Tuesday, September 20, 2011


All children start off as 'gifted' and at risk! What diminishes these gifts are the lack of inspired teachers; classrooms that impose restrictions on who they are and what they learn; and parents who leave their children's potential and destiny to all of the above."

Michelle Brown-Stafford Parental Involvement Coach

Michelle Brown-Stafford is the African American woman whose son Stephen Stafford Jr entered university when he was 11 years old. Brown-Stafford and her husband Stephen Stafford Sr made the decision to withdraw their two children from the public school system and home school them. Brown-Stafford made the sacrifice with the support of her husband to leave her job and become the educator of her children. The family lived on the one income of Stafford senior, an electrical engineer to ensure that their children received the best possible education at home with mom as teacher. Today their 19 year old daughter Martinique Stafford who entered university at 17 is a member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society and their 15 year old son will graduate next year with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in psychology (major) and computer science (minor) and then he is off to medical school (at a mere 16 years old!).

Brown-Stafford and her husband decided that home schooling was best for their children after losing confidence in the education system. This is not possible for all parents who may only have one income to begin with or need both parents’ incomes just to survive. Brown-Stafford has advice for parents who by necessity must have their children educated in the public school system. She urges parents to work with child’s teacher to identify if the child is an auditory, a visual or a kinesthetic learner. Kinesthetic learners learn best by moving their bodies, activating their large or small muscles as they learn. These are the "hands-on learners" or the "doers" who actually concentrate better and learn more easily when movement is involved. Some kinesthetic learners are mistakenly labelled “hyperactive.” It is very unfortunate that some educators who do not have the training or the dedication needed to work with children do more harm than good when working with kinesthetic learners. This is especially true when the kinesthetic learner is an African American or African Canadian male child. In a June 2010 interview published in the St Petersburg Times when explaining that Stephen was homeschooled more than his older sister Brown-Stafford is quoted: "We had to keep track of Stephen because he is an African-American male, and we didn't want to lose him and we didn't want him to become a statistic."
The Stafford family and other African Americans are not alone in their disenchantment with the education system. In 2006 British educator Ken Robinson spoke about the lack of diversity in the education system which leads to the misdiagnosing of some children who are kinesthetic learners and the stifling of their creativity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY.

Parents also have a role to play in the education of their children. Some of the activities in which parents can engage with their children include taking them to the library to borrow books (to read with and to them) and educational DVDs and encouraging them to play educational games. You can choose to turn off the television or limit the time spent watching television shows that are not educational. Have regular chats with your child's teacher about his or her progress and address any concerns before it becomes a big deal. Document any concerns you may have and questions that are not answered satisfactorily must be addressed in writing. When attending formal meetings have an advocate or support person to take notes. Volunteer at your child's school whether on a regular basis or for special occasions, attend Parent Council meetings as often as you can and run for office on the Council if you have the time to commit. You and your child need to know the names of any one who works with your child including the principal, vice principal, class room assistant and volunteers, office administrative assistant and caretaker.

We pay taxes to fund, among other things, education and health care so we should expect that the education our children receive is appropriate to their learning style. We should expect and demand that the education system works for us, to educate our children effectively. If the system does not serve us appropriately then we need to hold the politicians and educators accountable. Make this an election issue.

Michelle Brown-Stafford hosts a website at http://www.gifted-spirit.com/ where she shares the knowledge she has gained from successfully homeschooling her two children. She encourages parents to be involved in their children's education. Her advice and the knowledge she willingly shares is invaluable because both of her children have done well under her tutelage. Her son Stephen Stafford Jr. will graduate from Morehouse, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who entered Morehouse (one of the USAs 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities HBCUs) as a 15 year old in 1944. On Sunday, August 28, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and his famous I Have A Dream speech King will be honoured when a monument is dedicated with a larger than life size sculpture of King. The memorial honouring King which includes the 9-metre-tall sculpture of King emerging from a 137-metre-long granite wall inscribed with 14 quotations from his speeches sits on the National Mall between memorials honouring Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. The monument is a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to a worthy cause and lost his life in that struggle.

It is almost the end of the summer vacation and time spent away from formal education. What have you and your children been reading during the two month summer break? The summer is not over until after Word on the Street on Sunday September 25, 2011 at Queen's Park, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/toronto. It has been an amazing summer with glorious weather and many opportunities to visit festivals galore and learn about Toronto. Unfortunately there has not been much to learn about our history in this fast disappearing International Year of People of African Descent http://www.un.org/en/events/iypad2011/. However, not to despair we have the opportunity to educate the teachers in the schools our children attend when schools re-open on September 6. You still have about 10 days to either borrow books from the Toronto Public Library (TPL) about the history of Africans from the continent and the Diaspora or visit the bookstores and buy some books. Practice the 4th Kwanzaa principle Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) by buying your books from Accents on Eglinton, A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Books and any other bookstores whose owners support our community.


The year I turned ten
I missed school to march with other children
For a seat at whites-only lunch counters
Like a junior choir, we chanted "We Shall Overcome."
Then, police loosed snarling dogs and fire hoses on us,
And buses carted us, nine hundred strong, to jail.

Excerpt from the poem Birmingham 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford published 2007

On September 15, 1963 white American Christian terrorists bombed an African American Christian church, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham , Alabama . The bomb blast tore through the church basement killing four African children. The four African American girls whose bodies were shattered in that act of terrorism were Addie Mae Collins (1949-1963) Denise McNair (1951-1963) Carol Robertson (1949-1963) and Cynthia Wesley (1949-1963.) An estimated 22 other African Americans members of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church were injured in the bomb blast. It was Sunday morning and according to reports published at the time: At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” when the bomb exploded. This act of terrorism is considered one of the worst of the 20th century targeted at African Americans during the Civil Rights struggle. There were countless (many never made public) incidents of terrorism against African Americans including the massacre of African Americans in Tulsa , Oklahoma in 1921 (Black Wall Street) and Rosewood, Florida in 1923. Many were labeled “Race Riots” when in fact, in dreadful acts of terrorism, white people lynched African Americans, destroyed their businesses, churches, homes and schools in jealous rages that in spite of the oppression they suffered there were African American individuals and communities that managed to carve out contemporary successful existences.

When the terrorists are white Christians the religion of the perpetrators is ignored but every act of terrorism against African Americans has been carried out by white Christians. In some cases they are not recognized as acts of terrorism or the perpetrators identified as terrorists. However in the case of the September 15, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham , Alabama even former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that incident and the bombing of African American businesses, churches and homes were acts of terrorism. Rice was an 8 year old living in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 at the time of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing and in her 2010 published book Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family writes of the several incidents of bombing in Birmingham, Alabama: As terrorists still do today, bombers exploded the first device in hopes a crowd would gather. They detonated the second bomb filled with shrapnel and nails – in order to injure as many innocent onlookers as possible.

September 15, 1963 was not the first bombing incident or act of terrorism by white Christians to which African Americans were subjected that year. In her 2007 published book Birmingham 1963 Carole Boston Weatherford explains: In the 1960s, Birmingham , Alabama was one of the most racially divided cities in the United States . While Civil Rights protesters pressed for equality and integration, the staunchest racists resorted to violence to resist change. Racists had set so many bombs in Birmingham ’s black neighborhoods that the city was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

White Christian Americans were desperate to keep African Americans in a place of second class citizenship in the country which was built on the blood, sweat and tears of enslaved Africans. So desperate that on Good Friday, April 12, 1963 Dr Martin Luther King and approximately 80 other African Americans were arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. Dr. King wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham jail while he was incarcerated in reply to a group of white religious leaders (7 pastors and 1 rabbi) who exhorted Dr King and all African Americans to continue to wait for their Human Rights and Civil Rights to be recognized by white Americans. The mass arrests on Good Friday led to the Children’s Crusade on May 2, 1963 where over 1,000 children (many as young as 6) gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church before marching to downtown Birmingham. They were all arrested and hauled off to jail in police cars and school buses. On May 3, more African American children gathered and as they left the church Commissioner of Public Safety Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor directed the local police and fire departments to use massive force to stop them. The world saw the evil of white supremacy when images of African American children being blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed by police officers and attacked by police dogs appeared on television and in newspapers internationally http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgbham.htm. The scene was repeated on May 4 and on May 6 almost 2,500 youth were arrested. By then the children were being held at the state fairgrounds because the jails were full. On May 10 after 8 days of unrest an agreement was reached with the City of Birmingham to desegregate drinking fountains, lunch counters and restrooms within 90 days and to release those in jail on bond or their own recognizance. However that was an agreement with City officials, the good Christian white people of Birmingham refused to treat African Americans as their equal and the terrorist activities against African Americans continued.

For African American families and communities there was the added trauma of being forced to live beside these terrorists. In the case of the murder of the four children on September 15, 1963, the terrorists continued to live in Birmingham , Alabama and were not brought to justice until the 21st century. Since 1963 an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had identified four white Christians as the terrorists responsible for the bombing of the African American church and the murder of the four girls. Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry continued to live in Birmingham , Alabama where the African American community was forced to deal with the fact that these terrorists walked among them daily as free men. In September 1963 a witness had identified Robert Chambliss as the man who placed the bomb at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963 Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for possession of dynamite. It was not until the 1970s that the case against Chambliss was reopened. The then recently elected attorney general of Alabama requested the original FBI files on the case and discovered that evidence against Chambliss that might have led to a conviction had not been used in the original trial. In November, 1977 Chambliss was tried once again for the September 15, 1963 bombing, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. By the time the FBI got around to pursuing action against the other terrorists on 18 May 2000, only two were still alive. Cash was dead (1994) but Blanton and Cherry were arrested, tried and convicted (Blanton 2001 and Cherry 2002.) Cherry’s trial was delayed because he was deemed mentally incompetent. However according to This Day in Civil Rights History published 2009 “The evidence against him, including testimony from his own granddaughter, painted a picture of an unrepentant former Klansman who was a close associate of Chambliss and Blanton and was linked to the bombing.”

Why did it take almost four decades for these white Christian terrorists who devastated the African American community of Birmingham , Alabama on September 15, 1963 to be brought to justice? After all we have seen how quickly the American government can move against suspected terrorists in other countries peopled by racialized people who are not Christian.


When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.
Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.
Solidarity Forever
Solidarity Forever
Solidarity Forever
For the union makes us strong.

Excerpt from Solidarity Forever written for the International Workers of The World (IWW) in 1915 by Ralph Chaplin.

The Labour Day weekend has come and gone and what a weekend it was! The 1st Monday in September has been celebrated as Labour Day in Canada for more than 100 years. The weather on Monday, September 5, was a bit cooler than we have been experiencing during this summer but at least it was not 3.3 °C as The Weather Network shows was the record low in 1938. The annual Labour Day Parade in Toronto included thousands of workers who are members of several trade unions walking from University Avenue and Queen Street West to Exhibition Place. Not everyone walked; some marched to the sounds of bagpipes while others danced to the sound of popular music and some of us did wine and dingolay to the irresistible sounds of calypso and soca from Afropan Steel band and the Surefire Band which accompanied the Steelworkers group. As usual especially since there is a Provincial election just one month from now, the politicians were out in full force.

It was a completely different scene the day before, on Sunday, September 4 when a group of migrant workers and allies gathered at the British Methodist Episcopal Church on Geneva St. in St. Catharines , Ontario on the first stop of a "solidarity caravan." It was the same story at the various stops made by the "solidarity caravan" there was not a politician in sight. The migrant workers who come from several countries including Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago and Thailand to work on farms in southwestern Ontario rallied in Niagara this weekend to bring attention to some of the problems which they encounter as workers who are denied many of the rights other workers in Canada take for granted. These migrant workers could not join the workers at the Labour Day parade on Monday because they had to work. Because Ontario 's labour law does not allow agriculture workers to form unions these workers continually face the threat of being deported if they refuse unsafe work. Sometimes their jobs include operating machinery which they have not been trained to do safely and handling chemicals also without the necessary training. Thousands of migrant workers come to Canada to fill labour shortages through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker (SAWP) and Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP)

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) began in 1966 in partnership with Jamaica . Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados became part of the program in 1967. Mexico joined in 1974 and later members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS.) The program is run by Human Resources and Social Development Canada and Service Canada.

Politicians of all stripes know that migrant workers are ill treated yet this does not seem to concern them. It is left mostly up to a group of dedicated volunteers like Chris Ramsaroop, Tzazna Miranda and others of Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) to advocate for this group of racialized, vulnerable and exploited workers. On Friday, October 27, 2006 Ramsaroop spoke to the Federal government’s Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities about the conditions under which migrant workers live and work on the farms in Ontario. As part of a very detailed presentation about the lived reality of the migrant workers for whom he has advocated fearlessly and tirelessly for several years, Ramsaroop said: “Many of these workers work 12 to 15 hours a day without overtime pay or any type of holiday pay. They use dangerous chemicals and pesticides with no safety equipment or protection and training. They live in substandard housing, which I have pictures of, with leaking sewage and inadequate washrooms. They have an inability to access most employment insurance benefits despite their contributions. They face various barriers to accessing adequate housing services. And they're prohibited from forming collective bargaining and joining unions. For actually taking a stand for anything they believe in, they could be sent home. As such, many workers are reluctant to stand up for their rights, since employers find it easier to send workers home at their own expense instead of dealing with their serious concerns. The lack of an appeal mechanism in the seasonal agricultural worker program forces many workers to remain silent out of fear of being expelled from the program.” In spite of this information none of the political parties seem to have an interest in attending to the dreadful human rights abuses the migrant workers suffer.

With a provincial election a month from now, Ramsaroop has embarked on the second year of raising awareness (building on last year’s Pilgrimage to Freedom) in the communities where the migrant workers toil in Ontario . Making a connection with the descendants of enslaved Africans in the communities and educating migrant workers about the history of the Underground Railroad and educating the communities about the suffering of the migrant workers has led to the "solidarity caravan." The British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines was the first stop. As the workers spoke about their working and living conditions, they also learned about the struggles of Harriet Tubman whose image is prominent at the church (built by African Canadians in 1855) as she worshipped there when she lived in St Catherines. The caravan made stops in Virgil, Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls to expose the differences that exist in the lives of the migrant workers who live in poverty, housed in places little more than hovels as they harvest the grapes that make the “wine country” successful and enrich the owners of the vineyards who live in mansions. In Niagara on the Lake, the migrant workers and allies distributed flyers and the Ontario produce which they (migrant workers) plant and harvest. Many people were willing to take the flyers and listen but soon the law was called to encourage the caravan to leave the area. At the Niagara Falls area the caravan visited the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel a church built by the African Canadian community in 1836 where they learned some more about the history of African Canadians. Ms Wilma Morrison an African Canadian history activist and advocate hosted the group at the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel and provided in depth education about the history of African Canadians in the area.

There will be caravans on September 25 and October 2, visiting other stops on the Underground Railway. According to literature from J4MW: The towns that we will be visiting, as part of the Underground Railroad, promised a land of freedom, hope and opportunities, but are now hubs of agricultural activity that are highly dependent on exploitative temporary migration programs for labour. The caravan will highlight the current labour laws, the restrictions of migrant worker programs, the profits of the agricultural industry and how Canadian society profits from the indentureship of migrant labour. While the community prepares to celebrate its annual wine festival and rejoices in the astronomical profits that have been achieved through the sacrifices of the migrant community, this tour is to celebrate workers' contributions, demand changes to our laws to reflect their realities and to expose the hidden realities of temporary foreign worker programs across Canada.
Even though migrant workers are prevented from unionizing they deserve support from unionized workers because they are part of the family. An injury to one is an injury to all! Solidarity Forever!


Nafissatou Diallo will not get the opportunity to confront Dominique Strauss-Kahn former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief and billionaire in a court of law and officially tell the story of the traumatic sexual attack she suffered. This, in the 21st century, when some African women sexually brutalized by white men in the 19th and 20th century had that opportunity even if the men were never found guilty. At least there are court records where researchers from later generations could glean information and write books about that reality. The District Attorney of New York County in his infinite wisdom has decided not to bring the case to trial. African women have been the victims of white men’s brutality since these men made their appearance on the African continent seeking free labour. This happened whether the white men were British, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish or any other European tribe. The Jezebel myth was eventually created to rationalize these often brutal attacks. Enslaved African females (including children) were portrayed as corrupters of good Christian white men. In his 1859 published book The Roving Editor, or Talks With Slaves in Southern States abolitionist James Redpath wrote: “I am a white man and I know that mulatto women almost always refuse to cohabit with the blacks; are often averse to a sexual connection with persons of their own shade; but are gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons.” An amazing piece of self delusion coming from an abolitionist but at least he recognized that the sexual advances were criminal. The evidence does not bear out what this white abolitionist wrote because there are stories of enslaved African women resisting those criminal advances even though they knew they were endangering their lives and the lives of their loved ones. In the book Celia A Slave: A True Story published in 1999 (author Melton Alonzo McLaurin used information from Celia’s trial) the 19 year old enslaved woman is hanged after she is found guilty of killing her owner who had raped her on a regular basis for the five years he owned her. The fact that she was defending herself from a brutal beating and eventual rape for the umpteenth time (all this while she was pregnant with the owner’s third child) was not considered. Her lawyer put forward a case for self defence but Celia was property and her owner by law could do whatever he wanted with her including killing her if he had a mind to do so and she legally had no right to resist. This was no surprise in 1855 Missouri or most states in the USA. That may not have been the law in some of the Northern states but as can be deduced from the words of Redpath even those whites who thought that the enslavement of Africans was illegal also thought that enslaved African women welcomed the criminal sexual advances of white men. Given this mindset it is hardly surprising that the rape of African women continued even after the abolition of slavery. African American professor Deborah Gray White notes in Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (published 1999):From emancipation through more than two-thirds of the twentieth century, no Southern white male was convicted of raping or attempting to rape a black woman. Yet the crime was widespread. Case in point is the brutal gang rape on September 3, 1944 of then 24 year old Recy Taylor, married mother of a two year old daughter. Taylor left church accompanied by two other church members (60 year old woman and her 18 year old son) when they were confronted by a group of 7 white men who kidnapped Taylor. The men drove out of town where they raped then blindfolded Taylor and after threatening to kill her if she told anyone about the rape, abandoned her on the highway next morning leaving her barely alive to walk home or die trying. She made her way home where her father, her husband and friends had been searching for her throughout the night. Unlike previous cases where the rape of African American women by white men had been “hushed up” this case did not die a “natural” death. Rosa Parks, then a 32 year old activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up the cause and ensured that there was widespread publicity to force the authorities to arrest the rapists. Meanwhile the Taylor family was under siege. Death threats and an attempt on their lives when their home was fire bombed forced Taylor and her husband to move in with her father and six siblings. The threats continued and each night Taylor’s father would climb a tree in his backyard and as reported by Earl Conrad in an article entitled “Death Threat made against rape victim” published March 17, 1945: “Cradling a double-barreled shotgun and a sack of shells, he guarded the cabin until the sun broke on the horizon and then went inside to sleep.” The men who raped Taylor claimed that she was a prostitute and even offered her husband $600.00 as compensation. Marvin White the lawyer representing the accused asked Willie Taylor, "N***er- ain't $600 enough for raping your wife?" Not surprisingly the grand jury returned no indictments and there was no trial. The Taylors were forced to move away from their family and community, settling in Florida where 91 year old Recy Taylor received the news in March 2011 that the Alabama House unanimously passed a resolution to express its 'deepest sympathies and solemn regrets.' Taylor ’s 74 year old brother who was a child of nine years old at the time said he still vividly remembers his father desperately searching for his daughter on the night of the rape. 'He came back by the house about three times, and each time, his shirt was wringing with sweat. Nobody slept that night.' Recy Taylor’s story is the first in Danielle L McGuire’s 2010 published book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance -- a New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power and Joan Little’s story is the last. On September 7, 1974 Little was arrested for 1st degree murder in the killing of 62 year old Clarence Alligood, a white prison guard at Beaufort County Jail in Washington, North Carolina. The guard’s body had been found in the cell where the 21 year old Little had been incarcerated for two months. He was naked from the waist down. His yellow and white plaid shirt was caked with blood and a thin line of semen stretched down his leg. His right hand loosely held an ice pick and his left arm, dangling toward the floor clutched his pants. Little was declared an armed and dangerous outlaw with police ordered to shoot her on sight. With service dogs and high-powered rifles the police went door to door in the African American community of Washington, North Carolina. After hiding out for one week Little surrendered. At the trial the prosecution claimed that Little seduced Alligood and murdered him to enable her escape. Little testified that Alligood had forced her at the point of an ice pick to perform oral sex before she seized the ice pick, stabbed him repeatedly and escaped. Little was supported by many activists including feminist organizations: http://www.msmagazine.com/spring2002/davis.asp and was acquitted. Since Diallo’s accusation against Straus-Kahn some white newspapers have hounded the woman, preventing her from returning to work. Her past should have no bearing on whether or not she has the right to face her attacker in a court of law. She has been accused of being a prostitute and her life scrutinized as if she was the perpetrator instead of the victim. With the unfortunate decision to dismiss, the District Attorney seems to be sending a message to racialized women who suffer sexual violence at the hands of rich white men that they have to live perfect lives if they want to see justice done.