State legislator pleads ‘Black Minds Matter’

Community activists, elected officials rally in support of Black History being taught in schools.
Photo by Vinette K. Pryce

“Just because Black History Month is over” education about the race should not cease, Rev. McCall of the National Action Network said during a rally in front of Medgar Evers College last Sunday.

“This is Women’s History Month” and the education must continue.

He addressed a coalition of organizers and groups intent on convincing Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Board of Education that despite their neglect Black Minds Matter.

His comment parallels that of Sen. Jesse Hamilton, coordinator of a movement to advance an education bill he introduced in the state senate that would prolong Black history in schools past the shortest month of the year.

“I’ve been working to advance education and I have believed Black Minds Matter since I was a school board president in this community years ago,” the legislator said. “Black minds mattered to me in my first days in the New York State Senate, putting together mentorship events.”

“Black History Month 2018 may have ended, but our commitment to Black history education endures.”

As a matter of fact that was a chant that resounded and repeated in Crown Heights when endorsers marched from Bedford Ave. to Franklin Ave., Crown St., Montgomery and back to Bedford Ave.

“What do we want it?”


“When do we want it?”


As cars halted, tenants / residents looked out windows and unknowing passersby queried the purpose of a Sunday, afternoon, gathering on a brisk and windy day, chants of “Black Minds Matter” unanimously responded.

The purpose of the rally was to coalesce a community of advocates, elected officials and organizations in order to “unite in support of Black History education.”

The representative of the 20th District accomplished that by partnering with representatives from Guns Down Foundation, No Gun Smoke, The United Against Violence Task Force to join in a soap-box speak-out about education at the institution named for a martyred Civil Rights leader.

Parent, teachers, students offered personal testimonies against city officials and a board of supervisors that allegedly fails Black and brown children.

Malcolm Xavier Combs, a student at Christ The King High School said he was humiliated, reprimanded and denigrated by his teachers because he displayed his name on his sweater.

The youth boldly displayed his abbreviated name of Malcolm X and was promptly sent to the principal’s office.

Allegedly a teacher scolded him, ridiculed him in front of other teachers and asked him why he would want to be associated with the name Malcolm X.

“It is my name,” he explained.

Ignoring that fact, Combs was summoned to the top disciplinarian in the school.

“He didn’t even know where the principal’s office was because he had never been there before. He is a good kid,” a speaker said.

Mercedes Liriano-Clark, a Bronx teacher at Intermediate School 224 said she too was rebuked by her colleagues in education for proposing a Black history lesson plan. According to the educator who teaches English, she following a prescribed curriculum she assumed appropriate but was told Black history was limited to particular classes and excluded her language subject.

She said she was puzzled by the assertion that she erred and reminded the school official that it was Black History Month and her instruction was appropriate to the prescribed curriculum.

She told the crowd that after the intervention in her class instructions she was instructed by Principal Patricia Catania to refrain from teaching her students about the Harlem Renaissance.

Numerous speakers voiced dissent about policies endorsed by board of education administrators.

“This country was built by us, we are going to get a Black curriculum or we will shut it down,” a determined speaker said.

Needless to say, defiant students, teachers, parents, advocates and at least two former prison inmates agreed.

Rennie Smith, allegedly wrongfully, incarcerated for 27 years spoke with determination that the system must change. He blamed racism, poor leadership and unorganized community for the state of affairs.

Another speaker jailed for 12 and a-half years for bank fraud echoed a similar sentiment.

Now an author of 12 books, she explained that she was railroaded and arrested for following advice about real estate from senior realtors which she passed onto clients.

She said she believed her procedures and policies were sincere. However, according to the former housing consultant, others schemed and “received much lighter sentences.”

Again her charge was racism and that the scourge is pervasive throughout the city.

Since then she says she has joined a “Pink Panther clique” and is committed to educating others.

Speaker after speaker condemned the BOE alleging enumerable deficiencies – dismantling productive institutions, underfunding needed programs, racist practices and totally ignoring a Black History curriculum.

“Black history is not only about slavery” there are inventors, scientists, and many accomplished people of color that are not recognized for their contribution to making American history, speakers contend.

While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. seems to be the sole approved subject at many schools, activists are demanding a broadened and extensive, inclusive, year-long curriculum.

“Bi-partisanship helped pass my bill by 60-0 to approve such a program. Because of party politics, my bill has not passed the Assembly yet,” he allegedly stated. “But Black Democrats won’t pass my bill. We cannot get the bill out of the Assembly.

“Where are the progressives?”

Introduced as the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. “of our day” Sen. Hamilton introduced the education bill that would “get Black History into New York schools kindergarten through 12th grade,” not only in February but in every month of the year.

“Our commitment to liberating the minds of our youth endures. Our commitment to young people endures.”

“Black minds mattered to us yesterday. Black minds matter to us today. Black minds will matter to us tomorrow,” the state senator said.

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