Educators and Scholars (PART TWO)
These are some of the teachers of this generation and beyond who share the universal Black experience, and have catalogued those experiences in academic and practical terms, through their works and bodies of knowledge to lift Black humanity and indeed all humanity.
DR. MAULANA KARENGA
As a world-renowned scholar, prolific author and lecturer, university professor and master teacher, social scientist, community leader, brother and creator of Kwanzaa, The significance of Dr. Maulana Karenga and his work is not only that he created Kwanzaa, but that he presently walks among the people, while personifying a first hand meaning of Kwanzaa to the world through his teachings, his work and his worth. As a master teacher, Dr. Karenga is very particular when he articulates his written messages to the people–he does not need it to be edited, revised or altered in any way, for he delivers his messages carefully and masterfully. Whether he is expounding the significance of Kwanzaa, defining the meaning of the Nguzo Saba or working with the executive council on the mission statement of the Million Man March, Dr. Karenga always says what he means and reaffirms the good that emanates from the true values of Black people’s social and cultural traditions.
From birth, he was destined for greatness; he came into the world walking in the footsteps of great Black giants. According to him, his mother and father had the greatest impact on his life, along with his brothers and sisters. His father taught him intellectual discipline, and his mother reinforced that discipline by giving him a sense of justice and caring for people with a moral sensitivity for those who suffer.
Dr. Karenga said, “My father was a race man; he used to talk race all the time. We call it nationalism now.” In reading that statement, it is easy to understand why Dr. Karenga has spent his life in the pursuit of human excellence in general, and Black excellence in particular. He has sought to re-establish Black people’s proper place on the stage of human history through Kwanzaa, its seven principles–Nguzo Saba–and the Kawaida philosophy. He also founded the Organization “Us,” speaks five languages, holds two Ph. Ds., teaches Swahili and has written several books–many of them are required reading in Black Studies departments throughout the nation. In addition to his work in the Black community, Dr. Karenga is a university professor, former chairman at the California State University Department of Black Studies and a sought after speaker for his valuable contribution to the worldwide struggle for Black Liberation.
The celebration of Kwanzaa has traveled to all corners of the earth and even though Dr. Karenga does not need governmental acknowledgement to validate his work, it is significant to note that his work has been officially recognized via the issuance of a United States Kwanzaa postage stamp, and at the beginning of the holiday celebration, the President of the United States officially recognizes Kwanzaa as an African American cultural celebration.
Though Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days from December 26 to January 1, the essence of the celebration is to inculcate it into “our” daily lives throughout the year.
Dr. Karenga is a “genius in our midst.” He has taken the best of previous giants and has added to and crystallized their efforts, and created a workable cultural blueprint for Black people. In his teachings lay the spirit of Richard Allen, Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vesey, Booker T Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Mary McLeod Bethune, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
To mirror the ideals that he promotes, Dr. Karenga is lavish in his praise for those who are a constant source of his strength and ability to continue his work, especially for his wife and lifelong companion in the struggle, Tiamoyo, his partner in all things good and beautiful.
PROFESSOR CHARLES OGLETREE
Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the associate dean for clinical programs who trained President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to become lawyers. He is a leading authority on civil rights and the author of several books including “All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v Board of Education,” a historical memoir. Ogletree was also appointed as the director of Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice in honor of its namesake, the visionary lawyer who guided the Brown v Board of Education and was Justice Thurgood Marshall’s mentor.
A charismatic speaker and television commentator, Ogletree was one of the moderators of “Ethics in America” on PBS in 1989 for Columbia University Seminars on Media and Society. In addition to his academic credentials, he also has a strong media presence, moderating nationally-televised forums. Ogletree has moderated Tavis Smiley’s annual Black forums where he “sparred” with some of the brightest and the best minds in Black America, including Dr. Maulana Karenga, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Randall Robinson, Dr. Na’im Akbar and Danny J. Bakewell, Sr.; and also “State of the Black Union,” a program that reported on the condition of the masses of Black people in America.
A native Californian, Ogletree attended high school in the Central Valley before Stanford University where he earned his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Political Science and then his law degree at Harvard Law School, where he presently is a professor of law.
After graduation, Ogletree started his career as a public defender in Washington, D. C., rising rapidly through the ranks as training director, trial chief and deputy director before entering private practice. As his career advanced, he focused on securing equal rights for all which eventually landed him on the team representing Anita Hill during the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas for the U. S. Supreme Court. The National Law Journal selected Ogletree as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America, and Savoy and Black Enterprise magazines named him as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans.
As he focused on equal rights for all Americans, he became legal counsel for the survivors of the Black Wall Street Massacre of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. And though the court has dismissed the case stating that the statute of limitations had expired, Ogletree has vowed to continue to pursue the matter until the survivors and/or their heirs have had their day in court. Many observers have noted that the Tulsa matter is analogous to the Reparations, another one of the professor’s legal pursuits, bent on “correcting the wrong” done to African Americans.
His work as co-chair of the Reparations Coordinating Committee is one of the monumental tasks he has undertaken on behalf of the descendants of African slaves. In that endeavor, Ogletree has joined with a group of lawyers and other experts including Randall Robinson and Willie Gary to supplement the efforts of Congressman John Conyers’ H.R. 40 bill, introduced in Congress since 1989; and Silas Muhammad’s efforts at the United Nations.
Professor Ogletree concluded that his move from private practice to teaching at Harvard has allowed him to continue to provide service back to the community that has helped him so much in his legal career. He had planned to petition the U. S. Supreme Court to hear the Tulsa case. But whether or not it hears the case, he stated, “It is not going to go away.”
As a result of the efforts of Ogletree and many others, several cities, municipalities and states have passed resolutions acknowledging the historic horrors of slavery against Black people in America–more steps in the right direction.
DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT
“Noted professor, psychiatrist and prolific author of numerous books on children”
Dr. Alvin Poussaint is a noted professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Media Center at the Judge Baker’s Center in Boston. Most people remember him as the production consultant of the Cosby Show, which changed the perception of the Black family and set an unparallel standard for Black television shows throughout the world. Even White South Africans began to view Black people differently–the show was a hit among Whites in South Africa (since the masses of Black South Africans did not have television sets, anyway)–especially after the Cosby’s grandchildren, on the show, were named Winnie and Nelson in honor of Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela. And Dr. Poussaint was instrumental in providing guidance for the quality/substance of the show’s content.
Like several learned Blacks, Dr. Poussaint believed that the mental health conditions in the Black community were festered by racism and since psychiatry–like many of the sciences that deal with Black people–were taught by those largely responsible for Black subjugation, different and innovative approaches were necessary to correct historic wrongs.
Dr. Poussaint regularly shares his expertise in a variety of ways beyond the academic community and has always been willing to volunteer his services for worthy causes. He has been a board member and chairman of the board of PUSH for Excellence; as a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. And though, he was well known for his involvement in the Cosby Show, he was also involved in its spin-off, A Different World. Dr. Poussaint is the author of several books and numerous articles in medical journals and professional publications, and a widely sought after lecturer. He has also received a New England Emmy award for Outstanding Children’s Special as co-executive producer of Willoughby’s Wonders and other numerous awards and honorary degrees.
Being that Black people’s problems are different from others, Dr. Poussaint’s work is vital since the seeds from which psychiatry sprung, within the dominant culture, did not have Black people’s interest at heart except in subordinate and subservient roles. And psychiatry, as advocated by Dr. Poussaint, has helped to help to satisfy the Black man’s need for workable solutions.
As a tireless advocate to increase parental and public awareness concerning the harmful effects of the increasing commercial exploitation of young children via television and other mass media, Dr. Poussaint has sought to lessen the resultant impact through books, lectures, involvement in the media and through his role as director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center.
Much of the causes of the violence that has become very pervasive in society must lay at the feet of the media and Dr. Poussaint is concerned with media images and issues regarding the needs of children and the changing family. As a strong advocate of non-violent parenting and parenting education, he often acts as a consultant to the media and as a proponent on more responsible programming.
It was written about the late Justice Thurgood Marshall that on certain matters before the U.S. Supreme Court, he sometimes would consult and/or combine his writings with some of the other liberal-minded justices but on matters dealing with race, prejudice, discrimination, etc., he took the lead and followed no one. The same can be said of Dr. Alvin Poussaint relative to matters of race, prejudice, discrimination, etc. He takes the lead.
DR. YARDEN FANTA-VAGENSHTEIN
Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein is the first Ethiopian woman to earn a doctorate in Israel at the Tel Aviv University and did post-doctoral work at Harvard University. The story of her odyssey from a village in Ethiopia in 1985 through the Sudan Desert to arrive in Israel took approximately one year and to listen to her narrate the gut-wrenching episode of her life is an earth-shattering experience. She left Ethiopia at the age of 11 never having been to school. She used to attend to the family livestock and education was neither a conscious need nor a distant desire. It was totally off her radar and when she arrived in Israel, she did not know how to read, write, or speak Hebrew. Dr. Vagenshtein started school at the age of 14.
The distance she has traveled to achieve a doctorate in Science and Technology in Education in addition to continuing her field of discipline at Harvard University is a testament of her enduring spirit and a demonstration of the genius of the human mind. And though Dr. Vagenshtein began life speaking the Amharic language (Ethiopian), migrated to Israel, where she spent most of her formative years–cultural, social and academic–learning to speak Hebrew (Israeli), her adopted language, she had an excellent command of English, her third language.
During an interview, she said, “Right now, I’m doing research on immigrants from different countries and my focus is how people move from developing countries to modern society and manage their new lives. So I’m trying to find out in my research how, as a state, and as a country, we can help those people who come here with a different kind of knowledge.”
Since she got her Ph.D. degree in 2005, she has published a body of knowledge that is incomprehensible. The title of her thesis was “The Effect of Transition from an Agrarian to a Knowledge-based Society on Technological Literacy among Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel,” which in essence is the story of her life.
As she explained why she and her family migrated to Israel, Dr. Vagenshtein said, “First of all, I’m a Jewish woman and Israel is the only country in the world that’s a Jewish State, a Jewish country; and when were in the village (in Ethiopia), we did not have any idea what a Jewish country look like. We always wanted to go there but it was impossible because we did not have a car or access to the airport. We did not have a ticket for the airplane and that is why it took us long …. it took us years to come to the Jewish State.” (A recent news story claimed that more than 25 million could be displaced by 2050 and Africa–Ethiopia’s continent–will be hit the hardest).
Dr. Vagenshtein’s accomplishments includes participating in an “Israeli-Palestinian Extreme Expedition to Antarctica”; serving on the board of directors for Israel’s Ministry of Education; presentations to numerous universities in the United States and Israel; and publishing numerous academic manuscripts. She has received awards for “Excellence for Consistent Contribution to Society,” “Interactive Science Thinking Project,” and “Excellence in Social Contribution.”
This endeavor is borne out of Dr. Vagenshtein’s life experiences and a desire to assist her Ethiopian countrymen in attaining a much better quality of life than she began with.
DR. FRANCES CRESS-WELSING
In the dedication of her book, “The Isis Papers,” Dr. Frances Cress Welsing wrote, “This work is dedicated to the victims of the global system of white supremacy (racism), all non-White people worldwide, past and present, who have resolved to end this great travesty and bring justice, then peace to planet Earth.” Then it is followed by quote from Neely Fuller Jr’s. “The United Independent Compensatory Code/System/Concept,” a text book/workbook for thought, speech and/or action for victims of racism (white supremacy) which states, “If you do not understand White Supremacy (Racism)–what it is, and how it works–everything else that you understand, will only confuse you.”
Welsing seemed to focus her professional career on psychiatry, psychology and the mental defects that she believed is inherent in Black people in general, as a result of centuries of oppression by White people.
She rocked the fields of cultural and behavior science with her essay, “The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy)”. That mainstream academia do not subscribe to Welsing’s theories do not invalidate them (her theories) because a numerical majority (numbers) does not make them wrong, or right. To prove or disprove a theory would usually involve undertaking a combination of analytical, scientific and/or empirical work over a period of time depending on the nature of the theory to be proved or disproved. It must be remembered that at one time, “The Slavery of Black people was the law” in the United States.
Not only have other scholars described similar findings from their observations, but history also validates much of Welsing’s work. The enslavement of Africans and other peoples of color have been given many “lofty” sounding names depending on the colonial power, the point in time and the location but they are all “sub-descriptions” of racism (white supremacy) including imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, discrimination, jim crow and segregation, because “members of a large orchestra do not accidentally play the same tune, they do it in concert.”
In an etiology chart, Welsing laid out how the oppression and enforced low-level functioning for Blacks and other non-whites result in overall excessive environmental stress in all areas of life. Blacks were not supposed to function at the same level as Whites and to make sure that this occurred Blacks were afforded lesser with which to accomplish more, and were then described as functional inferiors, according to Welsing. Landmark decisions such as “Dred Scott” and “Plessy” were legal examples that served to institutionalize and justify someone else’s theory of Blacks’ position in society. In the United States and South Africa–where education was allowed–it was consciously designed on a two-tier system; excellent schools for Whites and inferior schools for Blacks, and the sole purpose of the “Black” education was to “keep them in their place.” In 1995, one Dr. William Tutman reportedly said, “To oppress a race (of people), and then label its reaction as a “mental illness,” is not only morally wrong, it is criminal and a fraud.”
Psychiatry, in many different forms and names, has consciously used pseudo-scientific terminology and experimentation to secure fraudulently obtained positions of authority and compliance on the psyche of the oppressed masses. It is a problem masquerading as a solution.
How else could less than a quarter of a million British men (and women) oppress millions of Indians in India; or South Africans in South Africa; or Caribs and Arawaks in the Caribbean? The methods used were the same when the oppressed were a numerical minority as the slaves were in the Western World, or the American (Red) Indian, even though the latter started off in the numerical majority. (Welsing wrote that the term “Western” means “White;” it has become a comfortable obfuscating euphemism or code for the word “white”).
In one of the closing chapters of her book, Welsing emphasized, “There is not a Black problem that I mentioned in this book which is not related to the reality of white domination of Black people.”