Tag Archives: Black Professors

Reclaiming a Fading Legacy: Why I Make My Students Read Assata aka Counterbalancing an Irrelevant American Educational System that has Failed Black People

During my initial lecture in my freshman survey course, a course that invariably includes upperclassmen who have avoided addressing mandatory history requirements, I purposely attempt to pique their interest in the subject matter as a preemptive strike against the malaise that the subject matter of history generates in their minds. If nothing else, this introductory moment allows me to gauge their understanding of African-American history.

When I address the volatile identity politic driven 1960s, my area of expertise I might add, I highlight several notable Black Powerites by asking those assembled in front of me if they know anything about Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Fred Hampton, or Carl Hampton? Puzzled and bewildered looks appear on the faces of my young charges. Without fail, it is not until I reference the name Assata Shakur that the hands of a few students who are eager to share that they know who this revolutionary sister is confidently raised. For most, this is their moment, the one opportunity to prove to me that they do know something about African-American history; unfortunately, it is a moment that will definitively prove how little they do know. Invariably, some non-descript student eagerly announces to their classmates that “Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s momma.” I just shake my head and sigh as once again, my students have confused their Shakur’s. In one swoop, this particular student has erased the legacies of both Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and Assata Shakur, our revolutionary sister who remains exiled in Cuba. Experience has taught me that this is a common misstep among my students.

The above mistake occurs so frequently that it has caused me to ponder the following question; what does it mean that the vast majority of my students do not know about Assata Shakur. What does this troubling historical illiteracy say about black educators, the American educational system, and the black community?

One does not need to be a pessimist to reach the conclusion that the fact that African-American children have no real understanding of Black History means that the American educational system has no utility to Black America. Dare I say that sizable portions of this antiquated and non-representative institution have no utility whatsoever when measured against a much-needed effort to liberate Black America socially, politically, culturally, and economically.

I fervently believe that the process of inquiry and intellectual curiosity are critical components of the development of self-identity, politicization, and the generation of priorities for Black America. Such conclusions force me to use Assata Shakur’s story, Assata, in my courses on a repeated basis as it is a succinct articulation of the cost African-American revolutionaries have paid for their commitment to liberate their people around the globe.

I am confident that you understand that as a black educator, I consistently wrestle with matters of education and the development of a relevant education on a consistent basis. I am not ashamed to share that the alluded to moments of reflection engender a slight depression. The alluded to depression is a direct extension of the realization that the irrelevant curriculum that teachers, regardless of race/ethnicity, are forced to teach has created bountiful crops of African-Americans who are not only guided by a pervasive ignorance regarding African-American history, but also are quick to attack anyone that raises issues such as Race, racial inequality, prejudice, discrimination, or racism. Their complicity with their own oppression has been manufactured in American school houses.

In the end, the question of who will teach our people about the heroic struggle persons of African descent have undergone around the globe remains. The only reasonable answer to this query is that enlightened African-Americans must recommit themselves to educating our people “by any means necessary.” In many ways, we have no other choice if we are to survive. Failure to take definitive action in this matter ensures that we will continue our tradition of being economically exploited, socially inappropriate, and politically inept; places that I hope you would agree we have occupied for far too long.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017


I remember the conversation with noted Princeton Scholar Eddie Glaude as if it occurred yesterday. In fact, I can tell you the exact date the interaction occurred; it was October 20, 2004. That date is so prominent in my mind for one simple reason; it was the night that the Boston Red Sox miraculously defeated my New York Yankees for the third time in as many games to snatch away what appeared to be a destined trip to the World Series.

Although I had never met Glaude, a Morehouse alum, before the moment that I picked him up from the airport and he excitedly asked, “So did we get them tonight?” I took for granted that Glaude was a eddie-glaude-3proud black man, meaning that he would never support a team such as the Boston Red Sox. However, I quickly learned the error in my thoughts moments after I sadly responded, “Nah, bruh. The Red Sox got us tonight.” To my utter disgust, Glaude began to kick his feet scream, holler, and pump his fist as if he had just won the lottery. It was at this moment that it dawned on me like a pile of bricks that Eddie Glaude was a damn Red Sox fan; my utter disgust did cause me to stop my car.

I will tell you this much, every fiber of my being wanted to excuse this ‘brother’ from my vehicle, however, I knew such an action would be extremely unwise as Glaude was in town at my request as a guest lecturer on the campus of Prairie View A & M University.

It was in the wake of Glaude unveiling his loyalty to the Red Sox that I decided several things regarding our time together: (a) I would not speak to this representative of Red Sox nation unless necessary, (b) I vowed not to abandon my commitment to the initial commitment.

It was he who broke the deafening silence between us with what I thought was a peculiar query of, “So, why have you remained at Prairie View? You have so many other places that you could go, why stay there?” Desperately attempting to honor my commitments mentioned above, I tersely responded, “It’s the student’s brother, the students.”

The subsequent deafening silence that filled my vehicle was not only appreciated. I enjoyed the deafening silence that emerged with this individual who had somehow morphed into a sworn enemy.

In time, I realized that Glaude was somewhat delighted to have an up close view of the pain that his Red Sox had done to the spirits of a Yankee fan. I also understood that it was his duty as a member of Red Sox nation to aggravate his rival with endless banter.

During Glaude’s banter, he shared that there were relatively few African-American students at Princeton University. There was eddie-glaudesomething in his voice that related a bit of disappointment at the absence of more African-Americans at his Ivy League institution. I am confident that African-American professors working at predominantly white colleges and universities eventually realize that the endless resources and opportunities that come with their association to such places come at the steep cost of not having many African-American students to absorb their genius. Many of these lily-white pillars of higher education have been by-passed by African-American collegians who are understandably seeking the social comfort of an HBCU. It was at this moment that I abandoned my petty pouting session regarding the Red Sox victory and decided to engage Glaude regarding this matter.

I remarked, “You know; earlier you asked ‘Why do you choose to stay at PV?’ I think that you will receive your answer once we get to campus.” From my perspective, Glaude needed a refresher regarding why African-American Professors working at HBCU’s do what they do; for the vast majority of us, it is akin to a religious calling. I hoped that his time on the PVAMU campus would remind him of his time as an undergraduate at Morehouse College.

I knew that Glaude was totally unaware that his arrival on the PVAMU campus was a highly anticipated event for the students who populated my five courses. When Glaude learned of my teaching load, he just shook his head in disbelief. I already knew that such duties were unheard of at Princeton. To my and my student’s delight, Glaude had agreed to lecture in one of my survey courses before his main presentation.

From what I learned via his writings and speaking with others, Glaude hailed from the same tradition that so many other African-Americanmelvin-tolson professors and I hailed. Put simply, we yielded to the call to teach and unintentionally took a vow of poverty for the higher purpose of serving our community as educators. Melvin B. Tolson, the character portrayed by Denzil Washington in The Great Debaters, provides an appropriate description of the duties of an African-American professor when he stated that he was “…here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind because obviously, you have lost it.”

I was excited that Glaude agreed to lecture in my class for a host of reasons, the most significant being that the student-body was so interested in African-American studies that we were forced to move my class to the largest auditorium on campus.

To Glaude’s shock and my delight, more than 900 students were in attendance. The assembled black and brown students were anxious melvin-tolson-1to hear the genius that this brother from Moss Point, Mississippi, would bestow upon them. If I could have captured the various facets of this moment, I would have and then used it to explain to all who asked me the annoying question of why do you work at an HBCU.

I was pleased, yet not surprised, when Glaude walked onto the stage, viewed this sea of black and brown students perched on the edge of their seats prepared to absorb his wisdom, paused and pointed in my direction before stating, “Dr. Jones, I get it. I understand why you have made a choice to remain here. Wow!!!!!!!”

Later in the day, Glaude revealed that his impromptu commentary flowed from a rush of emotions that resulted from seeing those attentive black and brown faces waiting to absorb his genius; I knew that the scene harkened his mind back to his time at Morehouse College.

Life has taught me that it is at moments such as this one that educators find the most significant and long-lasting reasons for choosing this line of work. The satisfaction of knowing that you have helped one of your own learn something that will aid not only them but also succeeding generations is immeasurable. And Lord knows that each succeeding generation will need individuals who will help them “…find, take back, and keep (their) righteous mind…because obviously (they) have lost it.”

It is on behalf of those educators who are positioned on the front lines of this never-ending battle against ignorance and not knowing that I am asking you to do something that will encourage this population of servants immeasurable. Contact your favorite teacher/professor and thank them for all that they did to help you realize that you desperately needed to reclaim your righteous mind, because even you realize that someway, somehow, you lost it somewhere in your life.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2016