By Mark Naison
Anti-racism has always been at the core of my politics since I became an activist in in the early 1960’s.
The first protest I attended was a boycott and picket line of Ebingers Bakeries in 1962 to force them to hire African Americans as drivers and sales clerks, led by the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality. It has been a long and winding road since then that has led to my current role as participant, and occasionally leader, in the movement against school closings, Common Core and high stakes testing. But one thing remains the same. The moral center of my activism is still the impact of social policy on poor people and people of color. I became an education activist because of what I saw happening in the schools of the Bronx, where the community history projects I was doing in more than 20 schools were pushed out by the Bloomberg administrations policy of rating schools and teachers on the basis of student tests, and closing schools which didn’t “make the grade,”
Now, what I see happening in Bronx schools and communities is leading me to supplement my education activism with a campaign to radically change drug laws, policing patterns and the imprisonment of people for non violent crimes.
Not only do young people in the Bronx live their lives in a prison like atmosphere, being stopped and searched in the streets, the subways and in their schools (many of which which have metal detectors); large numbers of them, when they reach their twenties, are saddled with criminal records which make it difficult for them to become part of the legal labor force and play a constructive role in forming and raising families.
Something must be done to take the pressure off our young people in their communities as well as their schools if they are to reach their full potential. They need freedom from arbritrary search and seizure and arrest as much as they need freedom from excessive testing.