By Mary Alice Miller
African-American families come in many forms.
Batim Asante is the proud custodial father of child prodigy Autum, a bright, happy, well- mannered 8-year-old well- known to the tristate community for her poetry.
Batim has had legal custody of Autum since she was 18 months old. Dissatisfied with the current condition of public education, Batim homeschools his little princess. As a result of weekly visits to the library and taking advantage of the myriad cultural institutions in the Greater NYC area, Autum is tested on a 5th-grade reading level instead of the 2nd grade her tender years would warrant in public school. Autum plays cello at the Harlem School of the Arts, is a member of a Rites of Passage program and is the youngest child to earn a scholarship at the Schomburg Scholars program.
Batim Asante, well aware of popular culture and the dictionary, uses icons in a creative way.
At a recent CEMOTAP forum, Batim gave a presentation entitled Uninvited Vampires. Aware that vampires prey on others by sucking their life blood, he anthropomorphized the fictional character, referring to the surprise attack on his family.
Batim announced to those in attendance that Autum’s mother is suddenly suing for custody. Armed with documentation, Batim produced a notarized letter from Autum’s mother giving him custody of their daughter.
Having been legal custodial parent of Autum since April 1999, Batim shared his “deep and profound appreciation of motherhood”. According to Batim, Autum has never had a baby-sitter- he did not want someone who listens to gangsta rap, watches The Young and the Restless or drinks 40 ounces watching his child. If he could not take his child somewhere with him, Batim felt that was not a place he should be.
Batim is pursuing a career as a producer. As a result of watching her father negotiate contracts, conduct presentations, write poetry and produce shows, Autum was attracted to poetry at three years old. He never coaxed her to go onstage to present her poetry; Autum approached her father expressing interest.
After Autum’s appearance on Like It Is, Batim received 2 different orders to appear in New Rochelle Family Court, one delivered by marshal to his home, the second by mail.
The original order stated Batim “failed to make the child available for visitation”. Batim considers this odd, considering Autum has recently been filming a new Van Peebles movie, and her mother was there. According to Batim, the mother travels with Autum. It also states the father is “using the child as a tool against me”. Meanwhile, the mother has been ordered to contribute $97.00 a week towards Autum’s support, a sum Batim says the mother does not pay.
More insidious is the second order, dated the same day. It states the father allows visitation only when he feels like it, the daughter is unhappy and father makes her do things she doesn’t want to do. Batim feels this allegation is particularly dangerous in the hands of “vampires”, because of its vagueness and because he is a male raising a daughter. Although Autum’s law guardian did a home visit, she did not seem to notice that Autum has her own bedroom and bath. Batim reports that Family Court Judge Nilda Morales- Horowitz stated that a man shouldn’t be raising a girl.
(Interestingly, Batim had a copy of a report from the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct regarding allegations against Judge Morales-Horowitz. This report alleges Morales-Horowitz interfered with another judge who was harsh towards a friend of Morales-Horowitz in court regarding her own child custody case.)
Batim feels his family is under attack. He alleges Autum’s law guardian stated in court that Autum is in danger of being raised a racist.
Batim feels he is being accused of child abuse for keeping Autum out of a school. He chooses to live in Connecticut because homeschooling is legal there. He told family court authorities that he wants Autum to take the GED in the 9th grade. When asked if Autum would be deprived of the high school experience, Batim replied “No, public schools are Frankenstein factories: a system where fashion, debauchery and foolishness are God”. Batim does not want his daughter walking around with her belly uncovered and a “string up her butt”.
As a part of this whole process, the family had to be “assessed”. He had to submit himself to a psychological examination where there are no “right” answers. During a word association, Batim was given the word “calendar”. He reportedly said, “Which one? Gregorian, Egyptian, Aztec, Jewish, Chinese.”
When asked does Autum celebrate Halloween, Batim said no. He paid attention to recent financial markets that reported Halloween generated $9.2 billion. Every costume and piece of candy bought contributes to this bonanza. Batim says he bought candy around Halloween- where is his return on investment? He was told he was depriving Autum of her childhood.
Asked if Autum is in the Girl Scouts, Batim said Autum participates in a Sisterhood Rites of Passage. He was told that is not good enough.
Throughout her father’s presentation, Autum behaved like a normal, happy child. She played quietly with a furry white bunny rabbit, tying a blue and white scarf around its ears. She easily moved among the other children in attendance, coloring with several girls her age. Autum was happily smiling throughout the event. She addressed adults with appropriate reverence and respect.
The family’s next court appearance is January 29, 2007 at New Rochelle Family Court, 420 North Ave., New Rochelle, NY.