Monday, May 12, 2008


Rockefeller Fellow Omar Wasow provided the keynote address last week at City Tech’s First Annual “Race and New Media” conference in downtown Brooklyn;

Wasow’s premise: education is a powerful tool in the world economy. Knowledge of how to build websites, applications and various social network tools are fine—but if you can’t read, write, solve math problems or think critically, all the tech tools in the world don’t do you much good.

You may remember Wasow from the days when his hair was locked and he co-founded, recently acquired by Cathy Hughes’ Radio One for a cool $34 million. Black Planet is part of the Community Connect family of companies which also developed niche websites for Latino and Asian audiences.

His hair is now shorter, with flecks of gray, but trust this young man has important things to say! Wasow is principal of the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School in Brooklyn and completing his Ph.D. at Harvard. Exuberating with brilliance, you can tell that children in his school not only learn—but excel, mastering skills and lessons that last a lifetime.

A self-prescribed “geek” Wasow’s presentation was tremendous! Many teachers in the audience marveled at his ability to connect and motivate the audience, which ranged from teenagers to 50 somethings; no small feat.

At one point, there was even a “call and response” segment whereby everyone shared a hearty laugh as he gave a history lesson that spanned from his “Donkey Kong” computer game days to the present. As a pre-teen, he fell in love with computers and was encouraged by his family to understand what made them tick. (Yes friends, this does sound very similar to Bill Gates and his parents push to advance his technical inquiry.)

In order to place ourselves in the “computer age continuum,” Wasow asked if any of us had ever been dumped by an online dating service. Validating his point, about a dozen in the audience were still standing, at his request, as the rest of us took our seats. As the audience roared with laughter, this underscored how computers have changed the way people fall in love, think, make connections and do business.

You can tell Wasow and his educational team have a unique way of combining tech with raw talent and a love of teaching and learning, thus creating a new generation of W.E.B. DuBois’ talented tenth.

After his dynamic presentation, I told him I thought he’d make a tremendous Chancellor of New York City’s Public Schools. Joel Klein, watch out for brainiacs like Brooklyn native Wasow, who are a credit to the borough and the teaching profession.

Wasow attended the conference at the request of friend, fellow scholar and Stanford alum Anne Seaton, now a City Tech English professor. Seaton and colleague Aaron Barlow conceived the conference, a unique dialogue that united many fields of study under the new media banner.

The “Race and New Media” conference managed to artfully connect disparate themes such as 1) community organizing techniques via GPS mapping software available at low cost or no cost to advocacy groups; 2) the premiere of “Mizery”, an insightfully artful documentary about a female impersonator from Boston which invited conversations about transgender issues; and 3) discussion of the presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama and his strident, learned and distinguished pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

For more info about this conference, a planned conference journal (publication date pending) and future CUNY events, visit or contact

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