By Stanley Kinard
I’m told it was standing- room- only at the House of the Lord Church on Monday, August 23rd, 2004. An all-star linedup of activists joined Pastor Herbert Daughtry to show their support to the Barron Campaign for Mayor. Among those present were Percy Sutton, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Minister Kevin Muhammad, Amiri Baraka, Elombe Brath and Viola Plummer. Upset for missing what sounded like a historic Black Activist gathering and the highlight of the political season, I rushed to the newsstand to read about it in our daily black newspaper. I was quite disappointed to see that it received absolutely no mention. While everyone is entitled to their opinion regarding who they support, our community must be astute in analyzing the response of Black media and Black political leadership to the Barron Campaign for Mayor.
Charles Barron’s theme of “White Men Have Too Much Power” has resonated throughout the town. He is the only Black elected official bold enough to make that statement to expose the racist makeup of New York City and state government. White men currently serve as governor, mayor, chancellor, speaker of city council, speaker of state senate, speaker of state assembly, police commissioner and fire commissioner. The Charles Barron Campaign for Mayor is also a campaign against “white male supremacy” and the conspiracy to destroy Black males. We must be clear that it is no accident that 50% of Black males in NYC are unemployed and that 70% of our youth drop out of H.S. The relationship between education and employment are apparent. What is not so apparent are the racist policies that have suppressed Black male leadership in the D.O.E.
The over-100-year history of the D.O.E. has been dominated by white men. The only Black men serving as Chancellor were brought in from outside of N.Y.C. They obviously did not know the political landscape of N.Y.C. It is believed by many that the system killed Dr. Richard Greene and Rudy Giuliani. No NYC Black educator was ever chancellor of the D. O. E.. I do not consider this an accident. Neither is it accidental that not one Black male was selected to serve as superintendent of any of the 10 school regions. The system is making a statement that Black males will not be allowed to serve in top-level education positions in this administration. Again, ” white men have too much power”. This is wrong and unacceptable given the plight of Black males and the history of white male supremacy. A study should be done on the current state of Black male leadership. This should include the impact of the mass exodus of some of our most prominent educators and their frustration with the D.O. E.
Dr. Lester Young recently announced his retirement from the D.O.E. after 35 years of dedicated service. He was the top Black in the Klein administration; however, he has far more educational credentials than Joel Klein. Dr. Young has served as the associate commissioner of the New York State Department of Education, superintendent of School District 13, principal and teacher. Dr. Young was interviewed for the position of chancellor by Mike Bloomberg and with all the qualifications was passed over for Joel Klein, who did not have the required qualifications. Mr. Klein received a special waiver of the requirements by the state commissioner of education so that he could become chancellor.
Mr. Frank Mickens, the nationally acclaimed Principal of Boys and Girls High School is rumored to be retiring any day now. Mr. Mickens has served with distinction over 36 years. He turned Boys and Girls H.S. around and has written two books on urban education. Due to his independent leadership, Boys and Girls H.S. will become a part of an autonomous zone this school year. This is a major accomplishment and victory for our community. For over 18 years, Mr. Mickens has run the safest zoned H.S. in the system yet he has had to struggle each day against persons who have never spent 10 minutes on Fulton Street. He has never been granted the respect that he deserves.
Mr. Ray Haskins was forced to retire from the system after serving for over 3 decades. Ray, too, had served our community with distinction. A Black woman superintendent is responsible for Mr. Haskins being removed from M.S. 390 even after he received 3 bonuses for raising both reading and math scores at his school. Ray received massive support from community leaders including Councilman Al Vann. This support fell on the deaf ear of the chancellor and his subordinates who feel they know more about the culture of Albany Avenue than Ray and Al Vann.
Mr. Michael Johnson, former principal and founder of Science Skills H.S. and superintendent of District 29 has also left the D.O.E. Johnson and George Leonard of Bedford Academy are the best in the system at preparing Black youth to take standardized tests. He would have made a great Deputy of Instruction.
Mr. Basir Mchawi was founder and former principal of Freedom Prep. He also served as special assistant to Chancellor Richard Greene. Mr Mchawi introduced the concept of starting an all Black male H.S. over a decade ago. He was told it was illegal and discriminatory. Shortly thereafter, an all- girls H.S was started by white women in Harlem. This year an all- male charter school started by a white man will open in Bedford- Stuyvesant. It is being enthusiastically supported. Imagine how many Black males Basir’s school may have saved if his ideas were embraced over a decade ago.
All of the above-mentioned Black male educators if given the opportunity and proper resources could greatly impact the education of Black males. They have all struggled to maintain their dignity as Black men in a system that has suppressed their brilliance. A new Million Man March might have to be called in NYC to outline a plan to stop the destruction of Black males.
This past month, Syl Williamson, owner of “Trophies by Syl,” joined the ancestors. Syl was an institution and one of the strongest Black male role models in our community. His firm handshake was legendary and would stop you cold and make you aware that you were in the presence of a powerful man. Syl, while not in the school system, was a great educator. As a young boy growing up I felt safe in his store and was inspired by his profound wisdom about life, politics, business, art and culture. The afrocentric mural on the outside of his store was the first of its kind in our community. The tile on his floor was red, black and green and his plaques were all masterpieces done with love. The loss of Syl Williamson, Chief Bey and Sonny Carson are monumental. It is unfortunate that the school system never embraced and promoted them as role models to Black males. We must seize control of the system.