An Open Letter to Barney’s CEO Mark Lee re: “Shop and Frisk”

Trayon Christian, who alleges he was arrested for legally purchasing an item at Barney’s New York. Courtesy

Trayon Christian, who alleges he was arrested for legally purchasing an item at Barney’s New York. Courtesy

Mark Lee, CEO

Barney’s New York

660 Madison Avenue

New York, NY 10065

Re: “Shop and Frisk”

October 31, 2013

Dear Mr. Lee:

You might remember me from such recent purchases as a pair of Robert Clergerie boots and Céline sunglasses ($350).  I write to inform you and everyone else who reads this open letter that after 21 years as an enthusiastic Barney’s customer, I will no longer be patronizing your Madison Avenue store, Coop stores, outlets, Warehouse Sale, or online sites.


Thinking is a Habit in David Banner’s “Walking With Gods”

david-banner (1)

Photo courtesy of Derek Blanks

If you’ve seen any of the latter episodes of Issa Rae’s “Awkward Black Girl” you will be more than familiar with the production quality and look of David Banner’s “Walking With Gods”. He’s no Gordon Parks Jr. when it comes to directing super-fly action sequences but Banner can tell a pretty exciting visual story.  What’s sets WWG apart from the ever-growing slew of web series aimed at audiences of color is  that it’s a decent piece of Afrofuturism from the guy that made “Like a Pimp”.


Cuba’s Complicated History with Santeria


Photo courtesy of Paolo Gianfrancesco

A current issue affecting Afro-Cubans today is the desire for religious tolerance. Pope Benedict XVI, in his visit to Cuba this year, declined to meet with any leaders of the Santería religion. Pope Benedict met with leaders of institutional, monotheistic faiths in Cuba, but with no Santería priests. This is a pretty hurtful slight considering the fact that as many as 80 percent of Cubans observe some form of Santería or other Afro-Cuban religion. In the article, writer Andrea Rodriguez quotes a Santero priest, Lazaro Cuesta, on the issue: “we live in the basement, where nobody sees us… “We have already seen one pope visit … and at no moment did he see fit to talk to us”.


African Origins of Twerking


Image courtesy of Afriky Lolo

Image courtesy of Afriky Lolo

Urban dictionary defines twerking as “rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities in a lascivious manner with the intent to elicit sexual arousal or laughter in ones intended audience.” Recently, twerking has received considerable notoriety, thanks to a much (much, much) discussed awards show performance by pop star Miley Cyrus. The incident is a sad reminder that much of White America’s knowledge of Black culture comes through media imagery. In Cyrus’s case, that imagery includes parading around using Black women as props, in a misguided attempt to shed her Disney Channel roots and acquire some “street cred.” What has been lost in many of these conversations about Cyrus, twerking and perceptions of Black culture in the U.S. is the extent to which dances like twerking are deeply ingrained in African and Afro-diasporic history and traditions.


Critical Ethnic Studies Conference 2013


The Progressive Pupil team recently came back from Chicago for the Critical Ethnic Studies 2nd Conference Decolonizing Future Intellectual Legacies and Activist Practices.  Held over three days from Thursday September 19th – Saturday, September 21st and hosted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and The Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy Thursday, this year’s event was a unique conference that sought answers outside the academy to challenge today’s issues.


The Everyday Heroism of Bobby Seale

Black Panther Party co-founders, Chairman Bobby Seale (left) and Minister of Defense Huey Newton (right) standing in front of the first office for the Black Panther Party, The Oakland Poverty Center in Oakland, California, 1966.

As a child, I was always fascinated with fiction – I loved stories about ordinary people faced with challenges that forced them to rise to the occasion and become superhuman to achieve the impossible. As I grew older my fascination with heroes did not waver, but I was able to find inspiration outside of comic books and in real life  heroes like Bobby Seale.


Lighter Skin a Fast-Track to Hip-Hop Success?


Photo courtesy of

Is my black beautiful? This is the question that plagues Black people across the globe, young and old. Although J. Cole recently asserted that his success is attributed to his complexion, I disagree with this statement when studying the way the African American male is perceived and valued as successful within not only rap culture, but also in mainstream media as a whole.  There have been a plethora of artist, in particularly in the hip-hop community, that have failed the, “paper bag test”, and have still been able to obtain success .Diddy, the Notorious BIG, Jay-Z, Tupac, Outkast, and so on and so forth. Often times for African American males their dark skin helps to personify their image as thuggish and dangerous and acts as an affirmation that they are stronger and more powerful than the average man (an assumption that is not reserved solely for Black men) while their fairer counterparts often perceived as being “soft” or emotional.


American Promise: The Colors of Education

Image courtesy of 2012

Image courtesy of 2012

Being a student is a hard enough task on its own. Put aside the toil of maintaining good grades, and you are left with the inevitable adolescent social obstacles of peer pressure, fitting in and trying to be cool. But what happens when juggling classes and extracurricular activities becomes the least of your worries and, instead, you find yourself confronting issues of race and discrimination in the classroom?


Leadership Development Program

Progressive Pupil’s New Leaders for Social Change Program is off to a great start this year thanks to a grant from the New School for Public Engagement’s Civic Engagement Grant Fund. Made possible by the generosity of Board of Governors member Judith Zarin and the vision of Dean David Scobey, the grant supports New School faculty civic engagement and public programs. The fund’s mission is to build a community of practice among faculty, staff and students that serves the public interest.

Progressive Pupil is a project founded by Milano professor Dr. Robin J. Hayes. The organization’s core mission is to make Black studies for everybody through film and other media projects. The New Leaders for Social Change Program invites students from across the university who aspire to careers in non-profit management, documentary filmmaking and interactive design to commit to promoting diversity in those fields. Program participants receive mentorship and hands-on experience which compliment the interdisciplinary academic training they receive at The New School. This 2013-2014 academic year, the program’s eight participants are pursuing Masters degrees in Urban Policy Analysis and Management, International Affairs, Non-Profit Management and Creative Writing.

Some of our excellent Leaders reflect on the opportunity to work at Progressive Pupil and how it directly relates to their academic interests, experiences and ideals:

Justyn Richardson, a resident of the Bronx, remarks, “I wanted to work with Progressive Pupil because I knew I would be able to make a positive change, while gaining hands-on experience that relates to my program.” Richardson came to Progressive Pupil from Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm in Washington DC. He assisted in creating the contract that helped pass President Obama’s Health Care Reform policy.

Xiomara Pedraza, a native of East Harlem, states, “I wanted to work here because it gave me an opportunity to work with people who are passionate about social justice and African diaspora studies. Building awareness is part of making change and policy, which I study here at The New School.” Before Progressive Pupil, Pedraza worked at “A Place Called Home,” a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles. There, she served as coordinator for a youth after-school and summer program.

Lynda Nguyen, a native of Washington DC, explains, “I wanted to take what I learned from past experiences, as well as my own story, and see how initiatives among Asian descendant communities are similar to the work that Progressive Pupil does in terms of Black studies.” Nguyen came to Progressive Pupil from Asian American LEAD, a non-profit organization based in DC that mentors and provides specialized after-school programs to low-income underrepresented Asian American youth. She worked in their development and communications department.

All of our leaders exemplify the mission and values of Progressive Pupil, and this year, they hope to further meaningful social change, justice and knowledge of the African diaspora.

by Claudie Mabry, M.S. Candidate in Urban Policy Analysis and Management, 2014

Film Review: The Spook Who Sat by the Door

Image courtesy of :

Image courtesy of :

40 years ago, Sam Greenlee’s novel and 1973 film adaptation, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, examined racial issues in the United States; many of its key points remain relevant today. At the time, very small gestures were being made in an attempt to appease the Black community. Token representatives were granted access to high level positions in the U.S. government as “proof” that the country was equal for all. In the film, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is forced by an image-conscious senator to accept a group of Black recruits. The protagonist, Dan Freeman, is the only member of the group to pass all of the tests, despite White agents’ numerous attempts to sabotage him.