The Only One

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At a time when I was the only black 7th grade teacher at a charter school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York (2015). 

Every day I stand in front of my diverse classroom intensely aware of my skin color. As the only black man teaching at my school, I am one of the 3.7 percent of New York City teachers that share my identity. This May, during Teacher Appreciation Month, I celebrated the critical impact black male educators have on the life of students who share similar experiences based on our gender, race, and life experiences. Despite the crucial impact we make, there are less black male teachers in NYC today than ten years ago. It is time for NYC, and the rest of America, to double down on recruiting, retaining, and developing excellent black male educators.

Growing up in Miami, I was one of the only black students through most of my schools and classes. Still, my teachers reflected the great diversity of my hometown – I had multiple African American, white, and Hispanic teachers of both genders throughout my K-12 education. It was these teachers that challenged and pushed me to become the learner, and later educator, that I am today.

Now, as the only black male teacher in a New York City public school, I am not just a teacher to my black boys and girls, I am a father figure, their uncle, their big brother, their mentor, and their hero. At the end of my first year in this school, a group of my black female students started to affectionately call me “Uncle” Toussaint. It has carried over into this school year. On my birthday, I found a card on my desk, signed by this group of four black girls and the card read, “Happy Birthday Uncle, you’ve done so much for us. You’re an amazing figure to have in our lives.” My connection with my students go beyond the content and test results. I look at them and see myself, 20 years ago. And in turn, I am someone they can see themselves becoming.

A study by the Institute for Labor Economics found that if a low-income black male student has a black teacher in elementary schools they are 39 percent less likely to drop out of school and more likely to attend college. These effects were even stronger when the teacher is a male or shares the gender as the students they teacher. Conversely, the media reports constantly about the disproportionately, higher rates of suspensions that black boys face in American schools. Not only are black boys susceptible to systematic racism and discrimination, but they are also susceptible to stereotypes that too often become self-fulling prophecies suffocated by dreams deferred.

In an age when our black boys are under constant attack, we must interrupt the status quo for young black male lives and the limited narrative that offer such limited options. As an educator of fifteen years, the solution I’ve seen work best is to recruit and retain black men in the teaching profession. Education is the most powerful vehicle people have to rise from humble circumstances and fight for better opportunities for their families and communities. When we recruit, support and retain black men in the crucial roles of educator, principal, counselor, or coach we provide a powerful opportunity for our young black boys. They are able to share some lessons that only a black man in American can truly pass on to a black boy; like how to survive an encounter with the police; how to code switch, how to fight with your words and not your fist, how to advocate for those like you and how to give back. This is the important difference a black male education can have on his students. It promotes a narrative that at times can seem non-existent, and makes it real, that black men can be intelligent, caring and a vital part of the development of children.

Nationwide, black men make up only 2 percent of the teachers, while half of all students are students of color. James Baldwin said, Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Our children need to see black male educators, who are professional, passionate, intelligent and tangible. It is time to deeply invest in effective initiatives that develop and recruit black male educators that address this issue nationwide.

As a black male educator, I am not just a teacher to my black boys and girls, I am a father figure, an uncle, a big brother, a mentor, and their hero. They trust me. They love me. 30 years in the school system and it seems all too familiar. I look around and I am the only one. But this time, I am not the only black boy, I am the only black man. 

 

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COMMON DAMN SENSE & WHY I NEED MY WHITE FRIENDS

Just be a descent human-being and use common damn sense!

When Colin Kaepernick is kneeling, he is exercising his “right” to peacefully protest. This is not a violent attack on our military or any civilians. Feelings may get hurt, but no one is in any physical danger. And yes, rich people have the right to protest too.

When openly racist members of white supremacy protest, but instead use violence to get their point across, that is not only dangerous, it is Un-American. It is the exact opposite of what our brothers and sisters in uniform or risking their lives for. It is a direct attack on American citizens. It is a direct attack on democracy. Our military fights for freedom, not oppression.

This battle for equality in America is not just for black people, gay people, women or immigrants. It’s about people. People who do bad things should be held accountable—that is all. People who use violence should be held accountable. Officials who abuse their power to oppress others, in order for their own benefit are just as guilty.

Nonetheless, I do believe in a system where white Americans have an inherit advantage; fair or not fair. That same privilege and power is what it is going to take to save our country. Who can come between a fight between two elephants?

Just like when viral youtube videos of black people acting ignorant makes all black people look bad; the same can be said for what is happening in Virginia right now. At this moment, this country needs descent, moral white Americans to openly and publicly be just as bold as the white supremacists; not just today and tomorrow, but everyday.

And to my black people. We need to continue to be good to each other; today, tomorrow and everyday.

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A driver plows into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo by Associated Press

The History, Psychology and Reality of Black on Black Crime-Part I

Doll Test

The phrase black on black crime is in another subtle tool to perpetuate the narrative that black people in America do not value each other as much as other groups do. Which ultimately gives room for those who want to construct a stronger argument for why black people deserve what they get. They deserve to be treated unfairly and as second-class citizens, I mean, look at how they treat each other. Many black people themselves have also adopted this psychology; which is ridiculous, but sadly true. How can a black man or a woman say, “That’s why we can’t have anything” without including themselves? How can they lose faith in their community and with people share essentially the same historical setbacks and not give up on themselves?  You see, this is the danger of allowing phrases like black on black crime roll off of our tongues without looking deeper into how the phrase came about in the first place.

Research will show that most car accidents happen within 25 miles from home. Why? Because on the day to day basis, we travel relatively close to our homes. Society’s most despicable crimes such as murder and rape are mostly likely done by the hands of someone who actually had a relationship with the victim.  These are consequences of one of geography’s fundamental themes, which is proximity. I’ll come back to this point later.

When African people were taken from the coasts of present-day Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Cote Ivoire, Angola and the like, to be sold into slavery, three fundamental crimes were committed by two groups, but historically, one group tends to bare more of the blame. One group involved were the Africans, who kidnapped other Africans and brought them to the coast to be sold or traded into bondage. Group two, the Europeans who packed their vessels with human cargo, trafficking millions of people across the Atlantic Ocean for centuries. In the process, millions of people and families were impacted, even to this day. But historically it is Europeans who are “blamed” for the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, without the help of other Africans, the slave trade would not have had the lasting impact that it did. Yes, Africans kidnapped, murdered and sold other Africans into slavery. Is this black on black crime? Surely it is, but it is inaccurate and historically irresponsible if we do not include the role the Europeans played.

As an educator, I always ask my students to search for the why and more importantly how. And history makes it plain in this case. Greed was why Africans were stolen by the generations and guns is how. The Europeans supplied rival tribes with guns and ammunition, which gave them a distinct advantage over their African counterparts. In exchange for humans, they received more guns, rum and European textiles. One group had all the power, while the others were subject to being ruled and conquered by the all mighty rifle. Imagine what would happen if one group who had been subjugated for generations were actually able to get their hands on guns themselves. Can you say war?

The second theme, scarcity (the limited supply of resources), which is an economic principle, is actually a major cause of criminal behavior that transcends all cultures. After the American Civil War, millions of black people who had never known anything but bondage, were physical set free, but not economically, socially  or psychologically. They were still bound to the lands that their ancestors had labored on; but this time as sharecroppers. Some created their own communities and in many cases they thrived. Some moved North to find better opportunities. But the majority were still clumped together into poorer areas of town. Their opportunities were limited. Their resources were limited. And at times of desperation, anger and frustration, they would fight each other, steal from each other and sometimes even kill one another. In those days it was seen as a black man’s quarrel. Today it has been labeled as black on black crime.

Homocide Rates by Race 2014

History has a funny way of repeating itself. Even though the AK-47 was invented in Russia, during a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were sworn enemies, these high-powered assault rifles have found their way in the hands of street gangs in places like Southside Chicago, Illinois, Northwest Miami-Dade County, Florida and South Central Los Angeles; all places with historically large black populations and a legacy of being under-served. I almost forgot to mention redlining, housing discrimination, unfair hiring practices, mass incarceration, double-digit unemployment rates and legalized segregation. Yet, I digress. According to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, the sad truth is, 90% of homicides against a black person will be committed by another black person. But at the same time 82% of homicides against another white person will be committed by another white person. With an 8 point differential, I might be inclined to say that white on white crime is also getting out of hand.

Therefore, to utter the phrase black on black crime, without acknowledging the historical disenfranchisement of black people  in America, is like  having a discussion about the Declaration of Independence without addressing British Rule, the Montgomery Bus Boycott without segregation laws or  the Holocaust without mentioning the Nazis. You would not do so because it would demonstrate either a lack of understanding of the historical implications of these landmark events or that you are simply misinformed all together. So what is black on black crime really? It is an unfair label. It is the illegitimate child of American History.  America did everything in its power to conceive it, but now wants to pretend as if it manifested on its own.

 

A Coach’s Joy

 

After a long challenging week at work, coupled with a late Friday night at happy hour, I tried my best to wake up early on Saturday morning, in order to hold on to a promise that I had made. The one week that I showed up late for practice, is the only time we lost. During my post-game speech, I apologized to my athletes and their parents. I promised them, that it would never happen again. How could I hold my team accountable if I wasn’t discipline enough to be punctual myself?

We haven’t looked back ever since. And on we are on a five game winning streak. Next week we play our archrivals; a well coached team from Williamsburg, who has won the league championship; a few times. In my four years as head coach, I have yet to beat them, let alone the championship.

Three seasons ago, we lost to them in the finals, on the last play of the game. Even though we are the favorites this year, we cannot afford to take anyone lightly. I’m sure that my rival coach has some tricks up her sleeves.

There are a few kids on my roster who have been with me since they were 5th graders. It would be nice to send them off as seniors, with a championship trophy.

As an athlete, nothing felt better than winning. In college I remember being filled with tears of joy after making a game-winning play. Now that I am a coach, my joys as a player don’t even compare.
nice game

Quality Education for All Children

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We came, we marched, we conquered. I am not sure if all of our kids understood the importance of yesterday’s march. However, I can say that they enjoyed the experience. I simply enjoyed their smiles and their company. I am however saddened by the fact that their futures dangle in the hands of people who have no real insight on what it takes to give our children a fighting chance. How can you say you are a proponent for quality education and you bicker over policies, rhetoric and theory that ultimately puts adults first and children last?

Nonetheless, yesterday was hopefully, a step in the right direction for the spirits and minds of our children. Maybe one of them will be inspired to lead and fight for what they all deserve; a quality education.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmGgnleFvVc&feature=youtube_gdata

The Day That Changed Everything

I was running late for my 8 a.m. class, as usual. It was my senior season at Wayne State College (NE) and the football team had 5 a.m. workouts that day. It was a real challenge to meet the rigorous demands of balancing college athletics and academics, but I embraced it. The morning of September 11, 2001, was a typical daily grind for me; get up at the crack of dawn, put in an hour workout with the team, run over to the cafeteria for a hardy breakfast, jog over to the dorms for a quick shower, grab my books and run to class.

As I jogged past hundreds of co-eds up to the second floor of the Humanities Building , I failed to notice anything different or out of place. All I could think of, was damn, I am late again. I could just imaging interrupting my professor’s lecture, but instead, everyone was engulfed in the images on the television. I didn’t even realize that classroom had a television until that morning.

As I approached the screen, to get a closer look, I saw that one of the Twin Towers engulfed in smoke. No one said a word. Their eyes were simply glued to the burning image. The scrolled message at the bottom of the screen read, “Plan crashes into one of the Twin Towers.” As the building continue to go up in smoke, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It did not seem real.

I could just imagine all the people who must have died instantly on that plane. And suddenly, I saw a large shadow fly across the adjacent buildings and then …. an explosion! The second tower was hit by another airplane. Everyone in the classroom let out a yell of disbelief and awe.  That is when I realized; I think we all realized, at that point, that this was not an accident.

Class was no longer important. The campus went silent.  For the next few hours more news was revealed about the terrorist plot. For the next few days, America shutdown. Classes were cancelled, practice was cancelled, NCAA, NFL and Major League Baseball games were cancelled. For those few days America stood still. From that point on, everything had changed.

A view of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn. The blue lights are a tribute to the Twin Towers that fell on the fateful morning of September 11, 2011.

Ayisyen on Campus

I speak in front of people all the time, but for some reason I was a little nervous tonight. The first speaker was a young professional Haitian-American by the name of Jean Pierre-Louis. His organization  Capracare Haiti is fairly new, less than two years old. His work is familiar but not taken for granted.  He is rebuilding and changing Haiti, one step at a time. Jean’s vision is written powerfully at the bottom of his business card, mete men nou ansanm pou nou viv an santé ( promoting health change through individual acts of courage).

Then it was my turn. I had been up since five in the morning, worked a full load teaching and debating with  7th graders about whether Christopher Columbus should receive credit or acknowledgement for discovering America, when in actuality he thought he was in Asia. Furthermore, my principal decided that we are going to have professional development on Fridays; afterschool.  After a less than inspiring P.D. session, I grabbed my materials hustled out of the building, ran across the street to the local bodega, grabbed a Nutriment and hopped on the 4 train.  I was tired from a long day and a longer week. But the idea of being able to talk about two of my passions for a few minutes in front of an intimate audience at NYU gave me the surge that I needed. What an incredible way to end the work week!

So I introduced myself, loosened the stoic crowd with some of my subtle humor, and it was on. The Community2Community video was a hit as always, and I used it to bring a real connection to what we are all doing in some form or another. There is something for everyone to do and that was my message this evening. “Give a man a fish…” I’m not a fisherman, but I am teacher and a coach; educating young people is what I do. Tonight I had the esteemed privilege of educating and informing others about the great work that Community2Community has been doing.

As the evening moved on and other groups presented, you could feel the energy and passion in the room begin to emerge. After the last presentation by Artists Village, we were all on our feet, inspired, energized, ready to mix, mingle and share ideas. They had just come back from Haiti, less than a week ago with an inspiring message of love and hope. It was beautiful.

The high point of the evening for me,  was when one of my former students walked into the room with about 20 other young men. Instantly, I knew was the leader. It was powerful to see. I could see my own influence and work after eight years of teaching begin to manifest, right before my very eyes. His name is Gerald Jean-Baptiste, he was a student of mine at North Miami Beach Senior High School, where I taught for six years. He is now a senior at NYU and the president of an organization on campus called Gentlemen of Quality.

At first he did not see me, but when he did, he immediately introduced me to his group of 20 or so gentlemen and the networking exploded. They all signed the Community2Community Volunteer Sheet and have agreed to help out whenever they can. Before long the once small, quiet, stoic room, turned into a buzz of life, laughter and excitement. I am more than proud of the work that H.A.S.A. is doing. They are bringing like-minded people together to work towards one cause.

I look forward to next year’s event. It will be a testimony to the work that we are all doing. This year’s event has already done that and more. Our dreams will not be deferred, for they are being realized each day through the great efforts of our young brothers and sisters on NYU’s campus.