Sunday, December 11, 2011

In Defense of Dr. Umar Johnson's Recent Appearance in Riverview

The letter below is a foreword to the 'Letter to the Editor' below to the Kingsport Times-News, which was rejected for length..


I read Doug's letter.

This is why I responded to Joy's letter. I do not depend on the regional community nor have I for my career as I have found the same climate and atmosphere and environment expressed in Doug's letter, a contradiction of the objective of Joy's letter. Dr. Cathy most likely was looking and left for the same reason-a more welcoming environment for Black professionals or Black people in general. Many Black people in the Southwest Virginia-Northeast Tennessee area are too satisfied with their status quo and appear to not understand that we need the leadership re-born that was provided by Mr. Gill during the time that I attended public schools there, in addition to the many teachers who spoke up and spoke out to keep Black families and Black students focused on the prize: to learn our lessons and become independent. (We have some but not enough.) All of our lessons were not always found in our books. Our Black leaders, ministers, and educators back then, modeled what they "preached" by their actions. For those of us who observed, that is the only reason we are making it through life's journey. To be clear, I appreciate those who are currently working for and in the area for the Black community-we just keep backing up instead of joining the "global community". Nationally, and most likely locally, the Black community has the most unemployed and the most undereducated in most communities, and we are focused on not speaking up until it is too late are disclaiming association with those Black professionals like the invited speaker I address in the attached letter to the editor. You have to work inside community systems and governments and not look for the leadership of those who focus on "show and tell". We can do better than that. For example, how many in the area are working with the public schools for parent education of the current parents and for current student education, including working to recruit and retain minority educators? Our Black students need role models in our school systems. Education is the key to allowing our Black students to rise.

I have attached my letter. If you choose to print it, please include the thoughts above as a foreword. My letter was denied because it was too long. However, I wrote what I wanted to say and would not have shortened it.

Rosemary (Gray)

The following is a "Letter to the Editor" of the Kingsport Times-News, which was rejected for length. It is printed below in its entirety.

Dear Editor,

I read the open letter “TO OUR FELLOW ALUMNI, FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS IN THE DOUGLASS-RIVERVIEW-SOUTH CENTRAL COMMUNITY” by Virginia Hankins, President of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass” and did some research on Dr. Umar Abdullah-Johnson, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, a blood relative of Frederick Douglass, a great Black abolitionist and orator and the choice for the name of the local school for African Americans in Kingsport and for all who would attend Douglass from the local towns and cities in the region. Dr. Abdullah-Johnson’s biography is listed below:


Umar Abdullah-Johnson is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist who practices privately throughout Pennsylvania and lectures throughout the country. Umar is a blood relative of Frederick Douglass, the great Black abolitionist and orator. As a school psychologist Umar evaluates children ages 3-21 in an effort to determine if they have educational disabilities and a need for special education services. Umar is considered a national expert on learning disabilities and their effect on Black children, as well an expert on helping schools and parents modify challenging behaviors that can ultimately lead to disruptive behavior disorder diagnoses in Black boys.

As a child therapist, Umar specializes in working with at-risk, violent, suicidal and depressed African-American boys and girls. For five years he served as the youngest of five African-American male school psychologists in the 5th largest public school district in America – The School District of Philadelphia. Umar has received commendations for his volunteer work throughout the Pan-African community, and has been a featured guest on various Black talk shows throughout the United States. In addition to his media appearances, Umar is a highly sought after motivational and informational speaker who has presented at workshops, conferences, awards ceremonies, graduations and expert panels throughout the country. As an educator, psychologist, therapist and historian, Umar is considered an authority on the education of African-American children and on mental health in the Black community.

His diverse array of past presentations and keynotes have included such topics as: Special Education Law, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Black Boys, Black-on-Black Violence, Post-Traumatic Slavery Disorder, Classroom Management for Teachers, What’s Wrong with Special Education, Marcus Garvey & Frederick Douglass in Black History, Effective Parenting Practices, The College Application Process, Understanding Depression in Black Children, The Over-identification of Black Children as Mentally Retarded and Learning Disabled, Black Male-Female Relationships, and Preparing Black Teenagers for Success. Umar is founder and Chief Scout Master for the Emmett Till, Hector Peterson and Scottsboro Boys Pan-African Boys Scouts Program and the Queen Nzingah, Harriet Tubman and Birmingham Four Pan-African Girl Scouts Program; both of which are independent African mentorship programs for youth.

Umar is former Minister of Education for the Marcus Garvey Movement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Umar is a writer, political scientist, and consultant to families, educators, mental health professionals and charter schools throughout the country. Umar currently hosts a psycho-educational community lecture series at the African-American Museum in Philadelphia. As one of the most popular faces and voices on the east coast focusing upon the proper development of African & African-American children, 33-year-old Umar is a fast rising star in the field of Black psychology and education. With a speaking style many consider reminiscent of his late ancestor, Frederick Douglass, Umar possesses the rare ability to hold an audience spellbound for hours as he unleashes a barrage of facts, statistics and practical information that leaves viewers in awe for weeks after his presentations. Umar has presented before embassies, museums, schools, universities, churches, correctional facilities, stadiums, international audiences and at community centers. As he is known to say after lectures when questioned about his speaking ability, Umar attributes his oratorical talent to the “Almighty Creator, and My African Ancestors who work through me. I simply open my mouth and their message comes out.”

In 2011, I am appalled and amazed that in a society of free speech; 1st Amendment rights; and with American children being number 14, 15, and 25 in the world in reading, science, and math respectively; having 16 per cent unemployment in the Black community; and, with full knowledge and experience with the state of denial about the Black-on-Black racism and in fighting in the Black community, that we are sent a letter apologizing for, distancing ourselves from, a speaker who is a descendant of Frederick Douglass, one who fought for the rights of the African American community to be free to become educated enough to be able to learn reading, writing, science, and mathematics and become a Barack Obama, a Herman Cain, and a Michelle Obama or a Marion Wright Edelman. As one who has worked for inclusion in the community, and specifically with the African American community, and in the communities of Northeast and West Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Louisiana, working to give back-the lessons that we should all have taken away from our “Douglass High School, our ‘Center not Complex’ of learning during segregation.

This is the real world. It takes a “village” to raise a child, not “big ‘I’s” and “little ‘You’s’”, as many in the African American community who have benefited from Douglass may have forgotten or become when we do not acknowledge our African American children who are suicidal, depressed, hyperactive, and, to be clear, with mental health problems. To paraphrase the main theme in Bill Cosby’s reflections in his book, Come on People, as he reviews the state of the African American community, we need to give back by our words and deeds for the education of our Black youth and confront the mental health problems in the African American community that continue to plague many young people and adults.

I applaud the sponsor of Dr. Umar Abdullah-Johnson as a step in the right direction to say, “Come on Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia”. Let this speaker be a catalyst to wake up the African American community, especially Douglass Alums who well know that we were more than sports and fashion shows as students of Mr. Dobbins, Mr. Gill, Mr. Young, Coach Deering, Mr. Baylor, Mr. Hendricks, Mrs. Cox, Mrs. Dobbins, Mrs. Ellis, Mr. Thomas, and countless other teachers who instilled in us to give back, and most of all, to learn to read, to think, to write, and do math, including general math, algebra, geometry, and who started us in class wherever we were but, unlike today, took us where we needed to go to learn the lessons from each class.

Come on, people. If we start backing up, we will never go forward. Out of respect for the historical significance and parallel to our alma mater, I urge the citizens, both Black and White to attend the presentation of Dr. Abdullah-Johnson and engage in a dialogue that will help the mental health of our area youth. We are living in an era that needs ideas on how to assist young people with depression and thoughts of suicide because of bullying, both by adults and young people, and we need ideas on how to stop the sexual assaults that are ignored in the African American community because of the state of generational denial in the African American community.

The use of this “gang” mentality to avoid a discussion of the African American psyche needs to stop. We are living in the 21st Century, not the 20th Century. This letter is an insult to Carter G. Woodson, author of The Miseducation of the Negro, the hard work in the community by W.E.B Dubois, and Booker T. Washington. Do we even know statistically how many children, or even care enough, to investigate how many in our African American “Douglass” community youth have considered suicide and depression? Are we afraid to give back by confronting these issues? Have the values that we were taught at Douglass come down to a letter that disrespects our past rather than helps our future? I hope not. Come on, people! We have come too far, still have much further to go, than to start backing up. I applaud this dialogue to help our youth and all youth who are depressed and consider suicide or disruptive behavior as the only options for living. The most abused and neglected citizens in our society, who are often helpless at the hands of their predators, are our children. Expect the best rather than focus on the negative. My hope is for an “open letter” of a call to action to help our youth, schools, and parents with the behaviors of our children that are often the results of mental health issues brought on by the “ills” of our society on our children, specifically the African American children in our community..

Dr. Rosemary Gray
1964 Douglass High School Graduate
Daughter of Late Janie Gray, Gate City; Thurman Gray, Jacksonville, Florida