A Bronx story that relates to the murders in Chicago

ImageBy Mark Naison
Professor of History, Fordham University
Jan. 30, 2013
It’s the mid 1950’s. Howie Evans, a 15 yearold up-and-coming basketball and track star, is shooting hoops in the night center at Public School #99 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, which like most elementary school gymnasiums in New York City, was kept open five nights a week from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

Howie’s friends rush into the gym. Their mostly Puerto Rican gang, of which Howie is a member, is having a rumble with a much feared Black gang called the “Slicksters.” The head of the night center,Vincent Tibbs, a powerfully built African American teacher who was a friend to many young people in the neighborhood, overheard what was going on and walked slowly over to the door of the gym. When Howie tried to rush out, Mr Tibbs stood in front of the door and said “I’m not letting you leave here. You have a future. You’re not going to die in the street.”

Howie, who told me this story during an oral history interview I did with him, screamed and cried. But Mr. Tibbs, who had the strength and appearance of a weightlifter, wouldn’t move. Howie ended up missing the rumble. It is well he did because two young men died that night, not something that often happened in a time before guns were common weapons on the streets of New York. And Mr Tibbs was right., Howie did have a great future. He went on to become a teacher, a young center director, a college basketball coach (which is how I met him) and the sports writer for the Amsterdam News, a position he holds to this day.

But the story is not just about Howie, it’s about the incredible after school and night centers that were a fixture of every single public school in New York City until they were closed down during the NYC fiscal crisis of the 1970’s. These centers ( I attended one religiously in Brooklyn) had basketball and Nok-hockey, arts and crafts and music programs, and held tournaments and dances.

Some of them, like the P.S. 99 Center, held talent shows which spawned some of New York City’s great doo-wop and Latin music acts. But all of them had teachers like Mr. Tibbs who provided supervision, skill instruction, mentoring, and sometimes life saving advice to two generations of young men and women who attended the city’s public schools, a good many of whom lived in tough working class neighborhoods like Morrisania.

Now let’s segue to Chicago, where young people are killing one another at an alarming rate. The Schools in that city are in upheaval; many have been closed, some are faced with closing, teachers and students are being told that the fate of the schools they are at depend on how well students score on standardized tests; some of which have been installed at the expense of arts and music and sports programs in the schools. Those in charge of education, locally and nationally, think these strategies will improve educational achievement.

But what happens in these schools after regular school hours finish? Do they offer safe zones for young people in Chicago’s working class and poor neighborhoods? Do they have arts and sports programs that will attract young people off the streets? Do they have teacher mentors like Mr. Tibbs who will take a personal interest in tough young men and women and place their own bodies between them and the prospect of death through gang violence?

If the answer is no, that these schools are largely empty once classes end, and they do little or anything to attract young people in, maybe it’s time to start rethinking current school programs. Wouldn’t it be better to have a moratorium on all policies- like school closings- which destabilize neighborhoods- and invest in turning schools into round the clock community centers the way they were in NYC when Howie Evans was growing up?

And if the problem is money, how about taking the money currently spent on testing and assessment, and using it to create after school programs where caring adults offer activities that build on young people’s talents and creativity?

But to do this, we have to rethink the roles school play in neighborhoods like the Bronx’s Morrisania and Chicago’s Humbolt Park, and view them, not primarily as places to train and discipline a future labor force, but as places which strengthen communities and nurture young people into become community minded citizens. But to do that, we have to also treat teachers differently, respecting those who have made teaching a lifetime profession and who are committed to nurturing and mentoring young people even in the most challenging circumstances.

If we don’t do that kind of reconfiguration of our thinking, and ultimately, our policies, we are likely to mourning a lot more young people killed by their peers, and not just in Chicago.

Mark Naison is professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University. He is the author of White Boy: A Memoir.

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Zuzuka Poderosa’s ‘Carioca Bass’ EP Out Now!

Stream the EP in Full at FACT Magazine 

Buy it on iTunes!

FREE DOWNLOAD in Discobelle of Jubilee/Burt Fox Remix

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“Zuzuka has turned to our minds like the impact of a helicopter against the building; like a hot gate of sound.  Zuzuka is a Big Bang. Zuzuka is poderosa.” – NHM (Spain / London)“She’s very prolific. We love all the stuff that she does. She has an interesting way with words.”
– NPR’s Alt Latino’s ‘Mad Musical Scientists’

About the EP via FACT Mag:
On her Carioca Bass EP, she has collaborated with Bay Area producer Kush Arora on a pair of baile funk tunes that use the genre’s everything-in-the-blender ethos to subwoofer melting effect. The title of ‘Seda’ (Portuguese for “rolling papers”) is a play on words, as Zuzuka meditates on the criminalization/legalization of pot over a club-rap grinder. ‘Psicodelia’ owes more to baile funk’s Miami bass tradition, with Zuzuka rapping about fireworks that are actually blasts of favela gunfire.

Upcoming Tour Dates:
Chicago, IL – Fri, Feb 8th | Beauty Bar

San Francisco, CA – Sat, Feb 9th | Tormenta Tropical @ Elbo Room
Brooklyn, NY – Fri, Feb 15th | Public Assembly | Tickets

Born in Vitoria, Brazil, ZUZUKA PODEROSA grew up in Rio and spent her formative years in the West Indies. She later moved to Brooklyn, NY, to study jazz vocal improvisation and work at her poetry. For the past few years, she’s been building up the underground Baile Funk, Moombahton and Global Bass scene in New York.

The EP is produced by the Bay Area’s Kush Arora. Kush Arora has walked the line between culture, experimentalism, and percussive bass music for the last 15 years in San Francisco and beyond. With over 10 discs to his name and countless singles, all shades of Dub, Garage, Dancehall, and Indo-Caribbean influences merge into his unique futuristic sound.

She sounds dangerous, intense, unhinged, and different and more experimental than the baile funk, carioca, and tropical bass vocalists I hear out there. She has an amazing stage presence, uncompromising attitude and intense energy that she pushes forth, and her willingness to experiment outside of the small box of samples and traditions from the Brazilian electronic movement. She has that knack to take people, propel them into motion to get down and forget about the world, but lyrically she’s not all fun and games, which is very important to me.” – Kush Arora

Tracks on the EP are remixed by:
Jubilee: Though now splitting her time between Miami and Brooklyn, XLR8R’s “artist to watch” Jubilee will always be Brooklyn’s bass sweetheart. Known for her rambunctious combination of upfront bass music, UK house, and tropical flavors, she has become a surefire remedy for ailing dancefloors around the globe.

Sonora: Sonora Longoria, is a producer of Latin and third world/global bass music who resides in San Antonio, Texas. The “cumbia child” Sonora has accomplished quite a few projects with global artists, one being for his “Remezcla” EP series where he takes on remixing and recording with carioca bass diva Zuzuka Poderosa.

Nego Mozambique: a Brazilian expat living in Toronto, who has been in the electronic music scene for more than ten years, performing live acts of his own compositions, mash ups and remixes, and also creating soundtracks for TV and movies.

Others include: Vancouver’s HXDB, Chicago’s Chrissy Murderbot, Miami’s Burt Fox and CEE.

Song meanings:
Psicodelia‘ is an upbeat track featuring Zuzuka rapping about fireworks at a party that are, in fact, gunfire and bombs in one of Brazil’s favelas.

Seda‘ is a play on words. Seda is Portuguese for rolling papers. In this song, Zuzuka touches on everything sexy about the drug while advocating for its legalization as there are “worse things happening to people because of its criminalization.”

Press Inquiries: Gina at ginavergel@gmail.com
Booking Inquiries: Devin at Devin@surefireagency.com

The gun debate: Out of the mouths of teens

teenagersPBS Newshour asked high school teenagers for their thoughts on the gun debate. Their comments are enlightening. Are lawmakers listening to this generation?

I found it interesting that the African American teens seemed to lean towards gun regulation, gun control and high security measures, such as metal detectors. Meanwhile, one young man from West Virginia, where hunting is popular, hinted that guns are a way of life and therefore, all that can be done is “raising awareness and keeping hope.” If that doesn’t say something about what ones concerns and fears are when growing up in different surroundings/neighborhoods, I don’t know what does.

Budding inventors should look out for the girl who suggests a “non-lethal defense system.” She may be onto something.

Watch Students Across the U.S. Reflect on Gun Control on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Baby boomers: Documenting a Generation’s Fall

(Photo by Sam Newman/NYT) George Ross, a former IT project manager in  Livermore, Calif., and his wife, Linda, as seen in the documentary "Set for Life,'' by Susan Sipprelle and Sam Newman.
(Photo by Sam Newman)
George Ross, a former IT project manager in Livermore, Calif., and his wife, Linda, as seen in the documentary “Set for Life,” by Susan Sipprelle and Sam Newman.

By Michael Winerip
New York Times, Jan. 17, 2013

One of the lasting effects of the Great Recession has been the economic spiral downward of the American middle class, and no group has been harder hit than the boomer generation, men and women in the prime of their working lives.

From 2007 to 2009, workers 55 to 64 year old who lost jobs had been making an average of $850 a week; those lucky enough to be re-employed by January 2010 were earning $647 a week, a 23.9 percent drop in income.

Younger boomers, ages 45 to 54, had been averaging $916 a week; the jobs they were able to find after the recession paid $755, a 17.6 percent decline.

That is the story Susan Sipprelle tells in her new documentary, “Set for Life,” about the generation that was so sure that they were — until their lives came undone during the Great Recession.

Read more here.

NY Times: That Loving Feeling Takes Lots of Work

imagesBy Jane Brody
New York Times Jan. 14, 2013

When people fall in love and decide to marry, the expectation is nearly always that love and marriage and the happiness they bring will last; as the vows say, till death do us part. Only the most cynical among us would think, walking down the aisle, that if things don’t work out, “We can always split.”

But the divorce rate in the United States is exactly half the marriage rate, and that does not bode well for this cherished institution.

In her new book, “The Myths of Happiness,” Dr. Lyubomirsky describes a slew of research-tested actions and words that can do wonders to keep love alive.

She points out that the natural human tendency to become “habituated” to positive circumstances — to get so used to things that make us feel good that they no longer do — can be the death knell of marital happiness. Psychologists call it “hedonic adaptation”: things that thrill us tend to be short-lived.

Read more of Jane Brody’s piece in the New York Times’ WELL blog here.

Opening Night: Water by the Spoonful

(Photo via NPR) Armando Riesco's character Elliot was inspired by Hudes' cousin, also named Elliot. Riesco has played Elliot throughout the trilogy. He's pictured above in Water by the Spoonful with Zabryna Guevara, who plays Yazmin Ortiz.
(Photo via NPR) Armando Riesco’s character Elliot was inspired by Hudes’ cousin, also named Elliot. Riesco has played Elliot throughout the trilogy. He’s pictured above in Water by the Spoonful with Zabryna Guevara, who plays Yazmin Ortiz.

I’m really excited to be attending the opening night of Water by the Spoonful, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegria Hudes, tonight. Hudes is a Philadelphia native of Jewish and Puerto Rican descent.

As reported on NPR’s Morning Edition:

Water by the Spoonful is the second play in a trilogy featuring a character named Elliot, an injured Iraq war veteran who has returned to his home in North Philadelphia. Elliot is based on Hudes’ cousin, also named Elliot. She says she went to visit him on a military base shortly after he returned from Iraq.

“I just remember the instant I saw him, there was just something changed in his eye,” Hudes says. “You know, he was still absolutely the same young clown of a cousin I had always known and had grown up with, loving, but there was something different. And I felt that I might never understand it. And that’s the simple spark that it came from.”

As Hudes began writing about Elliot’s experiences, she says she noticed there were more and more young people in uniform showing up in Elliot’s Latino neighborhood in North Philadelphia. She thought to herself: “It’s not just Elliot’s story. This is going to be the story of a generation.”

Read the rest of Morning Edition’s report, or listen to the audio segment, here.

Buy tickets to Water by the Spoonful here.

Rick Perlstein in ‘The Nation:’ Why I Am A Liberal

Only liberals know how to make you freer on the job, which is where most of us suffer the gravest indignities in our lives.

Liberals, in fact, make you freer everywhere. Look at liberty’s greatest historic advances: ending slavery. Giving women the vote. Outlawing legal segregation.

Each and every time, the people at the forefront of advancing those reforms—often putting their lives on the line—called themselves liberals.

Each and every time, people who called themselves conservatives announced that those reforms would unravel civilization.

Then—each and every time—once the reform was achieved and taken for granted, and civilization didn’t collapse, conservatives claimed to have always been for it, even holding themselves up as the best people to preserve it.

Read more here.