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How does the struggle for multicultural education and self-determination relate to book banning and the right-wing pushback against antiracist education today? In this back-to-school special, we look at the grassroots movement led by student activists with the support of some faculty to establish Africana Studies Departments and Puerto Rican Studies Departments at The City University of New York, or CUNY’s Brooklyn College — one of the first in the country. Members of the Brooklyn League of Afro-American Collegians (BLAC) organized with other student groups like the Puerto Rican Alliance and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to force the implementation of the open admissions policy. These student-led actions in the late 1960s and early 1970s are the subject of the documentary film, Making the Impossible Possible, directed by Tami Kashia Gold & Pam Sporn and distributed by Third World Newsreel. Askia Davis and Antonio Nieves were part of the “BC 19”, a group of students who were arrested and incarcerated at Rikers jail for demanding open admissions and the establishment of the Africana Studies Departments and Puerto Rican Studies Department in the student-led takeover in 1969. Sonia Nieto is one of the “BC 44”, a former Brooklyn College faculty member who participated in the 1974 takeover. Learn more about this historic win from the former Brooklyn College students and faculty who were there on the frontlines.
“The desire was to transform education, not just to create departments, not just to open access, but to change the fundamental nature of the institutions. At Brooklyn College in 1968, I would say maybe every day was a demonstration . . .” – Askia Davis
“These are the same issues that we were fighting for so many years ago . . . Things have improved somewhat, but in other ways, they have gotten worse because of right-wing interests and fear of losing power . . .” – Sonia Nieto
“You cannot be unwoke . . . If you are unwoke, that means that history will repeat itself and you will be victimized again. We want an education that tells us where we came from and what our contribution to America was.” – Antonio Nieves
- Askia Davis: Former Superintendent of Schools, Harlem, NYC; Former Deputy Regional Superintendent, Bronx, NYC
- Sonia Nieto: Professor Emerita, Language, Literacy & Culture, College of Education UMass, Amherst; Member, National Academy of Education
- Antonio Nieves: Director of Pharmacy, Caribbean Health Outreach; Founder, Puerto Rican Institute & the Afro American Institute, CUNY Brooklyn College
Portions of this interview are featured in our episode, “Africana & Puerto Rican Studies: A Student-Led Victory for Multicultural Education.“