This article originally appeared on Truthout.
Restorative Justice Gives Our Children Dignity in US Schools
Tuesday, 29 December 2015 00:00
By Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Truthout | News Analysis
The deadly attacks against Black bodies made by police officers in our communities are mirrored by physical attacks against Black bodies made by officers in our schools.
The October 2015 physical assault of a Black student who refused to leave her desk in South Carolina's Spring Valley High School was a particularly acute example of this, but in reality a spectrum of related violence is directed at Black students every day.
Black children are more likely to be physically disciplined in US schools than any other racial group. Black children are also more likely to be suspended than other children - even when the offense they commit is the same. That final detail is critical. It is difficult to imagine a blond girl of the same age and attitude flung about like a doll. It is hard to imagine white children forced into silent stillness, a kind of sublimation, as a classmate is body-slammed, lifted and then tossed across the room.
Restorative justice is enabling schools to create spaces where our children can heal rather than experience further harm.
The obvious normalization of aggressive law enforcement incursions into Spring Valley classrooms is further proven by the covert way other students recorded the incident. Children in fear remain rigidly in place when an adult muscles one of them onto the ground. Children for whom this level of violence is routine do not rise in panic as they bear witness. Children aware that they will be targeted for recording it all pull their phones back into their bags in fear. Yet some students bravely acted as allies and did in fact catch it all for the girl in their class.
In their video, Richland County Deputy Ben Fields towers over her. He grabs her neck. He yanks her backward. He slams her on her back. She is still in her chair. He lifts her off the ground. He throws her several feet.
She is a child. We do not see her face. We do not know her name. She is too young for that.
She is not an anomaly. This is not some rare occurrence - and it is not limited to the actions of officers. Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment in schools. Twelve of those states were part of the Confederacy. Yet all evidence supports the idea that physical assaults against young people increase violence, decrease learning and disrupt school life.
Experts believe that there are between 2 and 3 million cases of corporal punishment in US schools each year. Victims of corporal punishment are most often young Black boys who attend rural schools. Each year, 10,000 to 20,000 children who receive corporal punishment request medical treatment after the beatings occur. In his 2010 testimony before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities, Donald E. Greydanus, a pediatrician, professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University, and pediatrics program director at the MSU Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, concluded that:
There is no clear evidence that such punishment leads to improved control in the classroom.
Corporal punishment has major deleterious effects on the physical and mental health of students punished in this manner.
It severely reduces and does not enhance the academic success of students who are subjected to corporal punishment in schools.
The use of corporal punishment in schools reinforces physical aggression and promotes violence in society.
Fortunately, activists have long resisted the imposition of violent disciplinary systems on students of color - and some of them are doing so by providing creative and effective alternatives. Since 2005, Fania Davis has been providing tools for teachers to foster violence-free classrooms through her organization, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. The civil rights attorney and community activist, who earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies, was inspired by the success of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa and restorative juvenile justice legislation in New Zealand.
"In 1989," Davis told Truthout, "New Zealand passed national legislation that replaced their punitive juvenile justice system with a restorative one, following organizing and pressure by the Maori, an indigenous, oppressed group in that country. Within little more than 10 years in that country, youth incarceration became virtually obsolete - restorative strategies are being used, except for cases of homicide. We can learn a lot from the New Zealand experience."
Rather than punitive forms of discipline, restorative justice (RJ) seeks a holistic approach to individuals that includes family and community, repairs harm, addresses causes of behavior and meets victims' needs, while promoting youth accountability and growth. In a case like the one at Spring Valley High School, Davis explains, an RJ approach would start with adults "trained to see the kind of behavior the student exhibited as a manifestation of trauma, rather than seeing the behavior as being disrespectful and defiant toward them personally as an authority figure." Adequate RJ training would lead staff to ask questions that reduce fear and help the child shift to a more "reflective state of relaxed alertness."
"The restorative conversation in the classroom would lead to a deeper conversation with the child and other adults who care about her in which her backstory would have surfaced," Davis added. "An RJ circle to bring together everyone impacted to share stories and feelings, talk from the heart and with respect about what happened, how it impacted everyone, and come up with a plan to address needs and responsibilities and to heal the harm to the degree possible. In this case the circle would have been called with the student, the teacher and adult family members or caregivers of the child. Apologies might be made, and ideally, everyone would feel heard and seen and have their needs addressed."
RJ is enabling schools to begin to create spaces where our children can heal rather than experience further harm, as the Spring Valley student did when she was arrested after the physical assault in her classroom occurred. Indeed, at a school that embraced RJ, the assault likely would never have taken place at all, as the security officer would not have been called in to manage something as simple as a child's grip on her cell phone. Davis notes that in schools structured around restorative justice principles, 88 percent of teachers reported that implementation of RJ helped them manage difficult classroom behaviors.
The benefits of RJ implementation extend far beyond improved classroom management. Davis cites a 2015 study that compared academic and social outcomes of RJ versus non-RJ schools over a period of three years that found an increase in graduation rates of 60 percent and an increase of reading scores of 128 percent. Meanwhile, chronic absence decreased by 24 percent and four-year dropout rates decreased by 56 percent.
The shift from punitive to restorative institutions requires the buy-in and full-on participation of the entire community. In schools, that includes cafeteria workers and maintenance staff as well as school administrators, teachers, and other professionals and paraprofessionals. One full-time member of the school personnel must be adequately trained and experienced to spearhead RJ initiatives on-site and enable effective implementation of schoolwide buy-in, according to Davis.
Investment of resources, financial and otherwise, is crucial to liberate youth from the dangers of punitive strategies. And right now is a vital time to push for these shifts in both resources and mentalities.
"Timing for rapid change couldn't be better, given the dramatic rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the resulting unprecedented national conversation about race, the racialized school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration strategies," Davis said.
It's time to build momentum in the wake of videotaped incidents like the one at Spring Valley High. Schools throughout the Bay Area have begun to implement RJ, as have schools in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, Maine, Montana and many other states. Certainly, all our children deserve implementation of RJ in every school - and other institutions serving youth - everywhere, nationwide. It's time to build rather than debase.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
This Op-Ed originally appeared on Truthout.org.
Raven Is a Shade of Black
Friday, 10 October 2014 12:04
By Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Truthout | Op-Ed
Womanist: From womanish. (Opp. of "girlish," i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, "you acting womanish," i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered "good" for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: "You trying to be grown." Responsible. In charge. Serious. - Alice Walker
When I first heard of child star Raven Symone's Oprah interview on OWN Networks' "Where Are They Now?," I was kinda giddy. The 47-second clip was affirming, powerful and wonderfully familiar. It was NOT the clip where the former "Cosby Show" star caused the Queen of Talk to squirm and shift and fret out loud that the younger Raven must clarify lest she "set the Twitter on fire." No. My first glimpse of the now-infamous interview was of this clip, when Oprah asks Raven how she managed to stay out of the tabloids all these years she starred not only on Cosby, but also on her own Disney show, "That's So Raven."
Yessss! I thought as I watched it. Little Olivia is poised, strong, practical, grown. When she called out other child stars (insert her former roommate Lindsay Lohan here) and praised her parents for keeping her from going "off the edge," I knew she had been raised right, as we say. "It's unnecessary to go to the most popular restaurant in the world when you have a scandal on your head and then get mad that someone's going to take a picture of you," Raven said, with the kitchen table tone of a sistah who knew when to get serious even when talking about frivolous things. I nodded along, and when she delivered this quintessential Black girl stay-right-there-in-your-place denominate, a take-down full of all the wit and wisdom Walker championed in the everyday Womanist, I nearly cheered: "That's your fault boo boo," Raven said with a look only her mamma could have taught her. "Stay in the house."
Uh huh, I could just hear Phylicia Rashad on episode after episode, giving all of America a vision of Black womanhood that was empowering and affirming in its authenticity.
This is how we speak our truths. With poise and power, in equal doses. This is how we do feminism.
Then my Facebook feed started to fill with references to Raven. Dang, I thought. She was great, but it wasn't all that . . . And then I realized folk weren't referring to the tabloid clip. Instead, something else entirely had emerged from the Oprah interview, something that had indeed set both Facebook and Twitter on fire.
1. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter) and women's strength.
Oprah asked Raven about her very personal tweet in support of gay marriage: "I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you." Raven explained to Oprah that she was "proud of the country," but did not explicitly self-identify as an out member of the LGBTQ community. She "held the fence," as she put it, between her private and public lives, but very clearly stated she was proud to be, "Who I am. And what I am."
But then, girlfriend kinda tripped over that fence, causing Oprah to shift and shimmy in her own seat to try to catch her, or at least break the fall.
"I'm an American, not an African American," my young sistah said.
Ohhh, Boo Boo. No.
Nothing about this statement or the brief exchange that follows it is rooted in reality. Or even in a lil' bit of logical common sense. The great irony of this Black woman, who rose to fame portraying a Black girl on one of the most important Black family shows in the history of television, self-identifying as anything other than Black certainly got folk talking about her in social media. But, really, who has the time or inclination or interest to try to convince this sister that she is indeed a sistah. The discourse is oh so tired.
But, engage this level of discourse we must. After all, Raven clearly imagines herself liberated in this colorless identity she has claimed for herself, but the construction of a colorless self in 2014 America is as false as a plywood set on a television soundstage. We are colorful - not clear, and all us colored folk have got to have clarity on that.
2. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: "Mama, why are we brown, pink and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?" Ans. "Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented." Traditionally capable, as in: "Mama, I'm walking to Canada and I'm taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me." Reply: "It wouldn't be the first time."
Raven's comments tow the post-racial line. But we are not post-racial. What we are, is post-Trayvon, post-Ferguson, post-#BringBackOurGirls. We are Third Wave. We are International Feminisms. We are facing 60 years in prison for firing warning shots at our abusive husband. We are Black Feminism(s). We are Womanists. We are not in the colorless future Raven imagines she occupies now. And if we are not there with her, she is not there either.
We have so much work to do. And so, we are intolerant. We are unwilling to allow our children, even the ones who think they are grown, to engage in frivolity, in flirtations with the possibly feasible future, when we have to get down with the funk and focus of now.
Now, our families are threatened as our men are dragged away from their children by the police.
Now, our bodies are threatened as we are thrown, pregnant belly down, by the police.
Now, our professional reputations are threatened as we are attacked and cuffed by the police for jaywalking.
Now, we are under siege.
3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
I wish Raven had used the enormous opportunity she was given in that Oprah interview to hold Hollywood accountable for the overwhelming whiteness of television and film. I wish she had expressed a desire to play a greater range of roles, to help advance a vision of multi-hued, multicolored beauty that could be uniquely American, and liberating and true. I wish she had been the opposite of irresponsible. I wish she had broadened the conversation around color and consciousness in this country. I wish she had deepened the tone of the discourse. I wish she had given us something that could be called, if not Black, at least blackish. I wish she had given us, if not more Woman, at least something . . . womanish.
4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.
Young sister, you are in the most popular restaurant. Cameras are flashing. And you've gone on off the ledge. But we are here to catch you. Let us pull you back up and over and onto this solid black earth. We can walk back to the house together. It is made of brick, and there is a warm fire glowing inside. There is another light to guide us, together, along the way. It was lit by our ancestors, who are African, who are Black, Black like you, and Black like we.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
This interview originally appeared on Truthout.org.
Music's Role in the Movement for Black Lives: An Interview With Robert Glasper
Tuesday, 04 August 2015 00:00
By Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Truthout | Interview
If you say to my 6-year-old son, "What do we want?" he'll tell you, "Justice." If you ask him, "When do we want it?" he'll tell you. "Now." He has marched and chanted, and he knows Black Lives Matter.
He knows he matters.
My husband and I want Ralphie fully invested in his own liberation. We want him to know - no matter what his history teacher might tell him - that Lincoln did not free the slaves. Black people freed the slaves. We want him to know he will be the one to free himself.
When the indictments came down for the officers charged in the murder of Freddie Gray, I cried and held him close and clapped and said, "Remember when we went to the march for Eric Garner and Michael Brown?" When he said he did, I told him he had done something great. "Well, you did it!" I said. "You and all those people we were with helped us take a little step toward justice. We are a little closer to freedom." He asked questions about our liberation, about how he had participated in something that took us all closer to freedom, for weeks after. This freedom thing stayed with him. In him.
So, when my friend Angelika Beener asked if we would let Ralphie contribute to a recording her husband was doing about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, my husband and I very quickly said yes. Of course, we knew it would be amazing for Ralphie to record his own voice for Grammy-winning jazz great Robert Glasper, even though, for Ralphie, Rob is just "Riley's dad." But we were saying yes to something more than an exciting opportunity for our son. We were saying yes to something we knew would honor the victims of police brutality, be in the tradition of the centuries-long freedom struggle, and pay tribute to all the multitude who added their voices to #BlackLivesMatter.
And the song does all of that.
"I'm Dying of Thirst" is the last track on Covered, Robert Glasper's eighth album. Winner of the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B Album for Black Radio, and the 2015 Grammy for Best R&B Performance for "Jesus Children," with Lala Hathaway and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Glasper disrupts the categories that define and demarcate genre. His music is jazz, but it is also hip hop. It is also soul.
On "I'm Dying of Thirst," a cover of Kendrick Lamar's aching wonder of a rhyme, Angelika's and Rob's son Riley, also 6, Ralphie and three of his other friends recite the names of recent victims of police brutality. Like the track that precedes it - "Got Over," featuring Harry Belafonte, which is one of the most powerful statements on Black life that you'll ever hear - "I'm Dying of Thirst" is both politics and art.
In this exclusive Truthout interview, Glasper talks about working with Harry Belafonte, the activism of his peers in the industry, and the current state of Black entertainment.
Truthout: What kind of household did you grow up in? Was politics, or political consciousness, a big part of your childhood?
Robert Glasper: I was pretty much raised by my mother. She was the music director at the church and also sang a lot in jazz and R&B clubs. I was home alone a lot because my mom worked a day job and sang at night, so I was on my own a lot of the time. Because of that dynamic, there wasn't much about politics being discussed in the house.
Harry Belafonte appears on Covered in a powerful song that kind of lets him rhyme a little, do a little spoken word, as he bears witness to his own experience as a Black man in America - and the world. It almost sounds like you were recording a conversation and decided to lay down part of what he said on the track. Where did the idea for "Got Over" come from? Did you specifically ask Belafonte to talk about his life or to talk about what the term "got over" means to him?
I had the honor of going to his home and sitting with him for a few hours. We traded music back and forth, and he told me many wonderful stories about his hand in history ? very inspiring. He came up with "Got Over" himself. I just told him to say something that he thought people needed to hear.
So many of our Baby Boomer artists and entertainers are activists and continue to participate in social justice causes as they age. I'm thinking of everyone from Danny Glover to Stevie Wonder, from Ruby Dee to Lena Horne. Do you think our generation of artists and entertainers has honored their legacy with their own political activism? Of course, there are important artists and entertainers in our Generation, Gen X, who infuse their work and their lives with a political consciousness - I'm thinking of Q-Tip, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Russell Simmons, Don Cheadle, Azealia Banks and Amandla Stenberg. I'm even thinking of Prince, who made an important statement at the 2015 Grammys about #BlackLivesMatter, when he announced the Album of the Year award (after receiving a standing ovation for simply walking on stage). But I do think many African Americans look at the most financially successful entertainers of our generation and wonder where the take-a-risk activism is. Stevie Wonder wrote the anthem to make MLK's birthday a national holiday, but he was also arrested because he protested apartheid. Where is that level of political engagement? Is there work - organized activist work - that our generation's entertainers are doing that we need to know about?
I don't think artists of today show enough support in the struggle at all. And if they do, it's only for a hot second, or they give money on the low to an organization but don't want people to know. ... There are many artist who do speak out about #BlackLivesMatter: Mos Def, Qtip, Talib Kwali, Erykah Badu and the list goes on. I am referring to the artists who have a huge stage and can reach more people at one time. The people who can actually make a change on a big level fast don't really speak out.
What is the current state of affairs in Black entertainment?
Black entertainment has become humorous entertainment for white people to watch. ... Intelligent, great art isn't radio-friendly, so everybody is going for the same dumbed-down sound to make it on the radio and get "the hit." Every song talks about being in the club, money or sex. That's the majority of what you hear from Black music these days on the radio.
Has the organized struggle of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, this newest iteration of the struggle for social justice in our community, influenced some of your peers in entertainment? Are artists, actors and musicians talking about, even participating in, #BlackLivesMatter?
Yes people are aware and are definitely talking about it, but not everybody will reflect it in their art or do much of anything to make change. Artists are struggling nowadays, so it's a risk most are not willing to take.
How did "Dying of Thirst" happen? Where did the idea for your haunting tribute to the most recent victims of police brutality come from?
I love that song. It's my favorite from that particular Kendrick Lamar album. I knew I wanted to speak on that topic for this record but wanted to do it in a way that would hit home. Children's voices are so innocent and honest. ... Since I'm a father now, I process matters of the world differently.
At what point did you come up with the idea to include your own son's voice on this record?
My son was the first person I thought of when I decided to do this particular piece. He is 6 years old but very aware of who he is and what color he is. My wife makes sure of that. That's him talking uncoached at the end of the song. Those are his own thoughts.
Thank you so much for including my son on this song. Why was it important to you that some of Riley's friends, including Ralphie, also speak the names of those victims?
I wanted to use Ralphie and other friends of Riley to represent the many victims. I wanted the listener to hear different voices and realize these victims could easily be our children.
What are your greatest hopes for Riley's future? And, as you think of him growing into his own manhood, what are your greatest fears?
My hope is that he continues to be fully aware of who Riley Glasper is and will be as he grows up and never waver from that. My fear is that America will try its hardest to take that away. My son is strong and has a strong foundation with me and his mother so I ain't really that worried about that. But you can only control so much ...
Did you hear that Angelika, Dara [Roach] and I just cried as we listened to the Robert Glasper trio perform "Dying of Thirst" at the Blue Note? I think we are all walking around with so much feeling, including fear, frustration, even rage, because of what is happening when our people interact with the police - and because this has been going on for nearly 500 years now - but we have to put on our face to go to work, to buy groceries. We have to put on our face to interact with our young children. So, "Dying of Thirst" just, I think, let us release all that feeling pent up inside. We cried because your song gave us permission to express our real selves. Thank you for that, too.
Thank You. I cry damn near every time I play it live. I love my son so much ...
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
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