Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

The small axe

26th October 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

“Oh, evil men/ Playing smart/ And not being clever?/ I said, you’re working iniquity/ To achieve vanity (if a-so a-so)/ But the goodness of Jah, Jah/ I-dureth forever.

So if you are the big tree,/ We are the small axe/ Ready to cut you down …

These are the words/ Of my master, keep on tellin’ me/ No weak heart shall prosper/ And whosoever diggeth a pit/ Shall fall in it, fall in it/ And whosoever diggeth a pit/ Shall fall in it.

If you are the big tree, let me tell you that/ We are the small axe, sharp and ready/ Ready to cut you down.”
—Lyrics to “Small Axe” by Bob Marley

So I’m listening to the late Bob Marley do his thing on “Small Axe” when I get the news that the Recovery School District is no longer going to build a new school for Cohen College Prep above the toxic landfill where Booker T. Washington High School once stood in Central City.

Needless to say, after following this story for several years my spirits are lifted by the news. No one in their right mind would knowingly place children or anyone in harm’s way, right?

That’s what I thought until the other shoe dropped with the news that the RSD will still build a school at the proposed site for another group of Black children in this majority-Black city. And this time KIPP school leaders are already on board and seemingly eager to expose children, teachers and staff at the new school to 15 feet of soil containing eight toxic metals.

Clearly, the struggle for freedom, self-determination, justice —particularly environmental justice — and equal protection under the law is far from over.

When President Barack Obama came to the Crescent City in August to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, no one bothered to tell him about the Recovery School District’s plans to build a school for Black children on toxic land or how kids at George Washington Carver High School were being treated daily like prison inmates.

All he was told was how well the kids are doing and how charter schools have transformed the local educational system. The latter may be true but that transformation ain’t all good.

There is not enough transparency or accountability in most of the city’s schools and some of these schools are getting away with cherry-picking students and pressuring low-achieving students to drop out of school so that their success stories will dominate the news rather than their bleak failures.

It’s a story as old as the flow of human blood in human veins — profit over principles, dividends over divine purpose, power over people.

As the descendants of the ones who refused to die, those crafted in the image of the Most High, it is our divine purpose to bear witness to the times in which we live and the many atrocities and injustices we see as “strangers in a strange land.”

It is our duty and purpose to be a light in the world, a beacon that illuminates the darkness and embarrasses the human heart when it loses its way or strays too far off course.

It is also our duty to speak the truth as we know it to be and to be that small axe willing to take on Goliath without blinking or hesitation.

To that end, let’s get to chopping:

• Is anybody buying billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s description of GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson as “a real Black president”?

• What kind of Black Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member says and does absolutely nothing about the state-run Recovery School District’s efforts to build a new school for Black children atop a toxic landfill that still contains at least eight toxic metals?

• Why is it wrong for the RSD to build a new school for Cohen College Prep at the contaminated site but right for it to now make plans to build a new school for KIPP New Orleans students at the same location?

• Why won’t the City of New Orleans, Louisiana Department of Education, State Legislature, Louisiana’s representatives on Capitol Hill and others in positions of power and influence stand up and prevent the state-run Recovery School District from building ANY school or community center atop the former Silver City Dump toxic landfill?

• Why does the mayor think a community center built atop a toxic landfill containing lead, mercury, arsenic and at least five other toxic metals gives children “a safe play to grow, learn and play”?

• Given the way the RSD’s plan to build a new school for Cohen College Prep atop the toxic landfill was initially approved, does anybody trust the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality?

• Is it any less racist or sinister for a Black school system executive or Black elected officials to green light the construction of a school for Black children or a community center for Black people atop a toxic landfill?

• When did we stop electing the best and brightest “unsought and unbossed” Black political candidates?

• Can’t you just hear local elected officials 50 years from now saying that they didn’t know that building a high school and community center on the site of the former Silver City Dump would prove to be so harmful and deadly to Black men, women and children?

• Why can’t our enlightened and progressive city leaders see that building schools and community centers on toxic land is a blatant form of genocide?

• What do you suppose the Archbishop of New Orleans thinks about allegations of racist bullying at Ursuline Academy?

• After last week’s promising results from the statewide Common Core testing, what do Gov. Piyush Jindal and all the other opponents of Common Core have to say for themselves?

• After a series of Uptown robberies of restaurants, two armed robberies on Tulane University’s campus, violent assaults and robberies in the French Quarter and increased criminal activity in Lakeview, what do white residents think about the NOPD’s failure to fully comply with the federally mandated NOPD consent decree and the mayor and police chief’s handling of rising violent crime in New Orleans?

This article originally published in the October 26, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.