Unity Night of Kwanzaa 2016: Some Friendly Muslim Thought Leaders, by J.D. Meyer

Welcome to Unity Night of Kwanzaa, Tyler Texas—the first night of our seven-night festival. Furthermore, it’s the 50th Anniversary of Kwanzaa! How does Kwanzaa’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga describe Unity? Unity invites an “alternative sense of solidarity…the world’s health and wholeness require education to know about others.” In this year’s Unity address, Dr. Karenga asserts, “For we come into being and best express and develop our humanity in relationship.” This reminds me of benevolence, the first of the five virtues of Confucianism (Ruism) Benevolence is a simple four-stroke character, a person standing next to the number “two,” symbolizing society.

Perhaps never before in Kwanzaa’s history have Unity Night presentations got the opportunity to repair an upset, divided country following the last election. In other words, our talks could go beyond the Afrocentric Black Elite. First of all, I resolve to stay positive and not bash ideological opposites. Who remembers that great soul song by the O’Jays, “Unity”? The chorus asserts, “Unity, we must have unity. For united we stand, divided we fall.” I’m going to focus on some great work of fine Muslims in this country and elsewhere.

Fareed Zakaria
Let’s start with my hero and favorite journalist, Fareed Zakaria https://twitter.com/FareedZakaria —the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN on Sunday morning at 9 am and re-run at noon. The GPS stands for Global Public Square, and he has interviewed many of the top leaders in the world.

Fareed is a Muslim immigrant from India, and he has a Ph.D. in Political Science from an Ivy League university. He also writes for the Washington Post and published a book, The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education. However, Fareed isn’t a practicing Muslim but somewhere between deist and agnostic; plus his wife is Christian. Perhaps you could call him a cultural Muslim, but my point is that there is a continuum of beliefs within any religion from nominal to fundamentalist to fanatic.

Ulil Abshar-Abdallah & Indonesia
Our next standout is Ulil Abshar-Abdallah, and we’re friends on Twitter. https://twitter.com/ulil What is the most populated Muslim country? What Muslim country enjoys complete religious freedom in their constitution? The answer to both questions is Indonesia, and Ulil is the founder and leader of the Liberal Islam of Indonesia, also known as the Jaringans. The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, is known for his love of Heavy Metal music–notably Metallica and Megadeth. Indonesia has plenty of popular native heavy metal bands too, such as Burgerkill. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jul/11/joko-jokowi-widodos-metal-manifesto

I just checked Ulil’s Twitter site, and his pinned tweet states, “Don’t let politics ruin friendship.” A pinned tweet is always first on your list. A few days ago, he retweeted an article from the British journal, Independent, that warned about Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar financing extremist Islamic missionary groups in Germany. A few weeks ago, I shared some news with Ulil and everybody else from the Saudi hashtag #EndMaleGuardianship. It was a cluster of articles about Saudi women battling for equal rights. On Christmas, Ulil tweeted a New York Times article about being okay to wish Muslims a Merry Christmas. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/opinion/why-its-not-wrong-to-wish-muslims-merry-christmas.html Christians and Muslims share some of the same miracles.

“What is Liberal Islam? (a) open to all forms of intellectual exploration, all dimensions of Islam; (b) prioritizing religious ethics, not literal textual reading; (c) believing that truth is relative, open for interpretations and plural; (d) siding with oppressed minorities; (e) believing in the freedom to practice religious beliefs; (f) separation of world and heavenly authorities, religious and political authorities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaringan_Islam_Liberal Islam is a “living organism that makes us feel enthusiasm.” When Mohammad said, “There’s no compulsion in religion,” it was in response to a follower asking Mohammad if he should go get his son, who had moved to practice Christianity–an older religion. Ulil cited a Moroccan feminist, who felt the veil was no longer valid, but it simply serves the political interests of men. Originally, the head coverings were to protect Muslim women from being harassed just to bother Mohammad.But lets keep the burka. I’ve seen some beautiful models wearing them. Furthermore, who could object to an American flag motif?

Unfortunately, Indonesia has radical Islamic terrorist groups, but the government works with the USA in developing counter-terrorism strategies in USINDO. Indonesian police have successfully raided terrorist training camps. Furthermore, the founder of a leading Islamist group, Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) was imprisoned. http://www.usindo.org/resources/counter-terrorism-strategy-in-indonesia-adapting-to-a-changed-threat-2/ Ulil asserts that the roots of Muslim fundamentalism are a feeling of being left behind in science and economics and becoming spectators of Western injustice. Some Muslims protest the mayor of Jakarta–“Ahok” Basuki, a Chinese Christian.

Edarabia
Edarabia is the Middle East’s #1 Education Guide; helping students, parents and educators to interact and select the best institutions. Edarabia is based in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—all on the Arabian Peninsula. https://twitter.com/Edarabia “Visitors can find the latest industry news, upcoming events, job listings, research updates, compare ratings, add reviews and engage with others in the community forum. Edarabia.com covers all areas of education including but not limited to universities, colleges, schools, nurseries, language institutes, training academies, music schools, online degrees and much more.”

Edarabia’s pinned tweet is a roundup of books recommended by teachers and their reasons why. They have a Paper.li account called The Edarabia Times. Paper.li accounts are a daily newsletter gathered from those you follow in cyberspace. Edarabia and I are Twitter friends too; plus, they added me to an influential educators list. My Paper.li account, The BohemioTX, is my pinned tweet.

On Christmas, I found an awesome article by Edarabia entitled, “Five Tips in Building a Community of Learners.” http://www.edarabia.com/110008/3-tips-in-building-a-community-of-learners/ It was largely a reaction to the possibilities that technology bring to the classroom. Here are the five points: (1) Use an innovative approach. (2) Embrace new learning opportunities. (3) Encourage a ‘community’ between your students. (4) Make learning relevant. (5) Let students know you care about them.

This article reminded me of including edited student essays in my Developmental English textbook. Two of the standouts are about a veteran driving tanks in Bosnia and an account of the “chopped” technique in Houston’s Rap music.
I sent this article promptly to an American education leader, Angela Maiers, the founder of the #YouMatter paradigm. Many of us love to be scholarly with our cyberspace friends and include links to articles and hashtags in our tweets and posts.

MENA-ICT
Let’s close with an account of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Information and Communication (ICF) Forum. https://twitter.com/MENAICT It’s the premier ICT industry event in this region. The forum is held once every two years in Jordan through the direction of King Abdullah II since 2002. King Abdullah II is one of our best friends in the Muslim world. A former front-line soldier, King Abdullah II supports our military actions in the Mid-East, avoiding front-line conflict, which would look like a Christian-Islam apocalypse.

“The MENA ICT Forum showcases the entire region’s ICT success stories, and discusses latest trends, opportunities, and future outlooks.” The MENA-ICT Forum launched a 1000 Entrepreneurs National Initiative this year. Israel is a member of MENA, as is all of the Mid-East and North Africa. The first Arab Spring country, Tunisia, is still doing rather well as a democracy

CONCLUSION
I hope my Kwanzaa Unity talk has shown that we have strong allies in the Islam world, and not just an odd mix of “frenemies” and enemies. We started in the USA with Fareed Zakaria before examining Ulil Abshar-Abdallah and his country, Indonesia; Edarabia, a leading education site, based in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the UAE, and the MENA-ICT conference and its sponsoring group. Many Muslims are battling for progress in education, religion, technology, and economics.

Kwanzaa #3: Collective Work & Responsibility—Smith County 2015 Education Report & Kwanzaafest of Dallas are Examples, by J.D. Meyer

Welcome to Principle #3 Night: Collective Work & Responsibility. According to Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, Collective Work & Responsibility is “to maintain and build our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our own and solve them together.” http://www.officialkwanzaasite.com

The Public Intellectual

I believe that Kwanzaa is the effort to serve as a public intellectual. Dr. Ali Mazrui of the Institute of Global Studies in New York defined the intellectual as “a person who has the capacity to be fascinated by ideas and has acquired the skill to handle some of these ideas effectively.” Dr. Mazrui continues that a public intellectual “communicates and influences debate outside of one’s own field.” http://binghamton.edu/igcs/docs/Newsletter30.pdf He was a Top 100 Thinker, according to ForeignPolicy.com in 2005.

My former teaching colleague, Ibiyinka Solarin, offers a description of the public intellectual and how Wole Soyinka of Nigeria fits that model. Mr. Soyinka was the first African Nobel Prize in Literature. Dr. Solarin notes that the the real intellectual is engaged with society and contributes in his/her own way to impart knowledge and lower ignorance. The intellectual has varied reading , exposure to other cultures, and shows courage versus the establishment. http://www.gamji.com/article3000/NEWS3736.htm

Smith County 2015 Education Report & Claritas/PRIZM Zip Code Clusters

We saw a great example of the Third Principle of Kwanzaa at the Rose Garden, October 20th. The Tyler Area for Partnership in Education http://www.tylerareapartnership4education.org/ launched the Smith County 2015 Education Report—an unprecedented collaboration between education groups, city leaders, and non-profit agencies. http://www.tylerareapartnership4education.org/#!community-report-card/ax6nf

They discovered that only 20% of Smith County students earn a post-secondary credential, a figure that sinks to just under 10% among economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students are defined as those who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch. Not only is this a slump from the 35% figure for adults with a post-secondary credential, but 65% of jobs will require such education nationally by 2020.

Tyler (71.8%) and Chapel Hill (71.3%) have the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the eight-city Smith County—well over the 60.2% for Texas. Meanwhile, Bullard (34.8%) and Lindale (45.9%) have the fewest poor kids.

However, Tyler has a solid average income of of $47.4K per year. How can both figures be possible? Could that mean we have a tiny middle-class here? Let’s look at Claritas/PRIZM zip code clusters for zip codes 75701, 75702, and 75703. https://www.claritas.com/MyBestSegments/Default.jsp?ID=20&pageName=ZIP%2BCode%2BLookup&menuOption=ziplookup# Out of 66 clusters, only #53 Mobility Blues is present in all three Tyler zip codes in the Top Five. Furthermore, 75702 ranks in the top 1/5th nationally for #62 Hometown Retired. Only 3-15 clusters rank in the top half while two barely miss the top half at #34 and #35.

The Three Focus Areas for Education

There are three focus areas: (1) Kindergarten Readiness, (2) Middle School to High School Transition, and (3) Post-Secondary Readiness, Access, and Success. One statistic really jumped out at me: the discrepancy between high school graduation rate and college readiness. Virtually all graduate from high school: 94% in Smith County and 88% nationally. However, only 56% of both groups are college ready, and just 58% in Smith County and 54% nationally even enroll in education after high school. Students could take the traditional four-year bachelors degree or two-year associates degree routes, but there also shorter certificate and apprenticeship routes.

The answer for lacking readiness beyond an apprenticeship is developmental, or remedial, education. There are three subjects: (1) Developmental English/Writing, (2) Developmental Reading, and (3) Developmental Math.

Post-Secondary Readiness: Developmental English/Writing Study Guide for the Exit Exam

I taught Developmental English/Writing for ten years: five as an adjunct in Mountain View Community College in North Oak Cliff and five full-time at Texas College, the HBCU in North Tyler. By the way, this course is called Developmental Writing in junior colleges and Developmental English in four-year colleges. The Smith County Education Report called for a “restructuring of Developmental Education,” a common suggestion. I wrote an article that I called “Follow-Up to the Smith County 2015 Education Report.” It’s 6 1/3 pages with ten sections and a staggering 21 references. I published four of these articles. https://www.academia.edu/19181221/Follow-Up_to_2015_Smith_County_Education_Report I concluded the article by asking if the over-emphasis on literature in high school at the expense of grammar after middle school could be a major cause for a lack of readiness for College Composition, the first official college English course. The final link goes to my study guide for the Developmental English/Writing exam. It’s based on the official practice exam and includes that link. My analysis reviews the test maker’s categories and my impressions, along with questions and answers.https://www.academia.edu/18726274/THEA_Study_Guide_for_Developmental_English_Writing_Exit_Exam

Middle School to High School Transition: Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary (BALAV)–A Focus on Cognates

Let’s backtrack to the Middle School to High School Focus Area. I’ve published material on Bilingual Academic All-Level Vocabulary (BALAV)–A Focus on Cognates. https://www.academia.edu/1744169/Bilingual_All-Level_Academic_Vocabulary While informal English has most of its roots in German, technical English has most of its roots in Latin, and French is the main source for formal English. Spanish and French are Romance languages, meaning they’re descended from Latin. Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian are the other Romance languages. For example, “inundacion,” is the Spanish word for “flood.” If  I were to say that the Bangladesh prime minister is a leader in climate change because her country is frequently inundated, that’s using sophisticated English.

The Hispanic population in Smith County is rising, especially among the young. Meanwhile, the African-American population is remaining steady and the White population is falling. Tyler ISD’s largest ethnic group has been Hispanics for several years, and many are in the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) group—those who need ESOL or Bilingual Elementary education. Most secondary education textbooks actually have glossaries in both English and Spanish. I like the glossaries that alternate back and forth between languages for each term, rather than first all the heavy words in one language followed by the other.

I can attest to figuring out a new language through an incredibly great lesson in ESOL class. Our instructor divided us into groups, and we deciphered an essay in Portuguese based on our knowledge of Spanish. I love reading public signs written in Spanish and English to keep my skills solid. At Church’s Chicken the other day, I found out the Spanish word for “simmer;” “biscuit” is exactly the same in both languages. There’s a weird myth that Mexicans and others from Spanish-speaking countries move to the USA with little kids only, so they don’t need Spanish subtitles after fifth grade. Maybe their teachers can get away with grunting to them about the glossaries. I’ve seen LEP newcomers in high school simply copying their English textbook into their notebooks since they didn’t know what was going on in class.

Eds & Meds” and the Local Home Construction Boom: Help the Home Health Care Aides & Start More Construction Apprenticeships.

The main approach I took in follow-up article was to analyze the dominant occupations in Tyler, especially Colleges and Hospitals, affectionately nicknamed “Eds & Meds.” More descriptive than prescriptive, I cited the pros and cons listed by experts on urban planning, such as Dr. Richard Florida. Many of the success stories are in large cities, such as Houston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Later, I found a list of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the USA. Home health aide is by far the largest nationally, and it’s a low-paying job that doesn’t require a high school diploma. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.t05.htm What if there were grants, scholarships, and maybe communes available for star home health aides so they could pursue a certificate or associates in fields like surgical technology and physical therapy assistant at Tyler Junior College?

A sound man/boat house builder friend told me about the home construction business boom. http://www.kltv.com/story/28527392/home-construction-booming-in-e-texas Then a star local construction business owner (home and business) liked my article, as well as the idea of apprenticeships. My Twitter M.D. friend voiced her support for apprenticeships as a way to move up without debt. Think about it; if post-secondary credentials are rare among the poor, have quick programs.

Kwanzaa Today: Kwanzaafest of Dallas and More

Now that we have shown how a major city project fits in with a Kwanzaa principle, how is Kwanzaa doing these days? It’s spreading around the world from the USA. Education World reported in 2014 that Kwanzaa is “the world’s fastest growing holiday.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson039.shtml I noticed celebrations in South Africa last year, England this year. Older folks born between 1948-1964 are more likely to celebrate Kwanzaa in this country http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2011/12/who_celebrates_kwanzaa_the_holiday_in_statistics.html , but there are more Black Studies programs in colleges than there used to be.

Kwanzaa spin-offs have had major success, notably Kwanzaafest of Dallas–held on the second Saturday weekend of December. This festival had its 25th anniversary this year, selling 60K tickets. http://www.johnwileyprice.com/kwanzaa-main.php Kwanzaafest has health screenings, recycling, high school debate, an obesity 5K walk/run, and more. John Wiley Price, long-time councilman, is the master-mind of this project.  Amherst University Black Student Union presents awards to students exhibiting the best of the seven principles in early December http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2015/12/08/unpacking-kwanzaa-critical-reflection-cultural-holiday.

Conclusion

Once again, the seven principles of Kwanzaa–Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work & Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith–are principles universal to all humanity.The “made-up” accusation carries little weight in the light of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the other folks’ religions or holidays. But Kwanzaa endeavors to improve the community and to offer activists a chance to serve as a public intellectual.