Barack & Michelle, Please Send Sacha and Malia to DCPS

President Barack Obama
The White House

Dear Mr. President. First let me tell you how incredibly proud and inspired I am by your ascension to the Presidency. As the father of two African American boys with “funny foreign names”, your tenure is already a success in my eyes. When I tell Olu Femi & Dela Eden that they can be anything they want, even President of the United States, everyone can nod in agreement now, instead of saying patronizingly “awwww that is so cute”. Your presidency has not even begun, but I am writing to volunteer for your 2012 campaign, under the condition that you commit to sending your daughters to DCPS for high school!

That’s right, one of the fine public schools in the District of Columbia, like Eastern, Wilson, or Ballou. I could request a public school bail-out, lord knows that would be a much wiser and more beneficial investment than many of the failing businesses that have held their hands out on Capital Hill. But as important as an infusion of money to attract talented teachers and update 60 year old buildings would be, you sending your child to Roosevelt or Spingarn would signal a symbolic and literal togetherness this city and public schools nation wide would take to heart.

I’ve approached my friends and colleagues with the idea of sending an Obama girl to Banneker, Dunbar or McKinley for the last two months, and I must admit most of them have been mortified. Their concerns have included whether or not DCPS could challenge her academically, whether it would be a secure environment for the first daughter, and whether the culture of student life at any DCPS would be welcoming for such a privileged and famous child.

First, either of your daughters would be a perfect DCPS student. As everyone knows, parental involvement is more important than any teacher or facility. Having two stay at home parents (Michelle and her grandmother) there will always be an adult to augment whatever education she is receiving at school. She will have wise women to listen to questions and concerns in the quickly evolving life of a teenager. It is too much to ask for you to turn your life into more of a reality show than it is, but just knowing that 2 generations of family are working as a cohesive unit to guide their child through public school would be an outstanding example to the other millions of families experiencing the same reality.

Will a DCPS school be safe for an Obama girl? First of all, the idea that DCPS schools are breeding grounds for drugs and violence is COMPLETELY UNTRUE. Yes, like most inner city schools, our high schools deal with their fair share of delinquencies, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, fights etc. But, as I’m sure you know, the average DC student is unfairly lumped into a caricature of inner city high schools. The vast majority of our students at schools like Phelps and Woodson want the same thing their private school peers want, a safe state of the art environment to discover themselves as individuals, and to develop as a positive contributors to their community. Secondly, I’ve seen the secret service in action, and the cliques and crews that exist in DCPS schools are no match.

Even if the stereotypes of DCPS were a true, you have exhibited the ability to mobilize people unlike anyone since Dr. Martin Luther King. Can you imagine the ripple affect you would cause when you announce that you are sending your daughter to a public school? The level of parent and community involvement at all of our schools would increase exponentially. The fast revamping of our school systems by Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee would have an even greater sense of urgency, along with the support of a whole nation cheering on their success.

Washington DC is the seat of national politics that so badly needs changing. Washington DC should be the example of American society, shining a light to the rest of the country and the world. Washington DC is the home of thousands of African American fathers whom you have personally challenged to step up to their responsibility. Who better to lead the nation into a new era of public responsibility than the world’s most famous community organizer? Imagine a city where every citizen considers the school in their neighborhood as MY SCHOOL. It does not matter if I have a child in the local school; I take pride in the upkeep of the school building. I stop 13 year olds who are walking the street at noon and demand that they go to school. I attend and cheer at honor roll assemblies the way I do Friday night football. You, Mr. Obama, could lead that kind of community adoption of the public schools. Never before have I seen so many people claim someone as “My President”. Imagine if that energy was focused on Duke Ellington, Roosevelt, or the School Without Walls.

Sending your daughter to a DC public high school, like Cardozo, Anacostia or Coolidge, will be an important symbolic and practical step to fulfilling Dr. King’s last mission before his assassination, the elimination of poverty through economic equality. I meet students every day who over achieve at sub-par schools. I’ve taught poetry classes in December in classrooms with no heat, and locks on the library door because the school couldn’t afford a librarian. I wonder how much higher their academic ceiling would be with properly equipped science labs, motivated and positive peers, and a dynamic and involved community.

As of this year, your eldest child is 4 years away from attending high school, giving you and I 4 years to get OUR school system, and OUR cities attitude towards the education of OUR children, on point. In reality, everyone’s trepidation about an Obama girl at DCPS really just exposes an ugly truth. The idea that public schools aren’t good enough for America’s new darlings only means that public schools are not good enough for any student. I don’t believe this. I do believe that we must change both perception and the reality of public education so that when we say “Our Children Are the Future”, it is not a tired cliché.

In the end, I don’t expect for you to accept less for your daughter to make a social and political statement. I’m asking you to demand more from DCPS as a social and political statement. I am personally up for the challenge and I guarantee that the city will follow your lead. Yes We Can!

Sincerely Yours
Bomani Armah

One thought on “Barack & Michelle, Please Send Sacha and Malia to DCPS

  1. I like to go on the internets and peruse the writings of Black Bloggers, mostly because they are often seeking the truth about issues that are largely invisible to most of the (white) blogosphere. Sometimes, though, Black Bloggers are not just bloggers who are black. Sometimes they have to be Black first.

    Sometimes Black Bloggers have to be do what African American Intellectuals/College-Educated Minority/Black Middle-Class have to do a lot of: be self-appointed spokespeople for our modern media-infected Racial Politics.

    Being the Official Authority on All Things African American probably isn’t a new thing to most of these bloggers: I imagine there’s hardly Black person alive in America who has not, at one point or another, had to explain to some non-black person WHY some things happen in the ghetto or HOW things are done differently there. We educate. We explain. We analyze our ex-‘Hoods to illuminate the problems therein.

    But sometimes explaining looks like defending. And make no mistake, the New Black Bourgeoisie must strive just as hard as their rap/gangsta counterparts for that coveted Black Authenticity. The quickest way to lose it is to be caught being an apologist for/or ignoring the existence of what is seen as an underlying, undeniable Black Pathology.

    So, Black Bloggers are obsessed with Black Pathology. And it makes sense if you think about it:

    Pretend your job is to itemize and detail the injustices of White America as perpetuated against Black America. The only substantive way to document the phenomenon is through a straight-up comparison, whereas the statistical success of whites is used as the only barometer of the true Black Burden.

    The measured success of the fabled “white counterpart” was the go-to rationale for the integrationist of the Civil Rights era and now is the gold standard of the New Black Bourgeoisie. Under such a pro-white milieu, is it any wonder, then, that things most associated with “black culture” are the same things that will appear the most problematic and dangerous to Black success?

    Even Barack Obama feels the need to get his Bill-Cosby on: They preach to their “brethren” and white folks eat it up and don’t understand the controversy. Their speeches are called “Tough Love,” “Telling it Like It Is,” “Saying What They Don’t Want to Hear” The Black people who “don’t get it” simply aren’t as brave as these New Black Bourgeoisies: instead of blaming the white man, poor black folks need to start looking in the mirror.


    Well, it’s hard for Black Bloggers to toe this line. Blogging isn’t exactly like anchoring for CNN. By nature, it’s a little more “populace.” They have to balance their distaste of America’s Criminal Justice system with their righteous indignation at the existence of “Ay Bay Bay.” From the blogger’s perspective – as a Media Soldier, an image peddler – white privilege is bad, but black buffoonery is worse.

    And yet, the New Black Bourgeoisie is in no position to offer a systematic social critique of “black culture” because, they are so intellectually removed from it, they cannot even see it, save through their own jaundiced eyes and motives.

    Take for example – the most favorite example: Commercial Rap, or whatever the Black Bourgeoisie and White Negro are calling their ex-love child, Hip Hop. In college, I took a class on Hip Hop – the good, ole “B-Boys”, Common/Talib kind, of course – where these genuflecting 20-somethings, sat around and used all of our Edumacation to compare the Hip Hop “movement” to the Harlem Renaissance.


    Yea. Exactly. So I won’t waste time ridiculing Hip Hop’s past or present “revolutionary” poses. Twenty plus years of “ass-shaking” has defanged even its most marginal of radical postures. (Flavor Flav, anyone?)

    On the other end of the spectrum, though, I couldn’t tell you how many urban policy roundtables I’ve attended where people (Black) are hollering that Hip Hop is the root cause, or at least an aggravating factor in, why the African-American (child, especially) will suffer so much as a citizen. In this reasoning, Hip hop is more than emblematic – it’s fully a part of the pathology.
    Astute readers will take issue with the false dichotomy. Bill Cosby, Jason Whitlock, Al Sharpton, Baratunde a.k.a. Jack Turner – perhaps they all mean well. But lots of smart, well-meaning people fail to recognize as “American Culture” what they deem “Black Culture.” They confuse and dismiss the patently American, Shreveport-grown, St. Louis-raised, Harlem-bred sounds, images, dispositions, prejudices, and willful-ignorance as Black Pathologies. Basically, they buy the lie that power is selling; Hip-Hop is the domain/responsibility of Black people.

    It may seem odd to some that I would disagree with that sentiment in any but the most flippant way. And yet, what if all 18 year-old white girls who grew up in trailer parks were castigated for America’s love affair with Pornography? Everytime a white girls said anything about voyeristic sex, the attacks would start. “Don’t you see what all this Barley Legal and Girls Gone Wild videos are doing to the state of feminism?” the arbiters of femininity would say. “You’re setting us back 100 years!!”

    But rational minds would politely chime in: they can’t be held responsible for society’s collective, insatiable appetite for Bus Bangs. Whatever the effects of the obvious masochism in Porn, it isn’t something that can be separated out from other cultural rituals and images that reinforce female subordination. Porn can’t be held responsible. And even if it could, that poor 18 year-old white girl is not the agent of porn. It’s the porn procurer – the American citizen – that’s the real criminal.

    Yet, all black people are encouraged to Read A Book (And Wear Deodorant and Raise Their Kids) – the implication being, to do that instead of “celebrating” Hip Hop.

    Powerful message, indeed.

    Even I can admit that there is something extremely seductive and comforting in the notion that Black people’s problems are all a manifestation of the “slave mentality” and Blacks can become a part of the American Dream once we overcome our own inadequacies.

    I can also admit, that after six years of higher education it was a little disappointing to return to notions of American Race Politics that I had solidified way back in the sixth grade after reading Malcolm X: racial parity in American society is something colored people would have to rip away forcefully from White America. Hey, cultivating a new taste in music is a start.

    Take away:
    Only with increased income, options, and opportunities can we see the kind of “hope” necessary to breed change in desperate communities across America – BLACK, LATINO, WHITE, whatever.

    Creating and calling attention to those conditions is the responsibility of all Elite groups in this country – is also something, that by their very nature – they will forever be unwilling to do.

    — Monday, September 10, 2007

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