On the Tragic Death of a Harlem Principal

“The principal, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, 49, killed herself soon after the testing was completed at Teachers College Community School, adding a tragic note to the episode and raising questions about whether the allegations had factored into her death. She jumped in front of a B train near 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue on April 17, and was taken to Harlem Hospital Center, where she died on April 25, the police said…” NY Times.

Life is a dangerous place to live; sometimes a very sad place to live and work; and always a very difficult place to live and work. Despair, frustration, disappointment and death can come too easily, and so you must always have your spiritual directional guides in good working order. The principalship is a very lonely and stress filled day-to-day position. It can also wreak havoc (or at least put a lot of pressure) on your personal and family life. You are the only one of you in the school building (Even my AP’s had each other!). You can get 100 questions a day; and not one of them will be: “how are you doing?” (Teachers, try asking that question, and watch your principal’s face and reaction; I know because once a teacher ask me that question, and I know how good it made me feel!)

I am not casting blame here; but the Bloomberg era’s misinformed decision to in essence remove school district superintendents, had a devastating and deleterious effect on school based administrators. Principals need coaching and support! They need to be able to check in with someone they trust; and they also need someone who is invested in their success, to check in on them. I can remember many sad, disappointing and challenging days as a NYC principal; and the very positive and supportive role the Brooklyn H.S. superintendent (Joyce Coppin) played in helping me to remain positive, optimistic, and to see myself moving through the present difficult situation. It is also important (something I enjoyed) and of great help for principals to have a twice-a month social get together with other principal friends.

I am sure that the “anti-standardized testing crowd” are fully locked, loaded and ready to fire. But the sad truth, is that these suicide situations are very complex, and rarely caused by one single event. Further, the huge number of schools in this nation, that are identified as primarily serving Black, Latino and poor students; schools that perform dreadfully poor on standardized exams; would suggest that if “test results” was the primary cause of a principal’s suicide, we would be looking at suicide numbers in the tens of thousands! The truth is that as a national group, principal (as compared to other professionals) suicides are rare.

We could do more to help prevent these types of tragedies by not rushing so many principals into the position, before they are mentally and emotionally prepared (or we or they discover they are not a good professional match) to take on the job. We should also stop this current dangerous “reform” idea that professionalism and experience doesn’t matter; it does, particularly in those moments of extreme stress, when the Ed-Amin knowledge, professional preparation and experience are the only thing that will help; I know, I have been there! We must also deepened, expand and enhance our efforts in the ongoing professional development, and supervisory oversight of principals. Finally, a principal must have a strategic plan to put the students in the position of being able to perform well academically in class and on exams; and “after you have done all that you can, you just stand!”

Live today, to Serve tomorrow

“If We Must Die”

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

“When it comes down to it we don’t get the same treatment. Let’s be real. Let’s keep our mouth shut, memorize badge numbers and write complaints…” — Chryssey A Schloss-Allen

Excellent and wise advice Chryssey A Schloss-Allen. I think it is safe to say that any Black person my age 60+ who is either not dead or in prison, has at some point(s) walked away from an insult from a public official who is sworn to protect and serve us. My personal motto has (and still is) always been: I need to live so that I can serve out my calling; and if I die in that effort so be it; but if possible I will try to avoid dying; knowing how low and unimportant Black life is viewed by many in this nation, and how much I am needed by those same Black lives. Over the years, I have given that same advice (“Live to Serve”) to thousands of young people; particularly young men. My motivation was not out of a philosophy of pacifism, about fear or cowardice, rather it was a matter of discipline. I always had the community’s children in mind, who were waiting and depending on my work and support. I had no interest in making a death-martyr-statement on a NYC street like Atlantic or Bedford Avenues. I read once that: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” This is not a call for indifference, passivity, or the acceptance of injustice; rather I see it as a strategic battle plan/approach to get your work done in a very complex and dangerous environment. Ultimately, my personal pride, convenience, need to make a point, falls far short of the contribution I need to make with the needs of young people; young people, who like you are waiting to make their contribution to a world seriously in need of that contribution. We should also note that the news media (the liberal, right and middle wing Foxes) is structured and inclined to demonize the Back victim, and are in a rapid and rabid race to humanize, professionalize and (ex)honor(ate) the offending police officers. Public defenders (The brave Ms. Marilyn Mosby of Baltimore excluded) don’t see me as part of the public for which they are sworn to defend. Every casual and very normal word or statement made in public or on social media will come under scrutiny so as to point to an anti-police attitude (as opposed to a pro-justice attitude). And I know, like many of my colleagues, I have made many comments concerning my frustration with Back life in America; particularly as it pertains to young people and education; but that does not mean I am thinking or even wishing that my life would end; again I want to live to serve! Your life is important, because your calling and contribution are important. I am thinking of someone like Tiffany Harrison Bryant; and all of the positive change power she has given to young people; starting when she herself was a teenager! Black life indeed matters; and a Black life that is in a state of service matters most when it is alive to serve. You should know that the “wolves” make no distinctions between Black lives, and are ready armed and able to deny and destroy every Black life. And so guard yours carefully!

Finally, and why your advice is correct; the last time I was stopped (the frequency tails off for Black men as you get older) and made a formal complaint. I was stopped on my own block, and according to the officer, because I was driving an “expensive car in this neighborhood”. The police officer actually protested at his complaint hearing: “But I am shocked (and he really was) that Mr. Johnson is making a formal complaint about his stop; as he was so polite and calm during the entire situation!” (And I was) I simply memorized his badge number, and his “log book” reflected the stop. I turned on my interior car lights, keep both hands on the steering wheel, had my license, insurance and car registration card in my hand when he walked up to the window; answered his questions politely and quietly, and didn’t utter a word of complaint and/or protest; until I filed a formal complaint. (He had a growing stupid look on his face when he saw that I indeed lived on that block, had a back seat full of books and folders, and a NYC Principal’s parking permit in my front window.) No apology, no ticket, nothing. But there was just no way that I was going to make my case for police misjudgment, unprofessionalism, racial profiling, and overreach, at night, alone, on an empty Decatur St. block. I don’t see my primary role in life as to serve as a “change agent” for eliminating the racism that exist in the hearts of many Americans (Black and White); I do however, want to neutralize its deleterious effects on the education of Black children! Somethings, to be quite honest must be addressed by time; as people and attitudes began to leave the land of the living. And somethings must be forced (and dragged like the confederate flag wavers, kicking and screaming) to the table of justice by way of political organization, economic boycotts, active protest, and electoral politics. But I do see my primary task as empowering and intellectually equipping a younger generation to dismantle the barriers and structures of race, sexism, classism and economic exploitation; though their very strategically, skilled and smart placed positions in the world. In short, I decided that if I wanted to strike a serious blow against racism, I could do better than lose my one life on a Brooklyn street; and that I would work hard and effectively to educate and empower the lives of many young people of any color.

Flagging down the truth: Educationally, united we strive, divided we fail.

Thanks Mike Williams for the good article*; and sorry it took so long for me to respond. It is important to note: That absent from this entire “flag” debate are the patriotically proud and affirmative voices of those descendants of those who fought and died during the civil war in the service of their nation. Honoring the ignoble confederate flag, and any other symbol of a band of traitors, shamefully dishonors the very noble efforts and sacrifices of the Union soldiers and sailors. As a nation we are under no moral obligation to honor traitors who took up arms against the US; only an educational professional responsibility to respect and be true to the teaching of history.

We are a nation that in many ways still exist in a state of “civil war”; and because this division of the nation, along with its continual rebellion and reluctance (this includes the north) to fully accept its Black population into full participating citizenship; (particularly in matters related to public education) greatly hinders our potential and progress as a nation. The “less developed” parts of the nation; meaning both intellectual, cultural and economic, is a continued legacy of this unresolved “civil war”.
And although this division of achievement and development exist in other nations like China’s rural-city divide; it has a very different deleterious effect when a nation is fully “developed” economically and educationally. Even in our most advance and “liberal” urban centers, large numbers of Black children can live in a city like Washington DC, NYC, Chicago, etc.; be very close to a quality education, and yet not receive a hint of it themselves.

These national acts of political rebellion against the American promise of liberty and justice for all, is based on the need of an economic system that will maintain a class of citizens who are poor and inadequately educated. The most efficient part of this national system is not public education, rather it is a self-funding criminal justice system that can “capture and dispose of” the human overflow of a failed on purpose educational system. The primary source and target for this cynical civil service job producing “sanitation system” are people of color.

The question that is raised of course is, how going forward will this work, when a nation refuses to take advantage of the talents and gifts of its own citizens? What happens when a nation is in some form of civil-rights-war with huge segments of its own population? And this is where China’s “developmental divided” has in my view a better chance at resolution. Because of their present state of racial homogeneity; there is every reason (and incentive) to bring all of their citizenry up to “educational speed”. They are also not creating a constantly in need of feeding criminal justice system (they prefer less, not more social unrest) that is required to siphon off a large number of what would be some very unhappy jobless members of the working class. We on the other hand have states and attitudes that refuse to move out of our apartheid past. See how the recent comments of a Donald Trump are paying off so well for him in the polls; he is not without a huge audience, for he is a spokesperson, and the last best hope of a dying class of Americans, who see their unearned advantaged world collapsing under the weight of a Black and Brown population explosion (They are probably not helping themselves in places like Alabama, where poor Black women find it almost impossible to get family planning education and healthcare!). Latinos should know that his comments have nothing to do with emigration, or “border security”; and everything to do with a world of racial exploitation coming to an end; his target (and his audience collectively winks and knows this) means all Latinos in America, regardless of their citizenship status.

The reliance on the demonization of the darker, non-English speaking “other” (including those who are US citizens) is a powerful cultural narrative in our nation. We are held back (as other nations evolve) because we use our diversity as a political weapon of disenfranchisement, rather than as an asset that could fuel a powerful national development. The south is in no hurry to have a same-nation marriage with the “enemy” north! And I see no movement in the intellectually developed parts of our northern nation to go back to the back of the bus of thinking about things like women not having power over their own bodies. Hope is coming, but in the immediate future it does not look good; and that means no incentive for (or not a hint in the interest of accepting on the parts of the south) an intellectual-modernity “Marshall Plan” for segments of the new-old confederacy. Unfortunately the Republican Party requires a voter base that is bare-brained, uneducated, prejudiced, poorly educated, unenlightened, and wedded to the idea that says: You may be poor, ignorant and destitute as hell, but at least you are not Black or Latino! If White Right-Wing politicians are desperately clinging to a pro-slavery, anti-American treacherous flag; or to a false illusionary heritage that their confederate ancestors fought and died for something anywhere close to noble; we indeed have a long way to go.

The strength of the present German economy is in part due to their seeing historical Nazism as a product of social pathology; not historical pride. To get some southerners (and their northern ideological comrades) to see the civil war in that enlightened context will be a serious (again educational) challenge; as leaving it behind also represents the leaving behind of the nostalgia for time when they had a privileged place in America; a time when Latinos stayed out of the place, and Blacks in America knew and stayed in theirs! That realization that time is not an ally, and that they really lost the war against the US, generates the intense anger you see spewing from the conservative class on places like Fox news! And If these same White misleaders are willing to say: I rather see my White constituents sick and without healthcare insurance, rather than take help from a Black POTUS; I think it is safe to say that we are probably in a very bad place in national race relations, confederate flag flying or not.

But we are also in a very bad place of desperation, when your concept of victory is to fly the flag of your failed anti-patriotic military effort, and traitorous disgrace. That confederacy of deceit and defeat flag, and those sadly desperate flag wavers, both belong in the same museum display case.

*How the South Skews American: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/07/how-the-south-skews-america-119725.html