RSS

A Funeral I’ll Never Forget

NAVC_Funeral_102713Walking into a funeral home on Mt. Prospect Avenue was the last way I thought I would be starting my summer of 2008. But there I was, surrounded by colleagues of Barringer High School, remembering the life of Sujeiti Ocasio.

I don’t have one negative memory of Sujeiti. She was funny, upbeat, and ready to find her place in the world. In fact, the last memory I have of her was her coming by my classroom with a friend to ask if I could help her write her resume. Mind you, I was in the middle of teaching a class and I knew it wasn’t her lunch period, but my normally strict, serious teaching persona responded, “Go back there and log in. Then, I’ll come show you how to do it, but you have to be quiet.” She was appreciative, and after I showed her how to find and use a template in Word, she and her friend kept busy for the remainder of the period. I checked in with her a few times, looked it over when she was done, and gave her some paper to print out a few copies.

I found solace in this memory as I sat in the overflow room of the funeral home. Quiet as summer rain, the volume never reached above a solemn hum. Family and friends whispered to others sitting close, or didn’t speak at all. Each time someone new walked in, I would look up, trying my best to smile with my eyes. These were the only muscles in my face that seemed to work. The entire experience was surreal. How could this have happened? Damn, she was a good girl. Sujeiti didn’t deserve to die.

All of this, and more, rushed into my mind as I sat at the table waiting to introduce myself at tonight’s Newark Anti-Violence Coalition Meet and Greet. Almost everyone had a personal story to tell about how gun violence had taken the life of a family member or friend. During open discussion, individuals shared the work they have been doing and offered ideas for further work to be done. This includes ideas for how we can attack the issue of senseless violence at its root.  I think member Natasha Allen said it well: “You’ve heard the saying that some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Well, some people are born with a sword in their hand, and they think that’s the only way to go about solving problems.” We cannot allow our children to be exposed to violence, sex, drugs as a norm, then turn around and expect them to act any differently than what they see. Whether one ends up in the role of victim or perpetrator, we must recognize how the prevalence of violence in the media and in our communities is a detriment to the psyche.

Sujeiti was killed within weeks of the day she came by my classroom. Murdered at her own home, at her own graduation party, by another young woman, Nicole Guyette, who should have graduated that night as well. It was a senseless killing over name calling. The kind of name calling I see and hear on a daily basis inside schools. Every instance should be taken seriously. I’ve already seen how it can end.

Each day is an opportunity to start anew. Tomorrow is no different, except that some courageous people who love this city have organized a symbolic event to help us heal our communities and say enough is enough: The Funeral to Bury Violence in Newark. At 11am, five processions will originate from each of the wards, culminating at Lincoln Park at 1pm where the funeral will take place. Tomorrow, I will walk for Sujeiti AND for Nicole because they are both victims of our over-aggressive society. I don’t want any more stories to tell about someone I knew. And I hope you don’t either.

PROCESSION STARTING LOCATIONS

North Ward: La Casa de Don Pedro, 39 Broadway

South Ward: Valley Fair

East Ward: Riverview Terrace

West Ward: Sanford Ave & S. Orange Ave, Sacred Heart Church

Central Ward: CityPlex Theater, Springfield Avenue

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 26, 2013 in life, Newark, reflection

 

Rally for NJ Working Families (Aug 20th)

By far my favorite picture from today’s rally outside of 2 Cedar Street, NAACP-Newark President Deborah Smith-Gregory leads the charge and keeps the momentum. It was a great image of union unity and I look forward to keeping the pressure on Newark Public Schools to provide all workers with a fair contract.

More than one union that serves NPS has gone years without a contract or pay increases. Cafeteria workers, electricians, custodians are among the workers whose income has remained stagnant while cost of living steadily increases. A great job has been done in painting us union members as selfish and overpaid, but this is not reality.

The people who attended today’s rally are Newark residents. They are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They are people with responsibilities–both at work and in their homes. If workers take care of their responsibilities at work, there should be nothing that hinders them from taking care of their homes. That’s only fair.

Below is the speech I wrote for the rally. I didn’t get to read it because we were running out of time, but I did recite Langston Hughes’s poem. Enjoy!

Get up! Get down!
Newark is a union town!

My name is Leah Owens and I’m a proud member of the Newark Teachers Union, and an even prouder member of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, also known as NEW Caucus. We are a group of teachers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, clerks and other staff who know that we can not have educational justice without social and, particularly, economic justice. We also know this fight is difficult. It made me think of the poem, “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes. The first part goes:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.

Raise your hand if you can relate. Raise your hand if life ain’t been no crystal stair.

What we’re doing right now is called class unity. We are acknowledging the commonality in our economic condition. We are all workers in this factory called Newark Public Schools. The boss, she don’t give a damn about you or me. It’s all about the bottom line–but we have to have our own bottom line.

Our bottom line is: stop closing schools!

Our bottom line is: stop union busting!

Our bottom line is: fair contracts!

Our bottom line is: no privatization of public goods!

The second half of that same poem provides hope. It goes:

But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair

We’ve turned some corners and reached a landing. We’re heading into the dark where there ain’t been no light, but we won’t turn back. We won’t set down and we won’t fall–not til we get to the top of that crystal stair.

 

funny face

laughter fills my heart,
smiles stretch wide
when I see your funny face

side glance stares
cause jigsaw hands.
bring your funny face to mine

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Love, poem

 

Power Concedes Nothing

Metaphors can leave strong images in the mind. The power of language. Here, through his choice of quote, Joe Del Grosso, President of the Newark Teachers Union, likens the relationship between the Vice Presidents who ran under him in the election in June 2013 and the Vice Presidents who ran on the NEW Vision slate to civil war:

In closing, I am reminded of something President Lincoln said when faced with a much more serious issue, but one that expresses my feelings. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourself the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government while I shall have the solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend it”.

Let’s chop this up. Really, Del Grosso? So, God has ordained you now? He has bestowed upon you, YOU, of all people, “the solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend” this Union? And its members? It must only be a select few, namely yourself. Because you weren’t protecting members with this contract that has the teacher constituency on two different salary guides. And you weren’t protecting members when you allowed the creation of the “Educator Without Placement” pool, all while new teachers and staff members continued to be hired into the district.

Yes! We are dissatisfied. And we’ll take being called the aggressors. Because we deserve more and we deserve better. But beyond deserving, we have the RIGHT to be included in our union.

You assailed us when you called us, “Losers,” complete with making a “L” with your fingers. You assailed us, me in particular, when I stood at the January Membership meeting to demand that we push back on the new teacher evaluation system that was being unfairly implemented throughout the district, only to be rudely interrupted. You even had the audacity to snidely ask, “What do you mean when will I get back to you? Do I work for you?” You damn straight you work for me!

And your latest assailment is attempting to cancel today’s Executive Board meeting all because you didn’t like the tone of accountability. At some point you’re going to have to get used to it. We’re not here to play games. You can no longer wield your power as you see fit. I wouldn’t liken this journey to civil war, but it damn sure is going to be a struggle.

Too many of us have stood in the face of adversity, time and time again, with the determination to overcome. I guess we are reminded by a different quote:

Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” –Frederick Douglass

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

ba dump

the center of progress

ba dump

pumping new ideas throughout bodies

ba dump

life itself

ba dump

it takes heart

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Intimacy

Our deepest conversations
occur in the twilight,
when the world is still and
nothing matters but you and me.

Stripped of everything,
melted in each other’s arms,
fear fades away.

Intimacy.
I love being intimate with you.

image

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Love, poem

 

Deliberate

Beautiful Black girl
Funny
Complex
Smart
Who caused your self-hate?
Not being able to relate
to no one but the same?

Too busy teaching
Couldn’t imagine your hurt,
lack of self-worth

Leading by example
must be conscious
must be deliberate
Shouldn’t be left up to chance,
a lottery we can’t afford to enter.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 20, 2013 in life, poem, women

 
 
Just Cities

A blog devoted to social justice issues in urban schools and communities.

Words From My Art

Poetry and short stories from the heart! and more!

34justice

Three Guys' Analytical Glance into the Political and Cultural Conundrum

Gary Rubinstein's Blog

A blog about education by a math teacher

A Just Chicago

Fighting for the City Our Students Deserve

BlackWomanTeacher

a site exploring intersectionality and public education

NEW CAUCUS

The Social Justice Caucus of the Newark Teachers Union

Young Teachers Collective

A group for future teachers with a common radical vision for the future of education.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

A fine WordPress.com site

Diane Ravitch's blog

A site to discuss better education for all

Cloaking Inequity

A blog focused on education and social justice

STANDFOREDUCATION

Newark Schools, Newark Voices, EMPOWERED

jaalston

A fine WordPress.com site

Yesenia Guerra

Soulful Pieces

Beyond the Bricks

Just another WordPress.com site

poetryblogofmine

A topnotch WordPress.com site

School Finance 101

Data and thoughts on public and private school funding in the U.S.

%d bloggers like this: