At present, I’m finding my millennial brethren life-crisising all over the place. Words like: manifest, envision, vision board, freedom, financial freedom, dreams, passion, unpack, travel, enlightment, peace, etc. are recirculating through conversations between us with as much frequency as “um”, “uh” and “like” when we were teens.

What’s got me all riled up today over my cuppa peppermint tea is some early morning contemplation on historical trends in black history with white-supremacist beat-downs back into the sunken place. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but William Lynch and Jim Crow did conspire to make us the permanent underclass in America.

I’m weaving my literacy of historical propagandist ploys at manipulating the masses, and especially black people and youth, and I’m getting wafts of a stew that smells something like a rude awakening for us all. I’m suspicious about how Wakanda Forever, Black Lives Matter, the Bitcoin craze, soring numbers in black sole proprietorship businesses a’ bustling, and black middle-class flight from America (I’m for all of this by the way) all pans out for Black America when things inevitably get hard again.

I’m fucking scared. Too many of my black friends are quitting their pension yielding jobs in exchange for dream chasing, private business ventures, all to explore freedom and self -fulfillment. Black millennials, are still millennials. We are equally bombarded with the same level of propaganda that is telling us, the future is uncertain, live for now, life has no purpose so go find it kittens. We are all made to suckle at the pursuit of happiness, dig deep into our yogic selves and fill our hearts with light, as we embrace up-cycling our old clothes and living with our parents until it’s just ridiculous.

Here’s a broadly accepted theory about the millennial generation: We are projected to be less happier, and less fulfilled, because we are relentlessly in search of instant gratification. And since the air we pump back into our own feeding tubes on a daily basis to pursue the fill-in-the-blank of our dreams, nobody dare say to us, look guys:

 You’re getting older.


Let’s examine what it means to get older.

-You wrinkle.

-Your parents get old, need your help, and die.

-You start a family, who needs you to provide time, energy, and money.

-You need money for retirement because most of you will not be physically able to work through health complications or until you die.


So I acknowledge today:

Happiness does not come without tests of boredom, pain, suffering, discomfort, even anxiety. In other words, freedom ain’t free. And if you ain’t happy now with yourself, there is no “out there” that will MAKE you happy. If it’s the journey you crave, hop to it. But the journey still won’t make you happy. Feeling happy comes with contentment with ones own accomplishments, which literally could be ANYTHING. I’ve met too many travelers collecting visas like rings, never to learn much, never to gain any new substantive insight on life, love, culture, etc. What their unhappy asses get instead is a different variety of the same old shiny new thing to floss, meriting them coveted Instagram and Facebook attention.

In other words, today I say, Self:

Be honest with yourself, set a goal, ANY GOAL, and then work your pants off to achieve it. = Happy!

Fill yourself with the endorphins, serotonin, and adrenaline by feeling the gains of achievement. Then, oh Impatient One, watch your ego glow. Endure the wear and tear of perseverance.

I’m not 100% sold on capitalistic notions of success. I do not subscribe to the belief that we must work hard every second of the day, or even every hour in order to feel accomplished. However, I’ve noticed a few patterns of behavior across cultures. Without social purpose, which requires individuals to be regularly challenged with responsibility, individual humans don’t do so well. Look at my students out here in the Gulf who don’t have a worry in the world and can afford themselves with modern day slaves. By their own idle hands, they are killing themselves with sugar addiction and crashing their cars for the sport of it. Human existence without the arduous trials of obstacles= “Hmmmm, how do I turn up the Will I die if I… dial just a little bit?”

Furthermore, purchasing a new pair of red-bottoms or a new watch is the equivalent of eating glazed donuts in the morning to start your day off feeling right. That high doesn’t last very long if you’re goal is substantive nutrition, and before you know it, you need a new sugar fix.

Me. I’m ruminating:

At least three times we’ve seen Black America thrive and then have had the carpet snatched out from under us. First, Emancipation. We thought we was free until white wrath employed KKK bands to relentlessly terrorize us without penalty. Second, Black Artistic Renaissance of the 1920s. Heck! Everyone was Renaissancing. The Great Depression wiped that out. Third, the Civil Rights Movement. The narcotic infestation era of the 70s and 80s annihilated us by flooding black and urban neighborhoods with drugs, which ultimately authorized America to legally incarnate nearly our whole race. Too many of us are slaves all over again.

Thanks to Black Excellence boosterism, it feels like we are finally free. Free to come on up to the Penthouse, as John Legend sings it. But, because we are young, of course it feels like FINALLY we are free. We don’t have the longevity on earth nor the hindsight to see that: Nah, we’ve been free before. That we, once upon a few times, have been led to believe that we were all finally free to do, create, believe, dream, imagine ourselves able and entitled to live unencumbered lives. Then… many blacks and poor people were suddenly not! Pensions, Social Security, unions, welfare, job security, all those safe guards for which our parents fought were inspired on the way up out of living through and beating back the blues of a being stuck between a rock and broke ass place.

So what do we do? What does the millennial do? What does the black millennial do?

We foreit our packages, our way into the great white world (THERE IS NO ESCAPE! ALL OF IT WHITE YALL!!!!) on the hypothesis of being financially free.


Can we at least agree that freedom is subjective…an illusion? My homie driving Uber speaks about being free to do what he pleases, but he drives all day while he believes himself the captain of his own ship. He’s free. He’s free! He’s free?

Even the business owner needs to kiss the behinds of investors, customers and sometimes employees. Think there’s no business owner gallivanting without worries? Yes, they may exist but they’re certainly the unicorns of business owners.

We take our degrees and make bold attempts to do right for our selves, drinking the individualist attitude Koolaid. We say no to job security or career paths, and expand our minds with more education. Black women hold the most degrees by ratio of any ethnic group in the USA. Have we noticed at all how that educational status is becoming less important with the rise of power yielded by social capital? And by the way, we have racked in quite a bit of debt paying for expanding our minds and not lining our actual pockets with cash rendering investments too. Who would’ve seen that a’coming? Sounds like another trip through Slavery Lane, don’t it???

Also, we talk big ideas about aligning ourselves and building the bond we’ve envied in immigrant groups. Why can’t we be like the Jews of New York City, we say? Here’s some facts:

  1. We’re not immigrants! We’ve never had the systemic institution of relying on each other (beyond our families—whatever was left of it post being sold away from each other once, plucked off for slaughter for generations, experimented on, sent to war, shot down, feed drugs, and incarcerated) to support a greater community of people black like us. Hell, we can’t even figure out who is “us” since we’ve also inherited white-supremacist thought patterns that has divided us by skin color, dialect, class-status, and now curl-pattern and nutritional classism. (I went there! I see a future where black vegan children aren’t allowed to play with the black neighbors who serve collard greens flavored with smoked neck bones. Do you?) Yes! We can build together. We can employ each other. We can work together. However, we can’t expect this to be easy, and need to develop a culture of loyalty. And that shit ain’t built in a day. Between Amazon Prime, Upwork and the countless other few-click agencies we can exhaust to fulfill our instant-gratification proclivities, building loyalty in the black community is fighting up hill, with no gloves and weights on. We need to activate patience! This means hold fast to hope, hold each other accountable and lift up our brothers and sisters WHEN they fall short, and have faith in our basic humanness to improve over time.
  1. For those of us who are immigrants, all it apparently takes is one American born generation for the homeland culture to take a back-seat to the individualistic thinking that’s got America’s children lost and on antidepressants. When your kids lose the village, what they pick up instead is the imposed white-supremacist projections of what they should be and how they should act. And you can try to keep your kids away from Black Americans all you want. I’ll advise you then to not send them to school or let them consume media at all. Black Americans haven’t found a means to escape being fed hostility about ourselves after 400 hundred years, and neither will you. Yes, I’m hype. Wakanda Forever! But Wakanda is a fictional place, and Trump America is REAL!
  2. Without a long-lived cultural institution that has effectively stood the test of time (like the Jewish experience of being persecuted and tried for 10,000 years) to teach us how to rely on each other, how to trust each other, how to be loyal to each other, we must acknowledge that while we are building, we are not there YET? Our families and communities did not all have the means to build itself up from poverty, and to develop a systemic netting to buffer losses experienced by the individual household. This means we do not have the trust funds our white millennial friends have (because it was a trendy status item for all the families in the neighborhood back then) to fall back on when they wake up to a chaotic adult reality. This also means that when my white friends say “So What?” when we talk about the responsibilities of taking care of elders, they can rest assured that their elders will be just fine, and I can’t. Black elders still need us to be well enough to take care of them in old age and ourselves and provide for our next generation.

How do we end the crisising? What comfort can be offered to the black millennial soul?

Let’s acknowledge that crisising is part of the human experience. Studies of adolescent development will confirm this. And since we can’t agree when adolescence ends, what we do believe right now is that the frontal lobe, presumably the part of the brain that allows us to grasp who we are beyond our own self-gratifying needs, starts to finish up the development process closer to our 30’s than when we turned age 20. No surprise that when we live in a society that doesn’t have clear roles or purpose for the individual, humans tussle in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Just compare the dependency of western-modeled societies on drugs and pharmaceuticals to nonwestern-modeled societies.

And for goodness sake, drop the “happiness” talk. Happiness is relative and experienced differently by all. We can’t prevent crisising. What we can do is accept that it is not avoidable and at best manageable while we live in constant pursuit of the happy experiences we seek out and collect along our life journey.

Black millennials, we need to start with the end in mind. And not just the feel-good end, but a serious look at the end of our lives and the lives of all those who count on us. We are a diverse bunch, and many of us are privileged to have families with legacies of success and wealth. My rant pertains to those of us who don’t have the provisions of an Aunt Oprah or Uncle Tyler to pick up the slack if ever needed.

For me, I’m realizing that some variance of “struggle” finds me everywhere I go. So why do I intimidate so easily at the thought of jumping out of the pan and into the fire? With all of my miles, and merit badges, how is fear still part of my story? Can I relish in my confidence to take care of myself no matter what direction I go from here yet?




J is my little brother. He is 5 feet and 6 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds. He attends Leadership Prep Brownsville Middle Academy Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. He is in the 6th grade and significantly larger than his age group peers. Two weeks into his 6th grade year, J gets suspended for slapping a student. His suspension letter reports: “Specifically, J slapped another student in the face while riding the school bus.” He is not allowed to take the school bus for two weeks in addition to the three days he is not allowed to attend classes. He has attended a total of 7 school days out of 10, which equates to a 70% attendance record thus far.


I asked J for his story. “I did not slap that girl.” He is resolute and drops his hands at the sides of both his legs. And when I try to give him every reason he might have had motive, he adamantly insists that he did not slap his classmate, and that he instead went to block her blow and knocked her glasses off in motion.


“Yeh, sure. Cuz I was born yesterday.” I give him leeway. “J, dude, you’re growing. You got ahead of yourself. Maybe you didn’t mean to hit her hard. You don’t have to lie.” Maybe this wasn’t the best choice of words. But I could see the same frustration on his face that would seize the countenances of my black male students when they were wrongfully penalized. I didn’t want to do that to my little brother. “Okay. I’m going to believe you. I’m going to your school tomorrow.”


The Brownsville Middle Academy is one of the highly reviewed charter schools under the UnCommon Schools public charter school system. It is one of two schools in the building, and one of the 23 Uncommon Schools in New York that aims to give poor kids (“poor” is unp.c. for those who qualify for free-lunch) a fair shot at graduating from college. Before showing up at the school, I call the main office to schedule an appointment with the principal or someone who could explain to me why J deserved such a harsh punishment. Let’s be clear, banning J from the school bus for two full weeks punishes his parents more so than him. They can either hustle to coordinate drop-off and pick up times, or chose faith in J making it to school safely on his own via public transportation being black, male, and adult-sized at 11 years old on the L train.


At 8 am, I leave a message with the secretary that I’d like a conversation with the principal about J’s suspension. I am assured that I would receive a call back. Again, I call at 9:30. Still no promise of a return call, and no way to schedule an appointment. How does the principal not have an appointment book? By 11pm, I grow uneasy watching J sit on the couch when I know he needs to be at school. By 12pm, I am seated at the front desk of the Administrative Office. I wait and wait.


What a privilege it was to not be a working parent so that I could attend to my brother’s school matters. Most working parents do not have a flexible time-table; they work during school hours and that’s that. Nor would they have the time to be persistent enough to tease out an appointment with school authority either. I wondered how few parents have the privilege of time to be persistent, because for poor people, time is a privilege. Besides this, most poor parents simply don’t assume that it’s their right to show up to their child’s school whenever they want and for whatever reason. Over the years, I’ve noticed a distinction between parents of different backgrounds engage with their child’s school. Middle class parents tend to feel entitled to show up, ask questions, make academic demands of their child’s school, even if what they were asking for was inappropriate or outright impossible. Parents who’s first language isn’t English demonstrate the polar opposite manners; hardly anything to say besides “Thank You!” and “Okay”. Black parents (yall, hear me out) have a relative easy time coming to their child’s school if there’s a fight to be had on the physical or emotional well-being of their child. Seldom do they show up for anything else though. Even middle class black parents have little to say about what is on their child’s curriculum map, what’s in the student conduct code, or what’s fair about school policy. They don’t review the curriculum maps, the content, the materials and rarely make demands about the need for more kinesthetic activities or black historical texts. But if someone calls their child a name they don’t like, or talks about their hair, Panther moms show up and show out.


I wait to be seen for 3 hours.


At the end of the school day, finally wind gets out that I’m not leaving until some authority addresses me. Out comes Ms. Amy Kiyota, Director of Operations, a cherub-faced seemingly early twenty year old who presumably functions as damage control. She pulls me into a side room, greets me, and thanks me for my patience. She insists that it would be impossible for me have a conversation with the principal as they all have a meeting immediately upon dismissal. She uses lots of fluffy language to assuage my now seething unrest about the topic she learned I came to discuss. She repeatedly refers to the students of the school as “scholars”. She dangles phrases like “for learning” “high standards” “leaders” “zero tolerance” “prepared for college“ in a jumble of sentences that sounds more like a pitch to buy into the school’s mission. She doesn’t speak to the concerns I express about being ignored the whole afternoon. There is barely a moment for me to even mention J’s suspension before I’m invited to accompany her to the doors for dismissal. Before we get up, Ms. Kiyota does clarify one thing for me though: “even for self defense” is a student penalized for inducing physical harm. She gives me her email and assures that the principal would contact me once I sent her an email requesting a planned meeting time.


Despite leaving in poor faith, I receive an email from Principal Mark Stulberg within six hours of sending. He does not acknowledge the failure of my three attempts to simply schedule a meeting with him, but he did the politically safe thing by affirming all the positives I mentioned to him in my very long and very thorough email.


A week later, J is back at school already, and I finally get to have a conversation with Mr.Stulberg. He is a professional educator, and exudes pride in his school. He is approachable and collected upon sight, relaxed shoulders, wide eyes, and slight smile. I listen to his speech about school policy. Again, “zero tolerance” “leaders” and “high standards” seem to weave their way into the justification for J’s suspension. All I ask for are the details of what happened. Mr. Stulberg makes claims that based upon what the other students reported, all affirmed that J “got up, walked over to a girl student, slapped her on the face, and knocked her glasses off,” he says. On the day of suspension, the dean of students wasn’t around, and Mr. Stulberg made the judgment call himself. I ask to see the reports.


Maybe Mr. Stulberg wasn’t prepared for such an explicit request. Ironically, many parents don’t know that it is within their right to ask for proof of your child’s performance. Truth be told, in my Bronx teaching days, I never anticipated needing to present any student work or materials to my parents of color during parent teacher conferences. I would just sit and talk, and parents believed me. Comparatively, middle class parents want to see the grades and hold the graded papers in their hands. I have to be prepared to flip through old quizzes, journals, even tests with their own signatures on them to prove student performance, the good as well as the bad.


Mr. Stulberg retrieves the student reports and read them aloud to me. One after the other, we read four reports of students who were eye witnesses of the said event. Did a single one of them say that J got up, walked over and slapped a girl? Nope! Not a single one.


Now, if you know middle school kids, it’s perhaps the most god awful stage of life, emotionally, socially, and physically. Yet, one thing top tier world class education facilities understand is that the middle schooling years are certainly obliged to teach academics with equal emphasis on socialization skills. It’s critical to use that time to teach kids how to get a grip on their emotions, how to use their words to negotiate through differences, how to apologize with actions, how to grapple with the surging bursts of estrogen and testosterone that torment them. Rich kids fight, pull hair and bully too. And they rarely get suspended for it. Instead, they find themselves meeting with the counselor, who actually has time allotted to counsel them (by the way), and they get mediation with the offended party. Both get guidance on how to use their words to advocate for themselves, as well as, express frustration, disappointment, even anger. Why was J and this student he supposedly assaulted never asked to talk to each other about what happened? Why weren’t they given any guidance about proper conduct on a school bus? And don’t even start to analyze the degradation caused when black boys are unfairly vilified in the learning environment. This is just J’s first round of black manhood versus the world.


I went through the Student Code of Conduct with Mr. Stulberg to discern the behavior violations not met with suspension. There were none. Simple put, every choice of poor conduct was handled with negligence—namely, suspension.


Many folks would retort: “Well, it ain’t the place of the school to teach kids how to behave. It’s the job of the parents!” But you’re fooling yourself if you believe that’s entirely true. Kids come to school to be with their friends. Yes they come to learn, but they are motivated to come to socialize, and all want a positive experience even if that’s not what they’re going to get that day. Why shouldn’t the schoolhouse be a place that they get behavior guidance?


It’s a tough pill to swallow. The schoolhouse has been a socialization institution for forever in the story of man. It is the first place outside the family structure that little people learn to be respectful, to collaborate with others, and to demonstrate independence which they typically don’t get when under the coddling of their parents. Schools may look different across cultures and continents, but the human element requires that we socialize and thereby be socialized to “fit in” with society at large. It’s completely logical and appropriate that school provides a shelter for socialization.


Yes there is an ugly side to this. Historically, our great country used the schoolhouse to “civilize” the Native American Indian and the Negro, making them palatable in a white supremacist society. I went to college across from the historical Carlisle Indian School, which exclusively transformed Indian children in the late 1800’s into western groomed house servants. Black folks were only allowed to receive schooling to be socialized as obedient Christians for hundreds of years. So stop acting like our government would suddenly stop using the school institution to groom it’s underclass.


There is a positive side to this. Schools reflect the hands of society. Schools can catch the slack that parents don’t or simply can’t because if you know a child, you know that it does take a village to raise one well. Today’s parent can’t compete with all of social media’s mixed signally, and so it’s totally reasonable to rely on schools to support nurturing a healthy child. I’m not saying that schools need to be burdened with disciplining delinquent kids. I’ve been hoisted across a room by Blood Gang members that wanted me out of the way so they could jump in a fight in the hallway behind me. Schools must prioritize safety. But if schools and parents collaborated on “teaching” constructive behavior and communication skills (and we don’t have to claim this as perfect world talk either), kids that make behavior mistakes would see the value in choosing responsible action over being reactionary.


World-class top tier international schools mediate conflicts between kids because quality instruction calls for educating the whole child. Why is archaic punitive practices in middle schools still being enforced when the UnCommon Schools claim to be bringing the prep school experience to kids who normally couldn’t afford it?


I say glare into his face and shake my head. I say, “Mr.Stulberg, it doesn’t sound like J got up and maliciously slapped someone at all.”


In one of the reports, a student said that the girl “got up, went over to J, slapped him, so he got mad and slapped her back and she started crying.” Report after report echoes the same words: J “knocked her glasses off.” Mr. Stulberg’s eyes widen.


He does not nod in agreement with my statement, nor does he apologize for misinterpreting the other students’ words. Mr.Stulberg is learned enough to know that the simple words “I’m sorry” would undermine his choice to suspend J. New York educators are equipped with CYA (cover your ass) strategy. Maybe he got the same training I did. Nonetheless, at that point there was an air of tension between us now that it had been made clear that Mr.Stulberg added his own negative language to the accounts, a spin that facilitated slandering J.


I will say this: I truly do believe that Mr. Stulberg is a principled educator who wants to empower his students. Maybe it shocked the hell out of him when it surfaced that some unconscious bias arose in his rash interpretation of what happened on that unsupervised school bus. He is white and male and highly stressed after all. Maybe it was too easy to jump to the conclusion of J’s guilt because a girl was hurt and J is much bigger than her. Either way, J missed three days of school which accounted for 30% of the school year, which was only one week deep at this point. One thing we know for sure is that attendance makes a difference in student performance, and when that student is 11 years old, and black, and male, every minute lost is a tip of the probability scale towards the wrong side.


For J, he feels that his school treated him unfairly, and that no matter what fault is found with him, he will not be able to defend himself. Not even his opinionated fairy-like sister from out of town could win the battle to prove his innocence. Scary.


So folks, alls I’m saying is to keep your eyes open when your kid goes to a charter school just as you would any other public school.


September, 2016

Black children need quality texts that are diverse in content and rich in vocabulary. Our kids deserve “just right” books that speak directly to them! Immerse your reader in books that depict black characters and self-inclusive cultural content to help nurture the text-to-self connection that all good readers ought to develop. The following is a list of books my young readers have loved over the years. Use the chart to help identify books that are at the perfect reading level for your kid. You want your reader to enjoy the process of reading, so if he or she struggles with more than 3 words per 100 words (or about 2 words per page depending on the text) go down a level or two. Old school parents believe in the sink or swim approach to reading. But who practices drowning? Keep your kid’s head floating upward and above the literacy cut point when you reinforce joy in reading.

If you foster the love of reading in your kid, you have a reader for life!





Do NOT expect these reading levels to correlate to each other. They don’t. Also, I needed to use my professional judgment to “guess” reading levels where none (or blatantly misleading levels) were found.




Book Title AGE       Fountas

& Pinell    



Ellray Jakes (series) 6 – 10 J-P 20-38 451-770
The Color of us 4 – 8 M 18 570
Dyamonde Daniel (series) 7 – 9 M 38 630
Alfie’s Great Escape 4 – 7 J 18 480
Little Rhino 6 – 8 K 15-20 540
Skateboard Party 8 – 10 O 30-40 740
Nikki & Deja: Substitute Trouble 6 – 9 N 30 670
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground 8 – 10 P 30-40 740-770
P.S. Be Eleven 8 – 10 O 30-40 770
Gone Crazy in Alabama 8 – 10 P 50 740
Message in the Sky: Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary 6 – 9 M 20-28 610
Luke on the Loose 6 – 7 I 20-28 360
Little Robot 6 – 7 I 20-28 GN170
In the Land of Words 4 – 8 M 28 551-650
Changing You 6 – 9 K 20 501-550
The Pot that Juan Built 8 – 11 Y-Z 50 1000
Honey I Love 6 – 9 L 24 np
Phillis’ Big Test 8 – 9 S-T 40 930
Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil Degrasse Tyson 7 – 11 R 40 780
The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can 6 – 8 O 34 770
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom 6 – 8 N 30 660
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Taylor Started to Draw 8 – 10 S 40 830
Howard Thurman’s Great Hope 8 – 9 S 40 840
Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts 6 – 9 N 30 651-730
Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum 4 – 8 O 34 750
Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist 9 – 11 S-T 40-50 1020
Sojourna Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride 5 – 8 M 28 650
National Geographic Kids: George Washington Carver 7 – 10 P 38 731-770
Catching the Moon: The Story of Young Girl’s Baseball Dream 8 – 9 M 28-30 640
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Agusta Savage 8 – 11 M 28-40 630
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop 6 – 7 I 16 260
I am Jackie Robinson 5 – 8 M 24-28 610
Jackie Robinson: Baseball Legend 4 – 8 J 18 490
Jackie Robinson: American Hero 6 – 8 F-J 10-18 840
Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America 9 – 11 W-X 40-50 1030
Paul Robeson 5 – 8 F-M 20-24 600
The Closer 8 – 10 S 40 810
Philip Reid Saves the Statue of Freedom 8 – 11 W-X 60 920–1070
Bad News for Outlaws 8 – 11 S 40 860
A Splash of Red 5 – 7 M 28 610
Leotyne Price: Voice of a Century 5 – 9 K 20 501-550
Pele King of Soccer 5 – 8 L 24-28 551-650
Young Pele: Soccer’s First Star 7 – 9 O 30-34 651-770
Gordon Parks 5 – 7 L 20-24 840
Gordon Parks: No Excuses 8 – 9 O 34-38 770
Rosa Parks: My Story 8 – 10 U-V 50 970
Satchel Paige: Don’t Look Back 8 – 9 R 40 840
Jesse Owens: Legendary Track Star 6 – 9 M 24-28 590
Barack Obama 6 – 7 L 20-24 580
Michelle Obama 7 – 10 T 40 880
Barack Obama: Out of Many, One 5 – 8 L 20-24 580
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope 6 – 10 M 28 630
Garrett Morgan 5 – 7 M 24-28 570
Magic Trash 6 – 8 L 20-24 560
I and I Bob Marley 8 – 11 Q-R 40 800
Brittney Griner 7 – 11 O-P 34-38 760
Martin de Porres 5 – 7 M 28 640
Nelson Mandela 7 – 9 N 30 680
National Geographic Kids: Sonia Sotomayor 6 – 9 N 28-30 670
Nelson Mandela 8 – 12 O-P 34-38 770
Who Was Nelson Mandela? 8 – 12 S 40 850
Nelson Mandela 9 – 11 U-V 50 960
Nelson Mandela 9 – 14 S 40 860
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch 7 – 10 U-V 50 920
A Nation’s Hope 6 – 8 L 24 np
John Lewis in the Lead 8 – 10 U-V 50 950
José! Born to Dance 5 – 8 M 28-30 720
When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of HipHop 7 – 9 N 30 651-690
Martin Luther King Jr. 8 – 9 Y-Z 70+ 1080
As Good as Anybody 7 – 9 N 24-30 680
Marching with Martin 5 – 8 K-M 20-28 720
Coretta Scott 4 – 8 K-M 24-28 720
Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader 4 – 8 K-M 24-28 500
National Geographic Kids: Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 – 8 M 28 630
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens 4 – 8 F-J 10-18 500
Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree 7 – 9 N 24-30 540
Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter 6 – 8 T 40 870
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton 8 – 10 N-Q 30-40 730
I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer 6 – 11 Y-Z 70+ 1070
Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow 6 – 9 U-V 50 900
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald 8 – 11 S 40 820
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa 6 – 10 S 40 700
Duke Ellington 5 – 9 S 40 800
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History 4 – 8 F-J 10-18 450-540
Anthony Davis 7 – 11 T-U 40 780
Mo’ne Davis: Remember My Name 9 – 13 T 40 890
George Washington Carver 5 – 8 L-M 20-28 520
Ruby Bridges Goes To School: My True Story 4 – 7 F-J 10-18 470
Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way 4 – 7 S 40 850
Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman Olympic High Jump Champion 8 – 10 W-X 50 790
I am Cleopatra 8 – 10 Y-Z 70+ 1030
Marian Anderson: Amazing Opera Singer 5 – 8 K-L 20-24 570
Marian Anderson: A Voice Uplifted 10- 14 Z+ 70+ 1210
When Marian Sang 7 – 10 T-U 40 780
Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali 10 – 15 Z+ 70+ 1230
Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champion 5 – 8 T-U 40 770
The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali 5 – 8 T-U 40 760
Alvin Ailey 5 – 9 T 30 880
Ira’s Shakespeare Dream 8 – 10 T-U 40 780
Henry Aaron’s Dream 8 – 12 W-X 60 920
I Love My Hair 5 – 7 S 40 840
Black is Brown is Tan 4 – 8 K 20-24 540
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention 9 – 11 Y-Z 70+ 1230
Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children 2 – 3 A-F 6-10 np
Please, Baby Please 2 – 5 C-E 6-10 np
The Snowy Day 2 – 8 C-J 10-18 500
I like myself 5 – 9 L 24-28 230
I Got the Rhythm 4- 6 J 18 170
I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl 3 – 6 F 10 300
Chocolate Me! 3 – 6 H 14 330
Hair Like Mine 3 – 6 H 14 330
Just Because I Am 4 – 8 H 20 330
Mixed Me! 3 – 7 H 20 330
Black Business 10 – 15 Z+ 70+ 1230
One Love 2 – 5 F 10 NP
I’m Awesome Because 2 – 5 F 10 NP
Amazing Grace 7 – 10 N 30 680
The Tar Beach 5 – 8 L 24-28 790
The People Could Fly 8 – 10 P-S 38-40 660
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad 7 – 9 J-N 24-30 490
One Crazy Summer 8 – 11 P-S 38-40 750L
Whistle for Willie 3 – 5 J 18 490L
Precious and the Boo Hag 6 – 8 L-M 24-28 640L
Last Stop on Market Street 3 – 5 H-J 14-18 610
Daddy Calls Me Man 2 – 5 A-F 1-10 np
Full Full Full of Love 2 – 5 F 10 np
Bitty Bop Barbershop 4 – 7 J 18 550
We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past 4 – 8 L-M 20-28 570
Visiting Day 5 – 7 J-K 18-20 520
Pecan Pie Baby 5 – 8 M 28 560


I tap into my spirituality when kite-surfing. For those of you who know me, the ocean and I are not the best of friends. Stereotype me an urban black girl, but growing up, I ran from water for fear of what it would do to my hair. Furthermore, I distinctly remember my mother bringing me to the beach one day when I was small, brought me to the shore, and had me gaze at the water.

Ma: Can you drink all this water?

Me: No!

Ma: So stay out of it!


Dred-loc’d and ocean drawn now as an adult, (Moana I know your heart) I’ve developed an appreciation for ocean water, though I’m still weary of her as a moving, breathing, willful being. I learned to boogie board because that was safe enough, and kept me close to the shore. I took a few surf lessons through Chica Brava, an all girls surf school in Nicaragua, just to get a feel for riding manageable waves. But this appreciation in recent years has transformed into something I can not yet name. In October 2014, I nearly drowned attempting to scuba dive in the open stormy water of the Sodwana Bay in South Africa. I’ve taken private swim lessons since then, yet that doesn’t change the apprehension I have about swimming in the ocean. I am resolved to respect her as she lays right over there, with all her appeal and might. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered the joys of kite-surfing.


I arrived in Zanzibar shortly after a two week long venture about northern Tanzania. I was “supposed” to stay for only a few days, just to recuperate from summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had booked a return flight from Lilongwe, Milawi in a few weeks because my intention was to continue backpacking south in Africa as soon as I felt well rested enough to carry on.


In Zanzibar, I frequently sauntered along the ocean side as a pastime between napping and talking with strangers about the peculiarities of life. The south-eastern coastal sky was littered with what appeared to be massive colorful floating contraptions. I didn’t even know the name for the sport before I wrote it off as some more crazy shit white people do. “No way! I’m not trying that.” I distinctly remember muttering this to myself as I strolled closer and closer to Paje, the major kite-surfing hub on the island.


It wasn’t until a new friend, Aziz from Oman, said that he wanted to give it a try that I opened myself to the experience. Aziz and I had been volunteering at the Bwejuu Charity School together, and I had come to respect him as my personal Swahili teacher. “Well, if you try it, I’ll try it too,” I said one evening over a thermos of Zanzibar spiced tea. Maybe I was seduced by the aromatic blend of the wafting vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom from our teacups. I’m such a sucker for communal experiences anyway, so clearly the universe had conspired to get me on a surf board. But Aziz never came to the kite training center. And since I had already psyched myself up to give it a try, I took a deep breath, and told instructor Jesus from España to strap me in. I was as ready as I’d ever be. I kept thinking: I’ll do it, and when I don’t like it, I can at least say I tried. It just wasn’t for me. (WHEN I don’t like it! Catch that pessimism?)


Four years later, three trips back to Zanzibar for a minimum of four weeks at a time, one sting-ray bite, countless sea urchin spiney encounters, a sprained foot, scraps, cuts and all, kite-surfing is one of the best things that has every happened to me. Am I a great kitesurfer, or even a good one? No way. But every time I’m out there with a kite and a board, I feel every cell in body vibrate with life and I lust for more. I catch myself screaming sometimes out in the water. This may be because it has taken me so long, what feels like an unreasonably unfair and brutal length of time, to finally kite solo. I’m an independent kite surfer. I no longer need to look back at an instructor to tell me if I should go further left or further right. It’s like getting your driver’s license and taking the high way by yourself the first few times with the music on at last. But the thrill of kite-surfing doesn’t seem to wane as does driving solo.


There’s a desperation that comes over us all, from novice to professional, as we sit on the sand and will the wind to beat strong enough to float our kites. I dream about it in my sleep. I catch myself on my bed with my arms raised, practicing the timing and proper positioning to motion the kite. I just want to get it right. Kite-surfing like standard surfing is an unrelenting and cyclical waiting game for enthusiasts; the ride comes and goes, and then you wait. All this over and over again. Comparatively, kite-surfers wait on the wind while standard surfers wait on the water. But I find that it teaches patience in a way that working with children never achieved. Before leaving the kite center, the instructors commonly say, “See you tomorrow. Hey…but we must pray for the wind.” I utter to myself and to others, “God willing, there will be wind tomorrow.”


When I’m actually gliding across the water, I am grateful to God, her in all her grace, for giving me that glorious ride each time. I have found more spirituality, more connectedness to nature, in kite-surfing than in anything I’ve ever experienced before. The wind and her will, has humbled me, and I am in love with every breath of her. The ocean, on the other hand, well…she knows that I awfully respect her. I’m just grateful for life jackets, nah mean?


Naomi, a kickass nomad from Australia, and I have become an excellent pair of kite junkies. As I sit here and type, I am relying on her to alert me to come and catch the “good enough” wind if she finally blows. Lately, we’ve been spending hours staring out at the water, resolved to drink up the sheer beauty of the scenery. I scream with exhilaration a lot these days. “This water looks like glass! My god! I can’t get bored of it!” She nods in blissful agreement with me. It doesn’t matter that there’s not enough wind for which our bones ache. Our hearts are amply full.

Naomi, Mohamed, Me, Saleem


Sept 3rd, 2015

This is my response to a birthday shout-out from Shanik, a former student of mine from when I was teaching high school history. Shanik has just become a high school teacher herself. She offers me her words of encouragement and admiration. Nowadays, we inspire each other.


Via Whatsapp, I say:
I’m asked everyday if it was worth spending so much time in NYC under the pressure of the DOE (Department of Education). Sometimes, I get bitter, just a little bit, thinking about that awful environment and how it had me feeling stuck. I was consumed by negativity.
But you, woman now, reaffirm that I didn’t waste time, I didn’t defer my dream (to live overseas), I didn’t linger cuz I was scared of letting go of security. There was a job to do. Still is, even though it ain’t for me right now. I got a chance to make a connection with at least one more brilliant mind. The job gave me that. The job gave me you. So keep on! You flap your wings and may you never tire.
You’ll be better at it than I for sure. And I will celebrate you the whole way through.



Let me be very clear: I believe that the joys and merits of my teaching experience back in NYC, back at home, could ever be matched anywhere in the world. I am usually beaming with pride when my old New York City students and I cross paths again, and they spout off something amazing about their lives to me. Jillian, Shanik’s classmate, flew to South Africa on a business trip and aloud me to host her and her colleagues for an evening. How’s that for a full circle!

Kemar just hit me on facebook with words of gratitude. He is leading his own consulting firm. And Joel is a principal of his own school. The list goes on. Across the board, I had no flipping clue in who I was investing my sweat and, on quite a few occasions, tears. But I’m grateful to feel that challenging them when they challenged me made a difference in their lives. It was an investment in my home community. It is by God’s grace that I get the rare privilege of hearing from their mouths that I laid a helping hand on them, and perhaps nudged them in the direction of life success—however they so live up to it. And I encourage any educator, especially educators of color, to start their work at home.