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The adult education programs were working. But policymakers do not

want us "happy and content." Their strategy is to keep us on the run.



Remembering My Adult Education Students

The Learning Place Northwest (1990-1993)


By Rudolph Lewis


When one reaches my years, one has more memories than hopes. Maybe sharing these memories of life lived has its wisdom. During my life I have held numerous positions, had many jobs, donned many a maskfrom farm hand to construction worker, from community worker to coal analyzer, from library aide  and health care worker to educator. There are times I envy those who have just had one occupation, who have held onto the same job for thirty years. I have not been so blessed (or so cursed). One blessing in moving about is that one gets to know all kinds of people, gather all kinds of perspectives on the world.

The longest I have held one job was four years and that was a part-time job. I have quit jobs when they no longer satisfied me when I felt in my gut it was time to move on, to hop another train, and ride the rails on down the line. I've found it helpful in singing the blues. So you can imagine what my social security check is going to look like, in a few years, if I live long enough to collect. But variety in experience has its rewards. The sun has been beautiful coming around the bend. Though I am looking back, I am also looking forward, too.

After I quit Local 1199, a union for Baltimore health care workers, for the last time, I worked in Mayor Kurt Schmoke's Baltimore Reads program as an adult education teacher. For about six years at several universities, I had taught freshman composition and sophomore literature. These were mostly young middle-class adults and mostly white. So teaching in an urban adult education program, that is, teaching black adults without a high school diploma, was a novel experience, and, in many ways, much more rewarding.

In this program, I taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. I also taught the Constitution and an awareness of citizen responsibility. For the first time, I also made use of computer assisted instruction. That was not so significant as the extensiveness of the personal involvement in the life experiences of my students and their views of the world they inherited.

Much of this teaching occurred during the Republican great  push for "accountability" in government spending, the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court to replace Thurgood Marshall, and the election of Bill Clinton as president. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy contributed to numerous citizen responsibility discussions I had with my students. I encouraged them to write letters to Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski to express their views on the nomination. As I recall, there was a split down the middle of those students who supported Thomas and those who did not support his nomination. I kept a scrapbook of their work, which included letters.

Here are two samples of those student letters:

                                                                                                                                                           2912 Wynham Road Apt. B

                                                                                                                                                           Baltimore, MD 21216

                                                                                                                                                           July, 22, 1991

Honorable Paul Sarbanes

Senator U.S. Congress

Washington, D.C. 20006

Dear Senator Sarbanes:

I am a registered voter in the 7th Congressional District; my Representative is Kweisi Mfume. I am writing to make my view clear on the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court.

I am pleased that President Bush chose to nominate a black man to replace Thurgood Marshall. I do not think that Judge Thomas is the right man to replace Justice Marshall. I urge you as my Senator from Maryland not to vote for affirming President Bush's nominee.

I have made this decision after a careful consideration of Clarence Thomas' views on civil rights, abortion, and the government's role in social welfare. Again please vote No against Judge Thomas

                                                                                                                                                           Sincerely yours,

                                                                                                                                                            Teena Richburg

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                                                                                                                                                            3508 Forest Park Avenue

                                                                                                                                                            Baltimore, MD 21216

                                                                                                                                                            July 23, 1991

Honorable Barbara Mikulski

Senator, U.S. Congress

Washington, D.C. 2001

Dear Senator Mikulski:

I am a registered voter in the 7th Congressional District; my representative is Kweisi Mfume. I am writing to make my view clear on the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court.

I am pleased that President Bush chose to nominate a black man to replace Thurgood Marshall. I do think that Judge Thomas is the right man to replace Justice Marshall. I urge you to vote for affirming President Bush's nominee.

I have made this decision after a careful examination of Clarence Thomas' views on civil rights, abortion, and the government's role in social welfare. Again please vote yes for Judge Thomas.

                                                                                                                                                            Sincerely yours,

                                                                                                                                                            Lorraine Peitt

Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski wrote back to my students with standardized responses:

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510-2002

August 9, 1991

Ms. Linda Willie

630 Carey Street

Baltimore, Maryland 21217

Dear Ms. Willie:

Thank you for getting in touch with me about the nomination of Clarence Thomas to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. As you know, under the Constitution, the President must submit the nomination to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent. Prior to debate on the nomination by the full Senate, thorough hearings will be held in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The public record established there will provide the basis for a reasoned and informed judgement.

In view of the importance of the nomination, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me.

With best regards,


                                                                                            Paul S. Sarbanes

                                                                                            United States Senator

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United States Senate

Washington, D.C.

August 22, 1991

Ms. Bernadette Morant

1502 Division St.

Baltimore, Maryland 21217

Dear Ms. Morant:

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts on the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I will be evaluating Judge Thomas' suitability to sit on the Court based on three criteria: one, is he competent? Two, does he possess the highest personal and professional integrity? And three, will he protect and preserve the core constitutional values and guarantees that are central to our system of government, such as freedom of speech and religion, the right to privacy and equal protection of the law?

The confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin following the Senate's August recess. I assure you that I will be following the confirmation hearings closely, considering his record along with my three criteria, listening to the Judiciary Committee's recommendation, and then making a decision.

I am grateful to have your thoughts on this matter, and I will remember them as the confirmation process moves forward.


                                                                                            Barbara A. Mikulski

                                                                                            United States Senator

I have several other letters: two in which students express their appreciation for the Baltimore Reads program; the third a personal note from the fired director, Rosalind Wilson, fired because her boss thought the program was not meeting sufficient accountability goals.

                                                                                                                                                        The Learning Place Northwest

                                                                                                                                                        2901 Druid Park Drive

                                                                                                                                                        Suite A-201

                                                                                                                                                        Baltimore, Maryland 21215

Dear Friend of Literacy,

I am taking this opportunity to thank you for the support and concern that you all have been giving the Learning Place Northwest. Without the funds and support I would not have been here. I'm pleased because I have made a lot of progress in this program and now I feel good about myself. The Learning Place Northwest helped me gain confidence in myself.

                                                                                                                                                        Sincerely yours,

                                                                                                                                                         Bonita Baldwin

*   *   *   *   *

                                                                                                                                                                   1512 Eutaw Plaza

                                                                                                                                                                    Baltimore, MD 21217

                                                                                                                                                                    July 30, 1991

Ms. Rosalind Wilson

Director, LPNW

2701 Druid Hill Avenue

Baltimore, MD 21215

Dear Ms. Wilson:

I would like to take this time to thank you and the staff of LPNW for giving me another chance to better myself.

These last two months have been a wonderful two months. It's been a very different, new experience, and a lot of fun. I really enjoy school this second time around.

I'm looking forward to brushing up on my skills, and learning new ones, such as the computer which is a new skill and a new experience that I'm now in the process of learning. It's a lot of fun, and I've learned a lot from it.

Most of all I'm looking forward to completing this course so that I can enroll in another course that will, hopefully, help me to learn what I need to know, so that I can be able to get the job I want.

At this present time, I'm happy and content. I just want to thank you for making all of this possible. Because without this, I wouldn't be where I'm at today. Thank you very much for giving me this chance to make something out of my life.

                                                                                                                                                                    Yours truly

                                                                                                                                                                    Carolyn Bowen

*   *   *   *   *



If a tree falls in the forest and there's nobody there, does it make a sound?

Stay strong because as you know it takes a whole village to teach one child, or adult for that matter. Don't worry about me, God is in control of my testing.  In Peace, Rosalind                                                                                

After Rosalind's release, Learning Place Northwest did not last long. They appointed a new director. But he was not the answer. He was an authority jerk. The last I saw him he was on Baltimore Street running errands for a lawyer's office. I had just finished library school, then. Bill Clinton had come into The White House with his New Democrat polices. Much of the federal monies the cities were receiving were redirected to block grants. The outcome was there was less money for urban adult education, though there remains a dire need for it in Baltimore City. For in certain impoverished areas of the City, fifty percent of the citizens are without a high school diploma or a G.E.D.

The adult education programs were working. But policymakers do not want us "happy and content." Their strategy is to keep us on the run. The work produced by my students cannot be easily quantified, at least, not for these fiscally responsible politicians, who count and pinch  pennies when it comes to helping the black poor and disenfranchised.

I have shared with you letters. But there is much more, much much more, that will delight and provide insight to the inner city world of the oppressed, many of them with children. You will be amazed by their lively intelligence and humanity.

Poems  Learning to be Black   Heroes of the Hood   Thoughts from the Hood  On the Future

posted 5 April 2006

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The Ditchdigger’s Daughters

By Yvonne Thornton

Dr. Yvonne Thornton’s memoir The Ditchdigger’s Daughters has captured the hearts of readers everywhere since it was first published in 1995. Translated into 19 languages, featured on Oprah, and made into a TV movie, this heart-warming and inspiring story chronicles Yvonne Thornton’s family; at its center is her beloved, unschooled but wise father Donald Thornton, who demanded that all five of his daughters not only excel in school, but go on to become doctors. Four of them did; the other found her calling in law and became a lawyer instead.—Dafina

Thornton's frank, relaxed manner makes it accessible to general readers as well as students of women's or African American memoir. Worth considering also for those looking for inspirational reads.—Library Journal

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Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark

By Katherine Mellen Charron

Freedom's Teacher traces Clark's life from her earliest years as a student, teacher, and community member in rural and urban South Carolina to her increasing radicalization as an activist following World War II, highlighting how Clark brought her life's work to bear on the civil rights movement. Katherine Mellen Charron's engaging portrait demonstrates Clark's crucial role—and the role of many black women teachers—in making education a cornerstone of the twentieth-century freedom struggle. Drawing on autobiographies and memoirs by fellow black educators, state educational records, papers from civil rights organizations, and oral histories, Charron argues that the schoolhouse served as an important institutional base for the movement. Clark's program also fostered participation from grassroots southern black women, affording them the opportunity to link their personal concerns to their political involvement on the community's behalf.

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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