hearing homilies paying homage to heroics
Their sobs background music to pontificating politicians

Under a gray sky the women are dressed in black
Weeping widows hold on to their offspring for dear life
Their sobs background music to pontificating politicians
Punctuating sentences with their inconsolable grief

Weeping widows hold on to their offspring for dear life
At the grave site hearing homilies paying homage to heroics
Punctuating sentences with their inconsolable grief
The heroes are dead and nothing else matters

From my book, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats.

Posted in Commissioner Broken Windows, Commissioner William Bratton, crime, Justice Chronicles, Murder, NYPD, Poetry, police-involved killing, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, urban decay, Urban Impact | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment