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Tender and Fierce Blessings: Malcolm, Coltrane and My Mentor Nat Hentoff

Christine Passarella By

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I remember when you first wrote an article about my work in the Wall Street Journal, "These Kids Think Coltrane is Cool," you stated to me that you thought it would protect me. From what? At the time I did not understand that even the idea of Kids for Coltrane was a radical idea to some. I was teaching literacy, social studies through the arts with love and critical thinking. But you knew that this type of empowering education connected to Coltrane's name for children across the board would be a threat to some. You also knew its extreme value in changing schools powerfully for the better. You wrote about my Kids for Coltrane work in your book At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Scene. You told me that you put the work in the last chapter as it gave you hope for the future.

Nat, you witnessed administrators trying to stop the progress of this work which was soaring, you saw bad forces coming before I did, and sadly dear Nat that narrow-minded negativity occurred both in a public school and private school. Blissfully we also saw the forces for good embrace this work in honor of Coltrane and children. How do we solve the color line chasm if there are pockets of powerful people in our educational system who block human rights and justice for all? The ignorance we are left with is still a danger to a democratic way of life. I wish you were here to help me and others navigate some of what is going on in this world recently. I know you too would be appalled.

We must examine what it is to be human and explore our individual roles as we continue to pursue our callings. The pedological struggles are rooted in the political, economic and social forces, and I would say the sounds of jazz capture it all. To paraphrase Dr. Cornel West, educators must be a hope not just have hope. This can be daunting at times, as for most teachers our calling is also our livelihood. And yet, to find the light in the dark labyrinth we must get out of the cave by carving a pedological path that makes sense to us and courageously speaks to our own moral fiber. This is indeed creating revolutionary schema if we are to change the world. I call this living a Coltranian life. I believe this should be explored in think-tank discussion groups in all schools. Great educators must freely wrestle with their field of education, and dive deeply into being true to their exalted vocation.

Nat, your life lived committed to your ethics and dedication to the people of our country is exquisite. You lived challenging people to remove blind spots in their thinking, and learned from the best passionate people especially the jazz musicians. In your book Boston Boy, you lay out the story of your early life brilliantly. It was during those days in your youth that you connected your Jewish culture and the songs of the cantors to what moved you deeply when you heard the suffering, triumph, and love in jazz. There is no doubt that your earned and trusted friendships with many of the legendary jazz musicians guided you in following your own path with courage, conviction, and absolutism. I remember I told you that I hoped one day you would receive the Pulitzer Prize. I am proud to say that you did accept the Kids for Coltrane Humanitarian Award with great joy, a smile and that Hentoff style.

I leave you with these parting words until I write again...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." -The Bill of Rights-First Amendment

With eternal respect and gratitude,

Christine

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