It was slated to be a silent protest, but a gathering of folk–the Medgar Evers Coalition demonstrating for changes at Medgar Evers College–let their presence be felt outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Monday.
While protesters conducted their business outside BAM, inside, President William Pollard and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes were among the speakers invited to share King’s dream.
Pollard, who, along with Provost Howard C. Johnson, has been in the vortex of a contentious firestorm, was among the last speakers, and he was greeted with scattered applause but no catcalls. He keyed his remarks to Dr. King’s admonitions about faith and service, only referring to the college as he sought to build a “respectful” academic program at Medgar Evers.
Hynes, after promising to further reduce recidivism in Brooklyn, announced the collaboration of a program for the formerly incarcerated with Medgar Evers. One of the issues at the center of the turmoil at Medgar Evers is the action on the part of the school’s administrators to eliminate the Center of NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, a seven-year program that markedly provided the same objectives.
According to the official announcement from the DA’s office, the proposed Community Justice Program will be paired with the college’s academic programs to include an array of initiatives, internships and courses that will create opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.
“This will be a great service to the formerly incarcerated, and contribute to the health and safety of the entire community,” said Hynes.
Pollard agreed. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to gain experience in this field through internships coordinated with the district attorney’s office, and it’s a great opportunity for those who are being released from incarceration to re-enter society, find a job, and obtain skills needed for college.”
In addition, the announcement continued, “new courses, seminars, symposia and even degree programs on diversion and re-entry programs would be developed.” Inter-disciplinary academic programming is also under consideration, according to Johnson and First Assistant District Attorney Anne J. Swern, an expert in the field who also is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School.
None of these endeavors come as a surprise to Eddie Ellis, who, with Dr. Divine Pryor, heads the imperiled NuLeadership program. “While it is true that MEC does not have any policy that penalizes current or prospective formerly incarcerated students (such a policy would be against the law) there is an attitude on the part of the president and the provost of utter disdain towards our population,” said Ellis said in response to a fact sheet item from the college’s public relations office in reference to its re-entry program. “Both subscribe to the negative stereotypical belief that previously incarcerated students somehow pose a threat to the security of the campus, despite any evidence to support the belief.
“The Community Justice Program, recently announced by President Pollard, in conjunction with the Kings County DA’s office, is a poorly contrived attempt to deflect the overwhelmingly negative national criticism he has received over his treatment and eviction of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions,” Ellis added. “His hastily assembled criminal justice program is an inadequate imititation of the work that NuLeadership has been doing for the past 10 years.
“More significantly,” Ellis continued, “the true value of the Center for NuLeadership, missing in President Pollard’s initiative, is that we bring a unique, distinct and alternative perspective to the development of educational, program, policy and service initiatives, a perspective developed out of the incarceration experience, informed by our members successful transition from prison to community and guided by their acquisition of education at the post-graduate and doctoral levels. This alternative perspective challenges the traditional approaches, by proposing and teaching the development of a nu-justice paradigm. Traditional programs, such as the president proposes, continue to uphold and support a criminal punishment system that all experts agree, over the past 25 years, fostered outcomes that have had devastating consequences on the Black community in terms of mass incarceration, mass unemployment and mass disenfranchisement. To continue to support and encourage these policies and practices, as the president does, is antithetical to the best interests of the Black community and must be challenged and changed.”
Nearly everyone entering the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration on Monday accepted the flier handed out by members of the Medgar Evers Coalition for Academic Excellence and Mission Integrity. “I looked it over and this is the first time I’m hearing about the situation, so I’ll check it out and get back to you later,” said one attendee, who refused to give his name.
That was the general response of most of those who received the flier, which listed six demands, including the immediate resignation of the provost and the restoration of the staff to support student services to ensure academic excellence.
The “silent” protest, with a number of supporters braving the bone-chilling weather, was the latest development in the ongoing struggle at Medgar Evers that has left several important programs in jeopardy or awaiting a court decision.
“Our objective was to proactively honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and the Civil Rights Movement in a way that King supporters could relate to,” said Lumumba Bandele, one of the organizers of the Coalition and a former faculty member at Medgar Evers College. “We also came out to create more awareness about the injustices currently happening at Medgar Evers College. We feel that we have achieved that.”