It’s Gonna Be Alright Palante Siempre Palante

This time of year I tend to congratulate myself about what I have managed to accomplish during the summer and soothe myself with gelato about the things on my to-do list that will have to be pushed back into Fall.  All of us who are doing important work – either as educators, artists, activists, students or volunteers – have more passion than money — more good ideas than time to execute them.  What’s the best way to surrender to this reality dishonoring our spirit?

At the Progressive Pupil office this summer, we’ve been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright” on repeat.  This song, which has become the unofficial theme of #BlacklLivesMatter, is an affirmation that has long been passed down from grandmother to grandchild in African American communities.  In spite of all the challenges we who believe in freedom face, and the dark truths that must be confronted in doing this work with integrity, it’s gonna be alright.


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All the World’s Futures


From Urban Requiem, 2015 by Barthélémy Tuguo Cameroon at the Venice Biennale

Saluti dall’Italia! Greetings from Italy!

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating two new alumni of the New Leaders for Social Change program—Xiomara Pedraza and Justyn Richardson—who both earned their Master’s degrees in Urban Policy from The New School last week. During their time with Progressive Pupil, Xiomara and Justyn have blossomed from exceptionally intelligent and dedicated youth to experienced resourceful professionals. Although their time in our office has ended, their careers as social justice advocates are just commencing.  I look forward to the impactful things they will accomplish in their work as social justice advocates.

I am currently attending the 2nd NYU Black Portraitures Conference in Florence—convened by Henry Louis Gates, Thelma Golden, Deborah Willis, and Cheryl Finley among others—which focuses on “imaging the Black body” and “re-staging history.”  Given these themes, it is especially fitting that I will be giving a presentation about portraits of Black radicalism in Black and Cuba this Sunday.

Making Black studies for everybody requires creating fresh, empowering images of not only Black bodies, but of Black life and history.  It also requires re-staging history so that it can be seen from the perspective of communities who have struggled to be seen as human and heard as citizens.

Earlier this week I was fortunate to see the “All the Worlds Futures” exhibition at the Venice Biennale.   This year is the first time in history an African artist—Okwui Enwezor—has curated the exhibition and that 25% of the artists exhibiting have been Black.  The diverse, explicitly political work on display revealed that there is a global and vocal chorus of artists, activists, teachers, and allies who have a clear vision of the world’s futures—which include an end to exploitation and marginalization for everyone. I’ve posted some highlights of the exhibition, including work by Jason Moran, on my instagram @robinjhayes.

Yours in Solidarity and Ciao,


Robin J. Hayes

Principal Organizer, Progressive Pupil

Director, Black and Cuba [Available on Vimeo on Demand and DVD]

Use Your Power

Progressive Pupil New Leader for Social Change Claudie Mabry Registers Voters


Today, too few of us will make our voices heard at ballot boxes throughout the United States.  The representatives chosen to speak and decide for us at local, state and national levels in these mid-term elections will have a great deal of power over many of the things that matter to us most: such as how our children are educated, whether we feel safe with police officers in the street, the conditions in which we work, and how much we are compensated for our work.  Voting is an important way we can use our power, but too many of us have been falsely convinced that we do not have any power at all. (Click here to find out about the voter identification laws in your state).

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The Joys of Being an Everyday Artist

Independent Rock Band, The Skins. Image courtesy of

Independent Rock Band, The Skins. Image courtesy of

A few times each school year a student with creative leanings comes into my office hours and bemoans the fact that their parents are completely unsupportive of their unprofitable artistic aspirations. “It’s like doctor, lawyer or accountant are the only jobs they’ve ever heard of!” they state while rolling their eyes and throwing their heads back in exasperation.


Ready to Live: 3 Steps to a Healthy Spring

Photo courtesy of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia

Photo courtesy of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia

Happy spring! This April, grassroots organizations, schools and other community-based groups are celebrating both National Minority Health Month and Environmental Justice. This is fitting because physical and ecological health are intertwined, achievable and essential to the sustainable vitality of our communities. However, there are obstacles to personal and community well-being that need to be overcome.

Medical issues such as depression, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and addiction impact Americans of all backgrounds. However, the combined effects of environmental and social policies make communities of color in general—and Black communities in particular—more vulnerable to these preventable chronic illnesses. Racist mortgage lending policies have isolated many African Americans in economically depressed neighborhoods that endure disproportionately high exposure to hazardous waste dumping centers, incinerators, landfills and factory pollution. School segregation and discriminatory hiring practices unfairly channel lower-income African Americans into occupations with higher health risks–if they are able to find jobs at all during this recession.

Regardless of income or educational level, African Americans face prolonged stress due to the various forms of marginalization we experience in institutions like school, the workplace, hospitals, police precincts and mass media. Dr. Chester M. Pierce coined the term microagressions to describe “stunning, often automatic and non-verbal exchanges” which demean people of color and legitimize or obscure the White supremacist nature of certain policies and practices. Additional studies confirm these hostilities also target women, members of the LGBT community and people with disabilities.  Microagressions can take the form of actions such as clutching one’s handbag while walking past a Black man or comments like, “I don’t think of you as Black, I just think of you as American,” “No Homo,” or the ever popular “Don’t be so sensitive, it’s just a joke.”  Of course, macroaggressions can also be found within institutional structures that consistently exclude and diminish the contributions of people of color.

Many of us—especially youth—take out all the rage, hurt and sadness we understandably feel about the subjugation and emotional trauma we are suffering on ourselves and each other. The ready-to-die chic popularized by talented artists like Kendrick Lamar, Amy Winehouse, Lil’ Wayne, and Rihanna demonstrates how our society romanticizes self-destructive behaviors as honorable badges of rebellion. Unhealthy food, cigarettes, alcohol, weed (and other substances), toxic relationships, violence and compulsive spending are our most popular self-medications. After years of stumbling around in my own nicotine, shopaholic and carbohydrate-filled haze, I realized I embraced these dead-end, short-term solutions to numb the impact of feeling isolated, unwelcome and degraded in a series of familial and educational environments. My struggle to change these coping behaviors is far from over, but I have made the important first step of recognizing that silently enduring unfair treatment and hostility is not a requirement of a successful intimate relationship or career.

Photo courtesy of Twin Cities IndyMedia Photographer Skadi

Photo courtesy of Twin Cities IndyMedia Photographer Skadi

In the highly competitive academic, art and nonprofit sectors, our willingness to subjugate ourselves is often seen as a measure of our commitment and dedication to public good. This lionizing of masochism is quite popular within workplaces where lack of job security, inadequate health coverage, abusive communication and unsustainable work schedules are commonplace. Those of us who are working to build a more just society—either as activists, artists, scholars, teachers or allies—often become so overwhelmed we put our health dead last on our list of priorities. Like young rock stars, we have learned to pride ourselves on our ability to forsake sleep, nourishing food and happy personal relationships to achieve short-term organizational or professional goals. We drink and puff away to mask our daily frustrations because we feel fortunate to have jobs.  We have come to accept racist hostility and workplace bullying as par for the course.

In reality, living healthy is not a luxury that can be put off until after tenure, school year’s end, that major grant deadline or the next demonstration. Our much-needed contributions are in fact diminished by self-destructive physical and emotional behaviors. In addition, the communities for which we are working cannot fully participate in building a more just society as long as they are grappling with increasingly dangerous health issues and toxic environments. The time to place health equity and environmental justice first is now. We must value ourselves enough to be ready to live.

Activists agree that improving the distribution of decision-making power and health-related resources to communities of color can help African Americans overcome obstacles to wellness. The other good news is that small changes in everyday choices make immediate improvements in personal well-being.  This month, let’s begin a wellness revolution by doing a bit of spring cleaning and taking three simple steps toward supporting health equity and environmental justice.


Happy Black Studies Halloween!

While in grad school, my friend Chrissy and I had many conversations about how lonely academic work can be. We wished there were more ways to bring together our friends – who were from a variety of backgrounds – to celebrate the Black history and culture we were learning about in school and had grown up with.

We decided to throw a Black Studies Halloween party – All Things Cosby. In between enjoying Jello Pudding Pops, dancing to the original Fat Albert’s junkyard band and singing along to Jasmine Guy’s signature hit “Try Me,” we crowned the winner of our costume contest (who came as both Freddie and Shazza from A Different World). So many of our friends who are now pursuing careers as professors, doctors, lawyers and community organizers learned our first lessons about appreciating our neighborhoods, historically Black colleges and universities, the struggle against apartheid and African American art from Dr. Cosby’s televised imagination. It was fun to emulate our favorite scenes and characters and reflect on how we were inspired by them.



The Free Spirit Brass Band. Photo courtesy of Robin J. Hayes

While I was in New Orleans bicycling around the 6th and 7th Wards earlier this month, I passed by a tiny vintage house in Robin’s egg blue with a proudly displayed sign: The New Orleans African American Museum. I was reminded there that 2012 is an important milestone in the African diaspora’s history.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress, the social movement organization that helped eradicate apartheid.  It is also the 200th anniversary of the founding of Tremé, the first free black neighborhood in the United States that is slowly rebuilding itself, although it has been abandoned by our federal government ever since the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

7th Ward graffiti. Photo courtesy of Robin J. Hayes

In so many of the classes I teach, students start the semester with a strong sense that racism is unjust and an equally resilient lack of confidence that racism can and must end in our lifetime. My friends, many of whom are very dedicated scholars, artists and organizers have the same—not cynicism—resignation. Walking around the 9th Ward, where there is an abundance of grassy lots and rippling tarps instead of families and neighbors, I felt similarly dispirited.  I thought the people who had come back to the 9th were very brave.  They worked in coalitions to reconstruct a few beautiful brightly colored houses that stood up from the grass against the power that tried to let them drown.