Friday, June 16, 2006

Exit Exams in Oakland; Mayoral Races: Oakland, CA and Newark, NJ

Silver Bullets/Golden Arrows
By Wanda Sabir

The Black Commentator co-founders launched their publication covering the mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, a city run by, Sharpe James. James was challenged by newcomer, Cory Booker, city councilman, Newark political neophyte. Now I found out about Booker in the POV film, Street Fight: Directed by Marshall Curry, distributed by Ironweeds Films. Ironweeds is a media club, distribution site which promotes community discussion on provocative topics.

Booker is portrayed as the underdog, James arch-villain. Not once in the film, is Booker’s connection to corporate money – a right-wing think tank whose president, Michael Joyce praises Charles Murray, author of the Bell-Curve, a book which uses pseudo-science to prove the intellectual inferiority of African people. Instead, the “street fight,” is said to revolve around Booker’s skin color and his sterling academic record. Nothing, could be further from the truth. Commentator author’s state in “Fruit of the Forbidden Tree: Hard Right Plans to Capture Newark, NJ. Visit

In the meantime, the ballots are still being counted in Alameda country to determine who won the mayoral race, Ron Dellums or Ignacio De la Fuente. As we went to press “of the “76,496 votes counted so far, Dellums has 49.65 percent and De La Fuente 33.37 percent. The vote total will now be updated periodically, rather than daily,” Acting Registrar of Voters Dave McDonald was quoted in Wednesday, June 14, Oakland Tribune.

Why did Curry leave these questionable campaign items unexplored? Also left unexplored were Booker’s ties to a movement for public school privatization, a.k.a., voucher programs. Sharpe James was no saint over his 20 year tenure, but his resignation letter certainly lists achievements in Black community development unmatched by many municipalities. Just check out Mayor Willie Brown’s track record here in San Francisco as a case in point.

Though Amiri Baraka when asked about his new mayor, Cory Booker, called him a “Republi-coon.” Booker is in fact is in fact a nominal Democrat – in name only, which points to the innate trouble with this two-party system. It seems strange that in five reelections as mayor and his appointment to the New Jersey State Senate in 1999, and 2001, that James hadn’t groomed a predecessor. I also found it strange that Cornell West was shown supporting Booker in the film; perhaps he was unaware of the company Booker kept, just as I was.

I wonder why so many of the bright African Americans end up on the wrong side of the street. What Booker’s win this year signifies is the ease with which right wing conservatives court African Americans whose interests lie in advancing their careers not serving the community. I used to think the reason why people run for office was to serve their community.

Note the past tense.

Booker completely staged and positioned himself for political office –living in a public housing projects while tapping into resources like the Bradley Foundation, the primary moneybags for private school vouchers, BC stated in the article: “Hard Right Cash Defeated in Black City – This Time.” Visit

African people need to wake up! This is still Babylon.

Since I’m coming clean, I guess I’ll also fess up to not knowing about Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Sheila Jordan’s implicit invitation to Jack O'Connell, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to send in a Randy Ward to save Oakland Public Schools when she blocked funds to stave off the deficit, Greg Hodge, School Board member, told me. I remember when Jordan was City Council person. The former school teacher seemed to know where her alliances lay then. Now, the situation has shifted to one where children in twelfth grade this week: June 12-16, who didn’t pass an eighth grade math, writing, reading and perhaps history exam – will receive a letter of completion instead of a high school diploma. At one high school, Castlemont, the seniors were all told they didn’t make the grade en masse, a move dismissing their right to privacy. All of them probably felt shamed. It was like informing someone of his HIV status on the school intercom. Read .

The failure of Oakland children is a failure of the school administrators – instead if penalizing the children who did what they were supposed to do, show up ready to learn. This reminds me of the Brian Brooks’ film “Half Nelson,” whose protagonist is a philosophy teacher slash physical education teacher, who is also addicted to crack cocaine. His sidekick is a cute 14-maybe year old girl. Yes, it screams inappropriate – yet the student and teacher bond in a strange dysfunctional way which serves both well. Girl-child’s mom’s a police officer who works too many hours. The girl’s brother’s in prison and his best friend is trying to turn his friend’s sister out. The director, from Berkeley/claims Oakland, wanted to make the film here, but since he was already in New York, he had to shoot it there.

Part of the teacher’s problem was his inability to handle reality, a career where he was penalized for telling the truth to the children he taught, a career where he was penalized for teaching them to be independent thinkers who question authority. Look for it this fall. The metaphor gives opponents a little wiggle-room wherein lies the hope I suppose.

I don’t know what Oakland Public School children or their parents can do at this point, but it would have been great if the principals would have advocated for the children who didn’t pass and let them participate in the ceremony which is about all children have today as a rite of passage, marking change from childhood to adulthood.

Who asked the rhetorical question: why do we allow the enemy to educate our children?

Well, it’s no longer rhetorical; it’s a call to action. If black and brown kids are not graduating with high school diplomas, the road to hell – read crime, prison, death, is a little more slippery. I hope the children with those useless pieces of paper enroll in college, while also attending Oakland Adult School to prepare for the GED or High School Equivalency Test (a.k.a. Exit Exam). Students can’t get financial aide without a diploma or GED. Transfer from the community college system for students without high school equivalencies is often based on an academic contingency agreement which varies from campus to campus – more ice, engine oil, grease on the descent down.

At the College of Alameda, 555 Atlantic Avenue, Alameda, we have a program we are launching this fall called Sspire specifically for vulnerable youth in high risk situations. I teach the English Composition courses. Other first semester classes are Math 201, Introduction to Humanities, College Success, and Dance. Student books are paid for; some of the assignments are shared between classes, as well as texts. “The theme this fall is: For Love or Money.” If you’re interested and you’re 17-24, please call Brenda Bias (510) 748-2209 and ask for information about the Friday orientation schedule this summer.

Sunday, at Sankofa Anamontou: African Cotillion, a really lovely affair, Greg Hodge, spoke eloquently about what the communities’ obligation is to its children, and in return what these young people: Monique Blodgett and Keenan Jones, who have completed their rites of passage successfully, what their responsibility is to those just behind.

Photo credit: Wanda Sabir -- At Sankofa Anamontou Greg Hodge greets Monique Blogett, as Keenan Jones looks on.


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