On the Imagine 2020 Pep Rally
Yesterday I was invited to an Imagine 2020 pep rally. Imagine 2020 is a program that the Dallas ISD put into place to improve the test scores and graduation rates of failing schools. You know, because test scores are an accurate indicator of students learning valuable life skills and acquiring important knowledge and critical thinking skills that will make them responsible citizens of a democracy. The purpose behind this Imagine 2020 pep rally was twofold. First, it was designed to motivate students to stay in school. The second purpose was to explain to the parents what Imagine 2020 was about.
So what happened during this event?
The pep rally part was fairly standard. There were some bike acrobatics groups doing backflips, local radio DJs screaming “Imagine 2020 WUT WUT!”, and local artists singing positive songs. I still recall how funny it was when one of the rappers sang a song about “don’t let yo pants be saggin”. I think I’d prefer a song about using adequate language, but I’ll take what I can get.
When the district superintendent came out, there was the usual fare. The DJ called out his name, and he came out and said the kind of generic motivational speech one would expect in this sort of activity. “Imagine 2020”
“Where do you want to be in 2020?”
“You can do it!”
“Believe in yourself!”
“We are committed to you!”
I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t really expect him to go in detail into the plans. It was, after all, a pep rally and not a press conference. Besides, the parents had all the information in pamphlets that were being passed around by the activity staff.
It was all fairly standard stuff. It was overall well planned and enjoyable.
Except for one thing: the closing artist, Propagandaman.
I don’t mean Ray Wilson, the American vocalist who once put out a CD titled Propaganda Man. I mean a local rapper who goes by the name of Propaganda Man. This fine gentleman took to the stage and began narrating stories about his father and how he belonged to the Black Panthers. This is a line that he repeated frequently. He then began singing. “Aight, raise yo’ fists like this!” He then began to sing songs about the Black Panther movement – first about how they were about protecting neighborhoods and racial equality, and then about how the government is corrupt and should be “shaken to its roots” and “brought down crashing”.
Now look at the photograph again. Enlarge it if you must.
It is a photograph of school age kids (from elementary school to high school) raising their fists in solidarity with a movement that rejected Dr. King’s message of peaceful resistance and that sometimes engaged in open violent revolution.
Now, here’s the thing about the Black Panthers movement – some of its core ideals are great. In their ten point program, their plan included promoting personal and economic freedom, full employment, decent housing opportunities, access to a good education, and peace. They also fought against police brutality. These are things that most of us would agree would benefit society as a whole. However, the rest of their agenda was ridiculous. They demanded exemption from military service based on race, that trials of African Americans be held with an all African American jury, and (the most ridiculous one) that all African Americans held in a federal, state, or local jail be released. If you believe in a segregated US where there should be a White America and a Black America, then I guess this is your thing. But I don’t see myself as a Black American or a Hispanic American or Native American (I’m a bit of a mongrel, you see). I see myself as an American. I don’t see others as “Black Americans” or “Japanese Americans” or __________ Americans. I see them as Americans. And so, I see these separatist ideals of the Black Panther party reprehensible.
And there he was, Propagandaman, singing about these things and telling school age kids to raise their fists in protest. Students then began asking teachers “what’s the Black Panthers?” and – perhaps out of ignorance and perhaps out of concern – teachers responded “just some black gang”. This is, of course, problematic because the Black Panthers were not “some black gang”. They were a social activism organization turned political party turned revolutionary group. They are a “gang” as much as the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, or the Republican and Democratic party are a “gang”. These are all political groups that follow ideologies – regardless of how extreme. A “gang” only has the purpose of using violence to get money.
Now, here’s the thing about Black Panther ideology – or Marxism, Socialism, Capitalism, Fascism, or any other ‘ism’ – I think people should learn about them. I think people should be exposed to the ideas of Marx and Lenin and to the philosophies that led Hitler down a road of destruction. People should learn about the philosophies of the Panthers and Malcom X, and heck, why not of the philosophies of J. Edgar Hoover as well? Why should people learn about these things? Because despite the poor application of these philosophies, the philosophies themselves come from the desire to do good in some way. Socialism? The idea that everyone in a society should be well off, which will increase the quality of life for everyone. Marxism? The idea that workers should own their labor. The problem is with the people perverting these ideas. And so, people should be taught about these ideologies so that they can understand and analyze them, find the good parts in hopes to incorporate into our own systems, and discard the bad ones. Franklin D. Roosevelt did as much when he implemented that “socialist” institution known as Social Security. However, people should be taught about these philosophies once they are able to think critically and analyze things, not when they’re school age kids going to a pep rally. Should people learn about these ideas in college? Absolutely. Should a government teacher talk about them in high school? Sure. Should a rapper sing about how the Black Panthers are awesome in front of a bunch of ten year olds? Absolutely not.
And, just in case you were wondering, no. These kids should not be exposed to rappers who glorify violence and promiscuous behavior either. There’s enough time for that in college. When kids are 10 they should be playing Football and Final Fantasy.
So… going back to the pep rally activity… it was fine. Nothing extraordinary as far as pep rallies go. However, whoever scheduled the music… give that guy some training on how to screen their entertainment better.