The Necessary Ground of Being for Dyslexic Activism



In the early days of hip hop, most of the artists either lived in or were born in New York City’s South Bronx. That area was devastated in 1929 by the building of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which displaced 60,000 Bronx residents. Although the white residents who lived in the realm moved to the suburbs, many of the poor African-American and Latino families could not afford to relocate.

As 600,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared, more people fled the area, and as whole buildings emptied of residents, slumlords hired arsonists to burn them down for the insurance money; I got the lowdown at the time from acquaintances who had been involved in the crimes, and I made an attempt down the road to help those plagued by the planned horror. I volunteered my services as an educator, mentoring, counseling and securing donations in all sorts of forms. I also recruited a necessary number of additional volunteers to supplement my efforts, as there was absolutely no aid to be had by anyone at the time from official quarters.

The initial acts of arson led to a policy of “benign neglect”… assuming that people of color in the Bronx didn’t want social services anyway, which resulted in seven fire companies being removed from the Bronx in 1968 (around the time that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated). Violent protests ensued, but over the course of the next decade 43,000 housing units were lost. The overall situation got worse and worse with each passing day.

All this set the stage for the arrival of a population intent on inexpensive, local entertainment. Bronx residents relied on DJs, who were cheaper than live bands, to provide dance music, and the early hip hop DJs honed their skills at these parties.

It was at such parties that I first encountered folks with learning disabilities. First time I realized that I was in the presence of someone who needed and deserved special educational attention. And I quickly got into gear to get them involved in Performing Arts projects, like what was going on in the South Bronx intensely at the time in the form of graffiti art. And with traditional dramatic fare, tweaking productions at Long Island University in Brooklyn, where I staged many plays which accommodated youngsters with various learning disabilities.

There were many things I couldn’t change. But what I could tackle I did. And I learned that it’s not enough to love a child, that a child must feel loved.  I got that across to the youth (who, in many instances, weren’t much younger than me) by making myself accessible to one and all around the clock. On any day, at any hour any member of the community could reach me. And this was long before any high tech gadgetry like cell phones were available. I had created a network of proactive concerned citizens who were more than willing to get messages to all quarters in the South Bronx and Brooklyn, upon request.

And that’s The Test today, I believe. To what degree are you available to those you are trying to help? Attempting to work in solidarity with. If you’re a writer, rousing up passions through the written word, can your readers reach you with inquiries and/or offers to volunteer? Can they offer up suggestions for your kind consideration, and receive an expeditious reply?

Too many well-meaning, highly educated and deeply experienced concerned citizens who are posting pieces on our alternative media outlets are NOT making themselves available in this way. It’s as if they are saying this is how I see things, and if you want to change things… well, great, but don’t expect me to join hands in solidarity with you.

Some writers do focus on information that encourages joining hands for a given day’s activity, but that, of course, comes and goes, that kind of solidarity where a reader might cross paths with a writer who has inspired them. I’m talking about a different sort of bonding.

The kind which acknowledges that we all suffer from learning disabilities of some sort when it comes to activism, and that we need to make ourselves available to one another regardless of what tiny little corner we might be operating in.

By doing so, we will be helping others to feel loved. And that must be the basis for authentic movement in solidarity. The Ground of Being for bringing about institutional changes.

There are many different forms of learning disabilities, but to make my main point most simply, permit me to suggest — without attributing what I’m addressing to a “disability” that’s neurobiological in origin — that dyslexia comes to mind, in great part, because of the tendency of virtually all activists to put the cart before the horse.

Everyone I come across in the activist realm tells me that their plate is full, in one way or another. In the case of writers, I’m invariably told that they’ve decided to focus exclusively on their books, lectures and/or postings. That they have no time or energy to move in solidarity with me. Don’t even have the heartbeats to engage in leisurely exchange over our collective crises. [All this is often expressed without any sense that I hear the same words incessantly, that everyone feels that they’re in a similar situation. Without realizing that such positions preclude movement in solidarity.]

Well, accessible love must come before the cart carrying societal correctives can come down the road. And it’s no hyperbole to say that activism today is quite dyslexic on several scores.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at [email protected]. Outreach at any hour will be responded to immediately… within 12 hours… for we have collective deadlines to address together.



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