I love poems by Langston Hughes. I think that he may have been the first Black poet that I read as a child. I have a first-edition copy of his poetry book “One-Way Ticket.” It was published in 1949 but what I love most about the book are the illustrations by Jocob Lawrence (who is one of my favorite visual artists). It’s an embarrassment of riches. I have decided to share the six illustrations that are included in the book on the blog. All of them in some way speak to the prison industrial complex in my opinion.
With the school year just around the corner, a good friend who is a high school teacher asked me for a list of suggested books for young adults that focus on gangs. I put together a list and decided that some readers of this blog might also find some use for it. These are all books that I have read and recommend. The list is a mix of young adult fiction and non-fiction work. Most of the books are appropriate for youth with a 9th grade reading level. I have noted a few books that can be read by middle-schoolers.
DRAPER, Sharon M. Romiette and Julio (YA fiction) – A gang whose members object to their interracial dating harasses Romiette, an African American girl, and Julio, a Hispanic boy. This fictional book is a bit West Side Storyish without the music. It would appeal more to young women IMO and could be read by middle schoolers.
HEWETT, Lorri. Soulfire (YA fiction) – A rift between cousins Todd and Ezekiel when Ezekiel tries to solve the problem of gang violence in his Denver neighborhood. I think that this book appeals to both young men and women. It can be read by middle schoolers.
KOWALSKI, William. The Barrio Kings. (Orca, 2010) An easy read that’s relevant to youth who are struggling with leaving a gang.
LIPSYTE, Robert. The Contender (YA fiction) High School dropout Alfred Brooks escapes from a gang by joining a boxing gym. Boys will really enjoy this book. My nephews/cousins have greatly liked this book. Middle-schoolers can easily read this.
LYFE, Ise. Pistols and Prayers. (iUniverse, 2010) Poetry, prayers, and journal entries to make sense of the crazy streets.
RODRIGUEZ, Luis J. Always Running: La Vida Loca – Gang Days in L.A. (Touchstone, 2005 – Non-fiction) The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles. It is appropriate for high schoolers though it was written for adults.
RODRIGUEZ, Luis J. It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing. (Touchstone, 2011 – Non-fiction) A beautiful sequel to Always Running. Both girls and boys love it.
SANCHEZ, Reymundo. My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King (Chicago Review Press, 2000 — Non-fiction). In My Bloody Life, Reymundo Sanchez tells a chillingly sad tale, from his birth in the back of a pickup truck in Puerto Rico to the day he quit the Latin Kings gang, 21 years later. I assign this book to my college students and they always LOVE it.
SANCHEZ, Reymundo and RODRIGUEZ, Sonia. Lady Q: The Rise and Fall of a Latin Queen (Chicago Review Press, 2010 — Non-fiction). Young women will really gravitate to this book.
I just finished Eric Cummins’s book “The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement.” The book is well-worth reading.Cummins mainly focuses on three San Quentin prisoners: Carl Chessman (Cell 2455 Death Row), Eldridge Cleaver (Soul on Ice), and George Jackson (Soledad Brother) to tell the story of the California prison movement from the 1940s through the 1970s. Through his consideration of these men, he explores the changing ways that crime and criminals were perceived over the course of about 35 years. He basically makes the case that the excesses of the Left (particularly in the 1960s) helped to strengthen the hand of the reactionary Right.
The Feathered Warrior
by Luis J. Rodriguez
(for Marcos Cordova, who at 16 years old was
killed in the streets of Chicago)
The streets call out many
to be renamed,
to be initiated
into a world,
to be reborn into darkness,
to taste death so as to revel in it;
streets that feed off
all the great hungers,
all the great angers.
These streets have called out a fine warrior,
who fought with fire and feathers,
who ran poetic fingers over concrete
walks—a warrior who carried
the rage for all of us,
pushing the emotional edges
to the depths of all our rivers.
He scared the world with honesty
because justice ran in his veins
as did the street’s blood.
His death has given us life,
not as savior, but as our son,
who has toppled the betraying fathers.
Clay, feathers and jade eyes:
Sixteen years of man madness
created such a dreamer.
I am incredibly lucky to be in community with some of the most brilliant people anywhere. One of those is my colleague and friend Owen Daniel-McCarter who is one of the founders of the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois. Owen recently published an excellent article and I want to share it with the readers of this blog. The article titled “Us vs. Them! Gays and the Criminalization of Queer Youth of Color in Chicago” is timely and will be particularly relevant to those who are interested in racism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia, and the criminalization of youth. I am only sharing a few excerpts from the article but you should really read it in its entirety HERE (PDF).
Owen offers some background for understanding the emergence of the “Take Back Boystown” phenomenon in Chicago:
After several publicly violent incidents in “Boystown” directly preceding and following the 2011 Chicago Pride Parade, residents of “Boystown” responded with calls for more policing, tougher enforcement of criminal laws, and resurrection of gang injunction ordinances. They even demanded that Chicago’s LGBT community center, the Center on Halsted, and a shelter for LGBT Youth known as the “Crib” be shut down for “attracting” violent outsiders into the “Boystown” community.” While “Boystown” residents’ fear of outside “invaders” seems to happen annually following the Pride Parade, this year was particularly hyper vigilant. Residents of “Boystown” created a facebook page called “Take Back Boystown” which touts to be “a venue for suggestions, ideas and thoughts on how we can preserve what we have and go back to the safe fun neighborhood Boystown is known for.” The site has provided a venue most notably for free-flowing rants from residents of “Boystown” about young people who are not residents of the neighborhood, referring to them in racialized code words such as “gangs,” “thugs,” and “hoodlums.” Local gay media immediately made the connection between public violence, youth, and race by reporting that “criminal activity” in “Boystown” could be due to the “presence of South and West Side youth.” As any resident of Chicago knows, “South and West Side youth” is code for Black and Latin@ youth.
I’ve been listening this song by Ab-Soul for several weeks and am still unpacking its complexities…
At my window all I see is Babylon
On the news all I see is Babylon
And all niggas do is just babble on
Money and hoes, want money and hoes
If I sold dope, I’d have plenty of flows
I was from the projects like Jay Rock
I woulda more than likely slang rocks
All my life I done been around Crips and Bloods
Pimps and thugs – just to name a few
I do drugs, Mama say it’s in my blood
But she don’t know what the fuck I’ve been through
To creep through the back door, the typical black boy in the good old U-S-A
Before I pushed rhymes like weight, I used to wanna play for the NBA
Fuck I’m doing talking bout pineal gland
Ancient ways it’s Sumerian
Ain’t nothing wrong with a righteous man
This why I had to write this man
For my niggas on the corner
Selling water to somebody’s daughter
Fluctuating prices man
I ain’t got no gavel
I ain’t tryna fight nobody battle
I-I just wanna be free
I ain’t tryna be nobodies chattel
The global economy continues to be mired in a Depression. The police are shooting one black person every 36 hours in the U.S. People of color are being stopped and frisked by law enforcement at unprecedented rates and the impact is traumatic and destructive for its targets and our communities. Through Occupy Wall Street, there was a brief moment when the mainstream started talking about income inequality. Times are tumultuous across the world and not just in the U.S.
This is a postcard from my collection. It was printed by American Opinion which was owned by the John Birch Society. The following words are printed on the back of the card.
The picture on the other side was made at Highlander Folk School during the Labor Day week-end of 1957. Attentive pupils identified by the numbers are:
1. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association indicated here is not unusual for Dr. King, who belongs to several important Communist front organizations, and who regularly employs or affiliates with known Communists.
2. Abner W. Berry, of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
3. Aubrey Williams, President of the Communist front, the Southern Conference Educational Fund.
4. Myles Horton, Director of the Highlander Folk School (for Communist Training), Monteagle Tennessee. This school was later closed down by the State of Tennessee, but an offspring is now thriving in Knoxville.
By now, I am sure that you’ve gotten the idea that the Birch Society saw Communists EVERYWHERE…
I am starting a new feature on the blog. I don’t know if it will be a long-term project. I come across so much information and I often find myself thinking: “I wish I knew more about this person or that topic, etc…” My curiosity is endless. So I’ll use this space to muse about subject matters or people who I wish I had more information about (but for whatever reason cannot follow-through).Today, I wish I knew more about Chicago Black abolitionist, Emma J. Atkinson. She came to Chicago in 1847 with her husband, Isaac. She lived in Chicago at a time when there were only about 200 other blacks in the city. By 1850, Blacks in Chicago only numbered 378 out of a population of over 23,000 people.
Emma was one of the mysterious “Big Four,” a group of black women at Quinn Chapel who provided food, clothing, and shelter to runaway slaves. Emma Atkinson is the only named member of the group at this time. Unfortunately black abolitionists in Chicago (or abolitionist in general) who assisted fugitive slaves did not keep written records and accounts of their efforts. So we know almost nothing about the work of the “Big Four” and that is a huge shame. I wish I knew more about them…
**Dedicated to survivors of sexual violence in this time of unspeakable backlash and meanness…
“I learned to live many years ago. Something really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had a choice, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what today, sometimes seems to be the hardest lesson of all.
I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.
I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned, even though so many people may have thought I sounded like Pollyanna. By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived. – Anna Quindlen.