Sunday, February 24, 2013

Winter in America?

The Harlem Renaissance, at the time called The New Negro Movement, was a revolutionary era for literature, music, art, and thought in America.  During the 1920s and 1930s, African-American culture flourished as millions began to flee the oppression of the Jim Crow South in hope of a better life in the North and West.

"The Movement" began in neighborhoods like Harlem-New York City and Bronzeville-Chicago. Writers, artists, poets, musicians, and activists began to explore the importance of African-American history/ contributions to America and to challenge racism, stereotypes, lynchings, white paternalistic control, etc. The movement helped to establish an identity of pride and self-determination in the African-American community and influence a generation of future poets, artists, musicians, social activists, etc.

One of those "future poets" (one of my all-time favorites) was Gil Scott-Heron. Gil was heavily influenced by Langston Hughes...
"As far as poetry is concerned, I was introduced to Langston Hughes at an early age because he was one of my grandmother's favorites, so she used to point out his stuff when he appeared in the Black newspapers."
Gil Scott-Heron
Here is one of my favorite Gil Scott-Heron poems/ songs ...
"Winter in America"...recorded in 1974
My interpretation...we need more Spring, Summer, Fall (hopes, dreams, aspirations) and less Winter ("The Jellyfish" of disillusionment, political corruption, war, poverty, injustice, frozen dreams and aspirations, leaders who never had a chance to grow, etc.)
"Winter in America" 
From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims...And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain…Looking for the rain
Just like the cities staggered on the coastline...Living in a nation that just can't stand much more
Like the forest buried beneath the highway
Never had a chance to grow…Never had a chance to grow
And now it's winter…Winter in America
Yes and all of the healers have been killed...Or sent away, yeah
But the people know, the people know
It's winter…Winter in America
And ain't nobody fighting ...'Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your soul, Lord knows...From Winter in America
The Constitution…A noble piece of paper...With free society…Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain…Looks like it's hoping...Hoping for some rain
And I see the robins…Perched in barren treetops
Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams
Never had a chance to grow…Never had a chance to grow
And now it's winter…It's winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed…Or betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know
It's winter, Lord knows…It's winter in America
And ain't nobody fighting…Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your souls…From Winter in America
Listen to Gil sing "Winter in America"

Friday, February 22, 2013

(Day) Dream of a Student of my (superstar) students gave me her artistic interpretation of  "The Jellyfish Theory" at the end of the school day. 
Either she:
     a. was extremely bored
     b. drank too much coffee
     c. really hates jellyfish
     d. loves the color pink
     e. totally understands my whacky history concepts

Whatever the correct answer might be...
it was a great way to end the week! 
Hold fast to dreams...for if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird...that cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams...for when dreams go
Life is a barren field...frozen with snow.
                                                                         -Langston Hughes

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bangladesh Boat Schools

You've probably heard your parent say something like...
"when I was a kid I used to walk to school 5 miles each way,
in a snowstorm, uphill, both ways...ah the good old days." 
I would laugh at these outlandish exaggerations and than I came across this picture of my mother (when she was 6 years old) getting on a horse drawn "school bus" sled.  They had to use the sled in the winter to take the farm kids to school because the cars were not able to pass through the snow drifts on the impassable North Dakota country roads.  This is a very special picture to me because it shows my German-Russian Great-Grandfather Ed helping my mom on to the "bus".  Notice the smoke stack coming out of the roof of the sled...from the wood burning pot belly stove to help keep the kids warm.  This sled belonged to the town doctor (Doc Lund) and doubled as his "car" to make winter house calls!

My Mom & Great-Grandpa Ed circa 1947

Today...many children in rural areas of Bangladesh do not have access to education. Often, the nearest schools are miles away and are often flooded for 3-4 months of the year.  During the monsoon season many schools find themselves under water. The solution was unusual, but simple and effective: If children can’t go to school, the school would go to them. The "Boat Schools" of Bangladesh have made education accessible to thousands who previously had no hope of a quality education!

Click here to watch a short Youtube about the Boat Schools of Bangladesh
"Education is the kindling of a flame..."

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Galveston Giant

Who was the most well-known African-American of the early 20th century?  Booker T. Washington...W.E.B. DuBois...Louis Armstrong...Langston Hughes...Ida B. Wells...Mary McLeod Bethune...Bessie Coleman...etc.?  In my opinion none of them can match Jack Johnson...
"I'm black...they never let me forget it.
 I'm black alright...I'll never let them forget it!"
The Heavyweight Champion (1908-1915)...he was the most famous and hated man in the world.  Even the most famous leaders black or white could not claim the attention Jack received. Covered in the news more than all others combined...he was a Public Enemy #1 for some, a super hero for others, loved and hated, feared, misunderstood, and unapologetic for living his life on his own terms.  A household name...he truly was larger than life.  African-Americans celebrated Johnson's victories with shouts of joy, parades, dancing in the streets, prayer meetings, poems, etc.  Not only did he defeat Tommy Burns and James Jeffries, etc...he dealt an early death blow to  a humiliated Eugenic-Jim Crow-Plessy v. Ferguson-Racist America!
"My Lord, What a Morning"
by William Waring Cuney
O my Lord
What a morning,
O my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries'
Snow-white face
to the ceiling.
"I want my coffee strong and black like Jack Johnson
 and my eggs scrambled hard like James Jeffries!"

Monday, February 11, 2013


Last week we studied several American events and heroes of WWI...The Second Battle of Marne, Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Alvin York, The Harlem Hellfighters, James Reese Europe, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Marcelino Serna, and David Barkley, etc.  We also studied the Medal of Honor...America's highest military honor which is awarded for "personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty..."
The award is meant to represent the gratitude of the American People... 
              ARMY           NAVY/ MARINES         AIR FORCE

Whereas, The Medal of Honor is "awarded to military personnel only, and awarded for…a person who distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;" and

Whereas, soldiers acts of gallantry have been ignored, forgotten or discriminated against because of rank, color, creed, ethnicity, etc; and

Whereas, it is appropriate to commemorate and honor with gratitude their bravery and sacrifice for the citizens of The United States of America;

We The People

Resolve that President Barack Obama strongly consider (and award) the following worthy candidates for the Medal of Honor...
SGT Henry Lincoln Johnson- WWI
Private Marcelino Serna- WWI
Cook 3rd Class Doris Miller- WWII
PFC Guy Louis Gabaldon- WWII
Captain Emil Kapaun- Korean War
SFC Alwyn Cashe- Operation Iraqi Freedom
SGT Rafael Peralta- Operation Iraqi Freedom

Friday, February 8, 2013

The "Wrong" Book

The "Wrong" Book
Earlier this week I checked out the wrong book at the library...instead of returning it I decided to read some of it.  The "wrong" book is entitled Portraits 9/11/01: The Collected Portraits of Grief.  It chronicles short stories and photos from over 1,900 people who died during the terror attacks of 9/11/01.  It is a heart wrenching book (I was crying in less than 5 minutes) with beautiful stories of moms, dads, husbands, wives, immigrants, police, firefighters, first responders, pilots, etc.
I will never again look at 9/11 as just buildings, airplanes, flames, wreckage, etc...I will view it as hundreds of individual heroes who lost or gave their lives.  I didn't personally know anyone who died on 9/11/01...but after reading their stories in the "wrong" book I feel as though I do! 


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Richest President Ever?

Last week a student asked me, "is President Obama the richest President ever?!?"  Before I could attempt to formulate an answer...the student said, "I read that President Obama and Mitt Romney spent a combined $2 Billion just to get elected...about $35 per second..."  (a very insightful student analysis).
I had some guesses on who the richest were...but considering that every POTUS since 1929 (except Harry Truman) had been a millionaire I had to do a little research.  Here are the Top 10 Richest Presidents in U.S. History...dollar amounts are converted into current net worth values.
  1. JFK... 1+ B
  2. George Washington...$525 M
  3. Thomas Jefferson...$212 M
  4. Theodore Roosevelt...$125 M
  5. Andrew Jackson...$119 M
  6. James Madison...$101 M
  7. LBJ...$98 M
  8. Herbert Hoover...$75 M
  9. FDR...$60 M
  10. Bill Clinton...$38 M
Some of the "poorest" presidents (only 9 of 45) were worth less than $1 million...including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Woodrow Wilson.  BTW...President Obama is worth "only" $11.8 M.  Peanuts compared to Bill Gates $66 B or Warren Buffet's $46 B!!!