Sep 30 2012

The Origins of the KKK

I have always been fascinated by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and several years ago I started collecting artifacts here and there. I first became aware of the KKK when I was around 11 years old and watched a documentary about the organization on TV.

There are a number of myths about the origins of the KKK. Some people believe that it was launched by Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. Others think that it was a secret order of Chinese opium smugglers. In reality, the Klan began when a group of six former Confederate soldiers decided to start a social club in December 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee. They decided that it would be a secret society and established titles for the various officers. They chose names that were purposely ridiculous, for example calling the head of the group the Grand Cyclops and his assistant, the Grand Magi. The members would be called Ghouls. Even the name of the social club, Ku Klux Klan was meant to be intentionally unusual and somewhat mysterious.

The club was actually originally founded out of boredom. Historians disagree about the motivations of the founders. Their first stunts involved disguising themselves in sheets and riding around on their horses in the streets of Pulaski showing off. They added masks and tall pointed hats to their costumes.

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Sep 29 2012

Poem of the Day: Arrival

by Judee Norton
(1990, Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville Goodyear, Arizona)

bright shiny bracelets
jangling on my arm
wide leather belt
snug about my waist
chains dangling seductively
between my legs.

I am captured
but not subdued
think they have me
my mind
wheels and soars and spins and shouts
no prisoner
I am free
to look to see
all that I ever have been
all that I ever may be

I hold the small and sacred part of me close
like a royal flush
my poker face
must not betray
cannot touch it
not even in their dreams
am light and air and fire
slip through their clutching fingers
like the night
even as they grasp my puny wrist
of simple bone
and blood
and flesh
body here
spirit there
am still

Sep 28 2012

Image of the Day

Women Prisoners in the Detroit House of Corrections (1899)

Sep 27 2012

Restorative & Transformative Justice in Chicago…

Last month, I co-organized an event with some colleagues about restorative and transformative justice in Chicago. The purpose was to highlight some of the exciting projects and initiatives in the city and also to provide a space where practitioners could network. The event was a success with over 120 people attending workshops that day.

At the event, my friend, the talented artist and filmmaker Gretchen Hasse, conducted interviews with some of the participants. My idea was to capture how practitioners in Chicago think and talk about restorative and transformative justice. Gretchen completed the short film this week. It is terrific. In under 15 minutes, I think that viewers will get a good understanding about the value of restorative and transformative justice. I hope that you will watch the film and pass it on to others.

Special thanks to Gretchen for creating this wonderful film documenting restorative and transformative justice in action in Chicago.

Sep 26 2012

Chicago Youth Organize Against Incarceration & For Justice…

I am blessed to live in a place like Chicago. We are a city where people are constantly struggling and fighting against injustice. The young people of Chicago are particularly inspiring. I am lucky to contribute in large and small ways to their efforts.

A group of youth from Fearless Leading by the Youth (who I’ve written about before on this blog) are continuing their amazing work to close the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) through the Audy Home Campaign. The young people define their work as follows:

The Audy Home Campaign is a campaign to develop the leadership of youth impacted by juvenile incarceration to close the Audy Home (JTDC) and replace it with alternative programs in the different neighborhoods where youth are getting locked up.

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Sep 25 2012

“I’m Never Going to CPS Again…”

We recently had a seven day long teacher strike in Chicago. You might have heard about it since it was national news. The fact that President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel is the Mayor of Chicago made the story catnip for the national press. On social media, folks who knew nothing about education policy and cared little about the Chicago Public School system weighed in with uniformed commentary. Mostly, there was a lot of teacher bashing. I, of course, didn’t join the fray.

I didn’t participate in the direct action teacher solidarity marches that took place all week during the strike. I have been struggling with health issues and also buried under a mountain of work. But the truth is also that I have been conflicted about the Chicago Public School system for several years. I am an educator and so my natural sympathies are with my fellow teachers. Yet, I am also an advocate for young people. Too many of the children and youth who I work with are being failed daily by the Chicago Public Schools. Unfortunately, many of these young people point to their teachers as some of their chief tormentors. What to do about this reality?

Part of the school pushout story of almost every young person who I have worked with over the years has involved encounters with teachers who either don’t care or can’t educate. But these young people are also set up for failure before they even set foot in a classroom for the first time. They have usually grown up in violent neighborhoods with single parents who are struggling to make ends meet. They come to school at a deficit and then teachers are expected to help them make up the gap. It’s a lot to ask.

Poverty is an impediment to educational success to be sure. James Traub’s excellent essay in the New York Times belies this. However, we also need to deal honestly with the fact that there are some bad teachers who actually harm children in CPS too. How do we deal with these truths? How will we attain the improvements that are needed in order to stem school pushout? What’s the overarching vision for change? I would like to hear more about this.

A young man named Ethan who I have so much affection and respect for, recently narrated his experience of being pushed out of school and into the criminal legal system. If you have 5 minutes, please take time to listen to his story. In CPS, unfortunately, Ethan’s story is all too common.

Additionally, just last night, a terrific young man who works with the Circles and Ciphers program that my organization incubates appeared on local television to share his reasons for dropping out of school. You can watch E.J.’s story here.

Sep 24 2012

The Hidden History of Black Women Criminal Legal Reformers…

Quick, name a 19th or early 20th century Black woman criminal legal system reformer…

It’s likely that if any name comes to mind at all, it might be Ida B. Wells-Barnett who I like to write quite a bit about on the blog. As someone who is very interested in the history of criminal legal reform, I have to admit to not coming across much documentation about black women’s contributions to the movement for criminal legal reform in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

One notable example is Mary Church Terrell. Born in 1863 to former slaves, Ms. Terrell is perhaps best known as an educator and as the first president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Her father became very wealthy and is sometimes credited with being the first black millionaire. She studied at Oberlin College and first earned her bachelor’s in 1884 then a master’s degree in 1888. She was one of the first black women to earn a college degree.

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Sep 23 2012

Black/Inside Update #4

Real Photo Postcard of Early 20th Century Prisoner

There are about 4 weeks until the Black/Inside exhibition opens at the African American Cultural Center. The exhibition will officially open to the public on October 23rd but we will be hosting a reception the night before to celebrate.

It is daunting that so few days remain until the exhibition opens. Teresa, Billy and I have crafted a plan and we are working diligently to meet our goals.

A month ago I wrote about the ideas that we hope to interrogate through the exhibition. In the past few weeks, we have been executing our vision and planning some associated events.

For example, I am thrilled to partner with my friend Mia Henry, of Freedom Lifted, LLC, to organize a unique bus tour. We will tour sites related to the history of incarceration and racial injustice in Chicago. We will visit Lucy Parsons’ home, the Black Panther Party headquarters, Elijah Muhammad’s compound, George Jackson’s home, the site of the Negro Fellowship League, among many other sites across the city. Information about how to register for the tour can be found here. I am so excited about this and am sure that everyone who participates will gain a wealth of knowledge about the historical relationship between the criminal legal system and black people in Chicago.

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Sep 22 2012

Willie McGee: the Politics of Race and Rape in the U.S.

Willie McGee (after his arrest)

In the early morning of November 1945, Willie McGee allegedly broke into the house of Mr and Mrs. Troy Hawkins. Mrs. Wilette Hawkins, a 32 year old mother of three, was raped while her 2 year old daughter slept in the bed beside her. The case became a cause celebre drawing people across the world to speak out and act on behalf of the man accused of the crime: Willie McGee.

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Sep 21 2012

Image for the Day: Troy Davis, 1 Year Later…

Image by Ricardo Levins Morales