Learning Marilyn and Mumia! Facts Behind the Controversy

Learning Mumia and Marilyn! Facts Behind The Controversy

By ‘Little Red’

The People’s Organization for Progress hosted a compelling community based teach in on the case of beleaguered Orange NJ school teacher Marilyn Zuniga, the 3rd grade teacher who was suspended for having had her students send ‘get well’ letters to now gravely ill political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal.

Packed in International Faith Ministries Church, one of the oldest churches in the state, they learned that Zuniga came to her students and came to that job highly qualified, having graduated with high honors from Montclair State University and again for her masters from Columbia University’s highly acclaimed Teacher’s College.

They learned that she was very popular and connected with her students.

They learned that she was an inventive teacher who dared to actually incorporate the history of people of color into her class work. She was saluted roundly by all of the presenters for actually making a little known, unenforced bill called The Amistad Act, relevant to her students and community. The Amistad Bill, the authored by former assemblyman William Payne, is a law which says that all schools in the state of New Jersey are to incorporate the history of Black and Latino peoples into their curriculum. It has no enforcement provisions however.

On the sticky point of her students writing to a prisoner, one presenter made this stunning observation, that one of our every four black households has someone in their families who are incarcerated. Mass incarceration now being one of the issues of this time, it only makes sense to do relevant exercises in an urban district like on an issue like that.

One person from the audience movingly  affirmed that sentiment when she related how her father had been in prison most of her life, and when she was in elementary school, she was allowed to write him in a similar exercise. Now in her 20s, she recently recovered those letters, and said that they were indeed important markers in her life.

On the importance of standing up for Zuniga, Lawrence Hamm, the popular chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, called this case “a Selma moment for Orange,” and implored everyone to call the Orange Superintendent and demand that she be reinstated.

Johanna Fernandez, who made an incredible film that “humanized” the much demonized Mumia AbuJamal called Justice On Trial, said emphatically that if Marilyn is silenced and displaced over this incident it will have a “chilling effect on educators all over the country.”

Thomas Puryear, longtime chair of the Orange Maplewood NAACP, said simply that “this district needs excellent teachers.

“Marilyn by all accounts is an excellent teacher

“We stand by her and we want you all to do the same.

Orange council president Donna Williams criticized the lack of due process Zuniga faced and questioned who is taking charge of this line of questioning, referring to the Fraternal Order of Police.

Delacy Davis, founder of Black Cops Against Police Brutality, stunned everybody when he related how the same FOP threatened his life when he came out in support of Abu-Jamal some years ago.

The audience then learned about Mumia, how he has dared to critically report and speak out against the racism and corruption of the Philadelphia police since his early days in the Black Panther Party, how he is one of the most highly regarded intellectuals of our time, and although demonized and marginalized in American media, he is arguably the most popular political prisoner in the world now. They learned how his case was faced with over two dozen constitutional violations and how he was framed by some of the most corrupt police officers in Philadelphia! They learned how his case was presided over by a judge who sent more Black and Brown people to death row than any other judge in the country at the time. They learned that this same judge was known to have said to colleagues that “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”

Brother Zayid Muhammad, who has been a Mumia supporter for 25 years, told of how Nelson Mandela, who was the world’s most famous political prisoner of his time, who, as President Nelson Mandela, gave the late Amiri Baraka an official letter in support of  Mumia condemning  1995 death warrant.

“Here is where we must draw the line.

“Under no circumstances can we allow the police to come into our schools and dictate what can and cannot be taught to our children.”

The ultimate highlight of the night was when one of Zuniga’s students, eight year old Kashmere Jones stood in front of that packed church with his mother and told everyone how much “they miss her” and then said that “she has been a great teacher to me and all my other classmates and they all really want to see her again.”

Zuniga faces the Board of Education again on May 12th.



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