This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 4.16.2014
We often think we know people, but many times we don’t know them as well as we think we do. Case in point – my relationship with my fellow educator Claude Nadir.
I met Nadir 3 years ago when I began consulting at Dunbar High School. Dunbar was once the preeminent black high school in America, but, like its urban counterparts around the country, it has fallen on hard times. Only 18 percent of its students read on grade level. That number is even lower for math.
At the time I met him, Nadir was a media specialist. But it quickly became apparent he was much more – he was a mover, a shaper, a problem solver. For the next 3 years, we worked on several projects together. As you might expect, we also came to share our frustration with the chaos and counter-intuitiveness that comes with urban education, especially in a district as troubled as DC. But Nadir, an indefatigable worker, never gave up his belief that the school, with innovation and hard work, could be turned around. He had expressed that optimism in the state-of-the-art web site and the special radio spots he had designed for Dunbar.
When I last saw Nadir , he was making corrections to his plan for the state testing that was going on in the school. He was still at Dunbar, even though it was nearly 6 p.m. and the students had been gone for 2-and-a-half hours. Ever the perfectionist, Nadir was erasing some mistakes he had made and was once again revising the revisions of the revisions he had already made.
We joked. We exchanged a few pleasantries. We said goodbye. I left for a Twilight school program at another school. Nadir stayed to finish his work.
On Monday, I received a shocking text from one of my fellow consultants. He had learned that Nadir, only 34, had died. The text didn’t contain any details, so I rushed to the internet to see what I could find.
Googling his name, I discovered that Nadir indeed had died. But I also found out that there was so much about Claude – just one of the many names he was known as – that I had never known.
A piece from the ArtsDesk section of the Washington City Paper described Akil Nadir as a “Philosopher King, the straight-ahead MC known for his battle rhymes and sophisticated bravado” who had “influenced the course of D.C. hip-hop” and produced “grown man rap music.”
It also said that Nadir was known to his family and friends as Claude Lumpkin. In his local rap career, he had variously performed as Cool Cee Brown and in a duo known as Dirty Water.
City Paper writer Marcus J. Moore reported that Nadir had first navigated local hip-hop as a teenager in the mid-1990s, when MCs were confined to small clubs on U Street because Chuck Brown and go-go then ruled the District.
Moore quoted local artist DJ RBI on Nadir and his rap rep. “He dealt with a lot of issues grown men could relate to,” DJ RBI said. “Certain guys come along and remind you of how great the culture of rhyming and making music can be. He was somebody people really paid attention to.”
Well, not everyone paid attention to Nadir’s music. I didn’t. I didn’t even know it existed. But exploring Nadir’s life on line further, I did find the frank, funny Claude I knew.
On his blog, Nadir had this to say about the controversial issue of standardized testing:
I was telling you yesterday about how we just wrapped up the 2011 standardized tests at work. And I thought later that you all might want to know what I think about standardized tests.
I think they suck.
And maybe you didn’t want to know what I think. I told you anyway because I know what’s best for you.
They suck because they’re dumb. The kids don’t take them seriously because in DC they don’t count for anything. In New York City, you can’t graduate from high school unless you pass their big standardized test. Same thing in Texas. In DC, however, because we’re all so damned smart, we’ve invested millions of dollars into a testing system that the students are supposed to take seriously because …because … because… if they don’t do well, all the teachers they hate will lose their jobs.
But I guess I can’t really complain about standardized tests and how inadequate they are in the business of measuring student achievement until someone comes up with a better idea. And since we can’t crack open their skulls, as much as we may want to, and see what’s going on in there, tests will have to do.
Still, like one of my students said on the first day of testing, “I don’t see why we gotta take this stupid- ass test anyway. A nigga ain’t gone know what a nigga don’t know.”
Well, Claude Lumpkin Akil Nadir, that doesn’t apply only to young black men. It applies to 62-year-old white men, too. I’m sorry I never got to know about your musical life. I know I would have liked it. And I also know that if you put even a portion of your amazing effort and immense heart into your rapping that I watched you put into your educating, it would have definitely been the opposite of stupid-ass. So goodbye, Philosopher King. It was good to know you, even if I didn’t know as well as I could have.