Sunday, November 28, 2010

Help Us Change Lives Through Literature: The Autobiography of Malcolm X


Over the last few weeks, students at Our School at Blair Grocery have been watching and discussing Spike Lee's Malcolm X (1992). As we take time to understand the pivotal transformations he made in his life and the role he played in the struggle, what better way could there be to read his story in his own words?


HELP OSBG STUDENTS READ THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X!!!

We are asking just 15 of our friends and supporters to buy and send us 1 copy each (new or used) of The Autobiography of Malcom X for our students to read during winter break.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, his life story as told to Roots author Alex Haley, is more than 45 years old now. Many of the major world events that have occurred since Malcolm's death, in particular the election of a Black president, would have undoubtedly have seemed inconceivable to him. Meanwhile however, the events of our students lives and the ongoing oppression and destruction within Black communities would have further given fuel to his indignation and passion for change. The story of Malcolm X's life at its core is a story of redemption, transformation and self-discovery-and is as resonant today as ever.

For the Black reader, there is little other literary works so accessible, while doing so much to affirm the essential dignity and humanity of the race. While one would hope that such basic qualities would be a given in the modern era, this remains a nation in which societal forces ranging from the legal system to the entertainment world are constantly chipping away at them. Indeed, despite much of the so-called "progress" that has come about since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, many are still living in the very same ghettos and slums whose existence Malcolm lamented during his own lifetime. His autobiography, in detailing his remarkable metamorphosis from the shameless, drug-addled and immoral Detroit Red into the dignified, upstanding and impassioned leader El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz reveals the possibilities that open up when people recognize their own worth and demand better from ourselves and others.

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If you are willing to make this small donation to support our students own transformation and self-discovery, please send the books to:

Our School at Blair Grocery
1740 Benton Street
New Orleans, LA 70117

Please also email Kyle Meador, OSBGs Director of Education Programs at kmeador@ces-nola.org to let us know to be on the lookout for the package.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

OSBG at the CES Fall Forum: "Demanding Education That Matters"


A little over a week ago now Turner, Kyle, Rob and Qasim from Our School at Blair Grocery traveled to San Francisco, CA for Fall Forum. Convened by the Coalition of Essential Schools as their annual "conversation among friends." Fall Forum provides the essential tools, knowledge, contacts, and vision to create and sustain personalized, equitable, academically challenging schools that prepare all students for successful lives. Drawing on 25 years of principled and proven educational practices from a network of hundreds of schools and affiliated organizations, the coalition provides support, insight, and real answers to what works in creating great schools for the long haul.

This was OSBG's second Fall Forum. Last year, when Kyle still worked for CES and brought the Fall Forum 2009 to New Orleans, Turner participated in a special session about education in New Orleans post-Katrina and provided the much needed perspective that the primary purpose of education must be to help young people learn be empowered with the knowledge, skills and agency to take leadership in addressing the challenges of their communities. OSBG has been developing relationships with have developing relationships with some of the amazing schools throughout the Coalition since.

Pedro Noguera provided an inspiring keynote address in which he called on CES delegates to be "Critical Friends". His keynote, titled "Finding a Way Forward During Challenging Times: A New Agenda for Progressive Education". Watch video of the talk below:




Earlier this Fall, Our School at Blair Grocery officially became an Affiliate of the Coalition of Essential Schools. Fall Forum was a great opportunity to re-connect with this amazing network of innovative educators and empowered youth from incredible schools around the country. I'm sure I am forgetting a few, but some of the schools we had the opportunity to connect with and learn from at Fall Forum include:

ARISE High School, Oakland, CA
El Colegio Charter School, Minneapolis, MN
High Tech High, San Diego, CA
Leadership High School, San Francisco, CA
School Without Walls, Rochester, NY
The Met, Providence, RI

On Saturday, we were joined by NY2NO youth organizer Naima Noguera to facilitate a workshop titled "Service-Learning, Youth Empowerment and Sustainable Community Development" where participants explored with us strategies for empowering youth through service-learning to engage in reflective practice with others that actualizes meaningful, effective and replicable local solutions to global challenges. Participants learned about our work at OSBG and developed their own strategies, tools and agency to engage themselves and their students in experiences that encourage and support them in "being the change they want to see in the world.

We had a great time in California at Fall Forum and hope that we can continue to build on the relationships with schools throughout the Coalition that will provide us with critical friendship and support as we continue to grow and develop Our School at Blair Grocery.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

OSBG in the Wesleyan Argus

This article, by Aviva Markowitz for the Wesleyan Argus, is another example of how OSBG's network is continuing to grow to include students and communities across the country. We'll be welcoming service-learning students from high schools and colleges around the country for this upcoming winter break beginning mid-December!

Students Work With Farm-Focused School in New Orleans

Our School at Blair Grocery is an alternative education school with greenhouses, a chicken coop, a farmstand, and a community center.C/O NATALIE FINE C.P.Our School at Blair Grocery is an alternative education school with greenhouses, a chicken coop, a farmstand, and a community center.











The lower ninth ward in New Orleans looks shockingly the same as it did just months after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Houses remain empty and run-down, sidewalks have not been repaired, and the area is sparsely populated. There is only one charter high school in the neighborhood and many area children are homeschooled by their parents or have dropped out of school altogether. Yet one school is beginning to recreate community in the ward by teaching students life skills, creating an urban farm and becoming a community center for the area.

This winter break, ten Wesleyan students will have a chance to travel down to New Orleans to visit and work at Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG) in what will be the third community service trip of its kind.

“We will probably be doing a lot of different things—it really depends on what they need us to do for them at the time,” said Cory Meara-Bainbridge ’13, the founder of the Wesleyan branch of OSBG. “One of the main things is that we will be sharing a curriculum with students from different places and learning together.”

Student volunteers will live at the school, where they will help with daily farming tasks, building projects, and any other workshop development projects in conjunction with students that live there.

“We work on what needs to be built or planted as well as community outreach,” said Natalie Fine ’13, who visited the school last May and is planning on going in January again. “We also work on canvassing, and we ask the neighbors what they need help with. When we were there last time there was a big barbeque and we met everyone in the neighborhood. We will probably be working with the sprouts that they sell for salads to big fancy restaurants, which is where the school gets most of its money.”

Started in 2008 as an alternative education school by teacher Nat Turner, it has been transformed into a multi-level learning environment, with greenhouses and a chicken coop on the premises, as well as a farm stand and a community center. Turner, who used to teach at The Beacon School in the Upper West side of Manhattan, decided not to return to New York after spending multiple summers working on rehabilitation efforts in New Orleans. He bought the rights to the building, which used to be an old grocery store, and started the school with 12 dollars in his pocket.

“It’s built in an old house and it’s based on experiential learning,” Fine said. “The students learn business skills, urban planning, and farming skills. The goal of these kids is not necessarily to go to college but to have a successful trade because that’s just the reality of where they are from.”

While the number of students who attend the school fluctuates, all of them live within the ninth ward. The school is allowed to exist under Louisiana home school laws, which were created after the desegregation of schools in order to allow families to keep their children out of mixed-race schools. Although not used for the same purpose now, the laws have created a very flexible learning curriculum that the Turner school is utilizing.

“All the classes are around rebuilding their community,” Meara-Bainbridge said. “They are learning all these things through writing grants, running a farmers’ market, growing food, going to workshops and national conferences and planning community events. Plus, they learn electrical skills and building skills from local contractors and electricians who have come in to teach them. They also have food justice classes where they go around and examine the food accessibility and see what they have available.”

Like Wesleyan, Turner’s school teaches students to look at issues in an interdisciplinary framework within the local community.

“OSBG deals with so many issues at the same time and rather than working in New Orleans in a top down approach it works at the grassroots level with a holistic approach,” said Maggie Cohen ’12, a member of the chapter who went on the trip last spring. “The school looks at institutionalized racism, incarceration, food justice, environmental problems, and education problems. They are also really working with the needs of the community in a grassroots way.”

The group will also spend a few days in Hammond, Louisiana, on a rural satellite farm. The farm started this summer as an urban farm, healing center, and cultural center. The students from OSBG are hoping to visit the farm once a week to establish urban-rural connections among young people.

“A lot of people come to Our School at Blair Grocery for help,” Fine said. “When I was there we worked on the last female black dairy farm in Louisiana. People go to Turner for help because he has access to a vast network of college and high school students.”

OSBG sees continuous visits from college students across the country. After Turner left The Beacon School, his old students from New York continued to visit during the summer break and created a network with other high schools throughout the city. When the students graduated, they created a national organization called the Youth Coalition for Community Action, which now has 13 chapters across the country. The first trip with the Wesleyan chapter was run last January and the group has plans to lead a Student Forum next semester with a trip to New York City over Spring Break.

The planned Student Forum for the spring will focus on community organization, urban farms, and social justice work.

“Part of the trip is supporting Our School at Blair Grocery—which is a really incredible project—and part of it is also learning about community organizing and looking at the project as a model for creating change and creating alternative forms of community building,” Meara-Bainbridge said. “These New Orleans trips are a way to get people involved. One of the points of the trip is to get people politically conscious and involved in things wherever they are.”

Interested students can find more information on the group’s blog at youthcoalition.webs.com.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Urban Farms Reshaping the Food World in New Orleans


Check out Tracie McMillan's great article in the Atlantic Monthly online about some of the great food justice projects serving New Orleans at the moment.

Click here to view the article.


Do these pictures speak for themselves or what?






That's progress...Thanks everybody for your support!