Are you using Black History month as an opportunity to tokenize and idealize a small cadre of “mythical negroes?” Or are you, in fact, using a truthfully inadequate opportunity to ask critical questions and facilitate conversations with more transformative outcomes?
How do well-meaning white teachers — and some black educators who have internalized racism — reimagine their rhetoric during Black History Month?
Martial Arts: Health & Fitness
For those of you who like to nerd out on their fitness practice, if you’re the type with specific exercise questions that never seem to get a full and comprehensive answer, if you’re a complete novice to resistance training, this really is the YouTube channel for you.
I mean, come on, he’s not just demonstrating movements, he’s literally taking a marker to his body, indicating muscle groups and attachments and speaking science in a way that translates to results. All the while indicating effects in relation to proper body mechanics.
One of the things I like best about Jeff Cavaliere’s program is that he doesn’t seem to promote abstract aspirational ideals of immediate fat loss and muscle gain. But he does talk about an objective of increased athletic ability. That’s something, as a martial artist, I can get behind. Check him out.
From the blog Rise Up for Students (a blog about education and equity in the Pacific Northwest) by Matt Halvorsen
A point that stuck with me since first coming across this article…
“alongside that (the) pledge (of U.S. allegiance), if it’s something that remains important to you — let’s also pledge our solemn respect and remembrance of the past and present by acknowledging that we are living, working and schooling on stolen land.”
Check out his work and his engaging insights…
The practice of land acknowledgment dates back centuries (at least) among indigenous communities, and is more common in the mainstream in Australia, New Zealand and Canada than in the U.S., but it is a growing movement here as well. The idea is that before an event — whether it’s a school day, a sports game, a meeting or even a family meal — you take a moment to name, thank and consider the people whose displacement allows you to be where you are. Whose historical trauma makes it possible for you to thrive as you do in the place you live?
Education: Teacher Diversity
By Njoli Brown
Almost every conversation about the remedy for Black-White academic achievement disparities includes a recommendation for recruiting and retaining more Black teachers. For those who do not know, the number of Black teachers has been on a steady decline for the past half century. Today Black teachers comprise less than 7 percent of the U.S. public school teaching force. – Larry Ferlazzo –
The right conversation is being had about the importance of students of color being able to see their own faces in the teachers and administrators of the schools which they attend. Not only does it provide a reflective opportunity in which learners can imagine themselves as keepers of knowledge but it also infuses the school with academic participants who can integrate an empathetic element to the environment of academia.
But as importantly should be had the conversation about the positive impact of white students seeing teachers and administrators of color in authoritative positions and as educative resources in their institutions both in and out of predominately minority communities. The houses of education should be countermeasures against racial and intellectual isolationism.
There is no statistic which shows a lowering of achievement in schools where this is the case. In fact, when these educators are included, not as tokens (and I would never underestimate this potential pitfall), but as developmental assets, school communities inevitably benefit. They produce more well rounded and culturally aware individuals with greater functionality and preparedness for a society which, in its current rate of integrative evolve, will either blossom or fail depending on its capacity to capitalize on its growing diversity.
*Share your thoughts…
Black, Brown, Colored: Education
By Njoli Brown
In Wisconsin a school asked its student body to list “3 good reasons for slavery” (along with three bad ones).
Another school, in South Carolina, decided to take its students on a field trip for Black History Month. Activities included: picking cotton and singing slave spirituals…. Yes, you read that correctly.
It was only this February 2019 when a school in northern Virginia thought it would be a good idea to teach about the Underground railroad by playing a “runaway slave game.”
There’s no way around it. There are some people who are too damaged to keep from letting their racism shine through. That being said, you don’t have to ride that train.
Before even starting though, as the adults in the room, this work needs to begin with teachers and parents—deepening our own understanding of the history, paying attention to the broader context, considering the children’s developmental age, and clarifying goals in doing this type of education.
On the site Teaching Tolerance are provided a list of “key concepts” which it seems would be important to consider and reconcile with before jumping into the deep end of a conversation about the racial, social and economic foundations of slavery with your young people.
- Slavery, which was practiced by Europeans prior to their arrival in the Americas, was important to all of the colonial powers and existed in all of the European North American colonies.
- Slavery and the slave trade were central to the development and growth of the economy across British North America and, later, the United States.
- Protections for slavery were embedded in the founding documents; enslavers dominated the federal government, Supreme Court and Senate from 1787 through 1860.
- “Slavery was an institution of power,” designed to create profit for the enslavers and break the will of the enslaved and was a relentless quest for profit abetted by racism.
- Enslaved people resisted the efforts of their enslavers to reduce them to commodities in both revolutionary and everyday ways.
- The experience of slavery varied depending on time, location, crop, labor performed, size of slaveholding and gender.
- Slavery was the central cause of the Civil War.
- Slavery shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness, and white supremacy was both a product and legacy of slavery.
- Enslaved and free people of African descent had a profound impact on American culture, producing leaders and literary, artistic and folk traditions that continue to influence the nation.
- By knowing how to read and interpret the sources that tell the story of American slavery, we gain insight into some of what enslaving and enslaved Americans aspired to, created, thought and desired.
I wanted to provide a few start up resources for those of you who are genuinely interested in teaching about historical and modern day slavery in a way that is held in empathy and authentically speaks to the trauma of the institution. There are tremendous amounts of materials out there and hopefully some of these act as an inroad and inspiration.
A list of 60 books recommended for the classroom and as background reading for parents and teachers on the history of slavery and resistance in the United States. This lists provides materials relevant for all ages, from child through YA to adult. These aren’t just books to drop in a room but to act as a catalyst for art projects, writing projects, debate and discussion. I’d also refer you to this article from the Chicago Tribune “Slavery In Children’s Books: What Works?”
2. The Passage — Researched & Written by Fern Lewis / Directed by Dale Gooding
An animation which explores the slave trade and the journey of the Trans-Atlantic voyage. Wonderfully written and narrated. This is not “G” rated. There are some deeply emotional themes here. It is a film you should pre-screen in order to determine the appropriateness for your class’ age range and prepare for the depth of conversation needed to to process it.
“What we don’t know about American slavery hurts us all.” From Teaching Tolerance and host Hasan Jeffries, Teaching Hard History brings us the lessons we should have learned in school through the voices of leading scholars and educators. It’s good advice for teachers, good information for everybody.
4. The ABCs of Black History
The history of African people did not begin with nor did it end with slavery. It’s just important to educate on the continuance of this journey, acknowledging the identity of a people as more than just their epochal social status.
Do you have more resources to suggest? Drop them in the comments.
“It is of crucial importance for every American to understand the role that slavery played in the formation of this country, and that lesson must begin with the teaching of the history of slavery in our schools. It is impossible to understand the state of race relations in American society today without understanding the roots of racial inequality – and its long-term effects – which trace back to the ‘peculiar institution.”
– Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University Professor, author America Behind the Color Line –
By Njoli Brown
One of the most powerful things we can give to our youth is the realization that they have an actual capacity to effect change. In my autumn projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx I decided to utilize concepts from civil engineering to develop
a sense of the importance of design in the nature and timbre of a community. But even more importantly, the objective was to mature the capacity to critically evaluate our environment to recognize ways in which it could be changed and/or supported.
The process was collaborative and grounded in the work of establishing leadership skills, common values and collective empathy. Through discussion, writing, movement and art we dove deep into the most difficult work of putting language to our ideas, debating and, at times, compromising.
We concluded the project by creating an interactive public gallery wherein participants could post questions as a pathway to research and activism.
By Njoli Brown
Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest. I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life. But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep. I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.
Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach. Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts. But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels. How many of us have seen the result? Too many.
Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc. Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches. I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English. I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.
So, what does that look like. No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen. But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort). Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work. Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics? Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique. Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit. Local community center… free. Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.
Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.
By Njoli Brown
One of the most commonly expressed analogies in capoeira is that it exists as a microcosm of all our experiences and interactions in the larger world. I’m sure this kind of language is present in other arts and communal environments and I’ve been thinking about this lots over the years, often times a little dubious about where the rhetoric and the actuality intersect.
I think that humans are, as a general rule, social creatures. Often times they are willing to make huge compromises in order to maintain a sense of connectivity. Even in those instances where they choose to isolate, I imagine that, many times there is some past or present trauma attached to that decision. That isolation might be a process for healing or for hiding but it seems to have a very intentional value and purpose.
In order to maintain a sense of place and value within a community there can feel a necessity to do or to be. I use these terms to indicate the drive toward doing more in order to become more and thus, somehow, elevating the value of the community as a whole. But with all of this action there have to come missteps, some large and some small, so I think it’s important to discuss the important place that mistakes hold in both the micro and macrocosm. As an experiment, instead of looking at the small and working outward though, as is often the methodology, I’m going to take some lessons from the broader world and apply them inward.
The broad range of research would say that mistakes have inherent value. They provide new pathways for exploration, generate unexpected and sometimes useful results, act as reference points or catalysts for change and, generally, imply motion of some sort. In my experiences as an educator in NYC public schools, one of the sentiments I recognize in many of the students I work with is a fear of educational or behavioral “failure.” This fear is often born out of the the resultant reprimands, harsh exclusion, disproportionate disciplinary reactions which occur after mistakes or missteps that are part of the evolutionary journey. Simultaneously, I know it is a major part of the conversation among educators to determine new and effective ways to address positive discipline while creating a safe holding container for personal growth. Saying that a space is safe for mistakes does not make it so. But if the true investment in that idea is there, then intentional discussions on how to create actionable plans can be had.
Capoeira Angola is particularly interesting to me because it seems to attract social activists, teachers, community organizers and people with an, at least spoken, desire to affect societal change in positive ways. It truly is a microcosm of a very particular aspect of the world. It rests itself fairly firmly in liberal thinking in regards to social, environmental and overall political issues. Even with variations, this holds itself commonly true in most groups of this style throughout the world and, as such, should provide an in common language and platform for discussions on acceptance , forgiveness and change on a very personal level.
I remember a while back, being in a discussion about concepts on friendship. For my part, I recall saying something to the point of friendship having a relationship to a person seeing you when you have not been your best self and being able to recognize the goodness in you nonetheless. Now, I’m an optimist. I do mostly believe that people have some innate childlike purity continually existing within them, no matter how obscured. I am also a realist. I understand that mistakes can be painful, to the perpetrator and to the peripheral participants. An actual supportive and forward thinking community has the difficult dual purpose of safeguarding itself while nurturing its individuals. But like riding a moving sidewalk in the wrong direction, if a community is not actively problem solving it may as well be actively working toward the perpetuity of broken systems.
Sometimes, language is a dangerous thing. Perhaps, better said, a powerful thing both,
in its inability to encapsulate all the layers of individual and collective emotional complexity and in its capacity to direct the mind towards concretizing thoughts into actionable aspects. It requires a careful measure when determining the language which codifies a living philosophy and, as a living and organic thing, perhaps the language and the community must continually take opportunities to evaluate whether they are in alignment and, if not, whether compromise or divergence is the most relevant path for evolved being.
It must determine if it places equal value in its ideals as to its practice. If so, it must work as diligently toward evolving its capacity to make living its philosophies as it does toward physicalizing its corporeal aspects. It must pursue the resources to make these ideas intelligible and applicable when students misstep and choose alternatively. They must host forums in which students can realize their connection to these values and in which actions which prove themselves destructive can be processed to restore balance in the community. Otherwise, the practice should dissociate itself and allow the philosophy to exist parallel if not integrated.
“Lots of soccer players are Catholic. But if asked if soccer is a Catholic sport, well I’d say ‘hell no.'” – Anonymous –
Capoeira, in truth martial arts in general, can become so wrapped up in rhetoric that they search and find ways to justify the connection between things even as they actively operate in dichotomy. In this way, perhaps they are truly microcosms of the world we live in. The art is truly itself, the idea is truly itself and, in fact, it is the instructor or some hierarchical construct which determines that a philosophical foundation, whether historical or contemporary, is a grounding factor for the students’ development and so imbues his/her teachings with said ideology. Without the critical process of determining alignment, compromise or divergence a martial art school generates a chaotic environment for a finding equilibrium.