I went to a workshop preview of the documentary, The Prep School Negro on Monday. This was a documentary that directly spoke to me as a fellow prep school Negro & my own prep school experience, along with the experience of battling who you are as a Negro & the so called “non traditional student” status, as they called it at the time when I received my A Better Chance scholarship in 1987 & went off to the Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut. At that time the only information of the prep school negro experience I had to reference was the tragedy of Edmund Perry. The Prep School Negro documentary is riveting in its honesty & realness. I shed tears knowing that the story was also my story in many ways, from the battle with self, family and finding one’s place between two very separate & different communities. I found it shocking to know that many people of color were uncomfortable with the use of the word Negro in the title because I had never thought of it as derogatory term.
I had visions of W.E.B Dubois’s The Negro & Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Eduaction of the Negro in mind when I saw the title. These were books written by Black intellectuals who I had admired & wouldn’t think of them using a derogatory term to describe us as a people, as we so readily do today in the acceptance of the use of the word” Nigger/ Nigga” , which the hip-hop community has found some sort of false empowerment in its usage & acceptance.
It made me think when someone in the audience explained that perhaps some older Black Americans would be uncomfortable with the use of the word Negro in the title of the documentary because during the era of the Harlem Renaissance there was an association of elitism & intellectual superiority amongst certain Black people who referred to themselves as Negroes , so the word combined with prep school would bring together those visions of elitist intellectual Black people to mind. I found that point very interesting because I had never really thought about it, but as I mentioned when I first saw the title, I had visions of Black intellectuals in my head, but never in an elitist type of manner. I had always thought of the word Negro as the the proper definition of those of us of African decent, much the same way as we refer to those of European decent as Caucasians. I had never heard of a White person being offended by being called Caucasian, so I could not fully understand why Black people would take offense to the word Negro as opposed to being called Black, which for me is more a color in my Crayola box than a definition of a people. I realized that our story as people of African decent, Negroes or Black people is a far more complex & personal story than I could ever truly break down or fully understand. As the subject of the documentary said “We have to respect our own process in life, as well as the process of others”.
I quickly realized that this process has been an ever waging battle between those considered as intellectuals & those who are considered of/from the hood, or as it was stated by the students in documentary “real Black people”. This is the same separation between the house negro & the field negro, the same separation between those who are considered bourgeoisie & those who are considered hood; yet The Prep School Negro is the story of many of us who balance our lives between the two divides, while trying to find a place between the two where we can fit comfortably. Andre Robert Lee, the subject of the documentary, like myself, is of/from the hood, yet he is very much a Black intellectual as many of us prep school Negroes are, it’s just that our perception of “hood” is a lot different from those who we grew up with. I came from a Ghanaian family who always put education first, so going to college was never an option, but rather a mandatory part of my life’s process because that was what my mother worked multiple jobs to get me to.
I grew up in Lefrak City and never knew that I was from a place which most people considered in its negative connotation, an urban ghetto or the projects because my neighbors and friends were mostly first generation American kids of Russian Jews, Latinos, Caribbean Islanders, other Ghanaians and Black Americans who were all working toward the “American dream” in trying to make sure that all of their kids had the best education possible that they could afford & college was also not an option but a mandatory part of their life’s process as well. I don’t know if I was in denial or just oblivious, but I never knew that I lived in the ghetto/projects until after college when I went to visit my mother & a guy that I was dating at the time came to pick me up and made the comment that he never knew that I was from the hood & grew up in “Iraq”- which I later found out was the nickname given to Lefrak City because many viewed it as a war zone- but somehow I managed to miss all of that. It just goes to show that being “hood” or “ghetto” is often more of a state of mind than where you are from. My mother & I lived in a well furnished, spotless, big 3 bedroom apartment with a dining room, a balcony, a garage, 24hr security, swimming pools , tennis courts, basketball courts and a library right downstairs from our building; as apposed to my moving on up story after leaving “the hood” into my so called elite Manhattan addresses on Central Park West & 5th Avenue, in much smaller apartments which do not have any of the amenities that my so called hood/war zone of Lefrak City had.
I went out of my way after I was told that I was from the hood/projects/ghetto at the age of twenty something to find out if I had really been that oblivious to my surroundings. I found a great story of a man named Lefrak and perhaps one of the greatest developments & communities one could come from. Lefrak City for me represented a true melting pot of America with people from all over the world who had created a gumbo of a community which felt like Disneyland’s “It’s a small world” because of its diversity. We had African markets, bodegas, Caribbean restaurants, Russian restaurants & community rooms that held services for Jews, Muslims, & Christians alike. At Pomfret, with a handful of people of color, two of us were from Lefrak City and we did not know one another until we met at Pomfret, so go figure! I guess even out of a perceived war zone, intellectuals can be molded.
This takes me to another observation about us as Black people and prep school negroes. I was saddened by the fact that when I suggested that The Prep School Negro should be something that BET (Black Entertainment Television) should show on its network , I was told that this type of story does not fall in line with BET programming. It is a real shame that this is our first reaction to such a suggestion particularly because Stephen Hill, who was featured in the documentary because he is also a prep school Negro is head of BET programming. I was not surprised by this answer to my suggestion because I had been told the same thing in the past by BET executives when suggesting they show any stories of intellectual Black people or any diversity of us as Black people outside of our perceived ghetto/project war zones, which we show most of the world without ever showing that these places also produce intellectuals & prep school Negroes . It is really sad that we accept this amongst ourselves even when we are in positions of power where we can make a difference & be the change we want to see. Are we as prep school Negroes speaking to the bourgeoisie association of ourselves by thinking that those who did not have the opportunity of a prep school education could not possibly appreciate & relate to the fact that we are not one dimensional people or the fact that the same opportunities are available to them if they seek it? Why should we want to keep the information & know how that we have received to ourselves, as we watch those that we grew up with in the same neighborhoods settling on the lowest denominator of us and believing that they have no other choice , ability or opportunity because they are from the hood/ghetto/projects or war zones? It is said that “to who much is given much is expected”, so it is up to us who have been the beneficiaries of the best in education, wealth and positions of power to give back by sharing our knowledge and know how. Benjamin Disrelli said, “ The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own”.
BET stands for Black Entertainment Television, so in serving & entertaining the full spectrum of Black people as one of our only designated outlets, those in power are responsible in telling our full story as Black people. We are just as much The Prep School Negro as we are Frankie & Neffy . How can we expect & demand that mainstream media respect & include our stories in its entirety when we do not hold ourselves to the same scrutiny & expectations. Mainstream media takes its lead & cues from us in targeting us as an audience, telling & investing in our stories. Until we do right by ourselves and diversify in the stories we tell & show about ourselves, we can not have any expectations of or blame to throw at a mainstream media that is on the outside looking in. We as real Black people or prep school Negroes need to start looking in!
The Pomfret School -As told to Prep School Negro : READ HERE
Definition of Negro
Negro is a term referring to people of Black ancestry. Prior to the shift in the lexicon of American and worldwide classification of race and ethnicity in the late 1960s, the appellation was accepted as a normal, completely neutral, formal term both by those of Black African descent as well as those of non-African black descent. During the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some African American leaders objected to the term, preferring the term Black. During the 1960s Negro came to be considered an ethnic slur. The term is now considered archaic and is not commonly used as a racist slur. The term is still used in some contexts for historical reasons such as in the name of the United Negro College Fund or the Negro league in sports. “Negro” means “black” in Spanish, Portuguese, and ancient Italian; all of these derive from the Latin niger (i.e., “black”).
Around 1442, the Portuguese first arrived in sub-Saharan Africa while trying to find a sea route to India. The term negro, literally meaning “black”, was used by the Spanish and Portuguese to refer to people. From the 18th century to the late 1960s, “negro” (later capitalized) was considered the proper English term for all people of sub-Saharan African origin.
It fell out of favor by the early 1970s in the United States after the Civil Rights movement. However, older African Americans from the period when “Negro” was considered acceptable, initially found the term “Black” more offensive than “Negro”. Evidence for this is in historical African-American organizations and institutions’ use of the term—such as the United Negro College Fund. In current English language usage, “Negro” is generally considered acceptable in a historical context, such as baseball’s Negro Leagues of the early and mid-20th century, or in the name of older organizations, as in Negro spirituals, the United Negro College Fund or the Journal of Negro Education. The U.S. Census now uses the grouping “Black or African American.”
LeFrak City, Queens
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
LeFrak is a large apartment development in the southernmost region of Corona, a neighborhood of the New York City borough of Queens, near Jackson Heights, built in the mid-1960s for working- and middle-class families and located on the north side of the Long Island Expressway. The complex of twenty eighteen-story (technically sixteen-story, since the lobbies are the 2nd floors and there are no 13th floors) apartment towers covers 40 acres (162,000 m²) and currently houses over 14,000 people. The development is part of Queens Community Board 4.
The complex is home to a diverse population, including African-Americans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Haitians. The development remains popular due to its reasonable rents, good quality apartments, and location in a safe neighborhood.
The development is served by playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, spacious fields, a swimming pool, a branch of the Queens Borough Public Library, a post office, two large office buildings, retail space, and over 3,500 parking spaces, and is a short walk to Queens Center Mall The complex is named for its developer, Samuel J. LeFrak.
The LeFrak Organization broke ground in 1960, finishing by 1969, and offered air-conditioned apartments at $40 a room. The LeFrak strategy of “Total Facilities for Total Living” meant bringing recreational, shopping, transportation, and other services to the residents.
LeFrak City is also the home of the New York City Police Department’s Medical Services Division.
Samuel J. LeFrak
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Samuel J. LeFrak (1918 – April 16, 2003) was a noted landlord who chaired a private building firm, The LeFrak Organization. The LeFrak Organization was also ranked 45th on the Forbes list of top 500 private companies. The development firm is best known for major development projects in Battery Park City, LeFrak City in Queens, and Newport, Jersey City. The LeFrak Organization was founded in 1883 in France, by Samuel J. LeFrak’s grandfather, Maurice.
LeFrak grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Erasmus Hall High School. He graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1940,with the University’s LeFrak Hall named for him. In 1988, LeFrak was honored by the United Nations, along with former President Jimmy Carter, for global contributions through Habitat International.
Notable current and former residents of LeFrak City include:
Kenny Anderson, former basketball player for the New Jersey Nets and other teams during his ten-year NBA career.
Noriega (aka NORE), rapper.
Kenny Smith, former basketball player for the Houston Rockets and other teams during his ten-year NBA career.
Kool G Rap, rapper.
Prodigy, rapper, of Mobb Deep
Big Mato, reggaeton/spanish hip-hop musician.
Emerson Boozer, NY Jets football player
Erick Scarecrow, Esc-Toy founder
Mark White, bass player for the Spin Doctors
Harlem Knightz, rapper
Frankie Manning, One of the founding fathers of the Lindy Hop