Tag Archives: Not in Our Town Princeton

Race and Protest at Princeton and in Trenton

IMGP2677Welcome to the 54th reunion for Princeton’s Class of ’64! Not the “regular” class. Instead, we’re convening at the reunion for a special summer program for disadvantaged high school kids from the city. Its most well-known graduate – Harlan Bruce Joseph. Like most at the beginning of this tour, I had no idea who he was or what his fate would be.

Today (5-31-18) Kyle Berlin (Valedictorian for the class of 2018) and Milan Eldridge (Class of 2020) led three dozen people – townies and alumni — in a  performance walk “Walking Histories: Race and Protest at Princeton and in Trenton,” one of five different tours offered by the Trenton Project.  At this writing, three performances remain, all starting at Princeton University Art Museum. If you read this in time they are – all different —

Friday, June 1 at 10 a.m. Performed by Berlin and Eldridge, written by Berlin and Anna Kimmel.

Friday, June 1 at 11 a.m. Written and performed by Ben Bollinger: “Whites turn around to see a Negro dressed in Ivy clothes and carrying a bag marked “Princeton.”

Saturday, June 2, at 10 a.m. Written and performed by Maria Jerez: A life of Javier Johnson White.”

If not catch the Picturing Protest exhibition at the Art Museum, on view for the next five months. Or on first Mondays at 7 pm at Princeton Public Library, come to Not in Our Town Princeton’s Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege. On June 4, you will hear and discuss how racial literacy is taught at Princeton High School.

Alison Isenberg and Aaron Landsman  supervised this project; Landsman coached the students in the dramaturgy of how to tell this story like a play. The first stop: Spelman Apartments, named after Laura Spelman Rockefeller, a philanthropist and abolitionist whose dollars funded the first trial of the summer program for high schoolers said to have had “little hope for college.”IMGP2671

Next stop: the Lewis Center, near where Joseph would have arrived on the Dinky train, from Trenton. Contrast: the Lewis Center cost $180 million. Trenton is trying to build an arts center with $80,000. (Rich Rein quotes Berlin in his cover story in U.S. 1 this week, and here is the Berlin oped complete.

Continuing the ironic comparisons, Berlin stops at Whitman College (actually named after Meg but, for this tour, credited to poet Walt), and we learn that it cost $136 million to build, almost six times more than the city of Trenton’s annual budget. It was designed in ‘fake Gothic,” says Berlin, appropriate, he says, since eBay dotes on nostalgia.IMGP2672

At the next stop we learn, for this tour, that the building labeled Wilson College should really be named after Preston Wilcox, a social scientist and human rights activist who advocated for black history studies.IMGP2674

We leave the summer of 1964 and move to the spring of 1968 and the unrest after the King assassination. At this point Joseph is a sophomore at Lincoln University preparing to go to seminary. The police shot Joseph as a looter but all those who knew him deny that he would have done that. He was the only person who died in those riots.  We hear from the eulogy by beloved pastor G. Carter Woodson: “We are responsible for the conditions that allow riots to take place.”

More memories:

The boys of that 1964 summer were turned away from a Princeton barbershop. They wrote a letter to Town Topics in protest.

In their class they debated about that summer’s police brutality in Harlem. .

We share Joseph’s letter about his aspirations to be a minister. The letter was printed on cards, and we passed them around, reading it sentence by sentence: “I have the foundation and tools to be an effective minister, and I strive to help those who are discriminated against…Keep on trying. In every group there will be some listening to what you are saying.”

Was Harlan Bruce Joseph a looter? Or a dreamer?   We are asked to imagine that his statue has been erected “over there.”

 

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Calling White Evangelicals to Stand Against Racism

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Ten days before the national observance of the Stand Against Racism day, a leader of evangelical Christians sent a wakeup call to conservative Christians everywhere: Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary addressed  leaders gathered at Wheaton College (Illinois). In multi-faceted, far-reaching remarks, he defined white supremacy and attributed it to Christian leaders past and current.  

To get details on YWCA Princeton’s plans for Stand Against Racism day, click here. 

To read his address, “Political Dealing, the Crisis of Evangelicalism,”  click here.  Main points: 

This is not a crisis imposed from outside the household of faith, but from within.

This is not a crisis taking place at the level of language.

This is not a crisis unfolding at the level of group allegiance, denomination, or affiliation.

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one. . .”Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves. . .

First is the issue of power.  …”The apparent evangelical alignment with the use of power that seeks dominance, control, supremacy, and victory over compassion and justice associates Jesus with the strategies of Caesar, not with the good news of the gospel.,,

Second is the issue of race. …”White history narrates the story of America’s heroes, and white evangelical history views those “good guys” as the providence of a good and faithful God.  When some white evangelicals triumphantly pronounce that we now have “the best president the religious right ever had,” the crisis it underscores to millions of people of color is not an indictment of our President as much as it is an indictment of white evangelicalism and a racist gospel…

Third is the issue of nationalism. …”For white evangelicals to embrace a platform and advocacy that promotes, prioritizes, and defends America above all and over all is to embrace an idolatry that has only ever proven disastrous…

Fourth is the issue of economics.  …”When white evangelicals in prominent and wealthy places speak about what is fair and beneficial for society, but then pass laws and tax changes that create more national indebtedness and elevate the top 1% even higher—while cutting services and provisions for children, the disabled, and the poor that are castigated as disgusting “entitlements”—one has to ask how this is reconciled with being followers of Jesus…

Labberton hopes that evangelicals can change their racist views and cites Matthew 28, the account of the Great Commission. “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Labberton points out that Jesus gave the Great Commission even to those who doubted, those who might have been considered unworthy. “So perhaps he can also still use American evangelicals as well.”

Though I  personally focus on trying to help the people of this world come to know their God better — and some say that is evangelizing — I oppose the rigid beliefs of evangelical theology. Nevertheless I applaud Labberton’s urging the conservative Christian community to study its responsibility for white supremacy, definable as “a system which manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other.”

The organization I support, Not in Our Town Princeton, aims to identify and expose the political, economic, and cultural systems which have enabled white supremacy to flourish. We are trying to create new structures and policies which will ensure equity and inclusion for all.  

As NIOT Princeton’s website says, “listen to your heart, figure out whether you can contribute time, talent, tithe, or some combination of all three, and then STEP UP! And tell all your friends how your commitment to racial justice is reflected in your calendar, your checkbook, and your conversations. The website offers resources, one place to begin. 

Or come to the rally this Friday. 

 

 

 

 

presidential scholars in Princeton

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Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi 

On May 5 the U.S. Department of Education released the names of the Presidential Scholars, two students from each state plus winners from the arts and career/technology. This year’s Presidential Scholar List include a student from Princeton High School, Winona Guo, and one from Mercer County’s Health Science Academy, Sanjana Duggirala, of East Windsor.

Established in 1964 the program was expanded to include those who excel in the arts, as well as in academe, and it was expanded again in 2015 to add those in career and technical fields. I remember how excited I was when, in 1979, dancers were included in this prestigious program. Some years, the arts scholars performed at the Kennedy Center. 

Here is how the scholars are selected. Under the original plan, the first cut is by SAT or ACT scores — the top 20 men and women from each state.  For New Jersey, more than 350 were selected. This includes those who were selected by different criteria — for their achievement in the arts or in career technology fields. Then that group submits materials: essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts.  That winnowed it down to 16, plus four arts students and two career/technology students.

Here’s where the essays and extra-curricular activities really count. Duggirali was  named a Public Health Leadership scholar and state president of the New Jersey Association of Student Councils. 

Surely what helped Winona Guo to win was her amazing work, along with Priya Vulchi, as co-founders of Princeton CHOOSE.  Together, they worked to overcome racism and inspire harmony through exposure, education, and empowerment. Together, they wrote a much acclaimed textbook about race.  I came to know Guo and Vulchi as  board members of Not in Our Town Princeton,  Both made invaluable contributions and modeled how to work together as a team of two . Working in tandem – always together – they muster support from peers and adults to accomplish what many thought impossible.

Congratulations all-round!

 

My response to the refugee order

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This T shirt dates from 2014, when the Princeton YWCA held a town-wide outdoor demonstration for Stand Against Racism Day.

How many refugees have been arrested for plotting terrorism? According to this source, THREE.

“Two were not planning an attack on the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”

That’s what you reply when you hear someone say “POTUS is trying to protect us.”

What Princeton connection can justify a political rant on this blog?  Today, in protest, I am wearing my T shirt purchased in 2014 for the Princeton YWCA’s Stand Against Racism demonstration. The Princeton YWCA STARTED this national trend. They hosted successful, well-supported demonstrations in 2013, and 2012, 2011 and 2010.

In recent years the YWCA has sometimes refocused its Stand Against Racism commitments, favoring breakfasts for those-in-the-know with discussions facilitated by members of Not in Our Town Princeton.  Last year it co-sponsored a demonstration.

Yes,  breakfast meetings may help individuals delve more deeply into their own feelings and this can help conquer racism. But I suggest that this is the year for the Princeton YWCA to sponsor a more visible demonstration. Here are the first words on its website:

At the YWCA Princeton, we know we must remain bold and iconic in our mission! We continue to eliminate racism…

There will be people who voted for Trump who belong to the Princeton YWCA,  but surely “standing against racism” can be a bipartisan effort.

 

 

A book only teens could write

Two Princeton high schoolers — Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi — have published an important book that helps classroom teachers engage students  in the often difficult to discuss subjects of race and ethnicity. They had help from experts in the field, but because it is chock full of personal stories of children, teenagers, and young adults, it’s a book that only teens could write. The Classroom Index, on sale for $20, will be discussed on Wednesday, December 14 at 6 p.mlabyrinthpanelat Labyrinth Books (122 Nassau St, Princeton)

The 220 pages, with color illustrations, are organized beautifully for teachers — with intros on how to initiate discussion and clever indexes by tags. You can look for stories by identity (Latina,   Asian, African American) or by topic (economic, interpersonal, aesthetic, residential, familial). Teachers can use this trove of stories to bring new layers of meaning for any subject from physics to phys ed.

I found it fascinating for a different reason.With so many different stories from so many different kinds of people, I can be a voyeur. I can find answers to the hard questions that I might be afraid to ask.

If I were to live in a place where everyone looks like me, it would be hard to be friends with someone different. And even those of us who live in a diverse community — maybe we can’t get up the nerve to talk about sensitive topics with someone of a different background.

Some of these stories are raw and pungent. Some poignant. Some funny. The authors put each story in a useful educational context. As here:

“My substitute teacher caught two girls talking to one another. He automatically thought the Hispanic girl was asking for help from the White girl, but it was actually the other way round.” The comment: “Racial stereotypes and prejudice go hand in hand. Disregarding the dimensionality of members of one race and placing them into constrained boxes can cause harmful psychological effects….the number of Hispanics enrolled in two- or four-year college has more than tripled since 1993.” 

The panel will be moderated by the authors,  Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi, co-founders of  CHOOSE.  They are also members of the Not in Our Town Princeton boardDr. Ruha Benjamin, Not in Our Town’s lead racial literacy presenter will be on the panel, and she wrote the introduction. The panel also includes Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane, who supported the project. Also former Princeton High School English, History  Supervisor John Anagbo, and Princeton University Associate Dean Khristina Gonzalez

If you can’t go, buy the book to read and then give to a classroom teacher. The Princeton school have purchased many, but I’m betting there aren’t enough to go round. And then ask –is it being used?

New Lens for Racial Literacy

firstSurely Michele Alperin’s superb October 19 cover story in U.S. 1 Newspaper on Ruha Benjamin helped to enhance awareness of the value of Racial Literacy. Benjamin’s first lecture drew an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd at the Princeton Public Library, and on Tuesday, October 25, at 6:30 p.m. she will facilitate the discussion at the Garden Theatre’s screening of the three-part documentary “Race, the Power of an Illusion.”

This first segment, “The Differences Between Us,” examines the science -including genetics – that challenges the assumption that human beings can be bundled into three or four fundamentally different groups according to their physical traits.

Racial literacy is a much-needed, often neglected skill that — in the 21st century — we all need in order to live and work successfully in a diversifying society. But conversations on race are not easy to have. But as Benjamin said in her lecture,  “Racism doesn’t belong to few bad apples; it is coded in our psyches and institutions. Pretending we don’t see it is not a cure.”

The five-part Racial Literacy series is cosponsored by Not in Our Town Princeton, Princeton Public Library, and the Garden Theatre. It continues with Benjamin’s second lecture at the library on Tuesday, November 1 and film screenings on Monday, November 7 and Tuesday, November 15, all starting at 6:30 p.m. In the coming months, Not in Our Town Princeton will continue its monthly “Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege” on first Mondays at 7 p.m. at the library. For details go to niotprinceton.org.For social media, use #Racial Lit and tag partner organizations, @PrincetonPL, #niotprinceton, and @PrincetonGarden

As quoted in Alperin’s article,  Benjamin aims to help people put on a new pair of spectacles and see that “what I’ve learned about this is actually wrong.” Who among us does not need new lenses?

Taxed out, deathed out, rented out

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What happens when a house worth $250,000 sits on property worth much more?  It’s a a problem for many aging Princeton residents and a particular dilemma for the historic Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood. Residents and experts gathered Saturday, August 13, to discuss it. Some details here. 

The Shoulders They Stand On

The Witherspoon-Jackson Community saluted Floyd Phox along with seniors, Black Families of Princeton, and athletes. Here is my account of the Friday night 8/12 service on the Not in Our Town Princeton website.

On Saturday morning 8/13 a blue ribbon panel of architects and community leaders addressed the dilemma of the gentrification of the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood. Here are some brief notes on that.

 

Princeton Prizes for Positive Race Relations

Coming to town — a conference based on a national prize that Princeton University awards, aiming to “promote harmony, understanding, and respect among people of different races by identifying and recognizing high school age students whose efforts have had a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities.” The Princeton Prize Symposium on Race is Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30. Mickey Faigan, of Issues Management (based at Princeton Overlook) will open the conference on Friday, and the speakers include Michele Tuck-Ponder, who gives a workshop on 90-second elevator speeches. Saturday’s proceedings are open to the public. 2014 4 prize symposiumI’d also like to point out that Not in Our Town Princeton ––  an interracial, interfaith group united to advance the cause of racial justice in Princeton — gives annual Unity Awards to Princeton High School students who have helped to carry out the NIOT Princeton mission statement:  We are committed to speaking truth about “everyday racism” and other forms of prejudice and discrimination. Where there is conflict we promote reconciliation with open, honest engagement and mutual respect. Our goal is that Princeton will grow as a town where everyone is safe and respected.