“Moms For Harp” Target Bullying

Cora Lewis PhotoThe mother of a Muslim student enrolled in a New Haven school, learning that her daughter was depressed, searched her daughter’s diary. She discovered entries about being taunted as “Bin Laden’s daughter” and a “towel head.”

The story was one of several told by New Haven women over over egg salad sandwiches and iced tea, related to the public schools, domestic violence, and other issues in the city’s mayoral election.

The women had come together at the Winthrop Avenue home of Mubarakah Ibrahim, a well-known local fitness trainer and dinner guest of President Obama. The event was called “Moms for Harp” in support of state Sen. Toni Harp’s bid for mayor.

The most heated discussion at the Saturday evening evening concerned diversity and sensitivity training in the public schools.

“Growing up Muslim in America and going to schools was one thing,” Ibrahim said, referring to her own childhood. “But growing up Muslim after 9/11 is completely different. Students have to always be on the defensive.”

“When gay students began killing themselves, the country took notice. We can’t wait for Muslim students to commit suicide to take this seriously,” Ibrahim argued.

Ibrahim cited cartoons and media reports linking Muslims to violence that made their way into the curriculum at her children’s schools. When her kids attended Amistad Academy, there were also no vegetarian alternatives offered for students who didn’t eat meat – whether for religious or moral reasons (though this changed after the publication of a New Haven Register article on the subject).

“Kids would shake the lunch meat in my kids’ faces, taunting them,” she recounted.

Ibrahim added that Sen. Harp helped resolve some of these issues when Ibrahim brought them to her attention. The two sat down with school administrators and teachers to address anti-Islamic sentiments in the classroom and came to some resolutions. Ibrahim also was later asked to give a school presentation on Islam to explain the ideas and philosophy behind her religion.

“I have to deal with that as an administrator as well,” said Khaliah Abdussabur, a public school employee present at the Saturday evening event. “When it came time for my holidays, the school asked me to read a story to the kids explaining what they were. None of the teachers I worked with really knew anything until I came along.”

Abdussabur, who has worked in education and daycare for 27 years, said she agreed that their needs to be more sensitivity training and awareness about the stress levels of Muslim students. She also voiced a desire for more mentorship programs in the city schools, such as trips to take students fishing and on other excursions. “Whatever they need to make them whole,” she said.

“I think there are forgotten minorities in the schools,” said Harp. “We forget that there are not just blacks and Hispanics – but there are many subgroups among these populations.”

Harp mentioned that Connecticut has strong anti-bullying laws that families should be educated about as well. She also said she would like to see universal pre-Kindergarten for 3 and 4-year-olds in the city, as one specific policy reform to help combat the achievement gap.

Earlier in the evening, discussion turned to high rates of domestic violence in Connecticut and their effects on children. “What you forget is that children are watching that and children model the behavior they see,” Sen. Harp said.

Newhallville Alderwoman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus thanked Sen. Harp for her support of the Grandparent Respite Fund. “When my twins were on the drill team, their uniforms got pretty expensive, and the fund helped,” she said.

The Grandparent Respite Fund allows grandparents to appeal to Connecticut’s probate courts for money to cover certain expenses related to helping raise grandchildren, Harp explained – such as school uniforms or the cost of summer camp.

“If the children went into the DCF [the state Department of Children and Families], they would be costing us $1,500 a month. By raising the children, grandparents are doing the state a favor. So doing something to make things easier for grandparents was a no-brainer,” Harp responded. “It really pays for itself.”

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posted by: Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil on August 20, 2013  3:49pm

Thank you for this positive and refreshing article.  Senator Harp has done many wonderful things for the people of the city of New Haven over the years.  Bravo to Moms for Toni Harp!!

posted by: nadir1876 on August 20, 2013  10:58pm

The Ibrahims and their children are examples of the best among us and contribute so much to our community. It is absolutely shameful that we are not doing enough to educate our children relative to the broad diversity within our community. I met the kids at a debate and know their father puts his life on the line daily protecting us as one of New Haven’s finest. I hope that adult leaders in our town will set better examples for our kids by embracing civil behavior and observing the Golden Rule. This is especially important for heads of families and the people who run our schools. To get more out of our children, we have to ask more of ourselves.

posted by: Teachergal on August 21, 2013  11:06am

So, what are New Haven Schools doing to support the social/character development of it’s students? Let’s here from some teachers, besides Tom Burns, who paints a very altruistic picture of NHPS which is not totally representative of all schools. Bullying, teasing, name-calling, pushing, taunting, etc. is alive and well in most NH schools.

posted by: Brutus2011 on August 22, 2013  11:45am

I just had a comment censored by the NHI for this article.

In this deleted comment, I outlined a first hand experience with bullying in a New Haven public school.

I repeat, as a primary source—no hearsay, or innuendo or ad hom personal attack.

I tried to post this deleted comment because this kind of incident happens in NH public schools with regularity.

What really goes on in our schools behavior-wise is a travesty. Okay, that is an opinion, yes?

Well try this thought experiment.

What if robotic flies on the walls were fitted with cameras and mics and the images from all the classes and hallways and lunchrooms and lavatories and gyms and locker rooms and copy rooms and administrator offices and BOE meetings were viewable on YouTube and the like?

How fast do you think that the citizenry of New Haven would demand real change after a week of this expose?

For those who consider this post shrill and void of “research,” all I can say is that if I stand on the corner and warn everyone that we are being clandestinely invaded by hostile aliens, most would ignore me right up to when a alien death ray turns them to ash.

And NHI, your censor policy needs some censoring.

posted by: True that on August 22, 2013  8:51pm

Bullies often have social-emotional issues that need to be addressed.  Teaching conflict resolution, showing kids how to build a
Positive self-image, and teaching empathy, have the promise of decreasing these incidents.  If New Haven would stop treating kids like numbers and data, and started treating them like Human beings, because there are so many outstanding teachers there, things could definitely change.

posted by: ISR on August 23, 2013  9:40am


I don’t know if this comment will see daylight, and I’m surprised that yours did after another one was deleted, but I agree with you 100 percent. I recently had a comment censored (more accurate than deleted since it was never published), which questioned the newsworthiness of this article. On another thread, I had a comment censored, which pointed to an attorney’s potential conflict of interest.

A couple of years ago, the NHI expressed concern about some comments—too many personal attacks, if I recall correctly—and went to its heavily moderated commenting policy.

The NHI owns these electrons, and can do whatever it wants, but this policy does not foster lively debate. Imagine a town hall meeting where you had to screen your comment with a moderator before you were allowed to speak. That’s what we have going here.

We are adults here. Offensive posts can be deleted after the fact. My censored posts were in no way offensive, so I would have to conclude their omission was in the service of pushing a particular narrative.

“It’s your town. Read, but don’t talk, all about it.”

[Editor: The censored post included factual allegations about legal and ethical wrongdoing about easily identifiable individuals. We can’t publish those in the comments forum. And a series of the comments that were deleted included name-calling and general nastiness and relentless viciousness, of course done anonymously, directed at everyone in public life, some of it riddled with factual errors. I think you’ll have better luck getting those comments published in other forums; we’re looking for civility.]

posted by: Brutus2011 on August 23, 2013  10:27am

to the Editor:

Good lord man, we are in a relentless attack on our public institutions by career politicians and many of their appointees.

I believe you know this, which is why I suspect you run this much needed news forum. The NHI does more of a public service I think than most realize.

And, our public school district is one institution that has been operating as a secret society for decades.

The NHPS needs to be exposed to the light.

The NHFT needs to be exposed to the light.

And one way to do that is by informed commenters. If you doubt the veracity of comments, perhaps you might want to see hard evidence.

Look, I don’t want to be one who is seen as a whistle-blower because who likes a snitch?

But these so-called education administrators are in it for their own aggrandizement and not for anyone else. Want proof? I will organize what I have researched and post it a little later.

Ask me. I have it.