Going off of yesterday’s post, this is a video that we used not only during our workshop with MIRA, but also used during our planning and discussion about what we wanted to cover.  It brings up a lot of questions on personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels.  It shows how racism infects and deforms even our most intimate relationships, how it can be passed down generationally, and the lasting trauma it can cause.  We had a great discussion after watching this together at our workshop, and we hope Ise Lyfe‘s amazing performance can be a resource to you, too.

History and Learning With MIRA

Posted: April 7, 2015 by stevemcdonagh in Uncategorized


A couple of weeks ago, members of BBDP held a workshop for MIRA, the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. The topic of the workshop was systemic racism, immigration, and migration. Over the course of two days, we discussed the development of white supremacist systems, how they effect our work, and what we can do to combat racism in our respective organizations. As part of our presentation, LaDawn Strickland, one of the designers of the workshop and a longtime BBDP contributor, had developed a historical timeline that was posted on the wall on the second day of the event.

The points on the timeline marked the arrival of different immigrant groups to the North American continent before and after the establishment of the United States. These included the first large-scale arrivals of English colonists, captive Africans, and Irish, German, Chinese, and Mexican immigrants, among others. The timeline included points, too, marking the history of migrations within the country, noting especially the way indigenous groups were forced from their land through violence and legislation (enforced with violence), first westward, then, upon the “closing of the frontier,” onto reservations. Participants were asked to make the timeline their own by adding their personal and family history to the points marking the passages of laws, the movements of groups, and the changing definitions of who gets to be a citizen and who gets to be “white”.

In all the feedback we got from people at the end of our time with MIRA, the thing we heard the most was an appreciation for the history and the desire to learn more. Our audience, which was international and cross-generational, really wanted to go deeper on not only their own personal ethnic and racial histories, but also how they developed in this country, how whiteness was constructed over time, and what forces have shaped the movements of populations. As the workshop designers, I think we were surprised a little bit at this. Being involved with BBDP for so long, perhaps we took the history for granted, as that is our focus much of the time. But what we heard back is that there is a hunger not being satisfied. People want to know the history, not just to be able to spout trivial names and dates, but to learn how we got to this moment, today– geographically, economically, racially, and politically.

Over the course of our project, we’ve seen the power that is tapped into when we change our conception of history from a static, finished process that takes place in books to a dynamic, unfinishable one that we live every day. We empower ourselves to investigate our individual and collective pasts so that we may understand more fully our present and impact our future. What we learned with MIRA is that this need for historical knowledge is an urgent one still today, and brought to mind a line from Michael Beckwith that comes up often in our discussions: “Choice is a function of expanded awareness.” The more we know of our past and present, the broader our options become for the future. As Boston’s skyline gets ever more crowded with cranes and luxury condos, as wealth inequality widens daily, it is crucial that our learning and understanding of history inform and expand the choices we can make.

Education NYC

On Tuesday March 17th, 2015 I had the opportunity to attend a Boston City Council Committee on Education working session. The hearing was to discuss recruiting and retaining educators of color within Boston Public Schools. Below is a testimony from my short experience in the BPS class setting.


March 17th, 2015 

Working Session: Joshua McFadden Testimony Document   

Docket #0274

Order re: hearing to discuss recruiting and retaining educators of color….

“Education happens when you learn something you did not know you did not know.” – Daniel Bornstein

Being marginalized, and yet acclimated to color blindness because of somewhat privileged settings led me to believe that any compassionate or “caring” person can leave an equally impactful imprint on a child’s life. This premise is entirely wrong. I came to Boston, MA Aug. 2013 to embark on a year of service through AmeriCorps City Year. I was blessed to be able to serve in Mattapan at the Mildred Ave. K – 8 School.  I was, in fact, the only person of color on a team of roughly sixteen people assigned to an institution where 100% of the students were “minorities”. Nearly all of the students at The Mildred are black students. The percent of black students enrolled at The Mildred far exceeds 8.7%, which is the statewide average of all African American students in Massachusetts (Enrollment Data MA Department of Ed 13-14).

I was amazed to witness the degree to which the socio-economic levels and other variables seemed to be identical for the great majority of students at The Mildred. In my view, this lack of diversity…this sameness was a direct result of bussing and the re-segregation of schools and communities. After familiarizing myself with the history of Boston’s considerable efforts to eradicate its “dual school system establishment,” I was even more astonished. In Morgan vs. Hennigan, Judge Wendell A. Garrity Jr. ruled in 1974 that there was in fact de jure segregation which was at that time perpetuated by the school committee, Board of Education, and the Education Commissioner. Sadly, since that time, there has not been substantial change in either the diversification of our teachers or students enrolled in many of Boston’s Public Schools. Today, schools are predominately black while educators, especially in the lower grades are not educators of color. In John Dewey’s essay, “Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal,” he tells us that education is not preparation for life, but that education is life itself! Through the absence of educators who look like they look and perhaps share similar backgrounds and experiences, what are the most fragile and vulnerable of our students being taught?

With Dewey’s words in mind and with statistics about the monolith nature of both the students (black) and the teachers (white) in Boston’s public school system, I strongly feel that granting adequate funding for non-traditional recruiting for educators of color as well as instituting effective retention strategies for current and future educators of color will be the catalyst that can produce increased positive results in terms of academic performance, progress towards graduation, improved attitudes about learning and education, and raised student self-esteem levels for the overwhelming number of Boston’s public school students.

What I did not know I did not know was that my students did not care how much I knew until they knew how much I actually cared about their well-being…until they realized that I, too, was one of them. The “face” of that administrated care can make a world of difference in the lives of young people.  Because I fit the same basic physical description as most of my students, the initiation and cultivation of mutual positive high regard was immediate and trusted. A stronger and quicker student-to-educator bond developed that remains to this day…more than a year after leaving The Mildred. I specifically remember a student named Du’Shard who one day said to me, “Mr. Mac, I swear doe, I never actually met anyone that look like you who is doing something positive. For real for real.” In me, Du’Shard was able to see a professional educator who was far removed from what he had been exposed to. In the young black male educator with “dreads” and visible tattoos that worked with him on a daily basis, Du’Shard and other students, both in this class and outside of this class, were given a different face for educators and a renewed value for education. Because I spoke the language of caring, high expectations, and responsibility, this student began to show he cared about his life through improved academic performance. I strongly believe that by granting adequate funding towards non-traditional recruiting and retention methods for educators of color will be the catalyst that turns mirrors into windows for so many of Boston’s Public School students.

Joshua A. McFadden 

Community Organizer

Union of Minority Neighborhoods

Boston Bussing and Desegregation Project & Howard Rye Institute

42 Seaverns Ave, Boston, MA 02130

Cell: 386 – 852 – 0740|Work617 – 830 – 5082

Twitter: @JOSHgeneration8







Image  —  Posted: February 2, 2015 by Donna Bivens in Quotes
Tags: , ,

Do words and phrases have genders? What type of people come to mind when the word “war” comes up? How about “sewing circle”? And which one of these do we take seriously? One is organized violence, the other is organized labor. One has countless books and movies, as well as trillions of dollars, dedicated to its analysis and propagation each year. The other is often used in this part of the world as a way to trivialize a group of women socializing with one another. War, despite its unimaginable cost to women and children throughout history, is seen as an exclusively male endeavor. Sewing circles are, as mentioned, a female space. War is destruction by unquestioning soldiers carrying out unquestioned orders. Sewing circles are constructive– not just for the clothing and other articles they produce or mend, but also for the so-called “gossip.” Not to idealize the concept, but socializing in a circle provides a space for an exchange of news and ideas, as well as the time and space for reflection and thoughtfulness. War is seen as a measure of strength. Sewing circles have become a metaphor for pointlessness.

More than a few times since I’ve been involved in the “social justice” non-profit world have I heard meetings described as sewing circles, which not only deride the stated purpose of whatever meeting but also the people participating in it, who are often women. Planned actions, on the other hand, are often framed in war language. “Battles”. “Going on the offensive”. What this adds up to, to me, is the feminization of reflection as a way to discredit it. It plays into traditionally patriarchal notions of leadership and organizing which value speed, hierarchy, and force. It also frames thoughtfulness, slowness, and deliberation as inefficient and wasteful. It reflects the values of the mass culture we live in, where characteristics associated with women– such as gentleness and openness– are seen as unfit for grappling with or wielding power.

It is important to see what this means for those of us doing social justice work. When reflection is feminine, and the feminine is despised, we cut ourselves off from a deep source of individual and collective power. Any discussion of freedom is meaningless if we do not have the freedom to process what is happening to ourselves and the people around us. If we can’t, or won’t, do that, then all we have at our disposal are unexamined ideas given to us through education– an education provided largely by school systems which have been seen as broken as long as they’ve existed, by a media system controlled by a few large corporate monoliths, and by our communities that are often both products and survivors of trauma. Without real, rigorous reflection, it is difficult to do anything through our work except reproduce or escalate the existing conditions.

For two years, this Project held story circles across Boston, inviting neighborhood residents to come into our circle and share their experiences with desegregation. Often, when people told their stories, they would begin by trying to fit their personal details into an already established narrative. For example, that “busing ruined the city” or that “both sides experienced hatred”. Not to say that these are false or wrong narratives, but no matter how “true” they are, they are also the entrenched ones that have allowed patterns of inequity to persist. As their stories went on, though, and they tried to follow both threads (their personal story and the larger narrative) to their ends, you would often see people struggle, or they would start sentences and then trail off. Words would fail them. It was like they had come up against a brick wall. They had reached the limits of both their personal story and the larger narrative. And here was where, in a quiet circle with no interruption, we saw a variety of reactions. Some people would just stop and cede the floor, or get frustrated, or persist and find some new piece of knowledge. Any route can potentially offer opportunities for reflection for both the person telling the story and the people listening. It allows us to see how firmly in place the established narratives are and how challenging it is to uproot them, even if our personal experience tells us they are insufficient. It allows us each to build and play off of one another’s stories, to see things in our own histories we never saw before, and to further our understanding of our place in a larger history.

Learning is an uncomfortable process. It is a struggle. It brings up feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, and weakness. These are characteristics associated with the feminine. But it does us no good to ignore these feelings. In fact, those are the spaces where the most work can be done, because they are also the places where the entrenched narratives steer us from and don’t want us to go. We need to sit there and examine them individually and collectively so that we can work towards the kind of “two-sided transformations” that longtime activists and leaders James and Grace Lee Boggs believed were necessary, where, through our persistence, we transform both our institutions and ourselves.

Burning house meme

Image  —  Posted: January 19, 2015 by Donna Bivens in Unfinished Business

Education Happens when you learn something you didn’t know you didn’t know.          

 —– Daniel Bornstein (oft quoted by my friend Paul Marcus)


While it is beautiful  to see Boston city government acknowledge and put resources towards addressing the city’s race and class legacy, the way it is going about it points to  their challenges ahead.  Most pressing for Union of Minority Neighborhood’s Boston Busing/Desegregation Project (BBDP) is that for the second time recently city officials have taken language from BBDP without mentioning its existence. This is done to a Boston-based, African American-led organization that has made a film about, listened to stories about, studied and learned about Boston’s desegregation crisis for over four years with a small staff and a legion of amazing volunteers.

As director of BBDP, I have to say that this is not being written because we are proprietary. It is being written because we don’t want to be proprietary but know that being in a system –one many young people name as a white supremacy system* —it is critical that you claim your work in order to avoid being disappeared by those “at the table”.

When we first started on BBDP with our tag line of truth, learning and change, more than one person questioned the use of the word “learning”. Their concern was that people would be insulted by the word–that they might think we assumed we knew something that others didn’t.  This fascinated me since our assumption was just the opposite: that there was so much others knew that we didn’t.

That certainly turned out to be the case. What I am most proud of about BBDP is that we have listened well and we have been eager to learn from everyone. We’ve tried to honor all the voices we heard and to learn from our fiercest critics. From the beginning UMN decided to explore Boston’s difficult desegregation history because so many stories and unprocessed feelings from that era were shared during our organizing for CORI reform in Massachusetts and for increased Black parent involvement in the schools.  UMN put those voices at the center –not  experts, not  activists, not  politicians. We got many complaints for doing this but we knew those were the voices to start with to ask the questions that would forge some new learning. (And I can’t imagine working on education without being hungry to learn).

 Our first task was to ask those stakeholders and others throughout the Boston area, “Is it important to revisit this history?”The answer we got back was “Yes, but only if it is relevant to our experience of the present and not just a rehashing of the past.”  So our second audience was not people and communities who were content with who was being served today. It was people from communities that were under siege or who with few resources were trying to address the problems of a society that looked at people of color and impoverished white people as the problem and lifted up systems of greed and excess as the answer.

We understand the need to be “at the table”. UMN does that very effectively and honors political process and policy making. However, we chose circles as our form in this particular project.  One must earn and fight to keep their place at the table. There is a head and a foot. Not everyone can fit. It is assumed that people can speak for others. The circle, however, is ever expanding to stay alive. Each person or community has something unique to contribute to figuring out the problem, determining the solution, implementing action for transformation and evaluating where to go next. 

Though educated some in the white privilege system, I have had the good fortune to be educated not just in dominant white society but to learn how to learn from different systems.  I have studied a small amount with indigenous West African (Dagara) teachers. I have also learned so much from Asian thought and practice by way of Buddhism. I have learned from and about indigenous U.S. (Native American) traditions.  I have had the honor to learn for years from womanist/feminist/ Asian / and mujerista theologies.  I don’t claim any expert knowledge but I do claim a deep appreciation for the wealth of real diversity that exists in all traditions. I don’t think I can speak with authority from any of them but I am an “author” in the tradition in which I was raised: African descended —“Black” —U.S. culture and history.

In being part of this project in particular and UMN in general I have learned or remembered so much more about that culture and what it has to offer if it does not have to fit into the tiny box offered by white privilege society.  As Ta-nehesi Coates so brilliantly points out it is not a “better” culture but it is definitely as good as any other.  It can only come to the circle as its authentic self. There is something I’ve had the honor of learning, relearning, remembering though this work.

We desperately want Mayor Walsh and the city to succeed in the work they’ve undertaken on confronting Boston’s race and class legacy. We know there is support for race and class equity, democratic access and making demands of public institutions at all levels in the city and in all social locations. We just ask for respect and to be allowed to bring our authentic, diverse, loving Black-led selves “to the table”.  And of course no one has to earn a place for anyone in the circle—it is a birthright. We hope you will join us in our upcoming circles to explore Unfinished Business.



*I actually think I’m talking more about white privilege culture that continues to be problematic due to its failure to understand that it is grounded in white supremacist culture. Many thanks to our Tufts intern last summer Fabrice Montissol for helping me remember how crucial it is to acknowledge, learn about and confront the white supremacy system for the sake of us all. We’ll be writing more about this but are so glad it’s so prominent in discussion about current racial conflicts.

P.S. Being slow at many things, I am writing this post much quicker than I usually write so it may be edited if I can get back to it. Also this is me writing as me not as the project. Steve did the same, in his authentic voice (which I promise I’ll no longer try to tone down as I practice Horace’s way of “letting Loddy, Doddy, Everybody ‘play’”!)