For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood: A Reflection

By Mr. Westbrooks

Emdin-ForWhiteFolksWhoTeachintheHood-663x1024Around this time last year, Dr. Chris Emdin delivered the keynote message on the topic of culturally relevant pedagogy for the Drop the Mic conference held at the Newark Museum. He had copies of his book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too available for purchase, and it was a title that was already on my reading wish list, but unfortunately, he ran out of copies before I could get mine. I knew I could purchase it anytime, but owning an autographed copy was a rare opportunity.

Fast forward to August of this year during our training/PD week. One of my administrators got copies of For White Folks for all of the teachers in our sub-department. Upon completing it last weekend, I tweeted a picture of the cover and mentioned Chris. He promptly replied (which I wasn’t expecting) and suggested that we discuss what I read. To prepare for our conversation, I decided to organize my thoughts on paper/screen before we engaged in our build. Here are the key takeaways that I plan to bring up in my talk with Chris and implement in my own practice. The following topics don’t reflect everything discussed in the book. In an effort to not overwhelm myself or spread myself too thin, I narrowed down the book’s topics to the five themes or practices that resonated with me the most and that I was willing to immediately put into action.

  1. Cogenerative Dialogues

The cogenerative dialogue is the idea that teachers collaborate with students to implement positive changes in the classroom. The structure Chris describes involves selecting a small group of four students from a variety of skill levels and behavior types to meet with the teacher for a brief time either during lunch or after school. During these meetings, the students would voice their opinions on what issues their class was facing and what needs to be done in order to make it better. I’ve always asked my students for feedback, but maybe I’ll switch up the style a bit and obtain my feedback in this small group, invitation-only structure. That’s a question I need to ask Chris: If I’m carrying out the cogens, am I only receiving feedback from the participants in the cogen?

As teachers, most of our direct feedback is coming from administrators and other teachers, but the students are the ones affected most by our classroom experience. We can gain valuable insights and take our classes to the next level by listening to what they have to say. Kids hold nothing back too. They will tell you the truth!

  1. The Black Church, Pastor and Rapper Aesthetics

For Black church Sunday services, there’s always a program with an order of events or agenda that the attendees follow. However, the service often goes off schedule when someone catches the Holy Spirit, or when the pastor “gets excited” durin

g his sermon and start to freestyle. To an extent, it’s acceptable for our classrooms to be similar. Some of the best learning moments happen when you allow students to break away from the lesson plan (script) to ask questions or make comments that are not directly related to the topic at hand.

If a teacher is moved, he or she can exhibit the speaking styles of the Black pastor, namely the call and response technique as a method of engaging “neoindigenous” (urban) youth. Rappers do the same thing, and Jelani Cobb’s comparison of Black pastors and rappers in his book To The Break of Dawn is reminiscent of this notion.

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  1. Aesthetically Appealing, Relevant and Welcoming Spaces

How can you expect students to feel welcomed, to learn, and to express themselves fullyand openly if the appearance of the classroom isn’t appealing? I’m aware of the importance of this, but I admit this has been a challenge for me with acquiring the resources to make my classroom look poppin,’ and that includes both the a

ctual materials to decorate and the time.

My arrangement of the desks into a semi-circle and the posting of my drawings that I did for my college art class and a picture from my last Reisling-influenced Paint and Sip class helped to somewhat make the room feel less like jail and traditional school. I’ve also set up my graffiti wall, which was an idea I got from the book. I couple of students have signed it already, and I have a poster of Nas and album cover stickers from my homie Tenn Stacks. It’s a start until I can get some more items.

  1. Context and Content: Community Involvement and Participation

Chris has a vignette in the “Context and Content” chapter about how a basketball game with his students led to further invitations to his students’ cultural contexts outside of the classroom, and how participation in those contexts resulted in a transformed classroom. The students are surprised and appreciative whenever I show up to their games and events. Within the last two school years, I’ve attended football and basketball games, track meets, a few art shows, and a law debate. In a less formal setting, my students have seen me shopping or walking around downtown. I want to take it to the next level, so I can start receiving invitations to events that are outside the school-sponsored extra-curricular activities.

Educators and education leaders often discuss the importance of building relationships and how that affects the students’ academic performance and social-emotional well-being. You can’t talk about building relationships and not talk about stepping out of the school building into your students’ cultural contexts.

  1. Teacher Perceptions

Perception is everything. It should be the first thing that teachers check, but why is it number 5 on my list? Our assumptions, preconceived notions, and attitudes about our neoindigenous youth will reflect in how they see themselves and what they can achieve. My perceptions and expectations of my students are high, but I must question if my students are aware of that, or if I need to be more explicit with my students about my perceptions of them. Or, can they tell just from my vibes?

Final note: You can know all of the pedagogy and everything about lesson plan designing, but Chris points out that it is the non-instructional pieces that are the game-changers, which I appreciate that the most about his book. If only school districts and administrators placed more value on these factors.

Nick & Chris

 

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IRMA: The Unnatural Disaster

Asiatic Kween Mind

Early this a.m., I was watching the news and saw the newscaster explaining yet another hurricane. Tis the season! They were explaining how it could hit the East coast at a category 5 level. Yes, we’re talking worse than Hurricane Harvey! And it got me thinking. So I decided to do some research.

A few weeks ago, maybe a little over a month actually, I was in YouTube and the they were coming up with a conspiracy that something big will happen after a tropical storm around Sept. (23)rd, 2017. And immediately I started thinking of Numerology. 23/5, coincidence? Allow me to explain.

In numerology, five is a number of life and nature. In Hebrew number five means seizure and contraction. (Amongst other things) Due to the attributes of two and three, twenty three is a number of duality, charisma, communication and society. Twenty three has the ability to use…

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The Fall Of The Black Household

Asiatic Kween Mind

One day, someone posted a question asking what happened to black love. It didn’t take me more than 5 seconds to give my answer… “It died when Women’s Liberation & Black Feminism started.” Yes, I’m sure you’re thinking what do i mean by this. Maybe you’re telling yourself that it was for the greater good of black women. But, at what cost? Let me break it down the best way I can.

Women’s Liberation, aka The Feminist Movement, has taken a toll on not only black women (who followed suit) but the black family. That wasn’t for us, but they made it about us and turned us away from our own men. They created a sense of extreme dependency.. They had us say things like, “I don’t need a man for anything.” Really think about how that sounds!

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being single. Or having…

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Stay in Your Lane or Nah? A$AP Rocky, #blacklivesmatter & The ‘Raptivist’ Phenomenon

By Mr. Westbrooks

In an opinion piece for The RootMichael Arceneaux expressed his thoughts on A$AP Rocky‘s 2015 interview with TimeOut Magazine and his follow-up interview with The Breakfast Club last week. He ultimately came to the conclusion that the public shouldn’t expect all celebrities to use their platforms to speak out about the current issues if they lack the knowledge to do so. The following week, I watched an interview between Red Pill of Know The Ledge Radio and Brother Rich of Underground Railroad Productions in which Red spoke on Rocky’s comments as well. He expressed a similar sentiment and took it a step further by stressing the seriousness of activism and the need for statements and actions to only come from individuals who are sincere about the work. He also stated that rather than making the offensive comments that he made, he could’ve deferred his thoughts to someone more knowledgeable.

Recent events surrounding the backlash that A$AP Rocky received from the public/media along with NBA and WNBA players using their platforms to speak out against police brutality opens up for discussion the topic of whether professional athletes and celebrities should use their platforms for social commentary or simply stay in their lanes.  While I agree that staying in your lane prevents celebrities from making ignorant, outlandish, or disingenuous statements, a question that comes to mind is, “Should that philosophy apply to injustice?” Whether you’re living in a privileged position or in poverty, many of us probably know that at any given moment we can go from one extreme to the next. Furthermore, as Black people, most of us are aware that injustice can be inflicted upon us in some manner no matter what our socioeconomic status is.

With that being said, what doesn’t affect us directly could affect us if our circumstances happen to change. Moreover, a collective mindset teaches us that since we’re all connected by race or humanity (whatever you prioritize first), issues that don’t affect you directly, do make an impact indirectly. To use an oft-stated and on the verge of becoming cliche Dr. King quote, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s true that some threats just remain that, threats; however, the atrocities of anti-Black police brutality and vigilante violence in our history to accompany the recent string of events show and prove that the oppressor isn’t bluffing.

It’s hard to believe that Rocky is merely speaking on what he knows considering that he’s surrounded by media, and he maneuvered through uptown NYC during his adolescent years. Although he doesn’t live in Ferguson, the population and social ills of Ferguson probably mirrors those of Harlem in many ways. There’s a good possibility that he’s either witnessed police brutality or knows someone or heard a story about someone who was a victim of it. He doesn’t have to know about politics to recognize that shooting down unarmed Black people is a bad thing. Thinking about the root of Rocky’s comments, it makes me wonder whether he truly doesn’t know what’s going on, if he’s just choosing to not care, or like Megan Saad said about artists in general who shy away from becoming “raptivists,” he wants to protect his “financial interests and brands.”

If Rocky doesn’t care or if he’s afraid to lose his financial backing, he can refer back to the two paragraphs before the last. If he’s honestly lacking knowledge of what’s happening racially, socially, and politically in America, he can either do his duty as a so-called “American citizen,” and educate himself, he can do as Red Pill suggested and defer to someone more knowledgeable, or he can go with the Mr. Westbrooks theory and create his own lane by continuing to speak on what he knows, but in a manner that contributes to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before anyone gets what I’m saying twisted, mixed up, and confused, let me first be clear that I’m not  one of those Black people that deflects the issue of police shootings by bringing up Black-on-Black violence. You also won’t hear me exclaim, “All Lives Matter!” I’m very aware that BLM is a movement to restructure or rebuild the Black Liberation Movement to include a broader population of Black people in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and ability with the goal of challenging systematic and blatant injustice while reaffirming our contributions to society.  And, I won’t pull the respectability card by suggesting that rappers need to change their content in order for the police and other racial groups to respect us. Now that that’s out of the way, I can get to the point of how A$AP Rocky can continue to rap and talk about what he knows while still contributing to the movement.

While groups outside of the Black social construct have and will continue to be apparent allies to BLM, it’s essentially all on us to achieve the solutions we need to reach, whatever they may be. It’s going to take buy-in and a unified effort from Black people. While rap songs about violence, drugs, money, hoes, and clothes aren’t the reasons why police are shooting down Black people, these factors can hinder our ability to unite in greater numbers and battle against the beast of racism and White supremacy.

If Rocky wants to talk about his friend being killed, he can do that and frame it in the context of the human impact of violence on friends and families. With his “new inspiration in drugs,” he can speak on how to use drugs responsibly in ways that allow you to tap into your spirituality. (Shout out to the Black Dot.) He can also discuss horror stories of the dangers of irresponsible drug use. If he wants to talk about being “in these bitches drawers,” he can either do the knowledge on the powers of sex magic or describe the emotional and health-related risks of having sex with multiple partners. “Jiggy fashion” is cool. Promote economic empowerment by showing love to fly, Black fashion designers.

Celebrities don’t have to talk about politics per se in order to contribute to the cause of BLM. They don’t necessarily have to assume the responsibility of being “raptivists” if that’s not what they know or are passionate about, but they do have a responsibility to avoid making destructive music that indirectly relates to the BLM movement. Meek Mill probably won’t quote the Constitution on his next album, but he did promise to not rap about “extreme violence” anymore after Dream Chasers 4.

Rocky mentioned that he wants to promote peace and inspiration through his music, and that’s what Black Lives Matter needs more of. He may not have the answers to our police brutality, Donald Trump, and Billary Clinton problems, and I understand his frustration with social justice issues. But, that peace and inspiration may be what people need to decompress from all of the craziness that’s going on. A$AP Rocky should challenge himself to be true to that objective and push himself to take it to the next level during these trying times, no matter if it’s in the studio, on social media, or in an interview.

 

 

#SummerReadingChallenge Book 2: Hip Hop Decoded

By Mr. Westbrooks

Hip Hop DecodedUnlike The Immortal Birth, The Black Dot’s Hip Hop Decoded was a recommended read that just sat on my Amazon Wish List for long as hell until the author made an appearance in my city at a local Black-owned bookstore. I’ve watched several Black Dot and Professor Griff lectures on YouTube, and I mention Griff because he has lived similar experiences maneuvering in the music industry, and he has written and spoken about the metaphysical, esoteric, and occultist aspects of the entertainment industry, primarily Hip Hop. The masses of media consumers skeptical that a secret society of families connected by bloodline called the Illuminati controls the music industry, would probably dismiss Dot and Griff’s information as conspiracy theories, but that’s neither here nor there.

As you can see, I was already aware of the caliber of knowledge Black Dot was bringing to the table before I even opened his first book. (He also has another book called Urban Culture Decoded which I will read and write about at some point this summer.) According to his brief autobiography, Dot grew up in the South Bronx and led his own Hip Hop career as a young emcee named Cheba La Rock in the 80s and 90s. He was to signed to B-Boy Records, toured around the world with Tim Dog, established an independent label, B.I.B Records, and started a group called The Lethahedz that released an EP called A&R Killer.

During these years, he would learn the ins and outs of the music business, so needless to say, Dot is more than qualified to write about Hip Hop. His support and backing from Hip Hop’s pioneers such as Kool Moe Dee, Professor Griff, and Grandmaster Caz – who also wrote the foreword – further legitimizes Dot’s qualifications. Even after all of the YouTube presentations along with the in-person lecture he gave at the Source of Knowledge bookstore in Newark, NJ, I was still amazed after reading HHD as it widened my third eye even more to the mystery of Hip Hop.

Looking at the title, it may be easy to mistake HHD for your typical book on Hip Hop that  gives you a chronological history of the culture as it relates to the social and political events occurring during each era. It’s not that. It’s also not a purist tirade of how Hip Hop music has become shit hop in its contemporary age. And, it’s not a top 25, 50, or 100 countdown of the greatest emcees of all time. It’s none of those things. It goes way deeper than that, and Dot makes that clear from the beginning.

Like he mentions in the foreword, HHD is about the “mystery of Hip Hop.” He does provide some history, but he doesn’t dwell on the early beginnings. The history is used as a reference point to contextualize how Hip Hop got to where it was when the book was published in 2005 and where it could potentially go beyond that time. At some points, Dot praises Hip Hop and criticizes rap music, but the basis of his analysis is an alternative perspective that most people are probably unaware of. He dives deeply into the spiritual, metaphysical, numerological, and occultist implications of Hip Hop. He goes further back than the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s by drawing parallels between the four elements of Hip Hop (DJing, break dancing, graffiti, emceeing) and the four elements of our African past with drums, dance, hieroglyphs, and the oracle.

Throughout the book, Dot transforms and characterizes the culture as a Hip Hop metaphor of the movie The Matrix. He identifies the key figures of the music industry from the corporations at the upper echelons to the masses of consumers at the lowest level. He reveals what the red and blue pills represent, and he discusses the roles that all of us play in the Hip Hop Matrix. To appeal to a variety of learners and to reach a broader audience, the author conveys his scrutiny through an array of methods – fictional stories, visual illustrations/diagrams, historical facts/current events, and critical analysis.

Allow me to reiterate that HHD was published in ’05, so the events surrounding the Nas and Jay-Z beef, the fall of Roc-A-Fella Records, the rise of G-Unit and it’s on-wax and possibly off-of-wax conflict with Murder Inc. may all be dated; however, the overarching themes and messages are relevant today and for years to come. HHD is written for the masses of people who’ve noticed that something is terribly wrong with Hip Hop as it exists contemporarily, or for those who question the judgment of the XXL Magazine staff members who selected this year’s freshman class. Appropriation and commodification has caused the culture to devolve from it’s highest vibrational frequencies from a time when it was in its purest form. In order to unplug yourself from the Hip Hop Matrix and to take the first steps towards destroying the Matrix machine, this book is a must-read.

Black Dot

#SummerReadingChallenge Book 1: The Immortal Birth

 

By Mr. Westbrooks

Immortal Birth2I had no prior knowledge of The Immortal Birth by Allah Jihad. I’ve never heard anyone mention it or suggest reading it during a lecture. I was just happening to be perusing the shelves of the Source of Knowledge bookstore in Newark, NJ when the book cover caught my eye. The Universal Flag of the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE) was prominently situated in the center surrounded by symbols for the square and compass of Freemasonry, the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners), the Christian cross, the Masonic grip, the Moorish Science Temple flag, the Moorish Science Temple Circle Seven, the Nation of Islam, and the Ansar Pure Sufi. Mdu ntr better known as Egyptian hieroglyphs filled up the backdrop. I deemed the placement of the hieroglyphs to be deliberate as I recognized that all of the groups and organizations represented on the cover are fragments of ancient Egyptian culture.

Mesmerized by the cover design, I picked up The Immortal Birth and flipped through the table of contents. I had no idea if this book would be worth reading, but the subject matter was of particular interest of mine, and I was sold on the positive reviews printed on the back cover. I took a chance and went against my philosophy of not judging a book by its cover and made the purchase. I’m glad I did.

In The Immortal Birth, author and NGE representative Allah Jihad takes his readers through five schools of thought related to Islam in Black America. Each chapter is dedicated to one group or organization. He starts off with Freemasonry by first delineating the differences between the speculative craft and the operative craft of Masonry. Along with historical points about its origins, Jihad ties everything together with an analysis of how Freemasonry relates to Black conscious organizations, which he further reveals in the proceeding chapters.

Again avoiding anticipated confusion, Jihad breaks down the differences between the ancient Moors and Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America (MST). He offers a biography of the organization’s founder and a  history of the MST in chapter two and does the same for  Master Fard Muhammad and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (NOI) in chapter three. These chapters become even more interesting as Jihad details his experiences as a member of both the MST and NOI chapters in Chicago. He reveals his disappointment with the lack of high science in the MST, even after gaining access to the esoteric knowledge contained within the Adept Chambers. This and the corruption and hypocrisy he witnessed within the NOI would ultimately lead to his departure from the two respective organizations. Although Jihad expresses an overall negative analysis of these groups, he makes it a point to remain respectful to the MST, NOI, its leadership, and members. And, at no point does he advise readers to join or not join any organizations, but he merely advises readers to do the knowledge before moving forward.

Although Jihad’s primary focus is on Islam, he provides a wholistic outlook on all of the groups, and he writes critically at length of Dr. Malachi Z. York and the Nuwabian Nation of Moors. Following the same pattern, he attempts to deliver an accurate biography of York (in the midst of speculations and disagreements over York’s birthplace) and the history of his movement through each of its name changes starting with the Ansaar Allah community and ending with Nuwabian Nation. He addresses the economics of the movement, the conditions of its members, the contradictions in York’s teachings, and York’s sex abuse allegations and pending court case. Jihad cites media reports, books written about York, and he conducts his own investigation by interviewing former members of the Ansaar Allah community including one of the mothers of Dr. York’s children.

Lastly, Jihad thoroughly builds on the NGE, describing the history of the Gods in New York and telling the story of its founder, Father Allah. Although Jihad is critical of NGE, he clearly sheds the Nation in a more positive light than the other organizations, which is understandable considering this is the way of life and path that chose him. He shares his experience, corrects misconceptions, and furthers his analysis and history of NGE by including the insights of other members via essays, newspaper articles, and interviews.

The final chapter dedicated to the NGE is also a 101 course of the Nation’s teachings from their core values to the meaning of the Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabets. Despite my unfamiliarity with The Immortal Birth, the book seems to be widely read, especially amongst NGE members as denoted by the numerous feedback messages from its readers at the end of the book. But, make no mistake about it. Anyone who has the desire to heighten their consciousness levels will appreciate what Allah Jihad has to offer in TIB. 

Student Responses to the End-of-the Year Open Letter Part 2

Background: I included an open letter to my students as a part of their final exam. You can read the initial letter here, and you can read their responses to my letter here. Upon catching a couple of students cheating/talking during my final exam, I gave the culprits zeros and required them to retake the exam. I created  a new exam with a new open letter. Below are the students’ responses to  my second letter. 

N.F.

Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

Your open letter was very interesting because it’s like we are speaking to each other about education and I admired that. It was funny how you said “I’m not picking on you” and put me on the spot but I was explaining this part I’m writing to someone. That’s why I understand why you gave me an zero. I’m happy that you gave me a second chance to make up and I should of known not to discuss anything because it’s a final but a lot of people was speaking that’s why I thought it would be ok to speak too.

Mr. Westbrooks you really funny I was mad yesterday that was suppose to be my  last day. I looked on my grade I had 2 A and 1 B and 1 F the F was by you I was like why he gave me a F and I seen talking and I had to talk to you and said the test tomorrow so I wanted to do whatever it took to get Honor Roll again and I’m working on it now.

I really appreciate you giving me a second chance on this test to make up my grade. Thank you Mr. Westbrook

T.B.

Dear Mr. Westbrooks

I appreciate that your letting me retake my final exam, because other teachers would’ve just gave me a “F.” And my grade would’ve been bad and I would not been able to make honor roll and my grade dropped so bad I would have had to attend summer school 2016.

I regret cheating on your test and if I can go back into time I’ll really change my act that day because it was very unacceptable because my grade was good in your class and I learned enough to do a great enough job the first try I did the test.

I am horrible at cheating because it’s not my hobby and I really didn’t study for the final until last night and everything seems more easy to me. I wish I would’ve did this from the start because I would not be in the situation I am as of right now. Thank you for letting me redo this important final, and great open letter. It was very interesting and made me look at the situation in another vein.