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KidLit4BlackLives Rally

“This is not a meeting. This is a roll of thunder.” Kwame Alexander

“Crawl towards judgment. Sprint towards understanding.” Jason Reynolds

Love alone is not going to free us from the practices that reduce school to twin acts of compliance and regurgitation.” Cornelius Minor

We have work to do.” Paula Chase-Hyman

On June 4th, along with thousands of others, I watched the Kidlit4BlackLives Rally.

Led by Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds, the event brought together leaders in children’s and young adult literature, education and social justice. As they shared history, stories, poetry, song, and art, they called for both deeper understanding and for action.

The video of the rally is archived on the Brown Bookshelf’s YouTube channel. You’ll find The Brown Bookshelf’s incredibly rich and important Resource List here.

The first half of the Rally features the speakers’ heart-felt messages for young people–critical viewing that might continue to be shared with our students.

Beginning around 1:10, the second half of the archived video, speaks directly and powerfully to parents, librarians, educators, and other professionals. I want to share some highlights from those inspiring presenters.

Paula Chase-Hyman, author, and co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, opened that second half of the rally with grown folk talk.

She chose to share the story from its last line. You have a voice. Use it.

Chase-Hyman acknowledged that this means something different for each of us. Her essential work-to-do points should help guide our practice as we move forward from the coming school year and well beyond.

I’m asking that together we start our work by stopping this morbid and obsessive need to focus on this single note, a black people’s song. What we expose our young readers to must allow black children to see their whole selves. And kids from other races and cultures need to see black kids centered as their whole selves. Do you know where you may need to put in work to humanize black people?

*To our librarians: If you find that you amplify books by or featuring black people only during Black History Month, there’s work to do.

*Teachers: If you find that your book recommendations or classroom shelves primarily feature books about black pain or struggle, there’s work to do.

*Parents: If you think certain books are “dessert books,” meant only as a reward after your child or teen has read something more educational, there’s work to do. Moving forward dedicate yourself to doing the word that will humanize a black woman, humanize a black man, humanize a black child.

Chase introduced Cornelius Minor, an author, and educator who has been bringing pens to swordfights since 1978.

Minor learned from his father that intentions alone are not enough. You need a plan. As teachers, loving our kids is not enough. We need plans that yes, seriously consider collection, and move beyond stuff to serious considerations of curriculum and culture. While the issues we face may be systemic, groups of colleagues should begin to affect change at the classroom and the library level. We have work to do.

. . . the world that we want to change is not miles ahead of us. It is the one that is right in front of us. We seek an end to the social order that says that girls are powerless and boys are powerful. We see an end to the social order that holds whiteness as the ideal standard.

This starts by seeking an end to the social order that says that there is only one way to do reading, or one way to write an essay or one way to find the solution to a math problem.

This starts by seeking an end to the social order that says the kids who sit still and raise their hands are smart and kids who squirm are not.

This starts by seeking an end to the social order that says that the problem is children and not the worthless initiatives and test-driven experiences that we force them to endure.

. . . love alone is not going to free us from the practices that reduce school to twin acts of compliance and regurgitation. So this evening I want you to fix your eyes on the road in front of you. There are children and colleagues that need you to destroy the barriers that block their access to books that reflect them, curriculum that understands them, and sustaining practices that recognize that just because you don’t learn like a white man learned seventy years ago, that don’t mean you can’t learn. So love alone don’t feed no family, and love alone cannot fully sustain change. So please surround yourself with good colleagues. They are in this room with us today and move forward together creatively, knowing that there is no prescribed path for us. We make this road by walking it.

I’ll be doing a lot of thinking and reading and listening this summer. I know I have work to do and I know I have plans to make.

I’ll be re-examing my practice. Doubling down on my #infoequity efforts. I’ll be thinking of how I can build a more inclusive curriculum and about engaging more voices and perspectives. I’ll be thinking about how I can grow deeper personal understandings to better prepare our next generation of librarians as social justice warriors.

I look forward to doing better.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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