March 02, 2009
Name: Audrey Bailey-Hocker.
Current position: East Stroudsburg School Board member.
Place of birth: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Education: City College of New York, University of Paris, La Sorbonne, France, and Fordham University, New York City.
Previous employers: AT&T, New York City Mayor’s Office and New York City Board of Education.
Organizations/programs: Congress of Racial Equality, Jamaica Political Action League (Queens, N.Y.), Pocono Seido Karate School, Monroe County Democratic Committee and Smithfield branch of International Rotary.
Also lived in: France, Haiti and India.
Places visited: Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, England, Canada, Caribbean islands and Zambia.
Hobbies: Performing and recording inspirational CDs and jazz.
Pocono Record: Which teacher(s) or professor(s) had the biggest influence on you and why?
Audrey Bailey-Hocker: I would have to say the spiritual teacher and leader Sathya Sai Baba of India. I first became aware of Baba when watching the film, “The Lost Years of Jesus.” At the end of the film, I saw this little man with a big afro doing these extraordinary things that seemed miraculous.
It was said that you only hear about Baba when he is calling you. Some hear about him in troubled times and others read about him. It is also said that, if you go looking for him, no matter how well-planned your trip is, it won’t happen if it’s not meant to be. My family and I decided to vacation in India in 1988, after I had watched “The Lost Years of Jesus,” and that’s how I got to meet Baba.
His teachings cover the spectrum of life. He teaches that true education doesn’t end with college or graduate school. It’s a lifelong transformation. In fact, Sai Baba says that the end goal of education is character.
Learning from Baba has tremendously broadened my perspective on life itself. I now am more accepting of people’s differences. I’m more patient with people. I’m more appreciative of all of the world’s religions.
PR: What is worth it for you about being politically active?
AB: Working to bring about positive change. The big picture of national politics really boils down to what happens in local politics. You can’t just elect someone in office and expect them to do all of your thinking for you. You have to stay involved and informed and make your voice heard.
PR: What has been the proudest achievement of your own political involvement here or anywhere else you’ve lived?
AB: In 1964, while attending school at night, I was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Jamaica Political Action League in Queens, N.Y. Our goals at the time included getting quality education in our local public schools and political representation more reflective of our racially diverse community.
John Lindsay, a Republican, was running for mayor and I was asked to attend a meeting with his brother, David Lindsay. In that meeting, David articulated a political platform that was consistent with many of our aims. I agreed to run his brother’s campaign office in southeast Queens.
We implemented grass-roots door-to-door campaigning. What was interesting was that we got voters in a mostly Democratic area to help elect a Republican mayor. There were residents who had never voted or been politically active before because they felt their voices didn’t count. We convinced them otherwise.
Once John Lindsay became mayor, he set up little city halls throughout the city, each staffed by local representatives. These granted citizens with concerns access to the mayor. I became the mayor’s representative in two of those local city halls. This provided me with educational insights into local and citywide governance, which would be commensurate with my doctoral study.
One of my other proudest achievements is my election to the East Stroudsburg School Board. I was supporting another candidate and hadn’t even planned to run myself. But, at the last minute, I asked myself, “Why not?”
A third achievement I’d like to mention doesn’t involve politics, but involves helping children in the community. While working for the New York City Board of Education, from which I retired in 1999, I helped plan and set up the educational component of the Pocono Seido Karate School, run by my brother, Warren Bailey, and son, Anthony Scott, in East Stroudsburg.
We had a latchkey program that involved tutoring and homework. We put an emphasis on academics and told the students that keeping good grades was a requirement for staying in the karate school. We worked with troubled kids and those kids did improve. We got letters from teachers and parents talking about how their kids seemed more motivated as a result of our program.
Unfortunately, in the end, we had to close the karate school because it just wasn’t very cost-effective to keep it running. We had located the school in Foxmoor Village (on Route 209 in Middle Smithfield Township) to provide a central location for children from Monroe and Pike counties, but Foxmoor charged us a high rent. And it got harder for students to pay their tuition.
It was the parents of the children at the karate school expressing concerns about their children’s education in the East Stroudsburg school system that inspired me to run for a school board seat.
PR: In your opinion, what’s the biggest pitfall of political activism or a political career?
AB: It’s almost like a thankless job. Not everyone agrees with you all the time. Your reputation is always at stake. It’s even more of a drain when you have a family because you’re out a lot of the time.
PR: What’s the general public’s biggest misconception about serving on a school board?
AB: People think their job is finished once they’ve elected you, but their job is not finished. They have to stay involved, attend school board meetings, get clarity on what the school district’s policies are and let you know what they want.
PR: What’s the biggest challenge in serving on the East Stroudsburg School Board? What’s the biggest reward?
AB: The challenge is having to walk a fine line and wear many hats. You’re a taxpayer and a decision-maker. You have to work in concert with other board members to serve the students, staff and community. The reward is having a say and being a voice for your constituents.
PR: What do you think is keeping more parents from attending school board meetings, PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences?
AB: We’re a bedroom community. Many parents are commuters. They spend most of their weekdays working in New York or New Jersey and don’t come up for breath until Saturday. Then, they have to prepare for the next work week. It’s like a treadmill. Most commuters don’t have the energy to be involved in their local communities. The other thing is that school board and other meetings are held at times when commuters are still at work or traveling back from work, so they can’t attend these meetings.
PR: In your opinion, what’s it going to take to get commuters more involved in the local community?
AB: I think having more higher-paying jobs in the area would allow parents to work where they live so they can get more involved locally and be present to have more of a say in the decisions that affect their children’s education.
So far, I’ve been able to persuade the school board to hold meetings in both Pike and Monroe counties. Finally, I strongly feel that, if we could hold a weekend meeting once in a while, it would allow many parents who find it impossible to attend meetings during the week to have the opportunity to voice their ideas, suggestions and issues of concern.
PR: Where do you find inspiration for your music?
AB: I was born with inspiration. Actually, my parents stressed the importance of getting a good education so that I could have an ace in the hole in case a professional singing career didn’t work out.
PR: What’s your favorite inspirational song?
AB: “I Believe.”
PR: Whom do you most admire and why?
AB: My family. My parents told us to go to college and exposed us to different places, people, experiences and ideas. They showed us that our neighborhood wasn’t the whole world. I also admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his philosophy of injustice anywhere being a threat to justice everywhere. That’s another thing that inspired me to run for a school board seat. And, of course, Sathya Sai Baba of India, who says his life is his lesson.
PR: What’s the last book you read?
AB: “People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. I’m now reading “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen.
PR: Speaking as someone who has lived and traveled abroad, what lessons do you think Americans can take from other cultures to improve their own lives and communities?
AB: The lesson of being more open-minded and understanding. Sometimes, things viewed as offensive in one place happen to be the norm elsewhere. There’s a beauty of unity and diversity. Exposure to different cultures allows one to see how different things are in other places.
PR: What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you awake at night?
AB: Besides my cat, the desire to get things done. I always feel like there’s so much I have to get done. I try to go about life with the purpose, health and strength to do something better each day.
PR: If there’s anything you can share with young people about how to improve their lives and communities, what is it?
AB: Read. Get a good education. You have to compete not just with children in your own neighborhood or in the U.S., but with children around the world.
Take the time to enjoy yourself before you jump into the responsibilities of starting a family. There are too many children having children.
Never be afraid to follow your dreams. Go for it and let no one turn you around. If you believe strongly enough, nothing is impossible. If you can conceive it and believe it, then you can achieve it.
Instead of resolving arguments with violence, try to talk to each other. Nothing is so bad that it gives you justification to take someone else’s life. I’m speaking out of the personal experience of losing my son, Christopher, to violence in New York City in 1992. He was 18 and bound for UCLA on a football scholarship. Someone mistook him for someone else they had a quarrel with and shot him. Young people shouldn’t be afraid to show their emotions. If more young people knew how to express their emotions instead of keeping them bottled up, their might be less violence in the world.
Each of us is given a treasure chest at birth, one that can never be depleted. The more you share this treasure with others, the more it multiplies. The treasure I speak of is love. So, give love abundantly.
Interviewed by Andrew Scott
Pocono Record writer