Now is the Time for Advocacy

What is the proper response to insult or injury? When faced with the grim reality of human misbehavior, the desire to hide a misdeed from public scrutiny often outweighs the necessity to shine a light upon an egregious incident. Think of the Rices and the NFL. Think of a board meeting, or a school conference that got out of hand. Ask the question: Who was harmed? The world is rife with examples of leaders turning their backs on individuals in need of advocacy. A rich tradition of victim-advocacy exists, but will this NFL-player’s actions lead to bold, dramatic change in order to end the perpetuation of domestic violence? I hope so. Any leader of an organization, in this case, the organization is a national professional football team, must reflect, on how company culture helps or harms employees. What services do companies provide for employees and their families who may be in need of assistance? More could be done to advocate for the vulnerable.

The NFL incident involving the couple who are embroiled in a national debate about domestic violence demonstrates how difficult it can be for women’s lived experience to be taken seriously. Yet, because this situation involves a male-dominated sport, a tremendous opportunity exists for all sports fans, men and women, to seize the day by standing against violence.

Sadly, the powerless victim often is made to feel guilty for existing, or simply for expressing needs. “Needs,” “needy,” “neediness,” are code for less than. It is time for advocates to state the truth about those individuals in need of assistance. The truth is this: Often the needy are the most courageous.

It is those in need who are often the first to speak up. Pay attention.

Cultural Studies Association Releases Statement on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The following press release was sent to members of the Cultural Studies Association:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 1, 2014

The Executive Committee of the Cultural Studies Association (CSA), the largest network of Cultural Studies scholars, educators and practitioners in the United States and North America, hereby expresses grave concern over the decision of University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise to revoke the offer of a tenured associate professorship position in American Indian Studies to Professor Steven Salaita. The process followed by Chancellor Wise marks a serious intrusion into the basic norms of shared faculty governance.

The Executive Committee is further concerned by the rationale for these actions set out in the August 22 2014 statement by Chancellor Wise. The statement clearly indicates that the primary cause for rescinding the employment offer was Dr. Salaita’s public expressions on his twitter feed. The stated rationale substantially erodes the already shrinking space for academic freedom. Further, it uses speech from the public sphere of social media as a substitute for actual teaching records in making assessments about professional competence while seeking to justify the violation of shared faculty governance and due process.

We therefore urge Chancellor Wise and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the strongest terms possible to reverse their course of action by immediately reinstating Professor Steven Salaita as a tenured associate professor of American Indian Studies at UIUC. We also urge them to adhere to and uphold the protocols of shared faculty governance and the principles of academic freedom in this case and in the future.

Long Beach Indie Digital Edutainment Conference

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LONG BEACH — Where better to connect independent filmmakers, artists and academics than the Long Beach Indie, International Film Festival, Conference and Artist Summit, Aug. 27-31st, 2014. This is the first year for the event. Participants included academics (myself, included) who convened the Digital Edutainment Conference, Saturday at the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. Whilst the professors pondered big questions, filmmakers and their supporters screened shorts and features across the street from the Convention Center at The Pike. The festive and scholarly gathering attracted a national and international audience.

The Edutainment session opened with a Big Question Roundtable where panelists discussed the question, “What are the limitations of Internet Freedom?” The Roundtable was followed by a dozen additional presentations and panels covering diverse topics such as Hip Hop and philosophy, sexuality, reproductive justice, mental health, pop culture and stardom, slut-shaming, fashion, and race and gender in reality TV. I was pleased to be a part of both The Roundtable and the “Fashion Politics” discussion and panel. The latter event also featured Dr. Chetachi Egwu, of Nova Southeaster University and Christina Ying of Northwestern University.

This was the inaugural event and Dr. Ebony Utley, a California State University Long Beach professor, and her team of interns, rolled out the red carpet for Edutainment Conference presenters and participants in the beautiful Long Beach Convention Center.

Ferguson, the Middle East, the Chanteuse Lauryn Hill, and Dialogue

Gaza. Syria. Iraq.

Ferguson. Staten Island.

And other places where lives have been lost due to senseless violence.

As much of the world reels from news about chaotic events in the Middle East, the United States adds Staten Island and Ferguson, MO. to the tales of terror.

How can violence be stopped? Humanities discourse has long struggled with the question of violence. There is no time like the present for scholars of the humanities to boldly refuse the safety of neutrality regarding the question of how to achieve a purposeful life when under threat.

Artists are jumping into the discourse. Lauryn Hill adds her lyrical talents to the tale of Ferguson. Her recent release, “Black Rage,” speaks to a history violence.

As a nation, do we realize that a youth whose ethnic identity places him/her/zher at a mortal disadvantage leaves all of us vulnerable?

The work of Michel Foucault proves useful for shedding light on the problem of violence.

As I have written before in my paper, “Space, Voice, Gender, and Intersectionality: Bridging the Theoretical Gap,” (2010), once parties engaged in hierarchical relations realize that reciprocity is one possible method of resolving conflict, then possibilities for dialogue may occur. While Foucault shies away from a prescriptive format for establishing friendly relations, he does go so far as to advocate for what he calls, “reciprocal elucidation,” meaning acknowledgment of a person’s rights within the context of a discussion.

It is important to note, that under Foucault’s framework, emphasis is placed on dialogue, not monologue. I suggest that listening to the work of Lauryn Hill, and other artists creating responses to the recent atrocities, may be a step toward creating dialogue.

Reference

Foucault, Michel. “The Eye of Power” published in the book Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

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High on Reading: “Freeway” Ricky Ross Talks about Literacy at San Bernardino Valley College

SAN BERNARDINO, CA — Sentenced to life in prison in 1996, “Freeway” Ricky Ross had time to confront one of his biggest problems, other than being a legendary kingpin. Ross spoke to an audience of community leaders assembled on the campus of San Bernardino Valley College.

Maximum security incarceration meant days without sunshine, but Ross kept his mind active through reading books, a total of 300. Whilst in the middle of a reading frenzy in the law library, he discovered facts about the law that helped to reduce his life sentence and get him out of prison in 2009. In addition, a reporter’s discovery that one of Mr. Ross’s connections was working for powerful domestic and Latin American forces, also led to a review of his case and a reduction of his sentence.

Fighting against illiteracy

It was in prison that Ross, now in his 50s, and a published author, tackled the problem of his illiteracy. Among one of his many favorites, the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Ross encouraged educators to find out what kids are interested in learning about, and then get them relevant reading materials in order to ignite their passion for reading.

He recalled school and wanting to play college tennis, but not being able to enter college due to illiteracy. There were no alternatives: no tutors, no development programs for youth with the desire to contribute positively to society.

Unfortunately, there were adults near schools who were willing to get kids set up in the drug business. This is something Ricky Ross thinks about today. “I never saw a lawyer before until one was representing me in court,” he said highlighting one of the biggest problems facing communities: lack of integration and lack of access to diverse people. This was echoed by one of his childhood friends in the audience who stated that without exposure to people who are well-educated, or who have stable and lucrative legitimate careers, kids will not know much else except the underworld.

“Before, I judged my success by money,” he said after explaining that his speaking engagements on the subjects of literacy and crime are what inspire him to succeed, now. “But we can’t judge success by what kind of shoes somebody has on or what kind of clothes somebody has on. Otherwise, that makes a kid willing to do whatever it takes to get that status. And that’s where we are right now in this society. See, we don’t have a high value on education. I mean, we can look at what teachers get paid.”

One of the most important lessons Ross learned was that investing in oneself is one of the best investments anyone can make. “What I noticed is that what the books told me is working.”

Ross recounted his story to educators, legal professionals, activists and community members on Friday, August 8, 2014. During question and answer time, one audience-member told Ross that his story reminded him of the classic Frederick Douglass text, My Bondage and My Freedom. His enthusiasm for public speaking and for reading is only slightly equal to his zeal for traveling in order to promote his new book Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, written with Cathy Scott.

One of his current joys is talking with young people about their future. He speaks to youth, to college students, and to professional students, having given talks at UCLA and USC, among other educational institutions. “We have to bring our kids around people who they can associate with. We have to let our kids

The publisher of the Inland Valley News mentioned that many kids are fascinated with gang life. “What can we do as educators to turn the tide away from thug life?” Ross quickly countered with, “Let me talk with them.” The point being that it sometimes takes someone with a similar life experience to make an impact on someone’s life.

Reflecting on his own experience in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ross said he is not an advocate for more schools, but he is an advocate for better teaching.

“Teachers need to change the way they teach. The way they talk about our kids,” he said. “Napoleon Hill talks about a burning desire, a person with a burning desire, they’re going to get up and take action,” he said. Napoleon Hill, born in the late 1800s, authored the book Think and Grow Rich.

Ross got a lot of questions from the audience about how to promote literacy for youth.

Children will learn best, Ross said, when they are presented with subjects that interest them, such as money. Ross said he became an expert in crime because he was surrounded by crime. “There were very few people [when he was growing up] who could have told me how to buy a house, or how to be a real estate agent, or to be a lawyer. It’s hard to tell a kid to go be productive in school when they perceive that it is not relevant to them. I didn’t know a judge or a lawyer until I was in court.”

Members of Ross’s home community from the Susan Miller Dorsey High School-area, where he grew up, were in the audience. They echoed the need for children to gain exposure to highly educated, caring adults.

This event was sponsored by The Inland Empire Minority Led Resource Development Coalition, a group representing multiple agencies, and leaders working for the common good. Among the organizations in attendance were Curbside Community Center, San Bernardino Unified School District, United Way of San Bernardino County, County of San Bernardino Behavioral Health, and San Bernardino County Board of Eduction, and The Urban Excellence Trainings.