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Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event
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Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event

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Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event

Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch and Upcoming Event

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  • 1. Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi| A Brief Biographical SketchUPCOMING EVENT:Jitu Weusi :We are calling for all supporters of this http://hiphopwired.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/189781846_14b81a426community high school to come out onTuesday December 4th to the Boys andGirls High School Auditorium at 1700Fulton StreetSave Our Community - Save Our SchoolJitu Weusi - 718-773-2252Take A or C TRAIN TO Utica Avehttp://www.facebook.com/events/382555948498863/?notif_t=plan_user_invitedBed Stuy Stands With Boys & Girls HighSchoolDecember 4 at 6:00pmBoys & Girls High School in Brooklyn, NewYork Join · You were invited by Jitu Weusi [1] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 2. Originally posted 04-28-2006 by Akyeame Kwame “Baba Jitu Weusi”Source: http://www.assatashakur.org/forum/shoulders-our-freedom-fighters/17691-baba-jitu-weusi.htmlActivist and educator Jitu Weusi has worked to uplift and develop the cultural and socialawareness of the African American community of Central Brooklyn...Students at Junior High School 258 in Bedford-Stuyvesant know this tall, bearded, gray-hairedman as their Assistant Principal, but Jitu Weusi’s impact on Bedford-Stuyvesant extends beyondthe classroom. Weusi has worked in the forefront of progressive educational programs inBrooklyn and beyond, serving as one of the founding members of the former cultural andeducational center, The East, and as co-founder of The East’s Uhuru Sasa school, one of the firstBlack independent schools with a Pan-African philosophy. In the 1960’s, Weusi workedtirelessly as a vocal participant in the struggle for community control of public schools; he laterserved as part of the National Black United Front, and in the political campaigns of Rev. JesseJackson and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.In addition to his educational and political service, Weusi has made a profound cultural impacton Brooklyn as a co-founder of the International African Arts Festival and more recently as co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival. Interestingly, Weusi avoids allowing his extensiveservice and notoriety to draw attention to himself as an individual. Instead, he frames hiscontributions as part of a larger, collective movement of people, always looking at the broaderpicture of his “pride and joy” Bedford-Stuyvesant, and at the progress of people of Africandescent worldwide.Bed-Stuy youngsterBorn Leslie Robert Campbell, Jitu Weusi grew up as a typical youngster in Bedford Stuyvesantin the late 1940’s. His family attended Siloam Presbyterian Church on Jefferson Avenue. Theywere poor but worked very hard, and his mother was the main parental figure in the home.“Scoping”When Weusi was 12 years old, his parents sent him to work at the newsstand of his cousinCharles Morris. It was that summer, and the two summers following it, that would have aprofound impact on Weusi’s life. Though the newsstand was located in his community, itrepresented a whole new world to a young Weusi.As a child, Weusi loved to read, and so the newsstand turned out to be the perfect place for himto work. Magazines like Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and even the nudist magazine SunBathing constantly fed the curiosity of the young adolescent, who was now being exposed to awhole new world of images and ideas.Frequenting the newsstand was a circle of young bachelors in their twenties that included JimmyGittens, Weusi’s cousin Leroy “Lefty” Morris, Willie Jones, Scoby Stroman, and FreddyBrathwaite. This circle of friends were socially-conscious, sports-minded young World War IIveterans who debated issues and have intense discussions around culture, politics, sports [2] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 3. (particularly basketball) and life’s other matters. When a young Weusi read something new orhad a question, he would ask one of these men. “They were [honest] with me. They told me thetruth and let me make up my mind about things.” Gittens, described by Weusi as a “tall, dark-skinned man with gleaming black skin and a most infectious smile,” had an intellectual outlookthat Weusi admired. He would ask Weusi to contemplate questions that were five to ten yearsbeyond the youngster’s chronological age. A term used at the time was “scoping”; it referred toan older person taking an interest in a young person and acting as a mentor, or guide, to them.The young men at Charles Morris’ newsstand “really shaped me during this period”, he says.“The deep respect I have for the arts, the love for cultural things, these all came from the scopingI got from them at that time.”High school yearsThe high school years were difficult for Weusi. Because of his academic skills, he was acceptedinto the prestigious Brooklyn Tech High School. In 1952, Brooklyn Tech was still all-male, all-white, and run “like a military boot camp,” according to Weusi. Out of a population of 6,000,only 19 students were Black, and Weusi would often go for days without seeing another Blackface at school. The racial isolation he felt was compounded by financial isolation - there werefrequent requirements to purchase new supplies and give money to different school causes.These made constant drains on Weusi, whose family had difficulty meeting the financialdemands.After two and a half years at Brooklyn Tech, Weusi was unhappy enough to drop out of highschool altogether. Fortunately, however, he was able to convince his mother to allow him toattend Franklin K. Lane High School, where he could be around people from his community.(There were a number of Bedford-Stuyvesant students at Lane, located in the predominatelywhite section of Cypress Hills, due to a racial desegregation order in the 1930’s.) A sad fact ofAmerican life is that for Europeans, the process of becoming American includes taking on theidea of the African as the despised racial “other”. The white students at Franklin K. Lane weremostly recent European immigrants who were in this very position. The hostility they expressedtowards Blacks was overt, and white students at Lane made their disdain even more apparent inthe annual spring race riots. Fortunately, a larger (and co-ed) Black population at Lane helped tobuffer Weusi socially, and he graduated on the honor roll with a Varsity letter in basketball.Passion to LearnWeusi’s experience at Brooklyn Tech would repeat itself when he attended Long IslandUniversity. Out of a population of 5,000 fulltime day students, only 17 were African American.This time, however, the Black students formed a cohesive unit that helped Weusi and other newstudents navigate the storm. Sitting together in the school cafeteria, the Black students at LIUoffered one another advice on the best classes to take and which professors would give a fairgrade to Black students. One such professor proved more than fair. Albert Fein, a whiteAmerican who had been active in the Civil Rights movement in the south, invoked in Weusi adeep passion for learning, studying, and analyzing history. Inspired by Fein’s character – a [3] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 4. beautiful person, Weusi recalls – and by a newly cultivated desire to truly look at history, Weusiwould major in the subject, obtaining his BA in history with a minor in education.“What shall I tell my students…?”The year was 1962. Armed with a BA in history, and the now-important minor in education, atwenty-two year old Weusi returned to Bedford-Stuyvesant to work as a social studies teacher atJunior High School 35. “What shall I tell my students who are black?” thought Weusi. Thefamous question, posed by artist/essayist/poet Margaret Burroughs, would be difficult to answer.In a school system that had only a handful of African American teachers and which promoted theidea of history as being the exclusive domain of Europeans, Weusi found himself restricted fromgiving his Black students what they deserved: an understanding of their heritage and a sense oftheir place in history and in the world.Weusi was not alone in his concerns. Other teachers at JHS 35 included Al Vann, OliverPatterson, Leroy Lewis, Randy Tobias, Joan Eastman, and Ola Cherry. These were young, Blackteachers who were new to the public school system and who were speaking out about the needfor changes in the New York City pubic school system. They joined with Black teachers in otherschools to form the African American Teachers Association.Great School WarsWhile the teachers were expressing their concerns, the Reverend Milton Galamison – a dynamic,socially-conscious young pastor at Weusi’s home church Siloam - was continuing a tradition atthe church of combining religious life with social awareness and activism. Weusi recalls that asearly as the 1950’s, Galamison had spoken of such important global matters as South Africanapartheid and recognition of Communist China. Now, Galamison was mobilizing Bedford-Stuyvesant families around the need for school desegregation and equal education for allstudents.The needs of community, the concerns of the parents, and the education of African Americanchildren were at stake. It wasn’t long before the African American Teachers Association wouldteam up with Rev. Galamison and the families in what would later be known as the Great SchoolWars era. During this period, from 1958 to 1969, Weusi and other community membersparticipated in boycotts and walkouts in protest of the New York City Board of Education’spolicies.Struggle and VictoryJohn Lindsay was elected Mayor of New York City in 1965. Like that of the highly popularDepression-era Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Lindsay’s administration would come to represent aprogressive, reform-oriented Republican mayorship in the overwhelmingly Democratic city ofNew York. It would help to usher in an era of progress for New York City, and for Blacks inparticular. But this progress would not come without the unified struggle of the Blackcommunity itself. [4] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 5. As the in-school component of Galamison’s street advocacy movement, the African AmericanTeachers Association had their first great struggle, centered at Intermediate School 201. In whatWeusi described as a “testing” of the Black community’s strength in effecting change in Boardof Education policies, the pressure that the community put on the Board of Education led to theaddition of the fifth Black school principal in the City. This was a major victory at a time whenthere were only a handful of Black educators in the New York City public school system. ForWeusi, the victory meant that “if unified and strong, you can win.” It also marked a change in theattitude of local communities: they were “no longer fearful” in pushing for change in the Boardof Education’s policies and hiring practices.Over the next two years, there was a series of similar maneuvers, many of which were effective.Yet it was not until 1968 that the struggle would go to the next level. It was in ’68 that theAfrican American Teachers Association joined with the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Alliance aroundthe concept of community control. With teachers and the community members standing side byside (and Galamison now part of the Board of Education) the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggletook place. From 1968 to 1969, in what Weusi describes as the “most underrepresented yet mostimpactful era of Brooklyn history”, the teachers and the community battled the Board ofEducation and the predominately-white United Federation of Teachers in a struggle that theyhoped would finally create a structure for the empowerment of local communities. The resultwas the establishment of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Governing Board, a community schoolboard that served central Brooklyn’s Black community.A New York State Legislature bill was passed in January 1969, creating 32 school boards withthe right to hire and fire key personnel. For the first time, schools boards had the right to includepeople of color in the local schools. Families would now have a say in their children’s education.People from the community would finally be heard – and not dismissed - by schooladministrations. At the time, these were the promises held by community schools boards. Despitethe difficulty of the struggle, and despite differences with the Board during his time as a youngteacher (at one point Weusi was penalized for taking his students to a memorial for slain leaderMalcolm X), Jitu Weusi would look back at the community’s educational victories in the 1960’sas his “shining moment” as a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant.Activity Explosion“Something cried out in you,” says Weusi of what he describes as the “explosion of Blackactivity” that hit the world between 1968 and 1969. Locally, Black Panthers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem and other Black communities were serving breakfast to school children andadvancing their political cause. Nationally, African Americans were shifting their focus fromcivil rights to Black Power and racial consciousness. Internationally, anti-apartheid and anti-colonial independence movements were taking place throughout Africa, the Caribbean and LatinAmerica. “Everyday something was going on,” says Weusi. “It was awesome, inspiring,motivational.” It was in this climate that Weusi become the adult advisor to an organization of [5] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 6. progressive Black youth called the African American Students Association. In 1969, the ASAand its supporters founded and staffed The East, a cultural and educational center in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Fort Greene that would have a profound and lasting impact on the educational andcultural life of Brooklyn’s Black community.Look to The EastIt is difficult to provide a simple descriptive summary of the work of The East and the extent towhich its legacy lives on in Brooklyn’s cultural life. Scholarly works, newspaper and magazinearticles have been written on the cultural institution, and it could easily provide rich subjectmatter for at least one or two full-scale documentaries.In many ways, The East was born out of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle. The level to whichcommunity members organized to express their desire to have a real say in their children’seducation led some to believe this goal could only be truly achieved by forming aneducational/cultural institution that was entirely independent and community-run. Weusi himselfleft the public school system to co-found The East, a service-oriented independent Black culturalinstitution with a Pan-African philosophy. His long-held desire to teach African Americanyoungsters about their history finally came to fruition in the Uhuru Sasa Shule (Swahili for“Freedom Now School”), the educational component of The East, described by Weusi as theorganization’s “crown jewel”.It is important to note that while serving the community, The East would not have been possiblewithout the support of the community. Brooklyn clergy, including Galamison, provided spaceand fundraising skills. Eight volunteer teachers taught the high school-aged students subjectsranging from the traditional (math, science, literature) to the alternative (creative writing, Blackhistory, physical self-defense). The families whose children attended Uhuru Sasa Shule actuallyhelped to run the school and The East’s other components. Clothes and food drives enabled TheEast to send caravans of assistance to local and national causes. Fundraisers, musical events,lectures, poetry readings, art exhibitions and workshops, drama and dance performances breathedlife into The East’s Black Nationalist philosophy.Events held at The East were no small matters. The East was widely known for drawing crowdsof thousands to hear lectures by H. Rap Brown, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and SundiataAcoli, among others. Weekly music performances included local artists like Scoby Stroman(known to Weusi since the days of Charles Morris’ newsstand) and Donna Cumberbatch, as wellas internationally-recognized jazz greats including Max Roach, Randy Weston and Betty Carter.The East continued from 1969 to 1985, but its legacy will last indefinitely in the lives of those inBrooklyn and beyond. North America’s largest African street fair, the International African ArtsFestival held annually at Boys and Girls High School, began as an African-themed communityblock party held by The East. Churches, mosques, schools, day camps, social programs, and avariety of collectives have successfully incorporated the model of collective work and economics [6] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 7. exemplified by The East. Cultural calendars; greater awareness and celebration of BlackSolidarity Day, Kwanzaa and Black history month; widespread acceptance of African hairstylesand clothing, are all attributable to individual, national, and local initiatives of which The Eastwas a major innovator. Overall, the community’s social consciousness was raised exponentiallyby The East and similar institutions.Cut Backs and Set BacksThe mid-1970’s marked an ideological backlash in America that came with it an era of fundingcutbacks of arts and cultural programs across the country. According to Weusi, a shift in valuesoccurred in which African Americans began to favor individual, rather than collective, growth.The decline of the economy, inflation, and Bedford-Stuyvesant’s own loss of billions of dollarsin federal and state aid between the mid-1970’s and mid-1980’s were all factors that led to theunfortunate demise of The East in 1985.With the closing of The East, Weusi returned to teach for the Board of Education in 1986. Hisreturn was not exactly a happy one, as it occurred amidst the “worst mud-slinging anddefamation of character” the city had ever known, acted out in public life and in the news media.For Weusi, accusations in the press against school boards, community leaders, civic leaders andcommunity people were “calculated.” They were part of the nation-wide backlash againstprogressive movements and community empowerment, and school boards – the formalization ofcommunity power and input – were a prime target.Weusi left the public school system again in 1988, but he returned again in 1991 and hascontinued to work for the Board of Education to the present day. He has served as a Math ClusterHead for District 17; Staff Developer for District 23, and currently as Assistant Principal inDistrict 13.Anchor in the stormBy 2002, Jitu Weusi will have served as an educator in Central Brooklyn for 40 years. In an eraof social and educational decline, many are looking for someone or something to blame for thefailure of many of the city’s public schools. At the policy level, there is widespread discussion offederally-imposed “standards”; privatization of public schools; increasing corporateinvolvement, and a shifting of power back to top echelons and away from local communities.It is in times like these when progressive Black educators like Weusi serve as anchors for ourtroubled schools, providing a continuum, a sense of history, and a view of the larger picture ofthe ongoing struggle for the education and futures of African American children. One of the mostpositive aspects of his work, says Weusi, is the fact that he often works with students whose veryparents, and even grandparents, he has taught. Weusi shares a special bond with these families,one that can only come with working with people over the years, watching them grow and havechildren of their own, and knowing that you have played as important part in their development [7] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch
  • 8. as they have in yours. This is just how Weusi sees his community as a whole. An educator ofthousands of students, a social activist and cultural leader, and now co-founder of the CentralBrooklyn Jazz Festival, Jitu Weusi has worked to uplift and develop the cultural and socialawareness of the African American community of Central Brooklyn just as much as thecommunity has shaped him over the years. It is a relationship for which he is very grateful.You can also do a search for related links in our Web Links section!Related keywords:“The East Legacy” by Jitu Weusi, at Kitabu: An online WebzineNational Black United FrontInternational African Arts FestivalNote: Written by Olufunmilayo GittensPhotographs by Olufunmilayo Gittens [8] Activist and Educator Jitu Weusi | A Brief Biographical Sketch

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