Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gifts of Gratitude and Support for Our Teachers

Gifts of Gratitude and Support for Our Teachers
By Daphne Muse
As the holiday season emerges and families, friends, colleagues and community members come together to celebrate let’s support our teachers and what they bring to the table.  There are some very creative and practical gifts people can share that may well take a bit of a load off your professional lives.  With budgets diminishing on an almost daily basis and the need for supplies and other resources growing exponentially, what teacher would not appreciate a gift certificate from a retail or second-hand outlet to bring more books, equipment or art supplies into the classroom?  Along with major outlets, non-profits including Goodwill, American Cancer Society Thrift Stores and Salvation Army are good places to find every kind of supply imaginable for the classroom or resource center from books to art supplies and furniture. As you purge your garages, homes and storage units invite the teachers in your community to select what might work in their classrooms or resource centers.
Almost every family has someone who is retired and whose skill set would be a great match for some of your classroom needs, including serving as a volunteer for a field trip, assisting with the re-organization of your class or providing research to assist you with ideas for teaching the curriculum.  There are numerous organizations that you can tap into, if you don’t have a family member or neighbor who can assist including AARP, your local senior citizens community center, fraternal organization or sorority.  There are also reputable people who have to do community service.  You can contact the court in your local jurisdiction to find out how to access people from that pool to access their expertise.  College interns are often in search of interesting and creative projects and your classroom could prove to be one.  Through the division of student services at your local college or university, you may be able to connect a teacher with an intern.  While serving as an editor for Children's Advocate News Magazine, I was able to secure the services of two members of the Junior League who totally redesign of the publication.  Other gifts that might prove to be welcomed include:
·        Gel pads for shoes and gel cushions to make the feet and chair more comfortable
·        Working recycled technology including cameras, computers and DVD players
·        A Gift Certificate of a designated amount of time from a retiree or working professional whose message and skills can connect with young people
·        Donation of healthy fruits and snacks at designated for special classroom occasions
·        A First Aid Kit, board games, books and software
·        Funds to underwrite a classroom field trip
As brilliant and creative as our children may be, remember often they are taught into their callings by teachers.  Cherish the gifts they bring to the table and the work you do in guiding them onto and along their paths.

Links:  The Junior League of Oakland/East Bay
East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse
Oakland Cancer Society Thrift Store

Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and consultant who blogs for the Alameda County Office of Education.  You also can read her blog at

Quality Education:  An Inalienable Right
By Daphne Muse
Quality education should be an inalienable right, whether it’s grounded and sourced in Afro-centrism, dual immersion or common core standards.  Educator and activist Dr. Robert (Bob) Moses and his contributing editors address this deftly in Quality Education as a Constitutional Right (Beacon Press, 2010).  Educating the whole child to become the fully realized adult, complete with solid skills and a mind primed to engage, is a goal that I imagine we all want to carry in our hearts and practice as educators.  But we clearly recognize how daunting this is to deliver especially to our black and brown students, as the school to prison pipeline bursts at the seams and the data related to dropout rate grows more disparaging. 
Despite the disparaging data young people of color demonstrated just how smart they are, as a whole new generation was empowered to go to the polls. Overall voters 18-29 made up 19 percent of the electorate.  Teachers had a lot to do with them making and living this history.   Putting what is possible up front and center can keep some of them out of the pipeline and on course to realize greater goals.  I think all too often we forget that what we do in our classrooms does not always translate immediately, especially given the propensity to measure achievement almost exclusively through testing and not other more creative and reflective paradigms of performance.  Even through oral histories (though not empirical) or surveys, it would be interesting to see what students feel they learned in school.  Asking alums of Alameda County schools to post stories at the website about how their education translated into their future, might be one way of culling information and data as tools for measurement.
          I never thought geometry would play a relevant role in my life, until one day about twenty-five years ago I had to position a chair through a door.  I was about to take the door off the hinges, when I heard the voice of Ms. Lattimore, my ninth grade Geometry teacher, say spatial relations Muse, spatial relations.  I positioned the chair understanding that I was working to move a non-rectangular object through an opening that was a rectangle and did not have to remove the door from its hinges.  In that moment, I realized that what we learn manifests across time, experiences and circumstances.  Each new set of skills and learning builds upon the pedagogy laid down beforehand. 
Across the continuum, there are multiple paradigms and practices for ensuring that all our children and young people are well educated and empowered.  Education really is not a one size fits all practice and we must look at how educators in other regions of the country and around the world are implementing best practices and claiming success.   It is clear that our young people recognize the fact that while many of them may live and work in their respective neighborhoods for the rest of their lives, as a result of the breadth and capacities of technology, they are crossing “boarders” economically, culturally and politically.  That crossover allows them to venture into global metropolises and villages thousands of miles away from their neighborhoods.  It is imperative that we educate them accordingly and keep our pulse on the ways in which certain learning modalities excite and inform them.  There is no singular lens or paradigm for elevating their lives and preparing them for the workforce and to become vitally engaged participants in this larger, increasingly innovative global, society. 
We cannot continue practices that contribute to the genocide of black males or any other group.  Our best practices must be even more dynamic, inclusive and innovative to grow the minds, creativity and leadership of future generations.  You may be training the doctor who will develop a cure for cancer, Nobel Prize-winning author, Alameda County teacher of the year or future president of the United States.

Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and consultant who blogs for the Alameda County Office of Education.  You also can read her blogs at  She can be reached at

Monday, October 15, 2012

From the Book Basket: Baseball and African American Inventors

From the Book Basket

A series of fine books for children and young adults came into my Book Basket this week and I want to pass on some information about them.  Yesterday (February 14, 2012), I posted comments about Ichiro, a new graphic novel.  Last night I read, Just as Good:  How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game by Chris Crowe (Candelwick 2012, Ages 8 & Up) and What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Candlewick 2012, Ages 8 & Up).
In our home Center Fielder Larry Doby was just as revered as Second Basemen Jackie Robinson.  Like ours, the family in the story was baseball crazy.  We used to live two blocks from Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC and would peep through the holes in the fence to watch the likes of Doby crack that bat.  In his book Crowe pays tribute to Doby’s legacy, the effect he had on his fans and his efforts as a champion for Civil Rights.  Mike Benny’s illustrations are energetic and rendered in such a way that you can almost hear the crack of the bat as Doby makes the first home run of the 1948 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. After a stellar performance with the Cleveland Indians, in 1978 Doby went on to become the manager of the Chicago White Sox.  The book ends capturing an historical moment with a black man Doby and white man pitcher Steve Gromek celebrating the victory by smiling and hugging one another, something unheard of and that was met with some of the same kind of vitriol that exist around race today.

In What Color is My World? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his co-author Raymond Obstfeld weave an exciting narrative around biographical information and blueprints related to the inventions of a series of groundbreaking scientists and inventors including Dr. Valerie L. Thomas.  Thomas invented the Illusion Transmitter and worked her way up to Associate Chief of Space Science Data Operations Office at NASA.  Primarily narrated by middle school twins Ella and Herbie, the stories cleverly unfold around a dimension of African American history that goes well beyond enslavement, entertainment and sports.

The illustrations by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford capture the range of the physical realities of black people, presenting us in multiple racial characteristics.  With facts about each inventor or scientists, realistic renderings of their inventions and blueprints, the interesting design of the book is bound to engage readers who might otherwise bypass the book.  The biographical information also focuses on Alfred L. Cralle, inventor of the Ice-Cream Scoop; Lonnie Johnson, creator of the Super Soaker and Dr. Mark Dean, Vice President at IBM and Personal Computer Pioneer.  Historical information related to the biographies is set in context with the inclusion of sidebars like the one noted below:

 I wonder how many other medical miracles might have happened a lot sooner if some nutty people hadn’t worked so hard to keep black people from becoming doctors.

Both books are exciting tools for getting our young people to learn the relationship between modern innovations and technology, while wrapping their minds around dimensions of African American/American History that are still relegated all too often to obscurity.

Daphne Muse spent six years as a writer for Breaking Barriers, a curriculum project that is a partnership between the Office of Education for the Commission on Major League Baseball and Scholastic, Inc. Raised on the roar of the crowd from Griffith Stadium the social history of the sport continues to intrigue her.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pluck: Homage to Fortified Wines

Pluck:  Homage to Fortified Wines

Dedicated to Pluck and Son of Pluck
From the archive written in 1999
By Daphne Muse

This urban tale is based on in depth, non-imbibing primary research and a series of oral histories conducted with Spotee-O-Dotee, Willie, House Party, Pluck, Son of Pluck and a host of legendary characters who hung out on street corners, colleges and the bars of urban America.  In 1975, my brother Vincent Muse worked in one of the infamous wineries in Modesto, California where Annie Green Springs, Boone's Farm and MD 20/20 were vented, vatted and “vetted.”

Vince was a pipe fitter at the winery and he watched the daily ritual of huge flat bed trucks pulling up to deliver thousands of pounds of Malic acid.  The acid was used to neutralize the effects of the bees, bird/bat guano, and other vermin that fell into the seven-foot tall vats.  Early each morning as he pulled up to the job, the vats would be covered with about four-inch layers of crickets.  Around ten o'clock, just as the fog and mist began to lift, the crickets would vanish.  The smell, wafting throughout the dense Modesto air, still remains caught in Vincent's throat. 

In the process of collecting these oral histories, my brother Leonard shared the legacy of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose.  Vinted and bottled in Petersburg, Virginia, Otto, the Swiss man who owns the plant still lives there and his letters-to-the editor are a regular feature in the Petersburg daily newspaper.  Leonard provided me with a series of original labels.

While perusing the offerings at an estate sale filled with Christian iconography and memorabilia, a woman walked up to me and handed me a bottle.  The label at the top read "free."  She offered it up to me saying, "I think you can appreciate this." In my hands she placed a classic: an original bottle of Thunderbird, which I in turn have willed to the Smithsonian.

In the past few weeks, I also visited a series of libation emporiums to examine the shelves to see if any of those liquid artifacts from our era remained on the shelves. What I found amazed me, for the fortified wine trade has gone uptown in fancy frosted colored glass bottles with "zip code wine" sounding names that pass them off as respectable.  While brown bags can still be seen turned up to lips on the streets throughout urban America, the folklore accompanying the pluck tales has virtually died out.
Pluck--It was a very good year for naive young girls with big stars in their eyes.  Annie Green Springs left Boone's Farm on the Night Train to find her dreams in the big city.  On her first day there, she met Hombre, a smooth operator whose running buddy Pluck ran a blind pig and strip joint.  Pluck had visions of making frail little Annie a world famous exotic dancer named Peppermint Schnapps.

Just as they were about to get in Hombre's Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose pulled up and sicked Mad Dog 20/20 on this woman hanging all over Pluck.  Packing her Colt 45 and wreaking of Bullshot, Wild Irish Rose demanded an immediate explanation.  While fumbling to find her hip on which to place her hand, she told her friend Ariba “Come on over and Cold Duck this dude.” In his smoothest “swave-knave” style, Hombre convinced Wild Irish Rose that no harm was meant or done and invited them to come on up to the Cordon Negro Arms in the Mogen David Hills, a uniquely gated community. 

As they entered the apartment, the sound of ice clinking in glasses could be heard and the slightly rancid smell of day-old barbecue sauce and fried chicken on paper plates greeted his guests.  Half-and-Half, Cisco and old ass Sneaky Peet showed to the set lit to the gills.  Tyrollia (Italian Swiss Colony), who can't stop talking about her latest booze cruise, was in the house and had just made a fresh batch of Champipple (Champale and Ripple).  Silver Satin slipped on over from Strawberry Hills next to Red Mountain to talk smack and libate some more “seconds,” the leftovers from other people’s drinks.  They had just stopped by the Brown Derby Bar and swooped down on a couple of quarts of Old English 800.  They came in “Soul Training,”

What’s the word?  Thunderbird
What’s the price:  30, twice
What’s the reason?  Grapes in season
What’s the action?  Satisfaction
It’s so nice, drank it twice.

In the background while Bitta Dog (Ripple and lemon concentrate) was baying at the moon, the sound of Frankie Lymon baby please begging one of his many latest women to come back to his low-down dirty do wrong all the time arms, was easing off a 45.  With tear filled eyes and foggy minds, they all raised their jelly glasses to love, the Gallo Brothers and the imaginary rolling hills of Modesto, the capitol of the fortified wine world.

Postscript:  The world's largest retail chain is teaming up with E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., to produce the spirits at an affordable price; in the $6-8 range. While wine connoisseurs may not be inclined to throw a bottle of Wal-Mart brand wine into their shopping carts, there is a market for cheap wine,” according to Kathy Micken, professor of marketing at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, "There is wine in a box that people are willing to buy," she said. "The right name is important"

The top 15 suggested names for Wal-Mart Wine:
15. Box O' Grapes
14. Chateau Traileur Doublewide
13. White Trashfindel
12. Big Red Gulp
11. Grape Expectations
10. Domaine Wal-Mart "Merde du Pays"
9. NASCARbernet
8. Chef Boyardeaux
7. Peanut Noir
6. Stagger Home
5. Chateau des Moines
4. Martha Stewart's Sour Grapes
3. I Can't Believe It's Not Vinegar!
2. World Championship Wriesling
1. Nasti Spumante

Copyright 1999
Oakland, California
Daphne Muse
510 436-4716,

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Disagree with him, yes; demonize him, no.

Disagree with him, yes; demonize him, no
By Daphne Muse
While I find myself in real disagreement with President Obama on some points, I refuse to participate in demonizing him.  I think we’re playing right into the hands of the Repubs, Teapubs and out and out Ted Nugent wing nuts by so doing.  Sure, I’m livid about the droning of America and the rest of the world; still “warring” in Afghanistan; foreclosure debacle that has yet to be brought to a screeching halt; inability to tell the banks “up yours.”  But many are treating him like that third grade black boy who is so brilliant, but has to be reigned in so that at every juncture he will be thwarted from growing into the depth and breadth of his brilliance and leadership.  The better that third grade boy performs, the more the seeds of doubt and discouragement are imbedded in him.  The sledge hammer psychology used to defeat that third grade boy and President Obama is working so well.  No matter how hard they work and render tangible results, they will never be given credit for their “missions accomplished.”  Had the Repubs taken out Osama Bin Laden, there would have been parades in every city in America and “got him” memorabilia sold in almost every airport shop, strip mall and road side stand in the country.
 I think Obama really thought, and naively so, that his efforts at bipartisanship would work, as the Repubs continue to flip the switch on that as well making it appear as though he is the ultimate obstructionist.  The president, on the other hand must step up to the plate boldly and allow the word poverty to roll of his tongue; state support for black and other people of color in ways that reflect what’s good about diversity in America and what it brings to the table; and continue to demonstrate how integral women are to the future of the country. He is fighting mightily to overturn the efforts to double the interest rates on federal student loans and There also are growing efforts to double down on First Lady Michelle Obama as fashion critics denounce her frugal sartorial choices as un-American, deflect the work she and Jill Biden are doing related to military families and flog her for strategically addressing the obesity epidemic.   Disagree with him yes; demonize him, no. He has proposed a series of plans that could alleviate some of the distress, but Congress continues to block almost every effort at every turn for his goals to be realized.  Even a growing number of the Democrats refuse to have his back, choosing not to attend the convention.  That’s a lateral pass to the Repubs.  I’m clear that the bottom line is that Capitalism has worn out its grooves, war is a business and that the country has become the United Kleptocracy of America, as attempts to resuscitate any vestiges of Democracy wane on life support.
By the way, Romney is driving the Repubs crazy and they are in real distress in terms of trying to get this debacle in check, as they continue to throw gazillions of money bombs at defeating Obama.  Don’t be surprised if the “Roms” refuses to debate Obama on some weirdly contrived grounds.  This guy has perfected the art of moving in two directions simultaneously, evading direct questions and refusing to take a position on anything other than being the “presumptive” nominee for president.  We may well be in for an “August Angst” and possibly the “September Surprise” with wild cards being dealt from decks we didn’t even know were being shuffled.
©Daphne Muse
Oakland, CA 94601

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bred to Bully
By Daphne Muse

Children bred on Maury Povich, Jersey Shore, Moho’s videos, Gangsta, Bangsta behavior and endless public scandals are bound to behave just as these feral children did.  While on a school bus, several middle school children goaded and mocked sixty-eight year old bus monitor Karen Klein.  To her face, they talked about her weight, age and at one point, the verbal abuse escalated to one of the boys saying she didn't have any family: “They all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you." Klein's son took his own life 10 years ago.  The country’s national psyche is deeply scarred and the armies of the “walking wounded” grow exponentially on a daily basis. 
The over the top level of egregious disrespect being shown President Obama, women and the poor, on an hourly basis, continues to grow.  Bullying has become a kind of drug people snort, inhale and off of which they make money and become celebrities. On a daily basis, you can witness ministers, reality stars and “baby mommas” on steroid drama bully from their various pulpits. You really can have vigorous and civil disagreements without stooping to the kind of bullying conducted by people from all levels of society.  It’s as though these people get up every morning and drink a gallon of HaterAid to fuel their lives. But Klein reacted by not taking the bait. 
 It’s time to take it Old School and provide stronger foundations for our young people with a viable moral compass.  You better believe me, I would insist upon a meeting with the parents, teachers and the students themselves to address this matter in serious terms and request a series of interventions, including a screening of the film “Bullying” for the school administrators, teachers, bus driver, parents and students.  Then I would request community service related to some kind of project focusing on bullying:  and the Lee Hirsch film “Bully.”  If those involved do not agree, then lawyer up and blow them out of the water:  legally. 
So many of our children are being bred and coded into this unseemly and violent behavior.  Parents better believe that this behavior will be visited upon them as well.  It will inform and impact how their children navigate their professional, social and their own lives as parents.  I firmly believe parenting classes should be offered up in public schools, along with sex education; it is common sense, a solid step towards better family planning and good public policy.
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet.  You can read her blogs at and reach her at

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Legislating, Marketing and Entertaining us Into Insanity
By Daphne Muse
Each day as more impossibly absurd matters “drone” and attack the landscape of our humanity, I say:  “This must be the last act in the theater of the absurd,” only for the next act to be even more egregious, vile, unholy, treacherous and breathtakingly unbelievable; more ready to make the last atrocity look normal.
There appears to be no more reverence for reason, as the beacon of compassion has been snuffed out, twittered away and spun beyond any semblance of recognition.  Cauldrons filled with legacies of hate boil over, as mighty minions tap dance on the Metaphysics of Morals doing all the bidding for the new corporate personhood.  Moral clarity, ethical behavior and principled standards have become tongues tied into knots of lies that languish, embedded in the national psyche and turned into public policy.  The mental illness of racism is suffocating the very life out of those who could be future doctors, engineers, visionaries and presidents. 
The Supreme Court has recently ruled that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before putting them in jail even if officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.  But being colored has been a long standing tradition of being contraband in and of itself.  Employees are requiring your Facebook password in order for you to be hired and privacy is just an illusion that even the one-percent can’t buy their way out of, as so adeptly demonstrated by Wiki leaks and hackers of every stripe. We’ve been “blingsided,” entertained, marketed and legislated into insanity, as demonstrated by what has become the daily barrage of enraging stories about black men being murdered wantonly, children being raped in what was thought to be the trusted hands of “responsible” adults and relentless efforts to drag women back into the caves by our clitoris.  Power buys more power and those who challenge it are deemed unpatriotic, demented and get parked in the cue for camps that have been kept fresh since the internment of the Japanese in 1942 through Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

On airplanes, in grocery stores, along sidewalks the tensions that people hold are palpable.  From a disgruntled man walking into a college classroom in Oakland, California and killing seven people to reality television and presidential candidates teaching the basics of Bullying 101 to lottery winners refusing to share with colleagues who were part of the buy-in and Second Amendments proponents legislating weapons as part of the daily diet, the national psyche is dialed up so frighteningly high that I find myself awakening almost daily wondering what the calamity of the day will be.  But let us be clear that this has been and remains a well orchestrated effort to dismantle any semblance of Democracy and render chaos the modus operandi.  From presidential hopeful Rick Santorum comes yet another inane statement from his bucket overflowing with lies.  This one notes that he read “something from the state of California” and within the system of seven or eight universities they don’t even teach American history.  Never mind that some of the country’s leading historians and historical scholars teach hundreds of thousands of students in the UC system on a daily basis and that several of the schools offer advanced degrees in American history.  Legendary historian Leon Litwack taught classes with seven to eight hundred students in them at a time. 
People eat up the five star lies and chaos by the platter.  Our country is so broken in spirit and fact that one can smell, hear, see and taste just how irreparably broken it is.  The massive boil on our guts has imploded and the blood of our souls continues to spill from sea to shining sea, across landscapes plagued by foreclosed homes, businesses and dreams.  Efforts to climb the ladder of optimism, and look beyond the quagmire over into the fields of Democracy, are thwarted and derailed by the endless Dr. Greedloves, politicians and state sanctioned operatives set on taking us out rather than seeing us climb another step.  The takedown would not be so brutal had the victories claimed not been so bold.  I think we got so mired in what we didn’t accomplish, through a range of movements and initiatives connected to social change, that we forgot how to build upon what we did. 

Now on life support, can America ever be America again? So many days, I find myself mourning for what could have been, who we could be/become.  The profound words from Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” continuously resonate all over the spirit of my topography, as a reminder of what never was but could be:

Let America Be America Again
 By Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

To read a complete version of the poem, go to

 Can the country find its way into becoming a nation, using the collective intelligence, wisdom and skills of its people and the best of its history to build something truly formidable for all the reasons that can make a country sustainably great?  There is no singular savior or movement to shift the paradigm and return to the path of new possibilities for who America can be in all the incredible glory of her racial, ethnic, class, gender, cultural and spiritual diversity.  This must be a collective movement across all lines of demarcation, for this position of weakness primes us for an even greater vulnerability than most can imagine.
While history can be instructive, bold new ideas have to be put on the table for discussion accompanied by even bolder strategies for realizing them.  There are just too many intelligent, visionary, compassionate and highly skilled people among us to allow the country to embark deeper into the hell in which we now find ourselves.  I so want to work even harder at being a practicing futurists, if only for the sake of passing on something far greater than legacies to our young.
·        Send me a link to a website, blog or video reporting positive and progressive news
·        Suggest a strategy or idea for taking us sustainably forward
·        Provide links to things that are working
I so appreciate every effort, strategy or action to help us navigate our way out of the lockdown of despair into the realm of new possibilities and realizations of who we really can become/be.
I will post those results on my blog:
©Daphne Muse 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies
By Marc Aronson (Candlewick Press, Ages 12& Up, $25.99)
“King, there is only one thing left for you to do….Take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”  This is a demand Dr. Martin Luther King received in an anonymous letter in 1964.  He believed the letter was telling him to commit suicide.
In a new book written for young adult audiences (12& Up), Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies Marc Aronson notes that based on his research more than likely the letter was written by William Sullivan, an assistant director of the FBI. Aronson, an historian and member of the faculty at Rutgers writes compellingly about the mystique and realities of J. Edgar Hoover.  His book presents facts supported by meticulously researched documentation including memorandums from the FBI itself.  From mobsters to Masons and activists to actors, Hoover prided himself on having and at times creating the “goods” on folk.  Through projects including the infamous COINTELPRO, the FBI infiltrated organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the Communist Party and in 1967 began seeking informants in any black organization it could reach, especially black nationalists groups.  The Black Panther Party was one of its prime targets.  I must say, I was somewhat perplexed that the book makes no mention of 1970s revolutionary icon Angela Davis.  But the women’s liberation movement also was targeted by the Bureau.
Hoover really laid the blueprint for domestic spying and how the land of lies emerged into conscripting global players.  The “Age of Lies” has extended well into the 21st century and is now so deeply embedded in the culture. While Hoover (a master architect of fear) may have hoodwinked the country into believing he gave it the security needed, he held an unbridled power like none other during his time.  One of the key features of the book focuses on a section in the Epilogue entitled “How I Researched and Wrote This Book.”  It is crucial for books of this nature to be set in context, for too many writers allow their words to wobble in the wind without some sense of historical, social or cultural context.  I could see Aronson’s book  being used in discussions around Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic young adult novel and wildly popular film The Hunger Games:  Both intriguing and reflective of where we’ve been and where we’re going as a country mired in a mega cauldron of lies, historical revisionism and the illusion of security.  J. Edgar just might be so proud of the fear paradigm imbued in this country and now tangled in its own spymaster, techno-barbarism.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thurgood Marshall: A Sterling Mentor to My Brother Vincent

Thurgood Marshall:  A Sterling Mentor for My Brother
Thurgood Marshall
Portrait of Thurgood Marshall by Simmie L. Knox
By Daphne Muse
In 1967, my 14-year-old brother participated in an historical rite of passage that would have impact on the legal and political tenor of this nation for the next 24 years.  As a student at the Supreme Court Page School (1966-1970), Lowell Vincent Muse was selected to “pull the chair” for Thurgood Marshall at his swearing in as the first “known” black Supreme Court Justice.  As an Associate Justice, his judicial hand was instrumental in forging the legal landscape of the country from 1967-1991.  He was appointed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, someone whose track record on Civil Rights would prove to be historically significant.
The pulling of the chair was part of the official ritual connected with the formal seating of justices to the bench.  My parents, Fletcher Henderson Muse, Sr. and Betty Goshen Muse, were there to witness this historical rite of passage and I could feel their sense of pride beam through the telephone when they called me to recap the moment.  Daddy was a “Race Man” who stood firmly for integration and momma was a “Race Woman” who believed we were about to integrate ourselves out of the growing power we had as colored people or Negroes, terms to which we were more often referred to at the time.  As employees at the Department of Defense and Department of State respectively, and in his role as a private butler, my parents came to know some of the inner workings of the nation through unique and clarifying sets of lens.
Even before my brother became a page, Justice Marshall’s name and legal victories were known to us.  I was ten-years-old in 1954, when Brown v Board of Education of Topeka was unanimously voted on (9-0) by the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren; a Republican.   This landmark decision paved the way for integration and exponentially expanded the civil rights movement.  The ruling declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.  The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which allowed state-sponsored segregation.  Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government, winning more cases before the Court than any other American.  Principal Maude Brown called a special assembly at Lucretia Mott Elementary School in Washington, DC to address this precedent-setting decision and spoke about what this great Negro lawyer had done “to assure” us a future complete with racial equality and justice.
My brother’s tenure as a page provided us with an even closer lens through which to see the inner-workings of the country’s judicial system.  Along with running errands and documents, setting up the goose quills and inks pens and making certain that all the preparations had been completed prior to the daily convening of the court, for four years, Vincent had the daily benefit of Marshall’s astute legal knowledge, world view, wisdom and place in history.
With the unwavering dignity and intellectual clarity that was so much of part of who he was, Marshall graciously accepted Vincent’s congratulatory offering saying, “The fact that I am here does not mean I have arrived.”  Future conversations in the Robing Room and his chambers focused on The Race, politics, principles and football.  Vincent continues to speak of the quiet strength Marshall possessed and how his strategic actions, not his ego, reflected upon who he really was. 
On the first Monday of October in 1967, by invitation from my brother, I sat in the surprisingly small chambers of the Supreme Court and watched the nine justices swoop into the court draped in their black robes and wearing the solemnity of those about to make other precedent-setting decisions.  Afterwards I got to visit Marshall’s chambers, but did not get to meet him.  I did get to meet Byron “Whizzer” White, a former professional football player and one of the godfathers of the NFL.
Along with the brilliant legal arguments and precedent-setting judicial decisions, Vincent engaged in some of the microcosmic moments in the larger historical record:  Dashing through two feet of snow to buy popcorn from a Capitol Hill store so the justices could munch while viewing films related to pending cases on censorship; attending impromptu violin concerts in Justice Abe Fortus’ chambers’ or sitting in Marshall’s chair studying for a final exam.
In 1993, Vincent attended a memorial service held at the Court and stood awash in a flood of memories that now anchor him in his manhood.  A recording engineer for NPR for the past twenty-four-years, he never aspired to be a lawyer or serve on the Court.  But having Thurdgood Marshall as a mentor for four years of his adolescence helped educate and guide him to the best of what it means to be a black man in America.
©July 2011 Daphne Muse
Daphne Muse is social commentator, writer and poet.  She is also the founder and Chief Visionary Officer for Grandmothers Going Global.  You can read her blog at

Oakland: Polishing a Jewel in the Crown

As beautiful and magical as the scores of cities I’ve worked or traveled in are including Paramaribo (Suriname), Costa Carayes (Mexico) and Capetown (South Africa), I’ve found my way back to Oakland thrilled to be here, despite the ills plaguing her.  On land once inhabited and controlled by the indigenous Ohlone peoples, Oakland became a city made up of late 19th and early 20th century immigrants from Germany, Italy, China and African Americans who arrived from the Deep South during WWII.  In the last three decades, the population grew to include immigrants from South East Asia, Mexico and Central America.  In the last fifteen years, a growing number of people from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and West Africa have taken up residency in the city, as the Native American population has been diminished mostly to a cultural legacy. 
I’m one of the more than 390,000 people who call Oakland home and reside in one of its fifty neighborhoods.  I just so love me some Oakland, especially the way the morning sky unfolds as its seasonal layers display new possibilities and the sun closes out over the Bay each evening so purposefully.  The ascension of the Moon over the hills pierces the transitioning night sky, as satellites dance with the stars;  casting a regal glow over the city, adding to its so underestimated charm. 
I’m overjoyed to be on this ever evolving journey from Chocolate City (DC back in the day) where I was born to living on what I refer to as the East Oakland Riviera. I became an urban pioneer in 1977, when I bought a rehabbed house on an eighth of an acre in the flats of the Fruitvale (Da Hood).  Some mornings, as I rise to a classic photographic and panoramic view of the Bay and beyond, Red Tail Hawks are perched on my deck taunting feral cats scratching up a handout, while others from the ornithological world bop and chirp Doo Wop.  Deer, raccoon, fox, wild turkey and possum also claim their territory in neighborhoods across the city.  The Meyer Lemons, limes, tangelos and blood oranges in my orchard are ripening into their calling, as my rescued orchids scream their way into bloom, in January no less.

On my block the sounds of a Tongan mother gathering her children up for church, El Salvadorian matriarch using her machete to prune trees or a second generation Norwegian American cranking up his truck to go off to work are part of the daily doings.  This is framed by the music of an Irish fiddler practicing for her next gig; and a Puerto Rican union organizer chillin’ on a Sunday afternoon listening to Cuban Descarga music, eclipsed by the treble beats of rap from “caboomalatin’” car stereos.  There are still far too many times when the night sky is rife with bullets piercing a kind of sobering stillness, brought on by the economic downturn.  Across Oakland and in many other urban enclaves, people sleep behind fortresses armed with all manner of alarm systems and weaponry at their bedsides.
As you sweep up a mile or so from my neighborhood across 580, the tone and tenor change; the Mormon and Greek Orthodox Temples ascend, back lit and holding court hillside.  Up above the Temples are sometimes over built mansions with surrounding acreage, horse stables and swimming pools.  There are even homes on gated private roads requiring codes to enter.   In some of these homes, big decisions and deals are often made about how and who will develop and run the City.  And above all of that is Redwood Regional Park crowning the city with a regal forest of 150-foot tall Sequoias, serene streams and more than 1800 acres of other evergreens and wildlife.  Along with the reassuring sounds of silence, I go to Redwood to inhale and infuse my heart and mind with the blood enriching oxygen (especially before I fly).  From Mosques, cathedrals and temples to ashrams, churches and natural habitats, there are diverse sanctuaries for engaging in worship and spirituality. 
Markets are filled with artisanal oils, vegetables whose names require a pronunciation guide for me to say and stuff I didn’t even know the ocean contained.  The abundance of culinary venues from food trucks to upscale restaurants and pop up places makes it possible to savor the flavor from old school, taking it back to your momma’s table, to fusion and sometimes confusion on a plate.  In neighborhoods throughout the city, I can read, eat and shop the world from independent vendors and small business owners.  I buy flowers from an Iranian in the Glenview; an African American dentist in Eastmont keeps my teeth tight; my “ride” is kept smooth by a Vietnamese mechanic in the Laurel; and the therapist who kept my “dome” from cracking when my husband died was a Latina. 
Local iconic poets, novelists and social commentators including Avotcja Jiltonilro, Ishmael Reed and Helen Zia, capture the many dimensions of a city in which both the click of the Glock and camera capture lives.  Images imagined and produced by Oakland artists including sculptor Mario Chiodo, painter Mary Lovelace O’Neal and ceramist Ron Nagel are in public spaces and major private collections around the world. Along with outstanding collections at the Oakland Museum, traditions and festivals abound including Art& Soul, the Oakland International Film Festival and the Greek Festival. 
Just South of  Lake Merritt, a wonderful reflection of Oakland’s Mediterranean topography, International Boulevard begins and so too does “Little South East Asia;” an assortment of grocery stores, fabric shops, real estate offices and restaurants serving family style meals that put you at tables in Saigon, Bangkok and Vientiane.  The ritual drumbeats from the Intertribal Friendship House, one of the first urban Indian community centers in the US, juxtaposed right at the beginning of this business district, mixes with the fragrance of the boundless spices drifting out onto the streets from the myriad of Asian restaurants.  This area runs for about ten blocks before a business district and neighborhood comprised primarily of Mexican, Salvadorian and fast food restaurants runs for almost 85 blocks to the boarder of San Leandro. World class chef Anthony Bourdain found himself deeply impressed by the offerings served at Tamales Mi Lupitas, one of the scores of food trucks along the Foothill corridor.  While wine bars and breweries continue to emerge around Jack London Square, West Oakland and Rockridge, the ubiquitous liquor store remains mostly in the impoverished communities of the city. The evidence of the thriving burglar bar industry seemingly prevails on the windows and doors of homes where owners and renters are struggling to sustain life on “incomes” that require unprecedented economic voodoo.
 Rising above this area are neighborhoods (also not immune to foreclosures) where primarily long established African American professionals, third generation Asian-American and European American families (also descendants of immigrants) live. Despite a school district rife with the problems of all too many urban centers, students from Oakland Tech, Oakland High, McClymonds and charter schools still get accepted into Harvard, Yale, Spelman, Stanford and Mills, a more than 150 year old college for women (which accepts men at the graduate level).  Alumnae include Congresswoman Barbara Lee, legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck and sports announcer Renel Brooks Moon.  The current faculty includes Google Geek Ellen Spertus; Margaret Hunter, a sociologist doing ground breaking work on race gender and popular culture; and world renowned artist Hung Lui.  Mills also serves as the landscape for three structures built by 19th and 20th century, Oakland architect Julia Morgan.
Along with three sports franchises—the A’s, Warriors and Raiders,  a stellar blues history and as an incubator for Hip Hop and Rap, Oakland also has a strong tradition of political activism that spans the 19thth century to the Occupy Movement.  I’m counting on Michael Morgan, Director of the Oakland Symphony, to write the “Occupy Opera or Concerto.”  By the way, the nosebleed seats in the Paramount are acoustically superb and provide a commanding view inside our Art Deco cultural palace.  With a steadily growing vibrant night life, the city’s center includes banks, hotels, federal and state buildings, and slowly re-merging retail scene.  I am grateful that we have no empire tall skyscrapers.  But the city center lacks even one major grocery store, despite numerous development projects that have brought thousands of new residents to Oakland.   
The downtown corridor is populated by medical marijuana dispensaries and students attending Oaksterdam, a degree granting university where weed (21st century gold) is the focus for the curriculum.  But it seriously grinds my guts that “Pookie” is in the joint for a couple of ounces, while medical marijuana CEO’s make a Wall Street-type killing.  Any night of the week, I can engage in the intersections of music by bopping over to Yoshi’s to take in Jazz, Hip Hop or World Music.  On weekends, the 57th Street Gallery riffs with up close and personal sounds from local and international jazz giants including vocalists Robin Gregory and guitarist Calvin Keyes. 
Oakland is also a city where people sweep their sidewalks, tend their yards and though there are still miscreants who throw fast food containers out their car windows or dump along freeway ramps, our streets for the most part are relatively clean.  There are areas mainly in East and West Oakland still riddled debris.  And behind the gates and doors of some of the more elegant enclaves, at the most prestigious addresses, are things we’d never imagined would exist therein.

Sailboats, yachts and house boats, some of which have traveled the world, are moored at our estuary. You also can take a ferry from Jack London Square, cruise pass Alcatraz and take in views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bel Marin Keys.  While you well may have left your heart in San Francisco, you could find your soul in Oakland.  From janitors to jurists and teachers to high tech pioneers, thousands of residents contribute to growing Oakland beyond the Sisyphean lockdown in which it’s been mired for far too many decades.  All too often our efforts and contributions are blocked by “greedlock” politicians whose visions are stuck in reverse gear and who remain unsophisticated in the ways of Urban D├ętente. While some are hell bent on destroying it, others are occupying Oakland to leave the most vital legacy possible for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.  I love me some DC, Paramaribo and Capetown, but Oakland is home.  In collaboration with residents, small business owners, developers and politicians, the Oakland Renaissance has been decades in the making.  Long before the New York Times declared Oakland number five, just after London and before Tokyo as places to visit in 2012, we knew it was a jewel in the crown polished by the hands of thousands who love her.
Things I love about Oakland
Sweeping vistas that pan out into the Pacific Ocean, even from the flats
Bibliomania Rare Bookstore
Yoshi’s Jazz Club
The Golden Gate Ferry ride around the Bay
Culinary venues that range from nouveau sassy soul food to soul warming Southeast Asian spreads and full on fusion
Elegant evergreen, deciduous and fruit bearing trees all over the city, including Redwood Park
The all too rare sound of children playing outdoors
Quirky, Cutting edge, world class artists, musicians, writers and designers creating Cultural Crawls
Lake Merritt, our homage to the Mediterranean
Superb vintage and second hand stores
Barbara Lee, who still stands with me
Mills College
Some things our city needs
Leadership that translates the potential of the city into sustainable economic, cultural and political results
A Peace Force instead of a Police Force deeply involved in working with citizens and citizens likewise involved in keeping the peace and promoting viable community relations
A Jobs Plan that takes into account the size, scale and economic as well as class and ethnic diversity of the city and what it really takes for the City and supportive services to run
Affordable and transitional housing for young people, the disabled and elderly
Reduction of the Dropout Rate in the school district by 33% in three years through mentoring and partnerships
Mounting a Home Foreclosure Restitution Program, where the City partners with community banks and credit unions to help people recover their foreclosed homes
Creating multipurpose plans for the use of schools, libraries and recreation centers
A collaboration, with the City and community partners, to sponsor an annual contest to celebrate and honor people from a range of neighborhoods and sectors who help make Oakland work
Become one of the top twenty ADA Compliant Cities in the Country
Supporting the work of a City engineer to invent a pothole free road pavement
Digitization and voice activation of our “Welcome to Oakland” signs to provide reflections of the beauty of our city
©Daphne Muse January 2012
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