June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rep. Jamaal Bowman Meets SAR Middle School Students

On March 8, Congressman Jamaal Bowman met virtually with SAR middle and high school students. He recently entered Congress after a 20-year career in education, the last 10 as a middle school principal.

SAR Principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss asked Bowman how he decided to become a politician. Bowman noted: “I don’t consider myself a politician. I consider myself a public servant. Becoming an elected official and public servant gives me an opportunity to have an even larger impact. As a principal, we did great work for the academic, social and emotional growth of our kids.”

He said these schools were underfunded, in neglected communities. “These kids come to school full of passion, ideas and excitement, but live in what we call ‘red-line’ communities that, on purpose through federal policy, isolated from the American dream. The year before I decided to run, 34 Bronx school children died: 17 by suicide, one across the highway from my school because she was being bullied. I was frustrated with elected officials not centering our children in political discourse. We boast that we’re the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. But we have tens of millions of kids living in poverty, with mental distress, housing insecurity, food insecurity. It’s avoidable if elected officials prioritize those most vulnerable.”

Bowman was then asked to reflect on the January 6 Capitol insurrection. “It was crazy,” he said. “I was one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t in the Capitol; I was in my office across the street, just hoping and praying that they didn’t turn their attention to our offices. … This mob got riled up enough to believe that they could storm the Capitol, possibly harm or kill us, and overturn the election results.

“It was almost like unreal to watch because it’s the U.S. Capitol; we have Capitol Police; we have safety there; we should be well protected. This mob got past them with symbols of hate, like the Confederate flag, a noose and a giant cross. This was an insurrection by white nationalists who believe the white race is the ruler of the country, and the world for that matter, and they should be empowered, no matter what: ‘Forget democracy, forget one person, one vote. We’re gonna rule by force’.”

Bowman added that he was not surprised by the events. “Whenever there’s social progress, there’s backlash from white nationalists, in particular.” On the previous day, Georgians elected their first Jewish and African-American senators. “I love talking to kids, because it’s going to be the kids who ultimately create a world that’s better than what we have now. I’m going to be introducing a curriculum that’s multicultural, anti-racist and anti-hate that uplifts everyone. We can learn about every group’s contribution to the world. I think that helps create the empathy, not just for me as an elected official to govern, but how we live with each other on this planet. I think empathy is the most powerful force in the world.”

Bowman supported the current stimulus plan but believes it did not go far enough increasing the minimum wage. “Expanding the earned income child tax credit,” he said, “will lift tens of millions of people out of poverty and cut African-American poverty in half. There’s $130 billion allocated for K-12 schools to hire more teachers, to close gaps that have grown during this time and retrofit schools’ HVAC. There’s also a focus on early-childhood education and childcare.”

Switching to Israel, Rabbi Krauss asked about BDS. Bowman responded: “I do not support BDS to engage our ally Israel. But I’m also not against free speech. If individuals choose to boycott, whatever they want to boycott is their individual choice. Israel is an ally we want to maintain a very strong relationship with. But because they’re our ally doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes critique our allies.

“The goal here is to make sure we are uplifting human rights, not just in Israel, but across the world,” Bowman added. “In Israel, the Palestinian community that lives there as well, we want to make sure we’re treating them with dignity, respect and uplifting their human rights, while they’re in Israel.”

Bowman continued: “I support a two-state solution. My entire life I’ve been hearing about a two-state solution. We don’t seem to be any closer to that solution. I want to figure out how to lend my voice to conversations where both states have the opportunity for self-determination.”

In response to a student’s concern about the congressman’s criticism of Israel’s COVID vaccinations for Palestinians, Bowman announced he’ll meet with the Israeli Consulate and review their data on vaccinations. He also discussed increasing vaccine availability in Riverdale, noting SAR was the first school to shut down last year.

By Judy Berger

 

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