27 January 2014

Habla Ifa, On NonViolence: Avonte Oquendo and Oshun's East River Speak - Part II

*originally posted by Jadele McPherson, a writer, performer and activist whom I'm proud to call my sister. Reposted with permission and slight edits by myself

Part II: Oct.4th Orunmila's Day: Oquendo's Run 

Chills ran through me as I saw the footage, sure lil' Avonte was autistic, but those of us who work at the pulse of education and social justice, those of us who work with young people know that run, especially we of African descent. Ohh-keen-dooo, a young Latino brother, a young black man taking flight. Oquendo is the embodiment of our Latino and Afro-Latino, African-American crossroads in America. Running from dogs, running from the po-lice, running for freedom, running, running, can't stop, running away, can't keep running awayyyyyyy.

We don't have to be there, we don't need the exact details we watch the same story over and over on the news and in our lives. Inside every black and Latino person in America, those conscious Southeast Asian sisters and brothers sometimes "mistaken" for "us" black folks, multi-generation Middle Eastern, and other communities of color that now know y'all ain't gonna have the luck of the Irish or Italians to "assimilate" into whiteness in a generation or two (although you try, real hard), except for some of you (we come back to that when dealing w/ elitism among POCs and our increasing lack of responsibility to one another) --ALL of us awake here in Amerikkka have that meter of historical embodied fright. That brother was running for his LIFE.

October 4th is a high holiday for practitioners of regla ocha, it is the day for recognizing priests of Ifa, our most comprehensive divination system which warns us about national disasters to illnesses. It guides us through life's most treasured and tragic moments. That Oquendo ran to the river, we will never truly know, but we do know Ifa and Oshun's magical pact. It is said these divine energies ward away death and the negativity of the most potent kind. What set Oquendo to move with a quickness could have been anything from sharp words from a tired administrator to a shocking noise. What we do know, is that students are not safe in our schools. Those of us who work daily in our public schools know in our core that 99% of those students are not physically or mentally safe.

To think about non-violence just a week after a student bought a gun to one of the school's I work in affirmed my life's work and dedication to youth, as exhausting as it truly is. I asked my students to ponder Dr. King's non-violence legacy today and was met with "Yeah Miss that ain't possible." Expecting this, since I've been in this game for a minute from the Chi to the South Bronx, we checkered our way through possible actions we could take against the DOE to transform our entire school into one that mirrors the safe space we have been building with one another. One that elevates us for our class period out of the building, with everything from hip-hop to son bearing our backdrops to the street pedagogy we infuse into our lessons. Our classes are always about life and death, not just to catch up in credits and graduation rates but to mirror the reality that my young people confront daily. And they are sad, depressed, drained, lethargic, sick, hopeless and apathetic from existing in a system that hates them and tells them through its disorganization everyday that they are not worthy of a decent education.

It is this institution that infuriates me the most in America, the audacity of a system to so blatantly privilege some over others, after our social justice organizing for integration in the 1950s, this is what we are met with. And some want to reach back the hands of time, but brothers and sisters that is not possible, we never have to despair so much that we idealize legalized segregation enforced by the daily terror against blacks that has always been America. We can dare to dream of a multicultural school system that provides great education AND pays school administrators and teachers more than a lawyer. We can dream in what seems impossible, and not put all of our stock in Andovers and Browns because as my father rose up in Kemper Auditorium at Phillips Andover to say to a fundraising panel in 2009 "We ... were brought here ... in chains". 

King and the Little Rock 9 and all of our peoples them who attended public schools in America give us the right to dream this dream.

We must not feel pressured by the false promise of success. For every dollar we continue giving to multi-million endowments, we drive Avonte Oquendo through the doors of a school that does not want him or any of us there. We drive us into the drowning of the river, where peace and silence comfort our soul in death after the panic.

Because we no longer know who is caring for our children and we live in a nation where most national tragedies involve youth and/or our schools, across race and class (as we are seeing more and more from Virginia Tech to Newtown) it lets us know violence against our youth is no longer just a "black folks problem" due to the "unfortunate" realities of the "inner-city". Todays schools keep attesting to the SICKNESS that is America that we allow to penetrate our crumbling institutions falling under the excuse that there's always evil in the world. It's really simple where we can start to effect change before politics and policies, we must look within.

We have become too preoccupied with busy work to stop to care for one another, there's no time to give a stranger a hug much less a loved one; we schedule everything to keep in time with the beast and our human sentiment which requires no words to tell when another is hurting is becoming duller and more sterile. Because education issues in "underprivileged communities" are for THOSE people to deal with and are not my worry because they don't have anything to do with MY field/life/reality. Ha. The myth of the individual strikes again.

No matter how conscious, all of us living in America are guilty of the above, we ain't saints and don't need to be, but doing the wrong thing is just too contagious. And I think to focus all on the ills of system and oppressive forces is sometimes misleading in that it becomes just as draining as fighting them, because we despair easily and create theories about how we can react to their wrongdoings. This enables us to continually erase our full power over ourselves and our communities no matter how skewed the fight, we can never lose, the power is always in we, the people. But you can't get there focusing on no we, them, us, they, can't, too powerful, ya dig. 

We's done forgotten how to get back to da' WE. Ya heard?! 2014, {Es}'cuchen bien.

I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning house - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Part 1 | Part 2Part 3 | Part 4 

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