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People to Watch

Some people in our community are doing incredibly interesting work that often gets overlookedCthey are flying under the radar, quietly making moves.  Here are five people who I predict are going to do great things in 2001.
Anjeanette Allen is the New York State director of the NAACP National Voter Fund.  The NVF is a new NAACP division that can get more directly involved in voter registration and education.  Last November, Angie directed a massive effort to boost voter turnout in Central Brooklyn.  She did an incredible job, and was rewarded with the directorship of the new office.  Watch for big things from this group in the 2001 citywide elections. (718-398-7535)
For the last few years, Fort Greene architect Norris McLeod and a few other young brothers have been building Design + Development Group, a one-stop design and real estate development company based in Long Island City.  Look for DDG to play a key role in developing and/or acquiring buildings and lots around Central Brooklyn this year.  (718-729-7696).
Greg Branch, a documentary producer, used to work for Ed Bradley at 60 Minutes.  He and another TV news producer, Claudia Pryor, walked away from their salaries and perks to set up their own shop in Fort Greene, called Network Refugees, with a mission of making in-depth, network-quality documentaries from an Afrocentric perspective.  They=ve been filming in Crown Heights housing projects and African villages and have amazing footage that, hopefully, will end up on your TV set someday soon.
While attending Harlem=s Abyssinian Baptist Church over the last few years, I had the pleasure of hearing Brooklyn=s own Clinton Miller preach from time to time while he served as youth minister under Rev. Calvin O. Butts.  Rev. Miller has come home to Brooklyn, where he was recently named pastor of the Brown Memorial Church.  Look for Rev. Miller to emerge as an important local leader in the days ahead.
Ishal Shabaka recently opened Idefine Gallery, at 561 Myrtle Avenue between Classon and Emerson (718-636-4291).  Shabaka, a well-known local artist, is the bro. who designed the iron work at the Park Place station of the Franklin Shuttle, which takes the shape of African masks.  The new gallery has work from a range of local artists, and will serve as an exhibition space.

Crown Heights School Crisis
In professional sports, athletes who can=t perform at a professional level get cut from the team.  In the legendary jazz bands of the 1930s and 40s, a player who didn=t know the tunes would show up for work one night and find another musicianChis replacementCsitting in his chair on stage.  Corporations are well known for sacking whole crews of executives when a division doesn=t turn a profit.  Even scholars like Cornel West and Adolph Reed regularly square off against each other in debates and literary duels.
The competition can be brutal, but it definitely has an upside.  A determination to be the best is how the Chicago Bulls kept winning championships; it=s how the Count Basie Band made magic for so many years.  We may not like to think about it, but champion performers like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Miles Davis and Venus Williams have always been the product of fierce, rough competition and intense rivalries.  
Sympathy for the losers in these competitions is understood to be, shall we say, somewhat limited.  (In the course of his  career, Muhammad Ali won 56 bouts, 37 by knockout. Does anybody remember the names of more than a few of the three dozen men that The Greatest left in a bloody, twitching heap over the years?)
When it comes to the education of our children, for some reason, a different kind of logic often seems to be at work.  The newspapers recently reported that the Schools Chancellor wants to turn over five of the city=s lowest performing schools to the Edison Company, a private educational management firmCa fairly drastic step.  In the course of justifying the plan, the papers reported that grades at I.S. 320 in Crown Heights were so bad that less than 4% of the students were at or above grade level in mathematics.  Think about it: more than 96% of the kids are behind in math, and they haven=t even reached high school yet.
When 9.6 out of 10 students haven=t learned their required lessons, it means, for all intents and purposes, that nobody in the school is learning.  I assume that most parents in Crown Heights have drawn the proper conclusions from this startling information, and will vote to dismiss the current leadership and bring in the Edison folks to run the school.
But two questions come up.  First of all: why do we tolerate poor performance from public schools for years and years, until this kind of educational disaster is revealed?  A car factory would be shut down within hours if 96% of the cars off the assembly line on any given day weren=t working properly.  A basketball coach would be fired long before the team lost 96% of its games. When we see poor performance in our schools, the response should be swift and decisive: heads should roll.  It may not be pretty, but since when does excellence come easy?

The second question is: why not link up public schools with local universities?  I.S. 320 sits directly across the street from Medgar Evers CollegeCwhy not find a way to connect up the students and faculty from both institutions?  The same goes for Pratt Institute, where I teach.  We=re right down the street from P.S. 270, which consistently comes up on the lists of low-performing schools.  It shouldn=t be too hard to create a program that would recruit college professors and college students to work with elementary school teachers with the goal of providing a better learning experience for the kids.  Anybody interested in talking more about this kind of project can contact me at 718-467-1100.

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