Archive for Culture

This Mourning

Mr. Martin

This Mourning

July 14, 2013  |  Culture, Family  |  11 Comments

My favorite author, James Baldwin, once wrote “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Since I was in 10th grade, those words have been scribbled on a post-it note attached to the screen of every computer I’ve owned.

James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is one of my all-time favorites.

James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is one of my all-time favorites.

This morning, that rage is particularly intense. I have not been able to sleep since the NY Times news alerted my phone at 1:14 this morning – telling me that Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

I knew that this was going to happen. I know America. Worse still, I know how race and class work in this country, and I know that the young are continually the victims of our inability to act responsibly as citizens and as change agents. I don’t need to recount the facts of Trayvon’s death or of the case here. There are hundreds of media outlets already doing that today.

I mourn for his family – understanding that by doing so, I am mourning for black and brown families with sons all over this country. Zimmerman was not on trial this month. Black maleness was. It wasn’t alarming to watch the defense labor to paint a picture of the unarmed black teenager as a menace who deserved death at the hands of a man who was warned by the police not to pursue him in the first place. It was, however, alarming to see how easy that labor was. It did not take much to sell the jurors (and much of America) on the idea that black boys are dangerous enough to shoot on sight now.

I work with youth in over five major American cities regularly, and I see this when the students I send to read at Starbucks in Seattle are denied entry… or in DC when I lead students into bookstores and all eyes shift to us… or even in NYC at Columbia when I’m continually carded by campus security because I regularly show up an hour early to enter the building where I teach.

Though they should not be, theses things are excusable to me. I’ve gotten good at teaching my way out of the tens of daily micro-aggressions that come with living in brown skin. I’ve had to – not for me – but because I live much of my life in front of teenagers. It is essential for black boys to see black men deal, in productive ways, with America’s inability to see us as whole individuals. Beyond that, it is essential for all children to have adults that don’t just consider their humanity, but who understand how complicated that humanity can be.

Trayvon’s case was inexcusable, though, because the consequence was not limited access to coffee house couches for reading or watching Columbia security admit nine white women without ID only to have them scrutinize every square centimeter of my campus ID card. The consequence for Trayvon was death. The moment for justice was over once George Zimmerman decided to follow him.

School to Prison Pipeline

School to Prison Pipeline

But it is not to late for everyone else. Moving forward, Justice for Trayvon means doing right by EVERY young person – even when it is not convenient and especially when it is challenging. Justice is ensuring that black and brown youth have access to the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Justice is understanding that in America when some teachers say “special ed” or “behavior problem” or “he won’t listen to me” what they are really saying is that I’ve given up. It is realizing that students who carry this label when they turn 15 are almost twice as likely than their peers to end up in jail. Justice is knowing that there are more black people in prison this morning than there were in slavery in 1850. Justice, ultimately, is understanding that this is not an accident.

Our unwillingness to deal frankly with the re-segregation of our schools and with the soul-crushing effects of poverty have made it so.

I’m paraphrasing Mychal Denzel Smith when I say that I hope that my work here doesn’t make you think I’m just an angry black man. My goal is to make it undeniably clear that I’m an angry black man. Each morning my heart is in classrooms, but this morning it is in Florida. My heart is also with you. I’m hoping that you are angry. I’m hoping that your anger at this verdict does not relent when all the editorials have been written or when all the rallies have been held or when work starts again on Monday morning.

I’m hoping that your anger will inspire you to work – in some capacity – with young people that are not in your class or directly related to you by blood. We cannot do much (this week) to counter years of institutional racism, but we can raise children to navigate and topple those institutions that continue to render us invisible and inhuman.

— Corn

Home Team/Away Team

What I do...

Home Team/Away Team

July 7, 2013  |  Culture, Teaching  |  4 Comments

I wan’t always so Brooklyn. I went to high school in Georgia. Though I’ve spent most of my adult life in NYC, I am from Georgia.

There is this old sentiment in poetry that you can never go home again. That somehow when one leaves a place, life makes it hard to return… Perspectives shift, memories fade, familiarity crystalizes into nostalgia, and the reality that things are never quite as you remember them breeds disappointment. Heartbreak.

This month I worked in Georgia for the first time since the 90s. What a way to start the summer! I loved it. Turns out one can go home again. I’ve got to rewrite some poetic sentiments…

In Georgia, I did some reading work with some teachers in Houston County, and I followed that up with a week of institutes back in NYC. Here are some things that we made while we wore working together, and a few links that we found useful.


I'm in a Movie (Seriously)

Believe it, Bro. I, Cornelius Minor, am Batman.

I’m in a Movie (Seriously)

June 10, 2013  |  Culture, Teaching  |  12 Comments

Last year filmmaker, Vivienne Roumani-Denn, followed me around NYC. Our adventures together became a small part of her recent documentary on literacy in the 21st century. The resulting film, Out of Print, had a decently successful run at the Tribeca Film Festival, and it is playing now in festivals around the country.

If you want too much Cornelius in your life, (or if you don’t have enough) go see this movie. Here is the info:

To all my students, there is a killer fight scene in the movie where I fight Superman, and WIN! — okay, SIKE… not really. 100% of the movie is me and other people loving books, but you should still go see it.