Today is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia.
You can cry the 1040 blues because the Tax Man cometh on April 18.
Two years ago on this day I launched All That Philly Jazz, a public history project that is telling the story of Philadelphia’s rich jazz legacy.
In documenting the places where jazz history unfolded, I also want to contextualize the impact of jazz musicians and the jazz culture. Fact is, the jazz culture was about “intersectionality” before the term was coined. As Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron notes in her column, “Ridge Avenue’s last standing jazz club,” gay performers such as the “Sepia Gloria Swanson” were an integral part of the scene.
In a piece for PlanPhilly, I wrote about why historic preservation matters:
1409 Lombard Street helps tell the story of artistic greats like Lady Day, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and McCoy Tyner. It also tells the story of disruption and defiance. In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said jazz is “triumphant music.” If walls could talk, they would tell how the jazz culture broke down social barriers. The first racially integrated nightspot in Center City was a jazz club, the Downbeat. For the first time, blacks and whites mixed on an equal basis. Jazz musicians created a cultural identity that was “a steppingstone” to the Civil Rights Movement.
At its core, historic preservation is about storytelling. The question then becomes: Who decides what gets saved and whose story gets told? The built environment reflects racial inequalities. Given African Americans’ socioeconomic status, few of the buildings associated with black history meet preservation standards regarding architectural significance. Although unadorned, they are places that tell a more complete American story. The stories of faith, resistance, and triumph are relevant to today’s social justice activists.
February is Black History Month. This year’s commemoration is special because we are still celebrating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
I’ve visited the museum twice; my next visit is later this month. The museum can be overwhelming so I methodically focus on one floor at a time, beginning with the History Galleries.
It is as emotionally wrenching as you would imagine. It is also motivating and inspiring. I thanked the ancestors for surviving the brutality of slavery and maintaining their humanity, their “soul value.” I am empowered by their enduring legacy of struggle and resistance.
Last week, I checked out the Culture Galleries.
It was sheer joy to experience black culture in all its glory – music, fashion, dance, culinary and visual arts, as well as the performing arts.
I ended each visit at Contemplative Court where I sat and, well, contemplated how we got over.
As an advocate for social justice, I celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. every day. On the official observance of his special day, I will join thousands for a ceremonial tapping of the Liberty Bell in his honor.
Afterwards, I’ll join the March for a Better America.
The march will begin at the slave quarters on Independence Mall and conclude at Mother Bethel AME Church, where POWER: An Interfaith Movement will unveil their 21st Century Declaration of Rights. They will call on elected officials, community leaders and ordinary citizens to support human rights. It sounds like a party for a drum major for justice.
Happy birthday, Dr. King.
Halloween came early in Philadelphia. A new documentary wants to trick folks into believing that “alternatives,” i.e., charter schools, “compromise [traditional public schools’] ability to deliver quality education to all students.” The film, “Backpack Full of Cash,” premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 22nd.
I skipped the screening. I didn’t want to be spooked by the ranting of the usual suspects.
Besides, I believe the money should follow the student. Parents seek out “alternatives” because traditional public schools are not delivering quality education to their children.
Narrated by Oscar winner Matt Damon, the film wastes little time revealing its point of view. Damon, a well-documented skeptic of what critics call “corporate” education reform, begins the documentary with a dark warning:
“A battle is underway over who should control public education,” he says. Parents, teachers and activists are up against a well-organized coalition headed by business leaders and conservatives.”
Yeah whatever, dude. Tell that crap to John King, Acting Secretary of Education. Prior to joining the Department of Education, Dr. King was a co-founder of Roxbury (Massachusetts) Preparatory Charter School.
Dr. King recently spoke before the National Press Club. During the Q&A, he said, “I think any arbitrary cap on the growth of high-performing charters is a mistake in terms of our goal of trying to improve opportunities for all kids.” BOOM!
The producers of “Backpack Full of Cash” take creative license with the facts. But the fact is, charters work.
In an essay published in Essence magazine, singer and songwriter John Legend wrote:
Charter public schools are not the solution to every problem that’s plaguing public education. The NAACP is right to raise some questions over the practices of some individual charter schools. There are schools of all models - district, charter, magnet, private - that are failing to educate our kids properly and accountably. States and districts should hold all of these school types to high standards of accountability.
What’s shortsighted about the NAACP’s decision is that it’s ignoring the many successful charter schools that are delivering results for many communities. In New York City, third grade charter school students outscored students at district schools in math and in English. Charters here are closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged Black students and their more affluent white peers.
Today is United Nations Day.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 24, the anniversary of the ratification of the Charter of the United Nations, “shall be devoted to making known to the peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations and to gaining their support for” its work.
The worldwide commemoratory events include a concert to celebrate and reflect on the work of the UN through the universal language of music, featuring Korean Traditional Music Orchestra, UN Messenger of Peace pianist Lang Lang, the Hungarian State Opera with soprano Andrea Rost, and the Harlem Gospel Choir. The concert will be held in the United Nations General Assembly Hall.
The theme of this year’s concert is “Freedom First.” On a recent visit to UN headquarters, freedom was foremost on my mind as I walked through the Ark of Return, a memorial to honor the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
For more information, visit Remember Slavery.