Tag Archives: President Obama

A POEM FOR BARACK OBAMA UPON THE INAUGURATION OF AMERICA, PART II


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I have a thousand favorite poets so when I cite Maya Angelou it’s not just because everyone knows and loves her work.  It’s because I know and love her work.  I was mesmerized by her reading of  “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993:

“Here on the pulse of this new day– you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister’s eyes, into your brother’s face, your country, and say simply, very simply, with hope… Good morning.”

Unknown-3On Monday, Richard Blanco becomes the fifth poet to contribute to our Inaugural history when he offers a poem for the nation and the President’s second term.  He will follow some towering shadows cast by Dr. Angelou and Robert Frost.  As a young Latino immigrant, his experience growing up in America will not doubt be reflected in his work.

But I decided you don’t have to be formally invited to Open Mic Day on the Capital steps to contribute to the body of Inauguration poetry.  When I wrote my poem for President Obama on the occasion of his first Inauguration, I was moved by the profound historic significance of  his election.  It wasn’t chosen for the big event but I posted it here anyway and it has gotten thousands of hits over the past four years.  Through the political battles, arguments, threats, criticisms, wars, animosity and divisions… I still have faith in America and our President.

So I am reposting A Poem for Barack Obama Upon the Inauguration of America, with the same hope of national unity that Richard Blanco and Maya Angelou and so many other poets envision for our country.

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“I AM HOPE”

A POEM UPON THE INAUGURATION OF AMERICA
January 20, 2009 and January 21, 2013
Written for Barack Obama,  the 44th and 45th President of the United States
By Kevin W. Riley

Hope.

I  am.

Hope has, even for America’s moment,
Brought more than this moment of redemption.

Hope.
Though I am shackled and thrown upon the swollen deck,
Seaborne and riding the stench of slavery to some new world- lost to life.

Hope. Though I am asleep in Lincoln’s apocalypse.
I am Gettysburg and Manassas and Shiloh.
The dead stacked and shoveled into history’s silent pocket.
In the atrocities a war wrought, even the birds were lost for song;
their throats clutched
In witness of humans who could be so calloused and so cruel.
All in the name of Freedom.

Hope.
I am innocence: Emmit Till and Little Linda Brown
and Addie Mae Collins and her three young friends.

Hope.
I am the blessed martyrs. I am Medgar Evers.
I trust Malcom X with my fury.
I marched from Selma to a Birmingham Jail.
I ripped away the judge’s hood that silenced Bobby Seale
and enjoined the Freedom Riders to endure the flames at Anniston.
I heard the chilling voice of Bull Connor and the sting of riot dogs.
The fire hose.
I saw school buses ignite Roxbury and trigger decades of white flight.
And still I stand.

Hope…
I am the preacher-prophet who foretold that we would reside one day
in a promised land.
He must be with us now.
Though the years have kept his visage young…
His eternal voice is crisp as fire
As he sings from the mountain top.
This morning I heard the sky rejoice-
like the deafening wail of 10,000 hurricanes.

I am Lazarus.
I have redeemed the blood of a beloved brother, gone 40 years.
(Bobby’s picture is still among a shrine of holy cards
in a little house in San Antonio
Where Abuelita says her morning rosary
To Cesar Chavez and a wall of popes whose names she cannot pronounce).

I am JFK for whom Ireland still weeps.

I am redemption for centuries of sorrow;
For a word so foul it sticks in civil throats like drying cactus–
Thistle and rust, decapacitating…
A poison elixir that not all our years combined can exorcise.

I am first Hope. Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Mashall.
I am the first black pilot, the first black principal,
the first black business owner, the first pioneer.
I am first to serve, first to play, first in science,
and first to sail deep into space.
And yet I am last.

I am Hope.
I ride a mighty wave.
I stand on shouldered giants, most for whom history has not reserved a name.
I am beneficiary of the wishes and the words and the blood of legions.

I rise by the toil of Chisholm and Jordon;
on the scaffold stairs built by Jackson and Charles Houston
and Andrew Young.

I am
Hope– tempered, with no guarantee.
But if ever He loved a people
Surely now He has heard our prayers…
Whispered through days and years and generations–
Through all America’s time
To let us be who we must be;
To even once know what it means to be ONE nation.

Alas…
I am only Hope.
My arms are thin.
I speak as if all of God’s angels have somehow filled my lungs
with righteous air.
I am your mouth. His voice.
Our hands–
That the promise of humankind might at last be realized.

But I cannot be who YOU will not be…

So now my name is nailed above Katrina’s door,
Above the Wall Street debacle and the house of cards.
My name is nailed to Iraq and Jerusalem, to all ancient Persia–
And to the suffering of Darfur.

And as I go, so go a hundred nations.

Freedom shines,
A loud bell tolls the moment.
We are astride a wondrous day.
History will remember us as giants…
Or it will not.

Redemption has a name.
I am Obama. And mine is a holy song.

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Filed under Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, resiliency

THE LAUREATE

Hope

I woke up to news pulsing through Twitter that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Really?  He won it?  He’s not just  “a candidate in the running”… but he actually won the thing?

That’s extraordinary!

Just last week it seemed the White House was licking its wounds because Chicago had been passed up as an Olympic host– when the IOC picked the other high-crime, high-poverty, high-partying city– Rio.  The right wing nuts that used to demand patriotism from every American in support of “their president”– now applauded America’s (and Obama’s) embarrassing failure on the world stage.  This was exactly the kind of stumble that the haters envision when they say “I hope the President fails.”

But now, instead of throwing shoes at an American President in full view of the world,  there is this acknowledgment of his quest for peace.  It is a strange and unexpected exoneration of how the world sees America.  Glenn Beck was just crowing about how the IOC decision was a rejection of the Obama ideal. Now he and Limbaugh have to retrench to spew their venomous, hate speech:” I agree with the Taliban… Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize,” Limbaugh said.  They had to move quickly to de-legitimize the award– just as they have tried to de-legitimize his election, and his citizenship, and his judgment, and his humanity.  And people listened.

Every day I watch this lunacy– the right wing Republican talking points, the hypocrisy, the power of talk radio loons to influence public opinion, the failure of our elected representatives to get along well enough to actually do something about the crises that they themselves have identified: Health care.  Afghanistan. Nuclear proliferation.  Economic collapse.  Global warming.

In Oslo, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said:

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year. We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.

It occurs to me that when President Obama ran on the promise of change (and hope) we underestimated the extent to which change unsettles.  Change scares that crap out of people. It polarizes.

Even the people that voted for change pass through stages of tempered dissatisfaction.  Today, for example,  represents one of the largest demonstrations of gay American activists in recent history, with the Human Rights Campaign and their march on Washington to protest a lack of progress in the Obama agenda for gay rights.

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Change will be there too.  Like a giant chameleon sitting in the trees and turning whatever colors may be reflected in the surrounding landscape. Blending in.  The eye of the beholder. Participants will no doubt list their disappointments: not enough progress on “Don’t ask-don’t tell”, or civil unions, or gay marriage.  And I am with them.  There hasn’t been enough progress.  And if the Prez is listening… let’s throw in our disappointment over the education agenda.  And the slow closure of Guantonomo.  And the fractured withdrawal of troops from Iraq and simultaneous build-up in Afghanistan.  And jobs are still disappearing. Hell, let’s just replay the Saturday Night Live skit in case he hasn’t seen it.

And then, having gotten all that off our chest, let us join in a collective epiphany:  that if you voted for change…  you already got it.  If you voted for hope— the Nobel Laureate embodies it.  If you voted for President Obama– an extraordinary figure in an extraordinary time– hang on tight.  Change promises a long and treacherous road out of a darkness he inherited.  It will be worth the journey.

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TWO CHICAGOS

chicago 2016The International Olympic Committee decided to hold their 2016 Games in Rio instead of Chicago.  Even a personal appeal by President Obama could not persuade them otherwise.

And maybe it is only fair.  As attractive as Chicago may be as a venue, South America has never hosted the Olympic Games. As Chris McGowan writes: “Brazil is one of the world’s top ten economies– after having emerged relatively unscathed from the global economic crisis.”  It is a giant of culture, food, partying, agriculture, music, and biofuel!  It is one of the world’s leading exporters of ethanol (half its cars run on pure alcohol!) Already self-sufficient in petroleum, Brazil recently discovered massive off-shore oil reserves.

riojpegThe IOC was evidently not disuaded by the poverty, crime, pollution, corruption and violence  present in Rio.  After all, it is not like those conditions don’t exist in Chicago.

In fact this week, while the president was flying to Copenhagen to make a personal appeal for his home city, another 16-year old honor student became a victim of school violence.  Last year 34 Chicago school children were killed and 290 were shot.  Several have already been killed this year… and its only October.

Gun violence continues to be one of the leading causes of preventable deaths of young people in our country. The  Children’s Defense Fund reports that:

• In 2005, 3,006 children and teens were killed by firearms, the equivalent of 120 public school classrooms of 25 students each.

• Between 1979 and 2005, more than 104,000 children and teens were killed by firearms in the United States. This is the equivalent of 4,177 classrooms of 25 students each.

• California lead the nation with 475 gun related deaths of teens  in 2005

CDF also reminds us that

• Every second in America, a public school student is suspended

• Every 7 minutes a child is arrested for a violent crime.

• Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.

And that is just for starters.

gunAnd as sobering as that data may be, Derrion Albert was not the victim of random gun violence in Chicago!  He was hit over the head with a splintered railroad tie in the middle of a street melee, and then he was punched and kicked unconscious.  He was not a participant.  He was merely walking home from school.  While he lay in the street dying, another teen captured the entire scene on his cell phone so that it could later be posted on You Tube.

This is Bobby Kennedy’s “Mindless menace of violence”.

Who are their parents?  Where are their counselors and teachers?  Where is the clergy?  Where is the compassion and sense of justice among so many kids that could participate in this melee and watch another student die?

Where is the President?

It is not as if the educators of the Chicago Public Schools don’t know what is happening.  Education Week reported that:

“Chicago is launching a $30 million plan to try to end the waves of annual shooting deaths of student-age children. The nation’s third largest school district says it’ll target 1,200 public high school students seen as most at risk to become gunshot victims. Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman says the money will go toward connecting the at-risk kids with full-time mentors and finding them part-time jobs. It’ll also help pay to provide safe passage for students forced to go through areas with a high concentration of gangs.”

stop gunsThis is not the first time large expenditures have gone into the public schools to try to keep our children safer.  Back in the early 1990’s, Walter H. Annenberg established the Annenberg Foundation with $1.2 billion in assets, explained that he made his historic commitment to school reform because he was concerned about rising violence among young people: “We must ask ourselves whether improving education will halt the violence.”

Those Foundation grants went to a number of major American cities with large urban school districts, including Chicago where the “Chicago Public Education Fund” was developed.  This not only provided funding to work on grass roots efforts to stem the horrific levels of violence in our urban schools, it provided a forum for civic leaders to get involved in schools.  This all took place in 1992– or just about the time that Derrion Albert was born.   And the chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund… was Barack Obama.

And now all has come full circle as the President returns to America with more than enough challenges on his plate.  The good news about not getting the Olympic Games in Chicago?  The President’s many detractors will not have fresh ammunition to pummel him with every time something goes wrong with the planning or the unemployment numbers stubbornly decline in the heartland.  Perhaps even better news, the President might lend the full power of his office to the kids in his old neighborhood on the South Side.  There are two Chicagos.  One mourns the failure of their city’s Olympic bid and the billions of dollars that would have been injected into the local economy.  The other mourns the death of still another child who just wanted to go home.

Next week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General  Eric Holder will visit Chicago to lend their official support for efforts to protect our children. It will be an uphill battle that will take more than photo-ops and fly-bys.  It will also require a lot more than Walter Annenberg’s millions.  It will require the transformation of an entire community: the schools, the public housing, jobs, career counseling, parent engagement, social services, medical care.  Maybe it will require  the transformation of the nation at a time when there seems to be so little patience for real change.

In fact, teen violence and student deaths are taking place at such staggering and unacceptable levels in our cities, it will take an Olympian effort on the part of our President who knows first hand how such violence threatens to rob America of its very soul.

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1000 ORIGAMI CRANES

 

logoMonday, September 21st, is the United Nation’s 27th annual attempt to promote an International Day of Peace.  We are asked to pause and reflect.  Or perhaps set aside our personal or political anger.  To cease fire.  For one day.

We are asked to inspire our students to celebrate this day of peace in their own way.  And perhaps we should.  Maybe the adults ought to all just chill for 24 hours.  Maybe we just take a break from spewing venomous hate speech at Town Hall Meetings or calling the President a fascist or the second coming of Pol Pot.  Maybe we ought to quit shouting across the great divide:  “You Liar!”  You racist!

Maybe on International Peace Day we stay in our seats when we might otherwise rush the stage and yank the microphone out of some 19-year old entertainer’s hands to promote Beyonce.  Maybe we accept the line judge’s call instead of threatening to shove the “f-ing tennis ball down her throat”.  Maybe we disarm.  Maybe we turn down the volume on our talk radio stations. Maybe we have a civil discussion without a deer rifle slung over our shoulder. 

Maybe we make this International Day of Peace about our kids.  Before someone gets hurt.

Last week the House Speaker warned that the climate of hatred towards the President is starting to feel very much like that of San Francisco in the late 70’s– when Dan White’s voices urged him to murder city councilman Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist. She was immediately vilified.  Her political adversaries accused her of encouraging Americans to assassinate the President.  But all week long cable news pundits were saying the same thing:  that we are witnessing a zeitgeist with potentially frightening consequences if some nut gets too close to those in power who were elected by the “people”. 

We’ve been here before.  We heard Bobby Kennedy’s powerful speech on the Mindless Menace of Violence in America...  just before he too became a victim of the mindless menace of violence in America.

On this International Day of Peace,  a ceasefire in Afghanistan and Africa and Iraq and the West Bank and in the border towns of Juarez and Tijuana would be a blessing. 

But I’ll settle for a day in which our children are permitted a moment to lend their voices to the tumult– their prayers for peace.

So at El Milagro we will commemorate this Day of Peace.  And I’m sure we’ll hear about it.  We’ll hear that we should be using our instructional time more wisely and preparing our kids for the standardized tests.  Or that we are putting ideas into their heads.  Or we are teaching them to be soft.  Or to be socialists.

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But the 7th and 8th grade students in Mr. Medina’s class have already made 1000 origami cranes and inscribed them with a wish for peace.  They will wear white to signify their solidarity.  And they will lend their voices by vowing to keep a day of silence. 

Each student will carry a Pledge Card that says:

•Today I am silent.

•Today I am silent… reflecting on peace within myself.

•Today I am silent… reflecting on peace within my family, my school, my community, and the world.

•Today I will walk in silence with my classmates and we will stand for peace.

•Today I am silent… for the last time!

•From this day forward, I will raise my voice in defense of others.  I will be an advocate for peace, non-violence, and justice for all people.

 By Tuesday the International Day of Peace will be over and we will not likely have effected any real change in the world.  At least for now. 

There are still 1000 origami cranes.  The wishes they bear will be released to the universe.  The prayers they carry will have come from our children.

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WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA WILL BE OUR GUEST SPEAKER AT EL MILAGRO

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On Tuesday morning President Obama will be speaking to children in schools all across America.  He will deliver the messages that we have spent our careers delivering to our students:  stay in school.  Work hard.  Take responsibility for your education.  Do your homework.  Dream big.

He’s the perfect person to sing such a hopeful tune.  By now we all know from whence this man has come.  Born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up, at least for a time, in poverty.  He struggled as a youth to maintain a focus on his education. But ultimately, he graduated from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet– including Harvard Law School.  He became a community organizer to parley his education into some good for others.  He served his community.  He ran for public office.  He expanded his influence.  And in one of the most inspirational stories in our nation’s long tradition of resilient  citizens, he rose above the odds to become the first African American President of the United States.

He’s the guy that wants to step into our classrooms and tell kids that if they work hard and persevere and not make excuses they too can achieve their dream.  He’s an orator.  He is a poet.  He is compelling.  He is engaging.

Tuesday morning when the sun rises on the first day of school across most of America, children will meet their new teacher and new classmates and the televisions will click on and the President will welcome them back.  At least some of them.

gunzjpegAs is the case with all things now in American politics, this too has been spoiled.  The President has been demonized and his intentions sullied by another fight.  The same group of unhinged people who question our President’s legitimacy as an American citizen (Dred Scott?), who challenge his authenticity as an elected official, who carry guns to his public appearances, who freely and publicly characterize him by the twin hot button n-words: “nigger” and “nazi”, who muse that he “is not one of us”, who simultaneously suggest he wants to kill our elders… now suggest he wants to get his hooks into our children’ minds. Christians… sowing the seeds of hatred.

beckKnuckleheads from the far (and not so far) right wing of the Republican Party have managed to cast so many shadows on the President’s address to school children, that most will never hear the message.  Even elected officials have gone so far as to suggest that the president intends to use his “bully pulpit” to foment socialism and spread his radical ideologies  to an unsuspecting captive audience of school kids who just want to know where to store their lunch pail in their new classrooms. 

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power. While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”  —  Jim Greer, GOP Chair, Florida

“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” — Oklahoma Republican State Senator Steve Russell

North Korea?  Are you freakin’ serious?

What is it about these people?  How far does their hypocrisy go?  I remember when their guy was in office… if you questioned his judgment (?)  or direction you were no less than a traitor to America.  I remember him trying to string two coherent sentences together on any topic.  I remember all the members of his party suddenly running for office on the “family values” ticket… then demonstrating none of the values most families I know would ever espouse.  

I remember their education showhorse called No Child Left Behind.  It was going to spur school reform in America once and for all.  It was going to resurrect our schools and get us back to the basics.  We would be able to expose those schools that aren’t taking care of children– fire the teachers and the principals and allow parents to cut bait if need be and send their kids to schools that were really teaching.  We would even close the achievement gap across racial and socio-economic lines.  And the truth would be told in test scores.

And it was.  And the truth is that No Child Left Behind was never intended to close the achievement gap nor improve the quality of public education for children in all communities across America– which may explain in part why it has done neither.  

So while parents fret over whether they should “allow their child to be exposed to the message from the White House” on Tuesday– the irony is most schools won’t have time to air it anyway.  

And the “lesson plans” and other prepared materials designed to assist teachers in framing class discussions after the President’s address?  The one’s that really have created a collective aneurism among Republicans?  The ones that actually have the audacity to challenge kids to think… that prompts them with such radical questions as “How might you help the president?”  

I can guarantee that schools won’t have time to delve into those either. They will be far too busy with drilling students on basic skills and jumping through the hoops crafted by NCLB.  They will be preparing students to answer the standardized test questions that they will confront in May.  

obamaWhat a shame.  What a loss for those children and their naive parents.  They will miss the point that Barack Obama did not rise to the station of the American Presidency because he can take standardized tests or survive a curriculum so narrowly tuned to reading and math.  He rose to the presidency because he can THINK. He is a reader, a writer, an orator, a lover of art and music and people.  He is a leader.  Spiritual.  Self disciplined and self made.  He is the embodiment of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. He is the very model of what our public schools should strive for. And perhaps that is the biggest fear of all for those on the right:  That our public schools might actually work!  That we might, if untethered from the yoke of mindless standardized testing, reach across the great socio-economic divide and actually raise children from every community and race and ethnicity and gender group– to compete.  Anywhere.  Against anybody. Even to be President of the United States.

DSC_0260This Tuesday the televisions will be on at El Milagro.  We told teachers if they can fit it into their schedules they should.  But it is up to them.  And if parents don’t want their children exposed to this man…  they can opt out.  It is their call.  Their conscious. They can be complicit in the very blatant educational malpractice that began during the Bush presidency if they so choose.  Or they could actually seize the teachable moment and model for their own children that rarest of gifts these days:  the ability to THINK for oneself.

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THE 2OTH OF EL MILAGRO

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I’m invited to guest blog on Leadertalk on the 20th of every month.  I haven’t missed a day yet. Didn’t miss yesterday either.  So I woke up Saturday morning and watched the amazing events unfolding from Tehran and simultaneously tried to organize my thoughts around what was a very busy week for charter schools right here in California.

Check out my June post entitled “Change Gonna Come

Leadertalk is one of several blogs that are linked to Education Week.  It is a good site for tracking the voices of school leaders across the country.  The voices are many and varied:  some innovative, some naive, some courageous, some humorous, some defiant, some just looking for direction.  Some, like mine, seeking to capture El Milagro.

Leadertalk files all posts under each author’s name.  You can see the list of guest bloggers in the right-hand column. Click on Kevin Riley and you find the monthly posts that I have contributed this year.  

My favorite?  My tribute to our new President published January 20th, on the day of his Inauguration.

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100 THINGS I AM OPTIMISTIC ABOUT ON THE 101st DAY OF THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY

*Apr 28 - 00:05*

…Education, Iraq, swine flu, press conferences, basketball, being American, economic recovery, green energy, housing, kids, race relations, jurisprudence, Pakistan, college costs, the White House website, Republican demise, GM, Oval Office photos, American voters, health care, health care for kids, Guantanamo, choice, Hispanic caucus, charter schools, Twitter, Michelle, the cabinet, Ted Kennedy, NY Times, NY Yankees, Bo, Peace Corps;

JFK, Teach for America, Hugo Chavez, Washington DC, the Obama kids, on-line media, high speed rail, Isreal, stock market, Arlen Specter, waterboarding,  MSNBC, US troops coming home, Fair Pay Act, a new NCLB, affordable student loans, Air Force 1, families, world travel, stem cell research, change, civil rights, the US Constitution,  gun control, global warming, New Orleans, honest communication, US reputation abroad, GNP, the VP;

Jazz, Rachel Maddow, early childhood education, NASA, environmental protection, fuel economy, Earth Day, veterans, immigration, S-CHIP,  Americans with Disabilities,  G-20 Summit, jobs,  home ownership,  fairness, nutrition, 21st Century skills, work-family balance, performance, Social Security, foreign policy, Nuclear waste disposal, Islam; 

Darfur, fossil fuels, US tax code, executive orders, National Academy of Sciences, clean energy, urban America, fitness, organic gardens, homeland security, the arts, poverty, dynamic speeches;

Two terms.

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