Archive for January, 2013

Speech at 1/21/13 MLK Celebration

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Text of Speech given by Susan Anglada Bartley at the New Beginnings MLK Celebration in Portland, Oregon on January 21st, 2013. (Broadcast and webcast by KBOO Community Radio)

statue of mlk

Thank you very much to Kenneth Berry and to all of the staff and volunteers here at New Beginnings Conference Center for the opportunity to speak today. In preparation for this event, I spent time examining the writings of Dr. King. I’d like to begin with a quote from Dr. King’s sermon entitled “Loving Your Enemies,”

“Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security. Napolean Bonaparte, the great military genius, looking back over his years of conquest, is reported to have said; Alexander, Ceasar, Charlemagne, and I have built great empires. But upon what did they depend? They depended on force. But centuries ago, Jesus started an empire that was built on love, and even to this day millions would die for him. Who can doubt the veracity of these words? The great military leaders of the past have gone, and their empires have crumbled and burned to ashes, but the empire of Jesus, built solidly and majestically on the foundation of love is still growing.”

Once again, the historical moment that we are living in requires us to consider how brotherhood might defeat enmity, how love might conquer hatred, and how peace might quell violence.

The conditions around us – all people of every faith, nationality, religion, and race, require us to think about the role of violence in our lives. My first memory of violence comes in the form of generational grief – a memory passed to me by my mother through story – I hold shattered images of my grandfather, an autoworker and former Irish boxer in Detroit, shot and killed by a random murderer by the roadside in the middle of the night. Like many of you, I am aware of the impact that the violent death of a loved one has on a family.

Violence touched my childhood too—I remember when a gun shot pierced the floor of my uncle’s house in one of the toughest neighborhood’s in Buffalo, New York when armed robbers intruded, narrowly missing him. I remember the day when my classmate, Wykeshia Bolden was shot in the crossfire of a drug battle. As school children, we dedicated a song to her, and promised to never forget.

As a teacher, gun violence has touched the lives of those close to me. Fernando Chavez lives in my memory as a bright student who struggled to make it past the difficulties of his troubled youth, –and just when he almost got there, a thief with a gun broke into the house that Fernando lived in. When he jumped out to protect the family that was providing him shelter, a gunman ended his life.

As a mother, gun violence touched my life last week when two men toting military assault weapons stood outside my baby’s daycare to celebrate their right to bear arms, causing the children to huddle in the backroom, and the teachers to lock down the school in fear of another violent incident.

It is impossible to discuss the great work of Dr. King without sharing his message of non-violence, non-conformity, and hope. While it may be hard to hear about violence, and to truly reflect on the ways in which it affects our lives, please let us remember that Dr. King asked us to be honest about the existence of violence and to fight it with love.

In his sermon, “Transformed Non-Conformist” he writes, “Only through our inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit. The transformed non-conformist, moreover, never yields to the passive sort of patience which is an excuse to do nothing.”

Can we each take the time to consider how violence has touched our lives, our family histories, our loved ones, and our inner selves? Where is that place in each of our hearts that needs a safe harbor, a nest of healing, a silent mountaintop? Where is that place in you, friend, that knows the gun shot, feels the beating of fists, hears the cry of children? Where is that place in you that knows the sound of stomping feet, the pain of cruel words or deeds, and the impression that they leave on the heart, and their weight on the soul?

Today we remember Dr. King, and the hundreds of thousands of members of that great generation who were willing to make sacrifices in the name of love, equity, justice, and peace. Among them were educators, musicians, activists, pastors, teachers, small children, mothers, elderly people, and those of all faiths.

niagara river

In my life, I had the opportunity to walk in the leadership of a great educator who walked in the footsteps of Dr. King, taking each step in love. Dr. Charles Hopson was a great mentor who passed this year. At a time in my life where I was searching desperately for a job, Dr. Hopson picked me up and placed me in my position; on his shoulders I stand. He lived his life with the goal of bringing equity for all children in public education. My favorite memory of Dr. Hopson was in seeing the Promised Land together. Through a grant, we had the opportunity to travel to Buffalo, New York, to visit schools before transforming our school. On the trip, we took the Underground Railroad tour, which took us to this spot—the guide explained that this was the exact spot on the river where escaped enslaved people would be hidden in carriages of white allies from a local church. When a light flashed in the middle of the river, the escapees would move quickly to a boat which took them half way across the river to where the boat with the lantern waited in Canadian waters. As soon as they crossed to the other boat, they were officially safe and free.

When I look at this picture, I remember that the promised land many not be dripping with gold and pearls and diamonds. The promised land may come to us on a cold, grey day. We might be most likely to find it in the lowest of places, but if we keep on going it really does await us.

On the other side of this river, I had the opportunity to visit an African-Canadian graveyard. The guide told us that one worn gravestone held the remains of a man who had most likely been taken from Africa, survived the brutality of the Caribbean, lived as a slave in the South, escaped to the North on foot, and made it to Canada by crossing this very river. While his name was worn, one word shone proudly on that stone. It said “Landowner”. When reflecting on life’s difficulties, and challenges I’ve faced, I think of the legacy of those who came before me, and I ask “What is that I say I can’t do?”

In considering how to live the legacy of Dr. King, and of our ancestors, let us remember that firearms are the very cruel tools of encorporation used by Europeans to overpower African people. Firearms were used to humiliate, intimidate, overpower, and imprison Dr. King and many members of his movement. Firearms continue to be used to police African American and Latino communities, and firearms are responsible for the deaths of many young people in impoverished inner city environments where Dr. King’s message is overshadowed by the drama of poverty, and the cyclical parade of violence paying for violence. We stand on the shoulders of those who faced gun-toting police with the well-organized power of love to win the civil rights that we all enjoy today. As we come together to support the work Dr. King and our collective American ancestors who paved our way to greater liberty, let us support President Barack Obama in his efforts to lessen the violence by removing assault weapons from our national community. Let us also take action at the school level by asking for alternatives to violence programs, better mental health services for all children, and greater access to higher education. In calling our legislators, speaking with our school officials, friends and neighbors, let us remember our responsibility to the people who came before us, and that we must create a solid, peaceful place to stand for the next generation—when they look at our shoulders, let’s not allow them to see us ducking, let’s stand tall, and exemplify the everlasting power of non-violent resistance, non-conformity, and most of all, love.

Thank you.

Author Speaks of Neighborhood Gun-Toting

Friday, January 11th, 2013

PORTLAND, OREGON, January 9th, 2013

(from katu News, Portland, OR)


Teaching Dr. King with a Gun in My Hand

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recommendation that Americans consider allowing teachers and school staff to carry guns is only as dangerous as the media blitz that surrounds him. Let’s take the focus off of his wacky idea, and consider the manner in which we, as a society, are entering into this conversation, and let’s remember that we came to this conversation because of our collective conscience–our feeling that we cannot tolerate the senseless violence in our society, and we must find real solutions to prevent it.

As a public high school teacher in Portland, Oregon, I ask you to consider what it feels like to consider returning from winter break to work in a school with 1300 students, a school that has faced budget cuts in the past five years, a school that draws from a diverse community of learners, a school where we try our best to know every single student, but cannot be sure of our ability to provide mental health services to all students because we lack resources, a school where we practice our school shooter drills diligently because we know, sadly, that it could happen here too.

I envision making a plan with each class, letting them know that when we are in lock down, we’ll also barricade the door in this manner—after I lock the door, James will flip the desks, and Ralph will help him push them up against the door; Raymond will flip the tables, and we, as a class, will hide behind the tables in silence. If the door rattles, we won’t scream, and you better believe that in those moments, there will be prayer in school.

While I will return to school at the end of break, these fears in mind, I still don’t wish I had a gun. There is no way that, with a gun in my hand, I could teach the non-violent philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, of Ghandi, and of many other political thinkers who inspired change through creative, peaceful means. I hearken back to the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King, edited by Coretta Scott King, “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education stops which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but with no morals”. While I have taken the time to consider the value of the rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, and by our founders, I also consider the values of those who, through non-violent protest, made the most significant structural changes to the system of public education in the United States by desegregating the school system. The values of the civil rights movement are just as important, in terms of the ideological trajectory of the nation, as the concepts first laid down by the founders. As we move forward, we must put down our guns, and rediscover, quite literally, King’s Strength to Love.

Arming teachers is not the answer, as it isn’t practical, and it is also a concept antithetical to the American values of non-violence, individual conscience, and personal will. Two 60 year old AP Calculus teachers with bifocal lenses and a hippie English teacher are not going to succeed in a shootout with an assassin. Legislation that limits access to guns, sensible school security infrastructure (like pass card systems that they have at athletic clubs), and more funding for mental health services in grade schools, high schools, and colleges are solutions that will help to heal this broken system.  I recommend that Governor Perry considers these options, but if he really wants to wield a powerful weapon, I suggest he also consider implementing non-violent communication curriculum in every Texas public school. Teachers take the risk of facing an violent attack every time we enter our classrooms, and until these changes are made, our students take the risk with us. As a mother and as a community member, I want to see our parents, teachers, students, and administrators linking arms to build nets of spiritual protection around our schools. As a realist, I want new laws, school safety measures, and more mental health services now.

 

Speech at MLK Remembrance, 1/16/2012

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Text of Speech given by Susan Anglada Bartley, at the World Arts Foundation Dr. King Memorial Tribute at Highland Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon on January 16th, 2012. (Broadcast and webcast by KBOO Community Radio)

Thank you to the World Arts Foundation, Highland Church, and especially Kenneth Barry for his extraordinary dedication to keeping the dream alive.

I want to start with a personal story. I need to take you back to about 1987, in Buffalo, New York, when I was a nine year old girl. With the desolation of the economy due to closure of auto plants and steel mills, tens of thousands of people, many of whom were descendants of the wave of African American workers who moved to Northern cities for employment after World War II, had lost their jobs and homes. The crack cocaine and heroin epidemic had taken over the inner city, and even members of my own family. A sense of desperation gripped our urban landscape. My mother, a woman who moved to Buffalo from Detroit with no college education, had saved her money from the flower shop, one day telling my brother and me that we were going to New York City to stay, for just one night, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Looking back, I can see that she wanted to show us the world beyond our downtrodden city.

In contrast to the poverty of Buffalo, it was shocking to see how rich people lived. While I faintly remember the crystal chandeliers in the hotel’s foyer, there is one moment I vividly recall. After entering the elevator, a beautiful African American woman and two African American males in black suits entered. My mother pulled me close, whispering, “Never forget this moment,” she said, “That’s Coretta Scott King and her bodyguards.”

Looking up at the woman, I saw her royal blue dress, and the confident, distant gaze in her large brown eyes. I didn’t breathe, and from that moment a life lesson was revealed to me that took me years to understand: To be wealthy was to be a woman like Coretta Scott King.

As I stand here in my eighth month of pregnancy, I wonder what was running through Ms. King’s mind when she was pregnant with her first child in 1955 – the same year when Claudette Coldin and Rosa Park’s refused to give up their seats, 1955; the same year that Emmitt Till was killed for whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi, 1955; the same year that Civil Rights activists Lamar Smith and George W. Lee were both brutally murdered.

I think of the faith it took to hold a child inside her womb, and to persevere, though her family faced death threats and her children would face hatred and discrimination in school because of the color of their skin.

When I think of the sacrifice of the very Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta, I come closer and closer to know, I think, a godly definition of true wealth. As A high school teacher, I try my best to keep the memory of Dr. King thriving. Franklin school has made some positive changes that do honor the legacy of Dr. King. Under the leadership of Principal Shay James and Vice Principal Lavert Robertson, we have created the Advanced Scholar Program, a program that requires students to commit to taking a minimum of four Advanced Scholar classes during high school. Though Shay’s leadership, all barriers to Advanced Placement classes have been removed. We have instituted a tutoring center to provide support for students who need help with high level homework. And all the way, the intent behind Shay’s leadership is not solely to push forward African American students; it is to create a rigorous environment in which all students can thrive. The result has been dramatic increases, over the past three years, in the numbers of African American students, and students living in poverty from all backgrounds, taking AP classes. The school was recognized by the College Board’s office of equity last summer because of the clearly documented success. Though we are seeing these results, we still face problems in finding continuous funding, in ensuring that every student has the support they need to pass the classes, and in completely eradicating racism from our school environment so that even more black and latino students partake in the most challenging curriculum available to them.

While I’m happy to share the positive news about Franklin, I remember that Dr. King’s legacy cannot be celebrated through boasting or partial success. Even on December 10th in Oslo, 1964 when Dr. King accepted his Nobel Prize speech, Dr. King began his speech by remembering the struggles of his people.“I am mindful,” he said, “that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death”.

So today, 48 years after that speech was given, I celebrate Dr. King by asking that we continue to walk in his footsteps by analyzing the places in our public schools where racism still exists, and praying for the courage to be willing to continue to fight for equality. I ask you to consider speaking up even more about issues of discrimination that you see taking place in Portland Public Schools. Many of you, who have African American or Latino children attending school in this district know, even better than I do, about the exact kind of discrimination that is taking place. I applaud the district for engaging in the <i>Courageous Conversations</i> curriculum, and I have participated in this program since the first pilot group. I also see a variety of structural changes that can be made, directly by Portland Public, in order to expedite the process of eradicating racism. While Doctor King was the greatest advocate for non-violent communication, we must also remember the aspect of King that practiced systems analysis. Currently, the district had hired some highly qualified African American and Latino staff to help with the process of restructuring systems that are negatively affecting black and Latino youth.

Black and Latino children in Portland Public Schools are still far more likely to receive a discipline referral. The discipline system for children in Portland Public Schools needs serious revision. We also need to look at our athletic coaching staff, district wide, and ask that the district make it a priority to hire more African American, Latino and female coaches not for assistant positions, but for Head Coaching positions. Shouldn’t our role models in athletics at least reflect the ethnic backgrounds of many of our teams?

Like Rev. Dr. King, let’s ask for strength  never to tire until our work is truly done. Also, let’s look beyond the goal of high school graduation for black and Latino youth, and begin more Pre-AP programs in middle schools and high schools so that we can create a College Graduation Initiative, expecting every student in Portland Public Schools, including Special Education students, to take at least one AP or Dual credit class, whether they are earning college credit in auto mechanics or AP Physics.

In closing, I humbly ask you to consider, when you meet any young man or woman, to look into their eyes and see a King. In my own experience, you never know when and where you might meet one. It could be at the bus stop, it could be in an elevator, and it could be in your own classroom, or it could be the child sitting next to you right now. Tell all the young people in the audience right now for me, let’s do this call and response style: “We believe in you,” “We love you” “We are working together to protect you.”