Announcing a State of Immediate Urgency: A Call to All Humans Involved
I am suggesting that while the remark "English ain't relevant" may appear, on the surface, to be without substance, or maybe even crude, it actually is a remark which upon investigation raises fundamental questions about American society. To dismiss such a remark as wrongheaded is to ignore the likelihood that the makers of the remark know something about this America that is yet incomprehensible to others of us. In denying the validity and the importance of their experience, one denies, in effect, their experience-and in this country the particular experience of Black people has been denied with an Olympian ease which gives rise to the assumption that those who are less clever also are quite naturally without wisdom...
Actions, someone said, speak louder than words. So it is perfectly logical that the Black student should say “Well, if you can’t deal with ______, what in hell can I learn from you?” His charge is that the people who would teach him the word cannot deal with life, and he has every reason to view such a people as a collective danger, surely more dangerous than bank robbers, and other assorted so-called criminals!
Today, I learned that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Monday ahead of an expected grand jury decision in the case of Michael Brown. The administration’s fear (and my call of outrageous hypocrisy) grows out of this single clause in the announcement:
WHEREAS, our citizens and businesses must be protected from violence and damage…
This can’t be life. Does this speak for the family of Michael Brown? Or the countless number of youth and other community members that stood [still stand] in the Ferguson streets waiting [still waiting] for a true word to be released from the police headquarters? Has Jay Nixon contemplated the violence and damages that he has led upon them? How will their welfare and safety be ensured?
In response to the State of Emergency, I would like to call for a State of Immediate Urgency to meet the grieving, mourning, and righteous rage within the streets of Ferguson with a searching for our collective humanity within all the systems of American so-called authority. As the National Guard of Missouri descends upon the Ferguson streets, I call for every boot on the ground to stop, think, and reflect:
What would I feel if that was my unarmed child, left for dead, and they are telling me my only recourse is within the thoughts of 12 jurors who never met him?
And still I see no changes, can't a brother get a little peace
It's war on the streets and a war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty
They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me
And I ain't never did a crime I ain't have to do
But now I'm back with the facts giving it back to you
Over the weekend, a friend reminded me that it was exposed during the Rodney King trial LAPD officers reporting on disturbances in the black communities of South Los Angeles in 1992 used code to describe disturbances in their areas: NHI - "No Humans Involved". This crime was beautifully captured in Sylvia Wynter’s Open Letter to Colleagues. [caution: academick-y]
Even more home-hitting than understanding the savagery that the police harbored about the South Central families was my realization that I harbored the same NHI rhetoric for many in my own life.
As a Black male growing up in Chester, PA, NHI MEANT THE COPS! NHI meant city politicians (because the city was all I knew, I read about governors and presidents in textbooks, never saw them). NHI was found throughout many private and public based accountability systems. NHI looked at your every movement through mirrors in the corner store you go to every Thursday and denied your aunt much-needed food stamps because she finally found what she thought to be her blessing of a non-living-wage job.
And most unfortunately, NHI could be found all throughout our education.
In our inequitable school funding.
In our authoritative classroom management.
In our punitive disciplinary process.
In our one-way teacher-student relationships.
In our prescribed irrelevant curriculum.
While in each one of these facets I can represent ephemeral glimmers of hope, it doesn’t disrupt the overall arc of the environment through which we were expected to succeed. The modus operandi was [and continues to be, Philadelphia included] No. Humans. Involved.
If it wasn’t, then how come we had to buy our own paper to copy pages out of textbooks we couldn’t afford because we know we are poor or they say our tax base is too small or they blame our mismanagement of funds and how this was the burdens on the shoulders of sixth graders aka 11 year olds who only wanted to have access to the math homework?
If it wasn’t, then how come they would suspend you every time you missed the late bell on your way to your next class because you stopped to talk to a family member, while administrators and security guards and school based police officers quoted “rules are rules” as if we were Pavlov’s dogs needing to be conditioned to the sound of bells or beeps or whistles or megaphones?
If it wasn’t, then how come suspensions could pile up on you like the promises of politicians for simply “being disruptive” in Ms. So and So’s class who only gave out worksheets and never taught because y’all kids never listened, and before you knew it, you missed all of the time to turn in your rote worksheets and summer school was $250 a credit out of your poor mother’s pocket?
And I still see no changes.
I read between the lines of your eyes to your brows
Your handshake ain't matching your smile
F*** a school lecture, the lies get me vexed-er
As an educator, these experiences inform my practice. My biggest fear is not failing to meet student learning objectives [all based on someone’s semblance of what it takes to succeed in the 21st century workplace as if they told the whole truth about how they got there], but failing to recognize, honor, and utilize the personal life objectives that we all know to gain hope, faith, and love to strive in a world where it is truly hard to find. Learning is way deeper than seeing young people celebrate knowing how to write a five paragraph essay, but found in the struggle to act upon the tangible skills, effective strategies, and interdisciplinary knowledge honed throughout human experience that it takes to meet someone’s critical needs with long-term, sustainable solutions. Because that someone could have been you.
In my practice, I am trying to unlearn all the lies that we are taught through schooling and once again through teacher education.
Lies such as these standardized tests matter.
These grades are indicative of anything but my judgment.
That sending you home or otherwise excluding you gets across a disciplinary lesson.
That you need to know this insignificant google-able stuff.
That this simplistic task I am asking you to do is of mass importance to me and you.
These are just a sampling of the lies that we learn to spew that keep us from reveling in our humanity in solidarity with our students in the classroom. When will we stop manufacturing meaning in the classroom and start sharing in the full authenticity of life?
In my State of Immediate Urgency, I hope that we, in order to establish a more perfect union, drop our collective NHI policies in words and in action remembering that Freire showed us that true words are praxis. There is no speaking without acting. Only then, can we truly say justice has been established. This State of Emergency shall expire in thirty days. From henceforth, let the State of Immediate Urgency be the law of the land.