Special to ‘Little Red Speaks’…Marylin Zuniga Confronts ‘American Nightmare’ by ‘bro. zayid’…
Marylin Zuniga Confronts ‘The American Nightmare’!
By ‘bro. zayid’
In my first article on the case of embattled school teacher Marylin Zuniga reporting on how the people rallied for this brave, conscious and very committed young teacher who was suspended from her teaching post last month in Orange NJ for having her students write ‘get well’ letters to a still gravely ill Mumia Abu Jamal.
I opened with the verbatim outrage of one elder protester Nat Williams who plainly and bluntly scolded that majority Black Board of Education as ‘house negroes’ for what they did and how they ought to have been ashamed of themselves.
I detailed how Zuniga was actually ‘asked’ to do the letters by the students themselves, describing the incredible humane and participatory environment this passionate first year teacher created with her students.
I detailed how support came from far and wide for Zuniga. How people like Cornel West, Angela Davis and James Cone weighed in for Zuniga in writing. Teachers got in it from neighboring districts like Newark’s Annette Alston, who almost faced an arrest for refusing to yield the microphone delivering her solidarity statement, like 50 year veteran of struggle and NYC education wars Ralph Poynter who trekked across the water to weigh in on the issue. It was truly a powerful night for the people, and it all came to a high point when Board member Christina Mateo, the Board’s lone Latin voice, walked out in protest of their efforts to try and stop the proceedings.
Just weeks later, at a local teach-in, Orange City Council president Donna Williams criticized the process of the suspension, and who was “controlling the dialogue,” referring to the Fraternal Order of Police in a veiled way. Delacy Davis of Black Cops Against Police Brutality, now himself an educator, blew minds telling the audience how the same FOP who was clamoring for Zuniga’s job was the same FOP who threatened his life for coming to Philadelphia in support of Mumia Abu Jamal some years ago. Lawrence Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress likened this case as a kind “Selma moment” for Orange! On top of all that, when one of Zuniga students, eight year old Kashmere Jones, stood up in front of a packed church, grabbed the microphone and told everyone how his class “missed” their teacher, and how they wanted her back, that was enormous for everyone. It appeared that the tide had indeed turned in a way that should have saved Zuniga’s job.
So as Zuniga, with the community again well mobilized at her back, returned to the Board of Education this past Tuesday, May 12th, most felt that that with the overflow of support and attention she garnered, that would compel the Board to reinstate her and, at worst, allow her suspension to stand as the discipline she needed to face.
That is not at all what happened.
In a closed meeting, a local union rep informed Zuniga that she had in fact been terminated. Superintendent Ronald Lee confirmed the termination to the press and said he would make “no further comments.”
The Board didn’t even face the community with their decision.
It appears that elder Williams angry words hurled at that Board several weeks prior had indeed become prophetic.
”I wanted to become the teacher I never had,” she said profoundly while in the fire of persecution.
Had she been reinstated, this incident had the making of a powerful so-called ‘American Dream’ story of personal drive and passion producing against all odds success.
A proud young Peruvian immigrant, whose parents sacrificed enormously to put her in one of the most affluent school districts in the state when she was in school, only to be alienated by her majority white and very affluent counterparts, who would then go on to graduate with the highest honors from Columbia University’s Teachers College, arguably the country’s leading training ground for public teachers and turn that pain of poverty and racist alienation into an impassioned successful career serving the underserved at that.
A great story in the making…A story that courageously and heroically put the system to the test too.
It was not to be…
The system failed her. It failed her students, and it failed us all, like it does all too often.
That backwards Board of Education voted in favor of their fears of the police, at a time when our people are marching in droves against police brutality and occupation all over the country like we haven’t seen in decades. They voted in favor of their ‘class’ position and voted against principle and the moving absolving pen of history.
They taught young Marylin a lesson, and all those communities who got involved a lesson, and should teach us all a valuable lesson. The time has come for us, the so-called African American community, to stop putting people in key positions over us, or over our interests, who have not at all demonstrated their commitment to our broader interests over their personal, career or ‘class’ interests. It is a lesson that has been playing out before our eyes for four decades since the Black Power era created these possibilities for the educated among us.
Yet we still don’t seem to get it!
“No…I don’t see any American dream; I only see an American nightmare…”
Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet…
*This article is the first of several to mark the 90th anniversary of the birth of Malcolm X. ‘bro. zayid’ is a cub of the NY chapter of the Black Panther Party, currently the media advocate for the Newark AntiViolence Coalition, and he is the founding press officer for the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee…