IMPORTANT VOTE on the Election Day Ballot — CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

By | Blog Post, Featured | No Comments

New Yorkers will be asked if the state should hold a Constitutional convention.

Vote “NO” — Let’s not give the power brokers in Albany a chance to overhaul the NYS Constitution

By Esmeralda Simmons

You don’t have to search far to find a New Yorker who believes the current New York State government in Albany is dysfunctional. Numerous reports of widespread government corruption and a lack of shared power are just two frequent critiques. This Election Day, Nov 7, 2017, voters will have to decide if they want to give these Albany bosses even more power than they’ve had in the last 20 years. The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY encourages Black New Yorkers to vote NO on the Constitutional Convention.

Every 20 years, New York voters must decide whether or not to hold a convention to change the New York State Constitution—a phenomenon known as “Con Con.” While Con Con isn’t the only method to amend the Constitution, it is certainly one of the most drastic and it is the only method that is triggered by New York voters. This is particularly important in today’s political environment.  

Currently, our State Constitution affords greater protections than the US Constitution does in several significant areas. These protections include important state constitutional mandates, like: care for the needy; voting rights protections; basic educational standards; protections for the environment; and, public workers’ rights. When all of these issues are embattled on the national front, why open a route to disrupt these rights and protections in our state? If New Yorkers vote yes to Con Con, then each of these issues is up for grabs—by a process controlled by those same members of the dysfunctional Albany government. Do not give Albany bosses the power to overhaul all or parts of the State Constitution.  Especially since there is a better option to amend the Constitution in a way that protects our most vulnerable populations.

The process for managing the convention is also skewed toward disempowering many New Yorkers. First, Con Con delegates would be elected based on current State Senate districts — the same politically gerrymandered districts that the Center for Law and Social Justice fought against in 2011. Those State Senate districts are heavily favored toward upstate voters at the expense of New York City voters, majority of whom are people of color. In addition, the IDC member senators who hold the balance of power in the Senate, joined with conservative Senate representatives to control that legislative body.  We should expect little or no progressive initiatives to be passed.

Second, there is no limit to the amount of lobbying money that can be poured into the process by giant corporations, rich and powerful lobbying interests like privately–run charter schools businesses, and those who seek to suppress voting rights in New York State. Limitless corporate lobbying dollars and donations are legal since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. This money has been destabilizing democracy in Congress and state governments due to the heavy influence of large political contributions. New Yorkers should not open up the State Constitution to these unelected, non-voter forces.

Third, there are no restrictions on which parts of the Constitution a Con Con would overhaul. Literally, every New York State Constitution based protection could be revised, rewritten or removed. And even worse, there are no structures for how the convention will operate or any limits on how long the convention will be in existence.

Many progressive organizations like the NY ACLU, the Sierra Club, Citizen Action, the Alliance for Quality Education and a host of labor unions are urging you to vote “NO.”

We want change in New York State, but not through a process that is so clearly flawed.  On Election Day, November 7, 2017, vote “NO” on Con Con!

Esmeralda Simmons is the founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.

Support us on Tues. Nov. 28 for #BrooklynGives!

By | Blog Post, Featured, News | No Comments

The Center for Law and Social Justice is excited to share we are one of 20 organizations selected as beneficiaries of the #BrooklynGives on Giving Tuesday campaign! As a result, we are also one of the finalists for the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Spark Prize, the only award of its kind to honor Brooklyn’s leading nonprofit change makers.

On Tuesday November 28, we’re participating in #BrooklynGives, and if we successfully raise $5000 on Giving Tuesday, then the Brooklyn Community Foundation will match us dollar for dollar!

For more than 30 years, CLSJ has used the law to positively impact African descendant and disenfranchised communities. In light of the current political storms gathering in our nation’s capital and beyond, now more than ever, CLSJ needs your support to continue this work. The CLSJ team works tirelessly to protect our community in areas as varied as voting rights and voter protections, educational equity and ending systemic racial violence in policing. As the 2020 census draws near, we are already hard at work to ensure our community is counted fairly and that we receive the resources needed for a healthy Brooklyn.

Please get ready to give! On November 28, starting at 12AM, visit here and make a donation to us. You will have 24 hours to make your donation, and all giving will end at 11:59PM on November 28.

Please help us  spread the word about #BrooklynGives on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets by linking to our campaign here and including the hashtag #BrooklynGives!

Thank you for your support!

The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College Announced as a Recipient of the #BrooklynGives on Giving Tuesday Campaign Match, as well as a Finalist for Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Spark Prize

By | Blog Post, Featured | No Comments

Awards Recognizes High-impact Community-based Organizations Across Brooklyn; Prizes Upwards of $100,000

BROOKLYN – The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY (CLSJ) is proud to announce they are one of the 20 organizations selected as beneficiaries of the #BrooklynGives on Giving Tuesday campaign, and are the finalists for the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Spark Prize, the only award of its kind to honor Brooklyn’s leading nonprofit change makers.

The return of the #BrooklynGives on Giving Tuesday campaign was announced this week. The campaign aims to drive awareness and donations to a diverse cohort of 20 local nonprofits. The Foundation will match up to $100,000 in donations to the 20 participating organizations on Giving Tuesday, November 28. Giving Tuesday is the global day of giving celebrated each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people to improve their local communities.

The Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Spark Prize, is selected by a diverse committee of Brooklyn civic, business, and neighborhood leaders from a highly competitive pool of 140 applicants in recognition of their social justice-oriented, values-driven service to the borough’s communities. In January, the five winners of this year’s Spark Prize will be awarded grants of $100,000 each.

“We are extremely honored to be named as a finalists for the #BrooklynGives campaign as well as the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Spark Prize. It is our mission to advocate and assist the African descent community on racial justice issues such as voter rights, educational inequity, police violence, as well as tackling issues that impact women of color,” said Esmeralda Simmons, Esq., founder and executive director of CLSJ.  “Due to our unique combination of advocacy services from a community-based perspective, CLSJ is a focal point for progressive activity. Our social justice work and values as an organization makes us perfectly primed to vie for the #BrooklynGives campaign and the Spark Prize. We look forward to working on the donation match in November, and on receiving the top honors in January.

Read More

New York Party Enrollment Deadline Matches Trumps Voter Suppression Horror Show

By | Blog Post, Featured | No Comments

By Esmeralda Simmons, Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College and Susan Lerner Common Cause/New York.

Scary news: today is the last day that New Yorkers can change their party enrollment from one party to another if they want to vote in the 2018 primaries.

Unaffiliated and non-Democratic Party voters, in particular, got a fright last year when they tried to vote for Bernie Sanders – an independent running for the Democratic presidential nomination – in the April primary and found they’d long missed the deadline to change their registration. This is a real issue in New York City where the rising rate of voters who don’t register with a party pass up the opportunity to vote in the near-definitive Democratic primaries.

That means you need to pick a party months before you know who the candidates are. Don’t think you have enough information or lost your crystal ball? In the spirit of Friday the 13th: tough luck.

While this news is frightening, it’s right in line with the horrors coming out of Washington D.C. One of the most outrageous is the Trump Administration’s demand that states hand over voter roll data to effectively undermine confidence in U.S. federal elections.

The comically misnamed Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, known as the Pence-Kobach commission, was formed in an attempt to legitimize President Trump’s false claims that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, and convince us that he somehow actually won the national popular vote (he lost by almost three million votes), never mind FBI confirmation of Russian interference. The commission has requested that each state release private information about voters, such as the last four digits of a social security number, felony convictions and military status.

Read More

Brooklyn district attorney candidate forum: Five days before election

By | Blog Post, Featured, News | No Comments

hammer-802302_640_t580

By LURIE DANIEL FAVORS and L. JOY WILLIAMS

(Appeared in the Aug. 31, 2017 online version of the Amsterdam News)

Restorative Justice: Traditional approaches to justice tend to focus solely on crime and punishment and can frequently result in excessive sentencing and wrongful convictions. These policies send thousands of people of color to prison with little regard for the devastating impact that can have on the community. Conversely, restorative justice seeks to repair the harm caused by crime in a way that balances the need for justice with centering the community’s need to heal. How will these candidates center restorative justice as part of the justice seeking paradigm in Brooklyn?

Juvenile Justice: The school to prison pipeline is a combination of school-based policies and procedures (such as zero tolerance programs that criminalize minor rule infractions) that funnel Black and Brown youth into the criminal justice system. How will candidates use their position to balance holding young people accountable for their crimes with reducing the over-criminalization of Black and Brown youth?

In addition to these key areas, audience members will have an opportunity to submit questions for the candidates. What strikes you as the most pressing issue for these candidates to consider? What policies would you like to see the DA’s office implement? The forum will provide an opportunity for the candidates to hear from the public.

Read More

The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro: A Speech By Frederick Douglass

By | Blog Post, Featured | No Comments

Social reformer, abolitionist, writer, and statesman, Frederick Douglass was a fiery orator and his speeches were often published in various abolitionist newspapers. Among his well-known speeches is “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” presented in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, a version of which he published as  a booklet.

In his speech Douglass delivered a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating freedom and independence with speeches, parades and platitudes, while, within its borders, nearly four million humans were being kept as slaves.

Today as we commemorate Independence Day, we hope you will take the time to read Douglass’ remarks and reflect on its meaning, both then and now.

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens:

He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country school houses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

Read More

Meet the 2017 CLSJ Summer Law Interns

By | Blog Post, Featured, News | No Comments

The Center for Law and Social Justice is pleased to introduce our 2017 Summer Law Interns.

The interns work alongside CLSJ staff on policy, advocacy, research, and litigation initiatives. Summer interns are integral to all aspects of CLSJ’s work, including programmatic and strategic planning. The interns will experience an intellectually stimulating and exciting summer including a number of trips and learning excursions as part of their internship experience.

Meet our 2017 intern class:

T’Ajai Carrington, Penn State Law

T’Ajai Carrington is a rising second year law student at Penn State Law, a Charlotte, NC native and alumna of UNC Charlotte. Ms. Carrington is a strong advocate for social justice and looks forward to using her law degree to serve her community. In her spare time, Ms. Carrington loves taking her two dogs to the park or catching a Boston Celtics game on TV.

Kyung “Candice” Lee,Benjamin Cardozo School of Law

Kyung “Candice” Lee is a rising second year law student at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, a first-generation immigrant and has called Brooklyn home for the past six years. Ms. Lee graduated from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Psychology, focusing on domestic violence and racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Her passion for public policy and social justice started with her interest in therapy treatment for disadvantaged communities.

Taylor Armstrong, Fordham University School of Law

Taylor Armstrong is a rising third year law student at Fordham University School of Law and holds a chemistry degree from Howard University. He is passionate about civil rights and criminal justice, and he desires to start his own criminal defense practice. He also has a passion for technology and using his intellectual property background assisting several startup ventures. Taylor is sports enthusiast who loves playing and watching basketball and soccer.

Parenting Black Children: Race, Racism & Culture in Education | PACT Workshop Series

By | Blog Post | No Comments

by Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq.

As noted by CLSJ Executive Director Esmeralda Simmons, Esq. in the video above, it is imperative that parents have the information they need to advocate for their students. This month, the Center for Law and Social Justice kicks off our Parent Advocates Coming Together workshop series. This free, dynamic series is designed to empower parents to become better advocates for their children. The workshop topics are described more fully below. Our first session (Wednesday, March 8, 2017 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm) will explore the Impact of Race, Racism & Culture in Education. Read more about this and other issues facing children of African descent in this month’s CLSJ Blog Post below. Refreshments will be served and free child care is available with pre-registration. In order to pre-register, please call the Center for Law and Social Justice at 718-804-8893.

Parenting Black Students: Race, Racism & Culture in School

PACT Flyer 2017

When compared to their White counterparts, by most measures and with few exceptions, the vast majority of Black children in American schools are performing at dismal rates academically. Black students make up the fastest growing group of children filling jail cells. They are suspended and expelled three times as often as White children, are subjected to harsher scrutiny and suffer from lower expectations from both teachers and authority figures.

Equally as significant, are the other systematic factors that follow Black students like an ever-present shadow. Black children face the same institutionally discriminatory burdens as the rest of the Black community. The neighborhoods where these children live typically face racially skewed economic policies in housing and school funding, disproportionate unemployment, violence and other social ills.

As if that weren’t enough, Black children (regardless of social class) also battle with what Dr. Joy DeGruy calls racist socialization: the adoption of a white supremacist value system which has its roots in race-based slavery. At this value system’s foundation is the belief that white, and all things associated with whiteness (including intelligence and beauty), are superior; and that black and all things associated with blackness, are inferior.

As noted by educator, consultant and author Gary Howard, “It is no mere coincidence that the children of certain racial, cultural, linguistic and economic groups—those who have been marginalized by the force of Western White domination—are the same students who are now failing or underachieving at disproportionate rates in our nation’s schools.”

When Black students first integrated into White schools, the American education system was permeated with assimilation logic: the belief that once Black students (and by extension other students of color) “assimilated into White society, academic success would follow.” However, research on the experiences of students of color since integration reveals that when schools require Black students to assimilate in order to excel, they deny the students access to their own culture, which is “the key resource that they bring to education.”

School Integration

Photo Credit: NC Civil rights

This explains why segregated schools, with inferior education resources, could produce honor roll students who were also part of the van guard of leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.

A report by the Heinz Endowment, Cultural Responsiveness: Racial Identity and Academic Success: A Review of Literature, reviewed more than 2800 studies “that examined the connections between culturally responsive approaches, racial identity, resilience and achievement.” Researchers found that contrary to the assertions of assimilation logic, Black students and students of color “performed best in settings that built on their culture and promoted their racial identities.”

A recent study out of Harvard and University of Pittsburgh found that when Black parents empower their children with positive racial socialization, they perform better academically. In fact, researchers found that “racial pride” was the single most important factor in protecting Black students against racial discrimination and it was found to have a “direct impact on the students’ grades, future goals, and cognitive engagement.”

quote-racial-pride-and-self-dignity-were-emphasized-in-my-family-and-community-rosa-parks-86-15-63

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

As poignantly asked by Gary Howard: “How is it possible, with so much research and information available about multicultural issues today, that prospective educators can complete their entire teacher education and certification program without gaining a deeper grasp of social reality?”

Indeed. Because despite that promising research, most Black children continue to struggle in an education system that was not designed for them.

“Access” is Not Everything

Before Black children integrated White schools, White educators used materials that were focused on and designed to accommodate the learning needs of White students. That didn’t change when Black students arrived. The books that were used, the authors that students studied, the mathematicians they analyzed, were all White. The way educators were trained to create lesson plans, taught to frame history, social studies, science and humanities were all centered on the specific learning needs of White children.

the-ten-little-niggers

Photo Credit: Atlanta Black Star

White children were born into a system that was carefully constructed and maintained to provide them with racially-based access to benefits and resources at every turn. White privilege ensures they never have to wrestle with the fact that their social safety nets were sewn together with the fabric of racism and threads of racist oppression.

These children were accustomed to a lifetime of privilege born out of the brutality of slavery and protected with the violence of Jim Crow. It should go without saying that the learning needs of White children, those who represented the new generation of the slave holding caste, are very different than the learning needs of Black children. Because Black children were born into a legacy of racial inferiority. A legacy that ensures that by the age of five they (and their White counterparts) have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that Black skin represents a curse.

In a racist society, an education designed to meet the needs of White children can be extremely harmful to the psychological, academic and professional developmental needs of Black children. Sadly, forcing Black children to participate in an educational process designed for those who benefit from the oppression of Black people is directly related to the fact that: Black children are suspended more often and more harshly than their White counterparts. It is one of the main reasons why Black girls and Black boys are the primary passengers on the trains driving up and down the school to prison pipeline. This is why those disparities start as early as preschool.

Black children need a culturally responsive education: one that is both culturally competent and designed to meet their specific needs and the needs of the communities in which they live.

 

Student raising hand in class

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Professor of Education Dr. Geneva Gay defines Culturally Responsive Teaching” (CRT) as “teaching that uses the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them. It teaches to and through the strengths of these students.”

CRT is a dynamic approach to education that empowers educators and parents to improve academic outcomes for Black students. It is an education framework that requires us to center the specific needs of marginalized students. CRT is grounded in the plethora of research that demonstrates that “culturally responsive pedagogy and positive racial identity promote academic achievement and resilience.” In other words, it is imperative that Black students have access to educational environments that support their specific needs as Black children and validates their culture. Indeed, this is necessary for all students.

More importantly, CRT works.

Research shows that when Black children receive an education tailored to meet their specific learning needs, they will perform better in school, they are more likely to go to college and they are more likely to be empowered to use their education to address the issues plaguing their community. But shifting paradigms is no easy task. It requires the knowledge, skill sets and the will to make it happen.

We must remember the following words by Malcolm X: “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

In light of the dismal way Black children are floundering in schools originally designed to accommodate the needs of White children, it would seem Brother Malcolm was correct.

This and other research is why the Center for Law and Social Justice is pleased to kick off our Parent Advocates Coming Together series – a free workshop series designed to empower parents of NYC public school students. The workshops will be held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00pm, beginning Wednesday March 8, 2017. Each workshop will take place at the Center for Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College, CUNY at 1534 Bedford Ave. 2nd Floor, Brooklyn, 11216. Refreshments will be provided and childcare is available for parents who pre-register by calling 718.804.8893.

Flyer for PACT 2017 Series Kickoff

Flyer for PACT 2017 Series Kickoff

Session One: (Wednesday, March 8, 2017) will explore the Impact of Race, Racism and Culture in Education. This session will be facilitated by Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq., General Counsel at the Center for Law and Social Justice, who has an extensive background in teaching the principles of Culturally Responsive Education.

Participants will learn about the connections between positive or negative racial identity and academic success. How does your child’s understanding about race shape how they perform in school? How does your school’s understanding of race and culture shape the academic outcomes your school produces? What can parents do at home to address this phenomenon and advocate for their students? These issues and more will be addressed in the first segment of the PACT Workshop Series.

Subsequent sessions in the series includes the following topics and will be taught by experts in the field:

Session Two: Wednesday March 15, 2017: Tips for Navigating the NYC Middle School Process | What do families of students of African descent need to know about the middle school application process? What are some of the pitfalls families and students need to avoid? How can you maximize your chances of getting the school you desire? Learn this and more in the second session of the PACT 2017 series.

Facilitator: Ro Johnson, Education Journalist

Session Three: Wednesday March, 22, 2017: Equity and Excellence in Math Education | How can parents and students in African descendant communities develop a love for and understanding of math? What can parents do to help increase their student’s math capacity? Participants will learn all this and more in session three.

Facilitator: Dr. Terrence Blackman, Mathematics Chairman Medgar Evers College

Session Four: Wednesday April 5, 2017: How to Get Your Child into a Top High School | How can parents prepare their students for the high school of their choice? What steps should parents and students take now that can help take their students to the top? Get your questions answered by the CEO of Admissions Squad, Inc.!

Facilitator: Tai Abrams, CEO Admissions Squad, Inc.

Session Five: Wednesday April 22, 2017: DOE Speaks: What are some of the key terms and policies that are can shape your child’s academic career? What are some of the insights parents need to have in order to better understand the Department of Education? Learn all this and more from celebrated principal Fabayo McIntosh-Gordon.

Facilitator: Principal Fabayo McIntosh-Gordon, Brighter Choice Community School, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

Contact the Center for Law and Social Justice at 718-804-8893 for additional information. We look forward to welcoming you in the CLSJ-PACT community!

 

 

#BlackWealthMatters: Black Land Ownership – March 2017

By | Events | 3 Comments

The Center for Law and Social Justice is excited to continue our financial empowerment series focused on building personal & collective financial legacies in the Black community.

Why? Well, an average Black family needs 228 YEARS to build the wealth of a White family today. These disparities between the two groups persist REGARDLESS of the level of education attained.

When Black employees go to work, they are typically employed by non-Black owned entities. When Black employees spend their money, it is typically spent with businesses owned by non-Black people. This matters more than we know.

This series will explore the state of personal finances; entrepreneurship and business development; collective wealth generation; and land ownership in the Black community. Each month, hear from experts who will help us understand how we arrived to our current financial position AND learn how we can improve our finances on an individual and collective level. See the flyer and details below for additional information.

March: Black Land Ownership

The History and Current Reality of Black Land/Home Ownership

Key Challenges Facing Black Land and Home Owners Today

Resources for Land/Home Shoppers Seeking Opportunities

How Land Cooperatives Can Increase Black Land/Home Ownership

Next month, our final program will focus on Cooperative Economics (Apr. 21, 2017). Check here frequently for updates!