Saturday, September 27, 2008

Five Basic Principles

Since the last several posts have focused on teaching, here is a tool I found the most helpful in designing curriculum and guiding choices as a teacher. Bettie Sing Luke is a national trainer for the NEA, a past designer of strategy and training tools and trainer for Project REACH, and past Eugene School District's Multicultural District Coordinator. Presently, she is staff person for the OCA in Seattle, Washington, a grassroots Asian Pacific American civil rights organization.

Five Basic Principles of Multicultural Education tm
(aka Five Basic Principles of Successful Teaching in General)
by Bettie Sing Luke

1. Teach that everyone has a culture.
(This truism addresses the discomfort many Americans have about the concept culture. Everyone has tradition, family, ancestors, common experiences with a group. By learning about it and sharing it, learning from others respectfully, gaining the confidence and skill to listen and learn across cultures is a good skill. As for people for whom culture is important, it erases the weird division between home and school for them. Acheivement gaps are created from such divisions, when something as basic as family, language, tradition are seen as irrelevant to scholarship and success).

2. Everything can be taught from multiple perspectives.

( See the description of the 5-corner intersection below. I don't know the technology to show the visual. Whether it is an historical event, an aesthetic value or a scientific or math concept, there is more than one way to look at it. Teaching points of view and multiple voices from five street corners strengthens teaching for democracy, diversity and dignity in the classroom).

3. Bridge back and forth from a multicultural national reality to the global. Show the connections.
Prepare students to live with confidence and happiness anywhere in the country and the world. If you teach globally, connect to the rich diversity of this nation. If you teach locally, connect with the world.

4. Teach co-responsibility to confront harassment; give students the skills
The flip side of the creativity and richness of our multicultural national identity is the conflict which arises from disrespect of that national identity.
Teaching co-responsibility, and appropriate ways to confront the –isms (namecalling, harassment, bullying, putdowns) is a powerful tool. We’re part of the problem (apathy or harassment) or part of the solution.

5. Teach the head/hand/heart.
This principle supports hands on learning. In DOING, the concept or idea becomes committed to the heart. And if a student has a good idea and has the opportunity to realize it, they are learning to have vision.

I do not have the technological know how to show you the Five Corner Intersection for the second principle of Multiple Perspectives. Let me describe it here. It's an important tool to teach anyone functioning in a democracy. I show the students a five corner intersection with an collision in the middle -- a yellow school bus and a red Miata. On each of the five street corners, symbolized by A - E, are witnesses.

I say, "You are a police officer and you came upon the accident scene after it happened. Lawsuits are built on your report. It's important. Which witness will you talk to to get the truth of what happened?"

Students will try to guess, "I think it's A."
"What if I were to tell you that A is a grandmother of a school child and when she sees that accident she is horrified that children have been hurt by that reckless Miata."

"I think it's D"
"D? Collects Volkswagons, and is sympathetic with the Miata that the big ol' school bus smashed such a beautiful car."

"Maybe C"
"Well C is the insurance agent for the school district and is praying it was the Miata's fault!"

"how about B"
"B is interesting. B had an accident himself which ended up in a lawsuit and bad feelings; you'll have to guess with what to guess his position about this accident. But he hasn't forgotten the injustice he feels was done to him."

"E? Well, E hates the color red!"

The students get it early. The officer needs to talk to everyone. I say, "Yes! and through the lens of his experience, his upbringing, his training, he puts it together and comes up with the truth."

Do you see how you can put anything into the middle -- Columbus' voyage, the zero, what is beauty, what is family, what is a frog. Then look at it from many perspectives. Each person will definitely hear and see through their own lens -- your own experiences, what you've been taught, your upbringing-- and through that, just as the police officer did you will come up with what makes sense.

Some people may cringe about something which is not absolute, but such is the human experience. All disciplines, including math and science, have aspects of their area of study which can be described as the human experience and to study that, there must be a consciousness of differences, and a respect for civil dialogue as well as acknowledging one's own position with one's own lens.


We all gathered in the gym to hear our speaker, CT Vivian, a man who walked with King during the Civil Rights Movement. Eighth grader Santino, sitting by me, nudged me with his elbow and pointed with his chin to the row in front of us. I looked puzzled. “Did you see what’s written on the jacket?” Santino muttered.

I looked closely at David’s jeans jacket, noticing then the swastikas, the anti-Semitic, racist language, and “white power.” Santino looked at me and motioned with his head behind me. I turned just in time to see Cochise and the twins slide from the top of the bleacher down to the next seat, and realized that they were positioning themselves to surround David when the assembly ended.

I bent down and said firmly “David, your jacket has attracted a lot of negative attention. When this assembly is over you and I will walk out of here together. You are to stick with me and when we get to the room, you will do what I say.”

David nodded. He had no choice.

David was in my block class. His style was a skinhead. But people pick their style and unless it interferes with the class community, Jefferson allows students their own style of clothing. I do understand that young people, particularly those who are shy and new, dress themselves in a way that gives the message “don’t mess with me . . . please?” There was no doubt that David was shy and quiet. So his skinhead style was no problem. We've had skin head students before who proudly said they were anti-racist skinheads. But the graffiti David brought into the school with his jacket was a huge problem. He was challenging the school culture, demeaning every person. It was interesting he chose to take this step on Hitler’s birthday. All around town that year, hate groups were sending equally ugly messages on this particular birthday. That day blood was poured on a park bench memorializing a Jewish businessman and a hate banner stretched across the Ferry Street Bridge. It may well be that David was sent in by adults in a hate group to challenge the school which proclaimed itself an RFZ, marched in the city parade as an RFZ, was led by an African American principal. According to law enforcement and a hate group watch organization, there was a very active hate group house right in our neighborhood within a mile from the school.

The rousing speech ended and we were excused to our classes. I hissed to David “Stick with me” and climbed quickly down the bleachers and walked quickly, straight for the room. As I passed my students, I said, "Circle." When I entered the room with David still beside me, I grabbed chairs to put in a circle and as the students came in, they began to sit down and help me move more chairs in. None of the students were puzzled. No one argued. They knew why we were here. Apparently, I was the only one who had been clueless about David’s jacket. “I’ve really got to start reading clothes,” I muttered to myself.

I noticed Cochise was still upset. “We will handle this. The adults will handle this. We will not ignore it. Cochise, you don’t need to get in a fight about this. He will be dealt with clearly and severely. There is something in place in this school. Allow it to work.”

He didn’t seem convinced.

I sat down, David beside me. “David, you’ve caused quite a stir here. Do you know why?”

“No,” he muttered.

“It’s your jacket full of hate messages. I’m going to ask everyone in this circle to tell you what your jacket says to them.”

And they did, one after another, “You hate me.” “You think I’m scum.” “You are trying to scare me” “You wish me and my kind were dead.” “It’s racist.” “Threatening.” And Adrienne said, “I don’t like it. Please take it off.”

“Well, David, now that you know what people interpret what is written on your jacket and how they feel about it, what are you going to do about it.”

David looked down and mumbled, “I guess I’ll give it to you.”

“That’s a good idea, David, “ I said. “I’ll get you a new one to replace it. You and I are going to the office because there is a harsh punishment for harassment. And after your suspension is served, you and I are going to meet after school, and we’ll do some Racism Free Zone workshops so you can be clear on what kind of place this is where you go to school, eight hours a day. It’s important to know where you are and act accordingly. We can’t tell you how to live outside this place, but we can tell you with authority that you have to leave hate outside the door.”

David took off his jacket and handed it to me.

It was not a good day for David. Despite what we did in our own block, despite the school’s immediate response, he was not safe. Suspension would begin the next day. Today, David had no escape and had to endure the rest of the day a pariah in the halls of his classmates. An outsider.

I was finishing up the day’s work at the end of school and one of my students ran in. “They beat up David!” I ran out but I was too late. Everyone had quickly dispersed, except David who stood trembling, his arms wrapped around himself, soaked with the rain. He looked so small. “I’m taking you home, David.” I drove him toward his neighborhood but he didn’t want me to drop him off in front of his house. I went right to the mall from there to get the poor boy a coat.

The next day, the person who beat David up was called to the office and suspended and all the onlookers of the fight received a warning and a firm talk. During the free period where Cochise was my sole student, he did not hesitate to tell me how offended he was at me. “You bought him a coat! That’s a reward!! That’s not a punishment. That’s f’d up!”

“Alright, Cochise. That’s going too far. Don’t use that language. Cochise, I know you don’t understand the coat thing, but I’m Japanese and that’s the way we are. I take a coat; I give a coat. David is being punished but he’s not going to go coatless.”

“It’s f’d up!” That’s it. Conversation over.

The next day was Saturday and I was supposed to take Cochise to the University of Oregon to show his Malcolm X film to a group. He had been invited to address a college seminar. I was in turmoil. What do I do? His disrespect should not be rewarded, but this was such a cool opportunity for him and he needed it. I phoned my friend Bahati in Arizona and as usual, her advice was on spot. “How do you want Cochise to see himself?” she asked. “Do I want him to see himself as a young filmmaker? Or a screw up."

" You’re right. I’ll pick him up.” And I did. He got the honor he earned and deserved. He stayed simmering mad for a while longer, and I began to understand why the coat thing bothered him, but life is not that cut and dry when we are all raised in such different ways.

Later in the spring one of the Magnet Arts Elementary teachers who shared the building came to me with a problem. Apparently, a little boy was drawing swastikas on people, on desks and no one could get him to stop. She said even Dr. Bolden couldn’t reach him. She thought perhaps eighth graders might have more effect. I said we’d try.

At Jefferson, I learned that if I grab the first so many people -- without controlling the situation by picking and choosing -- each time it would be what I called the beautiful Jefferson mix. This way, people who may not necessarily have caught the teacher’s attention as a speaker will have their chance to shine. One of the students I grabbed happened to be happened to be David. A little question popped in my mind but I shoved it away. I chose not to question my method and just went with it. So I picked the first eight eighth graders in the halls and asked them to help. “You guys have rock star status for elementary kids and someone needs our help,” I said.

We formed our circle, and little fourth grader Chris was accompanied in by his teacher and left with us. We all introduced ourselves. Although I don’t remember every person who was in the circle that day, I do remember Adrienne, Rodrigo, and David. I asked if Chris knew why he was here. He said he didn’t. So I explained. With my explanation, the eighth graders were hearing the story for the first time. I asked them to tell Chris their reaction and each did with such articulate, insightful language. Then we came to David. He was quiet for a long while. We were quiet too but by the tension, you could tell all of us couldn’t help thinking about the April 20 coat incident.

“I just want to say,” David began, “I just want to say that hate doesn’t work. Hate doesn’t make you happy. My family has hate. I was raised with it. My grandpa taught my father and he taught me. We have a big confederate flag hanging over the fireplace. It doesn’t work. I’m telling you that because I know. You’ll never be happy if you have hate.”

I asked Chris now that he had heard all these eighth graders, what did he think he should do.

His head was down, and he mumbled, “Say sorry.”

“To whom?”

“To the whole school.”

I complimented him, “Chris that’s really brave and that is very intelligent. You did hurt everyone, not just the people you wrote on or the teachers you ignored. So I think that you’re right in what you want to do. But that is going to take a lot of courage. Would you like to take an eighth grader with you?” Chris nodded, his head still down. “Who would you like to take; you can take anyone you want.”

“David.” he said.

We all got up from the circle. I noticed Rodrigo go over to David and give him a hug saying, “Hey man, I just want you to know that you and me, today, we’re brothers.” David hugged him back and wore a shy smile. The others gathered around him to pat him on the back and compliment him. Then he and Chris went off to take care of business in the Magnet Arts hall.

I witnessed Grace that day, Redemption. I don’t know how it transformed or if it transformed David because life was very very hard on him. But I do know it did change his relationship with his classmates that spring before they all graduated to go to high school and he did guide one young soul onto a happier path.

I think of David often. I wonder where he is, how he is.
And say a little prayer that he is happy.

I’m going to share a little anecdote about Adrienne, who was very vocal in my class. Smart, strong, proud European American woman. One day she came up to me in the hall before school started, students milling everywhere. “Hey, Ms. Kawai Joo, could you tell me where the federal building is?”

“How cool,” I thought to myself. Adrienne is so interested in so many things. “You know where the Public Market is?” I asked as she nodded. “It’s near there, but on Seventh and High instead of Fifth.”

“Thanks!” she flashed me a smile and walked on.

First period was my prep. A teacher ran in and yelled, “The kids are running out of the school!” Because I had no class that period, I hurried to the office. “What happened!”

The secretary was watching through the window as a huge crowd of our students ran across Westmoreland Park. “Oh, they said something about demonstrating at the Federal Building for more school funding -- and their parents support it. “

I slapped my forehead, “I thought she was interested in civics but I didn’t know it was civil disobedience. I gave them the directions! I did not even think to say, ‘Federal Building? Why do you want to know something like that?’ "

Dr. Bolden sent Mr. Roosevelt White to the federal building to watch over the students and their parents. Parents were called and informed that there would be consequences. I definitely know the consequence was not suspension. The students were on the evening news, so articulately stating their opinions. Young leaders willing to make sacrifices, take their punishment, stand tall and speak because it needed to be done and their public officials weren’t doing it. I guess, when I think about it, I am honored to have the reputation of being an exceptionally naïve teacher and to have bumbled into their design, recognized the genius, and joined them to create their idea of a society.

The African American History Project

The first day back to school as an eighth grader, Cochise Moore, now towering over me, came up. "So what is the video project going to be this year? I got a team together. I got Marcus, my friend Mike is moving from Cal Young MS, and Trayvon. And I got a seventh grader Cory." I did have a ready answer. My friend Bahati Ansari had once expressed a wish that the four survivng pioneer African American women of Lane County could be honored: Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Mims and Mrs. Reynolds. When these ladies moved to Eugene, public facilities were closed to African Americans. That's why Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Mims had boarding houses by the railroad. The history of acceptable racist boarding policy remained into recent times. Marion Anderson and young Sammy Davis, Jr. both were not allowed to stay in hotels in town.

I suggested the topic. He grabbed it. I asked if he wanted to do another film or if he wanted to capture everything as an ethnographic film, no editing, for others to use for research. He assembled his team and they chose to do the ethnographic film, raw footage, no directing, just listening and learning.

Teaching interviewing skill was my job but I told them, this isn't about going in for the story and then leaving, but this type of interviewing was about building a relationship. I passed on what I learned as a folklore student, explaining that questions shouldn't drive the process. This would be like a conversation, questions here and there, but allowing the interviewed person to go where ever they may go and share stories which were not planned by the interviewer, surprises and treasures.

Just as Cochise had assembled his team, I began to assemble adults to mentor the project. Of course, Schiff and my husband would be their technology mentors. I also asked Mr. Roosevelt White and counselor Callen Coleman to be the mentors. As African American men, I felt that these two men would give so much to the young men of the project. Mr. White was a good father, a coach and had a lot to share with young middle school aged men. Callen was young, still in college, and closer to their age, hip, and loved young people. I would deal with the logistics and with discipline when necessary as the classroom teacher.

My husband Will did a workshop with the young men about using the camera in an interview situation where the camera would not be in the way. He taught them how to mike up each person so the audio would be clear. He taught them about lighting, and about framing so the ladies would look their best.

Then came the "manners workshop" by one of the nieces of Mrs. Johnson, Pauline Davidson. Ms. Davidson taught the young men how to present themselves to the ladies, how to act, how to listen and how to dress. Their pants could not sag, their shirts were to be tucked in, and finally they all had to wear ties. The five young men were politely quiet, but I could see by their faces that they were not happy.

The next day I silently congratulated myself for having the wisdom to recruit Mr. White and Callan. The young men were no longer quiet. They were moving and talking and waving their arms. "We're not going to wear ties."

"Yes, you are," Mr. White said. The argument raged on.
"Why do we have to wear ties? We wear nice clothes. What's wrong with this?"
There is no doubt that Cochise and the others were dressed stylishly.
Mr. White stayed on course. "Ms. Davidson had said ties."
Finally Mr. White asked, "What is wrong with wearing a tie?"
Cochise stood up taller and countered, "Well I'll tell you, I'm not going to look like Humpty Dumpty."
Mr. White stood even taller and said, "Are you saying I look like Humpty Dumpty?" and it went like that for awhile.

Callen, Schiff and Mr. White whipped out ties, and everyone went to work learning the Windsor knot and the double Windsor knot.

The day of the first interview, questions in hand, equipment packed, pants up, shirts tucked, and ties tied, they were ready. How proud they looked! They "walked and rolled" down the hallways. The team created quite a stir in the eighth grade hall. Young eighth grade women trailed with them complimenting them. Before leaving the building they stopped by the front office to check in with principal Doctor Bolden. He rewarded them with some candy. From that day, each time they put on a tie, either he or the vice principal, Paul Jorgensen, gave them a sweet reward.

Mr. White's responsibility was to accompany the young men to all the interviews. At the end of their interview, they returned, all wearing Burger King crowns and big smiles. They could not wait to tell me all the details, what Mrs. Reynolds said, who did what -- held the camera, asked the questions worked with the lights, and she had invited them to church!

Each interview was like that. Mrs. Johnson made them zucchini bread and next time was going to teach them how to make gumbo! "And you should have heard Mrs. Johnson swear! " they laughed in surprise in remembering. "When this racist woman was calling her out, Mrs. Johnson let her have it!"

Mrs. Mims had her son Willy with her and Willy told the young men that he would take them around and give them a tour of the historic part of Eugene. Cochise came in to see me on his own after the Mrs. Mim's visit and plopped down onto a desk. His face was peaceful, soft. He said, "Ms. Kawai Joo, Mrs. Mims is so beautiful with her silver hair." How many teens would see that in a ninety year old elder and express it, "She is so beautiful." It touched my heart.

During this period of time, as the young men got used to wearing ties, and enjoyed the positive attention it gave them, I received a call from a white parent. She had concerns about the project and scheduled a meeting with me. She sat down and wanted to know why these Black students were leaving school in ties. I explained the African American History Project to her. No one could deny the academic relevance and civic importance. She tried to explain what her concern was, but couldn't find words, and finally said, "I don't know why I don't like what's going on, but I just don't."

I answered, "I think I know what it might be." She was ready to listen so I said, "When you and I went to school there was nothing like this. There were certain students who were considered leaders the moment they walked through the front door of the school, and everyone else was not. When we see five young African American men wearing ties and doing this important thing, we can't put our finger on it but it seems somehow it's not comfortable or familiar, maybe taking away from someone else -- but it's not. It's still making people feel uncomfortable though because it's new."

To her credit she said, "That's it."

I assured her that at Jefferson there are many ways to lead and if a student has an idea, we will make sure to help make that idea happen. She asked why the team was made up of only only Black students. I explained that beyond the fact that the five people who wanted to do this and came up with it happened to be a team of five African American young men, "these ladies, they love all the kids. If a white student or any other student were in the group, they would feel sorry and would not tell the stories which are part of a harsh history. They don't want to hurt any child's feelings. But they would tell Black youth because it is to make them stronger." I also assured her that if her sons wanted to do a video history project I would be more than happy to organize a team of mentors and do the same for them. I actually had an elder in mind, a person who definitely deserved to have her story told. Ida Moffet was Ukranian and told such good stories about the hardship during her childhood. She and her family would pick up the small amount of grain from the empty wheat fields and boil a soup. That's all they had to eat. She told stories of moving to America and being shunned on the playground as an immigrant. She told about her tradition of painting the eggs at Easter, the beautiful Ukranian egg designs and learned that when she brought them to school, her classmates admired them. She made friends through trading her eggs at lunchtime. Her Ukranian eggs are famous and some are in the Smithsonian. In the end, her sons did not feel they needed to take on a film project but I appreciated the mother's openness to the idea.

We cannot avoid doing important things as Cochise and his team envisioned with the argument it has not been done before, or because it is personally uncomfortable that the whole team is African American. We must be able to explain the common sense of it. The team makeup was not racial snobbery. We must learn to see the diversity and individuality in all groups in the same way we experience without question or concern groups made up of only Euro American students.. The project came from the head and heart of African American students and had not occurred to anyone else. It is what it really is.

Mrs. Washington was very ill. She was in a care home. The young men went there to visit her and for the first time, came back subdued and angry. Mike Klindt was the most upset. "Mrs. Washington needed some water and they all ignored her. I had to go out and remind them several times, and they still didn't come." We all talked, Trayvon, Marcus, Cory, Cochise and Mike. We talked about what we can do to help get more respect for Mrs. Washington. I suggested that we start calling some community people, adults, and ask them to start visiting. Visitors get the caregivers' attention. They realize she is a treasure to some people.

Mrs. Washington had told the history project that she didn't want to be interviewed while she was in a nursing home and so the film they rolled is blank although we can hear her voice. At the end of the interview, Mrs. Washington prayed aloud for them. That touched their hearts. They were saddened that she was not able to go home and vowed to keep visiting and get others to visit.

Cory spoke up then that Mrs. Washington went to his church, St Marks AME, the first Black church in Eugene. He talked about how much Mrs. Washington loved church and sat in the front. Cory said, "I can talk to the church. Maybe the church van can pick Mrs. Washington up and take her there." Excellent idea!!! The young men arranged for that to happen and Mrs. Washington went to her beloved church accompanied by the young men of the African American History Project.

The young men visited her many times so it would be known at the care facility that she was a precious elder. The good news is, unlikely as it had seemed, Mrs. Washington became well enough to go home.

When the videos had been shot, the next thing we began to plan was the reception. We made copies of all the footage for all the libraries -- city library, University library, community college and school library -- as well as for all the families. City dignitaries and media also came. The school board, the superintendent of schools, ministers all came. Representatives from each institution were invited as well as several leaders of the African American community and the generations of the five families to honor these five elders. The library was decorated with flowers and packed with guests. The five young men in their suits made sure that the women pioneers were comfortable and seated in the place of honor, all across the front. I still remember Marcus bringing together Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Mims. Both were in wheel chairs and both blind. He stood between them holding one of their hands, and brought their hands together, bending down and saying, "Here you are, Mother Washington and Mother Mims," and the two elderly leaned over and held on. Marcus looked so happy and turned to me and explained, "This is the first time they've been together in years." Clearly, the young men had built relationships; what they cared about went way beyond getting the information. They cared about the elders. They knew what caused them pain, and without being told, they knew how to make them happy.

Each of the young men stood behind an elder, doubling up for one of the elders, I think Mrs. Washington. Each introduced an elder. They talked about what they learned. They shared a favorite anecdote. Of course, Mrs. Johnson's baking came up. They talked about what each elder meant to them. They talked about the graciousness of each of the families. The women sat with dignity, enjoying the compliments but a little shy with the attention, each one wearing a corsage presented and pinned on by the young men. The love and honor these young men felt for the Mother Reynolds, Mother Johnson, Mother Washington and Mother Mims permeated the room.

That year, the African American History Project received an award at the state capitol presented by the Oregon Historical Society and at the county commissioner's meeting a civic award by the County Commissioners. They were on the front page of the paper several times.
Beyond the awards and recognition, the greatest gift, I believe, is that these four women and their families, followed by the community they influenced were the teachers. And the lesson was how to be as a human being, and good leader. Cochise Moore, Cory Mainor, Trayvon Cooks, Marcus Nettles and Michael Klindt were their treasured students, and each of these young men, in their own way, blazed an adult path which made the elders and the whole community so proud and lifted them up as the young men lifted themselves up.

Years later, after I had left Jefferson to move to another school, one of the young students of the history project, Cory Mainor, returned as a teaching assistant at Jefferson. In the staff room, he and Zakee Ansari who was a playground supervisor and as a young sixth grader at Jefferson, inspired the Racism Free Zone brainstormed an idea together. They wanted to name the halls after each one of the pioneer women with their photo and story up on the wall.

As happened with the history project, Cory and Zakee’s idea to name the halls was controversial. Again, there was the same argument -- “There should be other people from other backgrounds whose names are in the halls too.”

Again I had to say, “but the vision came to honor the women of the African American history project and it’s a good thing. There are lots of things to name in the school. Name the library, the home ec room the names of people whom you would have nominated had this been your idea. But the vision to name the halls for these pioneers who carved the way for so many others makes sense and is a good idea. I support it. My two cents.”

Much to Jefferson's credit, the idea became real. A reception was held when the pictures went up in the halls and the families of the four women attended. Mrs. Reynolds was the only pioneer woman living, and she came. Cory reported to me that one of Mrs. Reynold’s daughters and her husband were in the halls by her mother’s picture. The daughter had tears in her eyes. She said, “I went to this school. It was hard. We never felt like we belonged. And now, here I am, and a hall is named after my mother.” Healing.

If this idea had been stopped because somehow in the collective experience, it had never happened before so it didn’t seem right, (why, we can’t explain), that shift would not have happened in the halls of Jefferson. The healing was for Jefferson, Eugene and my neighborhood just as much as it was for Mrs. Reynold’s daughter.

Jefferson Middle School exists no more. It is now a K - 8 neighborhood school, the Arts and Technology Academy. With strong, positive leadership it is still a Racism Free Zone. In my recent visit there, I was pleased to walk into the Mrs. Reynolds Hall. The pictures should never come down because it is a true statement in this neighborhood school, how far down justice road they have traveled. The work is not finished, but it cannot and should not be ignored that in the lifetime of students who felt excluded, they and their family legacy are held up in honor.
I am proud of ATA for owning the neighborhood schools long proud history and maintaining a strong leadership presence.

Where are they now?

Cory Mainor went on to get his MEd and teaching certificate from the University of Oregon. Cory taught at North Eugene High School and now teachers at Virginia Beach, MD. His school was recently visited by Barak Obama because of its fine reputation.

Michael Klindt is presently taking the steps toward earning his MEd and teaching certificate. He and his wife Jordan are parents to three children. Michael is a spoken word artist and teacher, a hip hop performer with CD and DVD out. He is on staff with Jubilee Church working with youth and he and Jordan are teachers for Lane Community College's Rites of Passage.

Trayvon Cooks is an officer with the navy and resides in Portland, Oregon.

Cochise Moore is a graduate with a double major from the University of Washington. He is employed by the UW psychology department to work on retention of students of color and he teaches at an African American men’s academy. Currently, he is making a video on a leadership project with African American youth expressing themselves in poetry and music. Check it out on YouTube: and check out the organization's website by looking and clicking on it at the blottom of the blog, the Favorite Link portion. He and Fumiko are married and living in Seattle. Cochise also takes care of his elderly father.

Friday, September 26, 2008


As I neared the front office I could hear the argument. A student teacher was trying her best to coax a young seventh grader back into the building, warning him of all the consequences for leaving school. He kept on walking, angry, and as he crossed the parking lot off school grounds, he turned briefly then paused, the sun flashing on the white X on his black cap. In that moment, he revealed his desire to come back inside and that was enough for me.

I had heard of this young man, Cochise. It wasn't good news. The evaluation of my colleagues was that he was a "gangster." Hot tempered, Cochise got into a lot of fights over racial provocation from classmates. In this school, a multicultural international middle school, one which declared themselves a Racism Free Zone, it still was not a safe place for Cochise or anyone who disrespected him. When I saw him pause, the light flash off the X, I marched into the principal's office. Dr. Bob Bolden, youngest building principal, only African American principal at that time, who was placed at Jefferson Middle School, a very troubled school, highest number of free and reduced lunch, and the most diverse population in Eugene. Many of the faculty had left which made room for some of us who looked forward to teaching with young Dr. Bolden, and teach the dynamic Jefferson student population.

"Dr. Bolden," I said, "Cochise Moore just stalked out of the building, but I believe he wants to be in school. And I am willing to use my break to do some teaching with him. Even if he is a seventh grader and I'm with eighth grade team, I'm asking for that chance." And unlike any other principal I have ever known, Dr. Bolden said, "Yes. Let's try that."

Cochise reported to me the next morning and our first meeting began with another student of mine at the New Zone gallery art exhibit of the Columbus Quincentenary, 500 years of survival of indigenous people. We ended up at a Burger King, a school business partner to talk about things he was interested in. We also had some conversations about the school. He hated it. About the police. Clearly he was targeted and being harassed. I advised him not to flare up, but to write. Write up the incident and give to the Human Rights Center, to the NAACP because they can take the issue of harassment to the city and have effect. Cochise was not convinced. He said, “I’m just going to go to prison like my dad.” He loved his dad. And with his dad in prison and police targeting Cochise, cynicism filled him up.

I asked Cochise “What do you want to learn? We have this whole period, and we can fill it something which means something.” Cochise said he'd like to make a film.

"Great! About what?"

Cochise said he'd like to make a film about Malcolm X because these clowns he went to school with would wear the X without knowing who the X stood for.

We were on our way! Across the hall from my classroom was Eric Schiff, techno whiz with lots of style and vision. He had built a state of the art computer lab and video lab in the school and brought new respect to a school that had a negative reputation. More important in this case, Eric is very savvy about racism and what to do about it.

Second on the team was my husband who is a producer of his own video company and agreed to be Cochise's mentor. The third volunteer was my secret weapon, Abas Ansari, local businessman, Vietnam vet, recent transplant from Chicago, a member of the Fruit of Islam and part of the mosque of Black Muslims with Malcolm X. I almost rubbed my hands together in glee when I suggested him to Cochise, my face blank to hide my excitement. I had given Abas a head's up that I needed a man's influence in young Cochise's life, someone he could look up to and maybe be a little shy. Abas' daughter was one of my eighth graders, and she and Cochise took my morning class, and listened to Abas talk about his life.

Cochise had set up his camera to record the talk. And he and Nadirah sat for the whole class listening to the life lessons Abas had to share man to man. What do you do when you come up against a setback? Abas lectured that as a lieutenant in the army, when his buddy lay dead in the mud, he stepped over him and continued on. Sure he wanted to stop and grieve him, but in life, sometimes you have to control your feelings and just do what you had to. You just had to move on. What is a man? A man provides for his family, but more than that, for his community. A man is controlled.

Cochise was a seventh grader. Seventh graders are not the most patient of listeners. However, as Abas spoke on and on, his daughter listening patiently because that was her upbringing, Cochise did the same, a little fidget here and there, but sitting tall and still nonetheless. The only thing that gave away his discomfort was the heightened flush of his cheeks.

I complimented them both the next day on their respectfulness. Cochise admitted, “Yeh, I was scared of him!” and Nadirah nodded "hmmm Hmmmm, 'know what you mean" and we shared a laugh.

Cochise went around to the faculty and filmed responses about Malcolm X. He learned that here, in his school, several teachers not only knew about Malcolm, but some were inspired by him. The principal even knew his Muslim name, El Hajj Malik.

Cochise talked to some students. As he predicted, there was very little knowledge about who Malcolm X was and what he did.

I told him, that’s good news!! This film you’re making is very good for your generation because our generation did not do enough to pass knowledge on. I pulled out a Malcolm X calendar. “Look what I found, Cochise!” Cochise was searching for Malcolm X images on the internet. Cochise even found an image of the great leader in our new literature textbook. I had found and was allowed to order a wonderful set called African American Literature, Holt Rhinehart Winston. A teacher could teach every genre, every literary tool, and tell the story of American history through this text. English teachers should check it out. It is still being published.

Cochise learned to capture all these images on film, keeping his hands still with Nadirah's assistance. Then came the weeks of editing and voice overs and choosing the music. Cochise taught me about “Arrested Development,” and I went out a bought the tape that day.

I was very proud of Cochise. We could see the shift in how people viewed him as well as their relationship with him. He was no longer “a gangster” to teachers but touched their hearts. Teachers want to be part of transformation. Cochise was already noticed by his peers, handsome young man with style and a hint of danger, but with his new engagement in school, he became even more accessible and interesting. As for the young men who liked to relieve their boredom by using racial slurs and were entertained with the explosion, they tried to find another more subtle tack to distract him. Definitely the teachers were noticing their behavior and calling them on it. They also knew that there were new rules which stated there would be equal consequence for those who use "fighting words" and those who threw the first punch. Both would be suspended, not just the fighter. This small group of young men lurked around and tried to come up with secretive ways to poke racialized fun at Cochise. But Cochise was much too busy to get himself suspended for their entertainment.

I remember one of them showed up with his hair banded in startled little tufts all over his head sitting in the computer lab across the hall. For once, I did not have to say a word. Schiff walked over to him, his eyes flashing a bit dangerously, and a smile saying, “Hey, man, what’s up with the hair?”


“Nothing? (uncomfortable silence) Then take it down.” and the student sheepishly complied.

The day of the film premiere arrived. Jefferson had received a tv in each classroom due to a partnership with the controversial Channel One -- free tv monitors for classrooms and designed to get coca cola ads to our captive youth audience during school hours. There was quite a furor in Eugene, Oregon, against Jefferson becoming a Channel One school. But those are the circumstances created by inequitable funding. These tv monitors were handy to play more important things -- our student produced news programs and student films. On this day the student film was “Malcolm X” produced, directed, filmed by Cochise Moore.

I still remember that day. Cochise and Nadirah were in my room, nervously waiting for Channel One to be over. Nadirah got the giggles, and Cochise, uncharacteristically joined in a little. Schiff and I came out of our classrooms with broad smiles and anticipation. "Only a couple of minutes," he said. Waiting. Then came the moment, Malcolm’s face filled the screen and Arrested Development's song for Malcolm X began.

The film continued -- who is Malcolm X -- interviews interspersed with images, Abas’ strong words of what is a man, goofy interviews with students mugging for the camera, Malcolm's own words, and finally ending, Malcolm surrounded with the blue of the Egyptian sky. There was silence, then up and down the hallways of Jefferson, the very hallways where Cochise’s anger would explode when shoved and called racial slurs, said low enough no teacher on duty could hear, there began a smattering of applause, and that applause grew until it filled the halls. "Cochise! Can you hear it? They're applauding!" His smile said it all. Of course, I teared up like an auntie. Schiff came across the hall beaming offering his handshake. There they stood, man to man. Job well done.

That spring, Cochise joined the students and teachers who followed Spike Lee’s advice to the youth of this nation, "Skip school and come to watch my movie and learn true history." Spike Lee was right. Of course, it was not such a courageous choice for us because the matinee began right after school. We made it quite an event, standing in line for the first showing with other Eugeneans excited to see what Lee had done. For Jefferson students and staff, it was an honor to view it with Cochise in the context of his film and his journey.

This is not the end of the story just the beginning. As for the Racism Free Zone, and the teachers and students who made it work, the mission was just beginning and has not finished.

There’s another chapter to this story but I won’t make you wait to find out about the adult Cochise, a young man in his late twenties. Cochise Moore is a graduate with a double major from the University of Washington. He is employed by the UW psychology department to work on retention of students of color and he teaches at an African American men’s academy. Currently, he is making a video on a leadership project with African American youth expressing themselves in poetry and music. Check it out on YouTube: and check out the organization's website by looking and clicking on it at the blottom of the blog, the Favorite Link portion. He and Fumiko are married and living in Seattle. Cochise also takes care of his elderly father.

I met one of my heroes, Yuri Kochiyama, at Tule Lake Pilgrimage about six years ago. She is best known as the person who ran toward the downed Malcom X as bullets continued to hail around him when he was assassinated and she sat, cradling his head. Yuri Kochiyama is an organizer and committed soldier for justice in her own right. She and her husband became members of the mosque organized by Malcolm X or El Hajj Malik when they lived in Harlem.

At Tule Lake Pilgrimage, Yuri Kochiyama and I were to facilitate one of the many intergenerational circles where attendees listened to the stories of former internees, and as a former internee of Jerome, AK, Yuri was key. Of course, I was "ga-ga" to meet Yuri Kochiyama and did not even try to hide it. I told her she and Malcolm X were two of my heroes. She grasped my hands and said, “Oh, you know of Malcolm! I don’t talk to too many people about him because they don’t . . .”

I understood. I told her that I teach about him and that, Malcolm reached down even years after his death and saved one of my students’ lives. "I love Malcolm X and I hope you can meet Cochise someday, " I told her.

She wanted to know more about Cochise, and all through the story she held onto my hands. She understood. Just the other day, a friend of mine had gone home to CA and visited with the Kochiyama family. Yuri, much to my surprise, sent a greeting through him back to me saying hello to the woman in Oregon who loves Malcolm X. What an honor to be remembered AND to be remembered that way.

The manner in which the media presents it, Malcolm X is the opposite of King but nothing can be farther from the truth. Life cannot always be defined by opposites. There is no battle between King and Malcolm X. They had one battle, the battle for justice, for their people, and for all people. Their debate is a media-construct, an urban legend which tells more about the legendmakers than the two great men themselves. Dr. King and El Hajj Malik or Malcolm X are the two great thinkers of that time and their combined influence will outlive the misconception. Cochise Moore and young men and women like him -- proud, focused, and involved in justice and community -- are descendents of the thought and example of these two Great Titans of the 20th Century.

Check out Yuri Kochiyama’s new book Passing it On, a Memoir. UCLA Asian Studies Press. And I read Alex Haley’s Malcolm X every decade and each decade, it changes for me. I also recommend the book The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Truth My Students Taught Me

Today, my good friend Pete Mandrapa and I are to present to the neighborhood school we both taught in in the early 90's. The school name has changed, the administration and faculty, but the school population is demographically the same, and they have maintained their Racism Free Zone. These are my thoughts I'm sharing with the new K -8 Academy of Arts and Technology (aka Jefferson Institute of Multicultural and Internation Education 6 - 8).

As teachers, we know firsthand about the national achievement gap crisis in schools all across America. Politicians and corporations have their own analysis. But many of us in the frontlines, public school teachers, know that the achievement gap is just another way to say that there is justice gap in this country. Who gets the attention, the positive attention, and the negative attention? Who has advocacy? What are the national priorities? What do we do about it?
The good news is we teachers can take on that challenge, a challenge I believe to be the greatest challenge in this country today, and we can do it powerfully. It won’t cost a dime -- just time, and the will to do it. We’ve got the experts sitting right there in our classrooms. I’ve learned the most, and gained the most as a teacher in a school that does not pop up on the radar even in our own district, whose students are an age group often ignored by those educational “experts,” in a neighborhood which has the highest number of students on free and reduced lunch program and is the most diverse population in the city. What I learned about the achievement gap, and how to confront it comes from the students and their parents and those colleagues who flourished in a proud neighborhood school which almost 20 years ago, declared itself a Racism Free Zone and a Multicultural International Middle School.

Every student deserves a safe place in which to learn. Safety and respect should not be something any young person has to earn. No one took that more seriously than the old Jefferson Middle School. Whenever harassment happened at Jefferson, the school off the radar hit the front pages of the papers. The Racism Free Zone at ATA has a long history of student sacrifice and activism. It is a proud story. Many students endured pain, humiliation and alienation before an angry parent and her sixth grader refused to return to school until it was a safe place. A teacher invited that parent into her classroom to workshop her students and declared their room a Racism Free Zone; then a classroom of sixth graders took it on as their project and made the Racism Free Zone a school wide program.

The clear, stern language of the Jefferson Middle School RFZ Declaration was authored by sixth graders, not teachers. The students had had enough!

We the students of Thomas Jefferson Middle School declare our school to be a Racism Free Zone!
Our school will be free and open to ALL people
without regard to culture or color differences.
No racist remarks or harassment will be allowed.
Any such actions will result in SERIOUS consequences.
Our school will be respectful to people of all races and cultures.
All people will be welcome here.
We will do our very best to get rid of racism from our school and from the WORLD

The RFZ has three parts. First, the declaration. Second the public expression as an RFZ which was to march as RFZ in the Eugene Celebration parade. Third was the re-dedication that was done during the MLK Celebration. Over the years with student vision the re-dedication expanded. Some eighth graders developed a workshop of how to confront harassment, and the history of the RFZ , workshopping each 6th grade block before every student signed the RFZ declaration. The 6th graders gathered the re-dedication signatures and presented it at the assembly. There is a fourth component of an RFZ, and that is the orientation of everyone new person -- all staff, and then the orientation for all students at the beginning of the year to set the tone for the school year.

Teach this history to the young people. Teach them that students went fearlessly where adults could not and teachers of this building and their parents walked right with them, learning along the way. Don’t waste your time as so many other schools have quibbling about what to call the Zone. It’s not about words and terms. It is about actions and deeds. Raise the conversation to what will not be tolerated, how do we show it, how does one stand up to harassment, how does one change a climate, what is leadership, how will people be treated, what are our aspirations.

I remember my last year teaching, and I’m proud it was here with you when my classroom took the challenge to raise money to have Jefferson’s name put on a stone at the Japanese American Memorial. Teachers thought the phrase “racism free world” was unrealistic but that is the phrase which was unanimously chosen by the students. I did not have the heart to argue and instead allowed myself the moment of awe over their righteous hope. Visit the memorial and you will see it. “Jefferson for a Racism Free World” with “Respect” written in two languages.
You will find, as I did, that teachers will learn a lot from the students of how to keep a Racism Free Zone alive.

You will learn to have hope. You will experience success. Your behavioral responsibilities will be cut in half. No administrator or teacher will ever catch each person who scrawls homophobic, or racist hate messages on the wall. But a student body mobilized to put up posters against harassment all over the building with messages that hate is not tolerated here will send the message loud and clear to any perpetrator. All the dress codes you create will not change the mind of a middle school wannabe gangster who wants to “get respect,” but a student body who can mobilize a response against turning their school into gang turf and calls out for “unity of all” can change hearts. You can argue over and over to a proud youth that he or she cannot get into fights over slurs and fighting words, and it won’t make sense to them. But if you put leadership on a larger scale (building wide, or bridged to the community) in that young person’s hands, pride will overcome anger, and there will be purpose in the young leader’s life.

I have learned through the RFZ that students of color can just be kids in a school where safety is in the students’ hands and everyone is trained to respond to it. The students of color don’t have to be brave, or acquiesce to be a good sport. I was even more excited to learn that in an RFZ where students were trained and conversed freely about racism and all the other -isms, and where there was a school wide culture dedicated to eradicate harassment and disrespect, European American students felt powerful. The knowledge of how to respond to harassment, how to get out of the sidelines and be effective from one’s own stance, to create one’s own history for justice is a powerful feeling which will stay with the student for a lifetime and allow that student to move with confidence through adulthood.

I am glad that the RFZ still lives on even if the school has changed its name; faculty, administration and the students come and go. This neighborhood will support it and it works. It cuts down on discipline referrals and you will land on the front page, not as a troubled school, but as academic and civic leaders.

We all know as teachers that an RFZ is not just an event or two. It takes time. I never regretted taking all the time necessary to create a safe space for everyone – a place where everyone is called by their name and their name only, where there are no labels, where culture and language are not trivialized by jokes, where ideas can be expressed safely and even the deepest differences can be discussed with civility. I encourage every teacher to speak up every single time, even if it is simply to respond to sexist, racist, homophobic, discriminatory thought by saying “that makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t help us be a good team. It doesn’t help this be a safe place to learn. If people do not feel safe in a classroom, they will not feel safe enough to share ideas. That will kill any literature, writing and social studies class (or any other class) because we depend on the dynamic sharing of ideas.” In the long run, it is worth every effort.

The RFZ goes beyond harassment. As Mandrapa’s sixth graders declared, “everyone belongs.” I learned how powerful it is for a teacher to greet each child they pass in the hall especially if the student averts their eyes and seem to be unfriendly, withdrawn or shy. I learned that the hallway is not the place to bury our noses in paper, but to walk heads up, checking things out, smiling and greeting students. I’ve been told by some of my students that I am the only human being in school who acknowledged their presence all day long. You must have experienced the same thing yourselves, the difference a teacher’s greeting made for young people. It’s not a small thing in a school to acknowledge the basic humanity of each and every person and learn what a difference it makes.

Teaching gave me other important insights that helped address the achievement gap in my classroom.

I learned that a ritual that is as taken for granted as homework is plays a huge role in creating the achievement gap. We teachers feel justified about using homework grades to determine a student’s success. But I have learned how important it is for me to have my students work in the classroom where I, as their teacher, can see their progress, answer their questions, praise them and build that relationship. Some of my students have parents who know the system, are comfortable in it, and if their child is sinking, have the resources to hire tutors to help turn things around. Some have parents where one can stay home, or if both work, they are home during homework time after school hours. Some of my students may have parents who work nights so they cannot give adult coaching. A few of my students have parents for whom English is not their language and the achievement gap will strike an unjust blow right there in their home, and may cause a wedge between parent and child. Some of my students have to work themselves, or care for younger siblings. Students shouldn’t be punished for being caregivers or providers. Students should not fall into the gap on the basis of their parent’s economic situation or immigrant status.

There is no research that proves that homework improves learning to the point that homework grades should ever count heavily in a student’s final grade. I give some homework but I learned a heavy reliance on homework grades creates an achievement gap. I urge teachers to become conscious of all the unquestioned rituals in our profession that may cause injustice.

I’m an English/history teacher who loved my areas of study so much I took all kinds of classes and workshops, particularly those which offered a different perspective and an expanded reading list from typical college survey classes. I couldn’t predict how important this personal interest would be to the success of my classroom teaching. In any field, if one were to take the time to bring in multiple perspectives and encourage the sharing of it, the work environment becomes so creative. An unexpected outcome of bringing in multiple perspectives was that each individual student brought their own stories, their families into the classroom and contributed to the pool of knowledge. I learned as much as I taught! There is something about respectful inclusive exchange and erasing the line between school and home that fuels the imagination, and encourages good work. The most valuable sharing will come if you as the teacher attend some of the wonderful events our students take part in with their families outside the school. Go to Pow Wows, celebrations, coming of age ceremonies. I encourage you to go and be the initiate, enjoy yourself, and express your appreciation not only there but bring it into the classroom the next opportunity and tell the class how much you enjoyed and how much you learned from your students’ family. . It is important we teachers go where our students shine and affirm it.

When a student has a great idea, I see my role as using the authority as a teacher to knock down the barriers and help them bring their idea to action. That’s how young people learn to have vision. So imagine a workplace where you can support vision rather than limit it with unquestioned procedures. As a teacher, if you support vision, you will find that no matter how old you may be, you will remain a “happening” youthful part of the organization as a motivator of fresh ideas.

I have learned from my students to take every opportunity to create an environment around myself that encourages young people to bring their whole self into the school. I model it myself. Nothing important to any person, including the teacher, should be left at the door – identity, home language, your religion, your experiences, your style, your music, your parents, your name pronounced correctly. Schools should not be giving the message that any essential part of a student is somehow inconsequential, even inappropriate for their academic success. This, I think, may be your greatest challenge as a teacher. I assure you, each person respected completely for who they are will be transformational to all concerned.

For me, teaching really became exciting as I settled into what teaching meant to me. I found it liberating to demystify the teacher student relationship. The role of teacher is fluid, not static. I see myself as a “student who went before or guide.” Sometimes I flow into another role, as an “auntie.” This role has gotten me through some of my toughest behavioral challenges. Every student, no matter how tough, wants to know the limits and know they are loved.

As for parents, I am a partner to the parent, not a judge of parenting. When I call home, it is to ask if they might have insight on the behavior of concern, assure them I am not asking for them to mete out the consequence because I am the teacher and that is MY responsibility; I just want the student to know we’re in communication. As a partner with the parent, I also want them to know when something touches me about their child and share those sweet and proud moments too.

And then there is the community relationship. There is so much to be said for expanding the student’s concept of “teacher” by bringing in many community elders, role models, the students’ own parents. It is important for youth to be surrounded by caring adults. At the same time, I have learned that teaching does not only come from adults. Whenever I can, I encourage the students themselves to teach others. Everyone’s life experience makes each expert of something.

My students taught me a lot of valuable learning comes when we vault the walls of a school and take school on the road. Pep assemblies have their place but nothing raises school spirit more than civic service or activism and advocacy in a public arena. The involvement of youth in the civic arena is the key to raising idealism and optimism about the future as well as breaking the stereotype about today’s youth.

Whom do we acknowledge as leaders? This is where middle school teachers can have the biggest influence on the achievement gap. During those three years with you, a student can gain insight on his/her strengths and worth, so when they go to high school, they can find their way or use leadership to start something new. There are so many ways to lead besides the typical ways of academic, athletic and student government. Whole classrooms -- whole schools -- of leaders will help any nation. Leadership is not an elite club for a small percentage. Democratize leadership!

For me, as a lifelong teacher, I see the public school as the key to democracy. I believe democracy is good as dead without teachers teaching vigilance, responsibility, and full participation on behalf of our democratic ideals. It’s important to pass on to the next generation sitting in those desks in American classrooms the confidence and power to appreciate and advocate for justice. It is not hard. Justice is not an abstract for youth. It is a concrete lived reality for them. We teachers just need to make it live outside a book by modeling it. We can determine our role: gatekeeper? Or do we expand vision and opportunity. Each day in the classroom, it is we who determine who gets heard, how safe the workplace is, who is served.

It’s not too trite to say we touch the future. After all, someone sitting in our classroom today may be the person who looks after the welfare of the future children of this country. The present national challenges are not going to disappear. Who will be the new advocates? Who will determine the nature of the conversation between nations? Who will serve this planet earth? We are teachers at a most awkward age when to many the youth are invisible, or problems. As their teacher we have the chance to say, “I see you. You are the answer to any future challenge. I am proud of you!" and those words accompany them where ever they may make their mark in the future.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


So how about the DNC in Denver. Do you remember Stevie Wonder, bringing together drums and drummers -- the Drums for Justice, he called them? Among them was a taiko drummer, Shoji Kameda of On Ensemble and Hiroshima. It moved me.

So, to Stevie Wonder, the Drums for Justice, for Barak Obama's Presidency, for the Winnemem, and all sacred lands and ceremonies and without forgetting whom I wrote this poem for in the first place -- young Tim Markoff, my student who inspired it (he wanted to read a poem about drums for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Assembly and couldn't find one), here's "Drum." Drum is an action verb!

If you want to speak
to the Earth,
to the Fire beneath,
to ancient stones;
If you want to hear the language
old as Time
old as basalt and dinosaur bones;
If you care to listen,
you will hear Her old heart beating
to the drum,
and you won’t be able to stop your wailing song.
The elders singing
for the children and ceremonies
so they will carry on
for Mother Earth.

More than 400 sovereign nations strong.

You will hear the rhythms,
The beat of ancient Celts
still pulsing through their descendant’s veins:
Their feet tap out their battle cry
defying robber landlords.
Tap out rhythms
of a time
when rivers and trees ruled the land.

You will hear the drum beat
that once fortified samurai riding off to battle
or strengthened the arms of farmers as they tilled spring fields.
The beat sounds across the great oceans,
stretches across time
to give the children a reason to dance
for their immigrant ancestors
whose spirits fly in on dragonfly wings
no matter how far
from Fujiyama, they are born
Never lose heart!
Never lose faith!
Never lose your Humanity!

And when the chains of greed
cut into the flesh of scientists, priests and kings
in their lonely, nightmare journey across the Atlantic,
the heartbeat
of Mother Africa beat strong
in breasts which never, ever stopped hearing
Freedom’s Song.
In the hot sugar plantations of Cuba
or from the auction blocks of Virginia.
The heart beat was always there.
And the people resisted.
And the people danced.
And the people prayed and shouted.
The people marched
and sang “We Shall Overcome.”
The people drummed
They drummed.

If you want to hear the Earth
If you want to speak Earth’s song,

Drum in any language.
It is all One Song.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.