Students Take on Mass Incarceration

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Activists, Prisoners, Scholars, Students, Teachers, Uncategorized
Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Despite the countless articles detailing the supposed apathy of the millennial generation, political activism is still alive and well on today’s college campuses. Of note is the growing number of chapters of Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI). SAMI first started at Howard University in 2011 and has since expanded to schools throughout the U.S., including Columbia University, Mount Holyoke College and Morgan State University.

While much of SAMI’s early activism organized around the execution of Troy Davis, more recent efforts are focused on getting its anti-prison message out through alternative mass media, including spots on BlogTalkRadio, the production of “mix tapes” and a “radio takeover” for Voxunion. According to an article in The Daily Collegian, “(SAMI) is a student organization dedicated to exploring issues of political prisoners and promotes awareness on the controversial structure of the United States prison system.” Furthermore, SAMI links the practice of mass incarceration “to both the attempt to socially control people of color and to accumulate profits for both private and public prison institutions.”

Howard University student protesters at Troy Davis rally. Image courtesy of the Guardian UK
Howard University students at Troy Davis rally. Image courtesy of the Guardian UK

Through its activism and organizing, SAMI champions the abolition of the current prison system, favoring a restorative approach, which addresses those issues which contribute to the economic and social disenfranchisement of African Americans. To learn more about SAMI’s work and how to create a local chapter visit their website:

by Ian Morlan

Glossary: Black August

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Allies, Artists, Parents, Prisoners, Scholars, Students, Teachers, Uncategorized
Former Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur. The first woman on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Image Courtesy of
Former Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur. The first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Image courtesy of

“August is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice, of repression and righteous rebellion, of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.” – Mumia Abu-Jamal

Happy Black August! This month, we celebrate the men and women who have performed brave acts of anti-racist resistance that have contributed to the freedoms we have today. Originating within the confines of California state prisons in honor of the San Quentin 6, this month-long celebration and includes community and cultural events, activism, fasting, reflection, and education.  Throughout Black August, organizations such as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Critical Resistance also shed light on efforts to free political prisoners and end mass incarceration.

New York’s Brecht Forum is hosting a Black August Film Festival that includes a showing of the global anti-apartheid documentary, “Have You Heard from Johannesburg.” More details about tickets and location can be found on their website.

by Lauren Silver

The School to Prison Pipeline

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Activists, Prisoners, Students, Teachers, Uncategorized
Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

….this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor history will ever forgive them, that they destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not wish to know is their innocence which constitutes the crime.-Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

It is glaringly evident that lower-income youth in urban areas are at a greater disadvantage than their affluent peers with regards to educational resources. One needs only to walk by these underfunded public schools to see the wired windows, relatively barren recreational courts and the heavy presence of police officers patrolling the grounds. High school graduation rates for Black and Latin@ students further reveal the wide disparities in the U.S. public school system along socioeconomic and racial lines. Rather than being placed on a path toward academic success, large numbers of Black and Brown students, especially males, are channeled to the prison system through so-called “zero tolerance” policies implemented in schools across the country. The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the policies and practices that push neglected students into the juvenile detention and incarceration system. Sadly, students of color are often stigmatized with labels like “at-risk,” conveying a narrowed perception of their potential and resigning them to failure before they have been given the chance to excel.


Season of Change

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Field Notes, Students, Teachers, Uncategorized
Elementary school students in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of
Elementary school students in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of

As much as I enjoy the long daylight hours, bare email in-boxes and the balmy breezes of summer, each August I delight in the refreshing prospect of a new school year. The specific mix of excitement and anxiety, which comes from daring expectations and memories of last year’s disappointments, reveals how much we continue to treasure the opportunity to learn and to teach. For those of us who are lucky, school is a sanctuary where we can discover the best of who we are and who we can be.

In the next few weeks, a multitude of teachers, children and parents will scramble to provide the essentials, like chalk, construction paper and pencils, necessary to make their schools work. Vibrant hopes–that they will be as fun in the classroom as the favorite teacher that inspired them to become educators, that they have grown from last year’s lessons, that their children will reach new educational heights–invigorate these contributions. Despite being given meager resources, their dedicated participation as builders rather than consumers, advocates rather than bureaucrats, is what helps so many public schools continue to survive. However, parents, teachers and children cannot transform neighborhood schools into havens of self-discovery without our support.


The End of Poverty

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Uncategorized



In a world where there is so much wealth…how can we still have so much poverty?-Narrator, The End of Poverty

This is the question Philippe Diaz’s 2008 movie, The End of Poverty, seeks to answer. The groundbreaking film is shocking, enraging but also critically important. It meticulously documents the injustice of economic inequality and exploitation, while also demonstrating how the violence of colonialism, slavery and imperialism continues today. Europe and the U.S. control land and natural resources throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia, a continuation of colonial policies, with multinational corporations augmenting state interests.

This is a process first described by Kwame Nkrumah as neocolonialism. The film indicts transnational corporations, the IMF, the World Bank and other international power players for audaciously penalizing the Global South. These nations are burdened with insurmountable debt, while European and American companies ruthlessly extract resources and displace millions of people around the world. Not one for fatalism, Diaz ends his film with a call to action and outlines a plan to eradicate poverty by 2025. Check out the trailer and catch the full film on Netflix instant to learn how you can help end poverty!

by Shannon Shird

The Battle of Algiers

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Artists, Black Resistance Screening List, Uncategorized
Battle of Algiers Movie Poster, image courtesy of IMDB
Battle of Algiers Movie Poster, image courtesy of IMDB

The Battle of Algiers is not for the faint of heart. The film, made in 1967 by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, is shockingly violent in its depiction of the Algerian War of Independence during the 1950s. The movie centers on underdog hero, Ali La Pointe and follows his path from hustling street kid to high-ranking leader in the National Liberation Front (FLN), the principal revolutionary movement against French colonial forces. The Battle of Algiers remains a cinematic classic because of its portrayal of an iconic moment in African history. The movie memorializes the defeat of a colonial power by a popular mobilization of marginalized people. At times jarring and tense, at other times heartbreakingly sad, the film feels like a documentary. Violence is portrayed with a gritty realism that is often unsettling.


Dream for the Congo

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Uncategorized
Patrice Lumumba, photo courtesy of The Guardian
Patrice Lumumba, photo courtesy of The Guardian

July 2nd marks the 88th birthday of revolutionary hero Patrice Lumumba. Hailing from what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his name may be foreign to younger generations of U.S. change-makers. However, his passion for justice and call to action in 1960 rang throughout the Congo and resonated with Black communities worldwide. After a series of nationalist rebellions which led to Congo’s independence from Belgium in 1960, Lumumba became the county’s first democratically elected leader and took up the task of organizing the country’s first government. An ardent supporter of Pan-Africanism, which called for solidarity among African-descendant people, Lumumba fought tirelessly to unite the Congolese people. Lumumba envisioned an independent and thriving Congo nation. Yet, he was feared and resented by Western governments for his Leftist views and his insistence that African people could flourish without foreign intervention. Labeled a Communist threat by the U.S. and its European allies, Lumumba was tortured and assassinated in 1961.

Despite his short time in office , Patrice Lumumba left an indelible mark on his country, his continent and social movements throughout the African diaspora. Lumumba’s commitment to unity amongst marginalized groups greatly influenced Black revolutionaries like Malcolm X. His legacy is memorialized in Lumumba, a French biopic released in 2000.

Today, organizations like Friends of the Congo and the Patrice Lumumba Coalition keep these hopes alive, working to educate and unite Africans and members of the diaspora. Friends of the Congo advocates for an end to predatory practices in resource extraction which have fueled violent conflict in the Great Lakes region, sharing Lumumba’s dream of a peaceful Democratic Republic of the Congo.

by Courtney Cook is an M.S. Candidate in Nonprofit Management at The New School of Public Engagement

The Natural

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Artists, Uncategorized
Abbey Lincoln, photo taken by Pieter Boersma during a 1966 concert

Straight Ahead

The road keeps winding…

Bumpy road

Confuse a body

Lead a trusting soul astray

For some, this road is easy

Traveling high without a care

But if you got to use the back roads

Straight ahead can lead nowhere.

-Abbey Lincoln: actress, jazz singer, civil rights activist in her song, Straight Ahead.


Spring Into Action for “Black and Cuba”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

[vimeo 40667670 w=500 h=375]

Thanks to your support, this year Progressive Pupil has already made exciting progress on Black and Cuba. Enthusiastic audiences at work-in-progress screenings in Greenwich Village, San Diego, East Harlem and San Juan have given us informative and affirming feedback about the project. We have also outlined a plan to share the film with grassroots organizations, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions, places of worship and other community spaces throughout the US, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa.

Classroom at Moncada Baracks, site of the first action of the Cuban revolution, now a museum and public school
Classroom at Moncada Baracks, site of the first action of the Cuban revolution, now a museum and public school

Our goals for this groundbreaking project remain the same: to increase participation in anti-racist organizing, end the US embargo of Cuba and raise awareness that racial discrimination and economic injustice are international human rights issues. Black and Cuba addresses concerns that are as relevant as ever.  Throughout the world, activists and their allies are demanding more peaceful communities, better public education, broader access to health care, police accountability and an end to the US government’s outdated and internationally condemned foreign policy toward Cuba. In addition, a new generation of diverse urban audiences is increasingly vocal about their desire to see humanizing representations of Black and Latino culture. Now is the time for Black and Cuba’s inspiring and enlightening message about how people from all walks of life can band together to create change.

Help make our vision a reality by making a tax-deductible donation today. Your participation will help us complete the film, continue our grassroots outreach and begin showing the documentary at film festivals. You can also show your support for Black and Cuba by sharing this post with friends, family and colleagues by liking us on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for traveling with us on this important journey!