Category Archives: Black Lives Matter

Ruby Bridges

Painting of Ruby Bridges, by Norman Rockwell

Ruby Bridges was six years old when she was one of a few children chosen to be the first student to desegregate a public school in Louisiana. When the day came for her first day of First Grade, she was accompanied on this journey by federal marshals. The gauntlet of hate that this little girl walked through that day and through the rest of the school year, was horrific.

Last fall was the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of a New Orleans public school. I read two books about this milestone happening in the struggle for civil rights in this country. The first was a picture book written by Robert Coles, called The Story of Ruby Bridges.  It’s a powerful and moving telling of a little girl’s experience and her inner strength and faith that helped her through it. The gauntlet of hatred she had to walk through on that first day of school, and for most of that school year, was horrific. But this book is an excellent introduction to this historical happening for young people. Robert Coles is a Harvard professor emeritus, a child psychiatrist and author, who actually worked with Ruby Bridges during that school year in 1960, helping her cope with the effects of that experience.

The second book was Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges herself. She narrated the audiobook version, and I’m glad I listened to her read it. That incredible experience, described in her own words, was so powerful. I also enjoyed hearing about her life after that year, and about what she is doing now to help others and educate others about racism. She really is a hero…not just because of the courage she showed at such a young age, but because of the life she has chosen to live since that time.

I highly recommend reading both of these books!

Kadir Nelson: Harlem on my Mind

Kadir Nelson is an artist/illustrator whose work I just love. I became aware of him first as an illustrator of some children’s books I’ve been reading. Then I discovered that his work is also featured frequently on the cover of the New Yorker magazine. His painting “Harlem on My Mind” is a wonderful expression of his tremendous talent. His statement on the painting is below.

“The New Yorker cover painting Harlem on My Mind celebrates the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the civil rights movement, and Harlem’s rich history in the visual, literary and performing arts. I created a stylistic montage of images as an homage to great Harlem renaissance painters Aaron Douglas, William H. Johnson, Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Horace Pippin, Henry Tanner, Archibald Motley and Palmer Hayden; performers the Nicholas Brothers; writers James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston; and activist Malcolm Shabazz.”

Misty Copeland: A Life in Motion

Being snowed-in during a quarantine is an interesting happening. We’ve had unusual snow and ice in the last week here in the greater Portland, Oregon, area, so hubby and I just hunkered down (more than usual) and withdrew into books, tv shows, and indoor projects. I spent my time with Misty Copeland, learning about her life through three books checked out of the online section of our library.

The first book was the young reader’s edition of Misty Copeland’s autobiography, Life in Motion: an unlikely ballerina. I had heard of Misty Copeland as a gifted ballerina, but I didn’t really know her story. This book was a very interesting way to get to know more about her, through her own words, and I enjoyed the experience. Not only is she an amazing ballerina, but she is an inspiration to and a role model for so many people, young and old.

From the publisher:

With an insider’s passion, Misty opens a window into the life of an artist who lives life center stage, from behind the scenes at her first classes to her triumphant roles in some of the world’s most iconic ballets. A sensational memoir as “sensitive” and “clear-eyed” (The Washington Post) as her dancing, Life in Motion is a story of passion, identity and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

There were not many people of color in ballet when Misty Copeland began her journey. Better said, there were very talented dancers of color, but not many ways to advance very far in the white world of ballet. She was a late-starter in ballet at age 13, but she was tremendously gifted, a prodigy, who excelled right from the beginning of her training. She was fortunate to have an early mentor/teacher who embraced her talent and nurtured her growth of confidence and pride of self.

“Most of the students at the San Pedro Dance Center were white, but I wasn’t the only child of color. A lot of people think that ballet dancers should all look the same: thin and delicate, with white skin. Cindy thought different shapes, colors, and sizes should be represented to reflect the variety of talent in the ballet world. I feel lucky to have been nurtured by someone so supportive of my differences so early in my career.”

Her drive and ambition to become the best she could be was integral to her career in dance. Her dream was to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and she worked fiercely toward that goal.

“I went back to my journal to write about ABT: I need to go in there and show them how good I am. I wasn’t ready to stop fighting my way to the top at ABT. Maybe I’d have to work ten times harder than anyone else because of my skin color, because I didn’t have the body they thought was ideal for ballet. If that’s what it took to become a principal dancer, I’d keep pushing myself. I couldn’t stop now. I’d given up so much to get here. I’d make them see that I deserved it—and more.”

But that drive and ambition was for more than herself. She was deeply appreciative of all those people ( white and people of color) who mentored her and helped her achieve her dreams. She talked in this book about them and about who she also included in her dream:

“If this could open doors for black women in ballet, that would mean the world to me, I penned in my diary. It would all be worth it. That’s what I’m doing this for. Not for my own pleasure and gratification. I need to remember this every morning I wake up tired, just think[ing] of what I could do, not just for me but [for] others.”

Her athleticism and artistry are extraordinary. I was completely enthralled when I watched clips on YouTube from some of her performances, and then I discovered that there was a movie of her called A Ballerina’s Tale. I look forward to watching that soon.

The other two books written by Misty that I checked out at the same time were Bunheads, a book on ballet for 5 to 8 year olds. It had wonderful illustrations and would please any young person interested in ballet.  The other book was Firebird, also written for young children. Both books encourage hard work and dedication as ways to become a dancer and also to build confidence in one’s self.

The temperatures here are warming up and the melting has started today. The snow and ice will be gone soon with the coming rain, but  thanks to Misty Copeland, I really enjoyed my time being snowed-in during this quarantine. (But I will be glad to be able to get out to the grocery store once again!)

 

 

The Beautiful Struggle

Ta’Nehisi Coates wrote this powerful and moving story of growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, and called it The Beautiful Struggle: a father, two sons, and an unlikely road to manhood. It was his first work and it was beautifully written. It is also the first book I have read by him, but it will definitely not be my last. What an impressive talent and powerful voice!

This synopsis of the book from the Publisher is a little long, but I couldn’t describe better the focus of this book:

An exceptional father-son story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.

Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.

Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.

With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.

My experiences were almost the opposite of Mr. Coates’s experiences, but I identified with much of what he described of his growing up years. He idolized his older brother, Bill; his family focus was on the goal of getting that college education. The interactions he described between family members, and the stories of friends and neighborhood, touched me and brought back memories of my own brothers during our growing up years. That he could touch my own memories, and those of so many of his readers from such different backgrounds and life experiences, is a tribute to the depth of his writing.

Family life and interactions are the universals that he wrote about, but what was not part of my own privileged life was the daily racism and struggles just to survive growing up black in this country. Those stories were profoundly moving and educating for me. There is no “distance” for a reader of Mr. Coates. He makes you feel deeply and identify closely, and that is a transforming experience.

His description of  his family:

Here’s the cast of my last name: My father has seven kids by four women. Some of us were born to best friends. Some of us were born in the same year. My elders come first, in chronology: Kelly, Kris, William Jr.—all born of my father’s first marriage to Linda. John was born to Patsy, Malik born to Sola. Then me and Menelik, the children of my mother, Cheryl. This is all a mess on paper, but it was all love to me, and formed my earliest and still enduring definition of family.

An insightful description of his Father:

To be Conscious Man was more than just the digestion of obscure books that happen to favor your side. It was a feeling, an ingrained sense that something major in our lives had gone wrong. My father was haunted. He was bad at conjuring small talk, he watched very little TV, because once Conscious, every commercial, every program must be strip-mined for its deeper meaning, until it lays bare its role in this sinister American plot.

An interesting reference to his Mother in the context of his own growing awareness of the unfairness of the world:

I paid little heed to great injustice, despite my mother showing me blueprints of slave ships and children’s books tracking the revolution of Dessalines and Toussaint. Still, I could spot even small injustices when they shadowed me personally. I knew that to be afraid while on the way to school was deeply wrong.

A philosophical thought on Life:

“I did not know then that this is what life is—just when you master the geometry of one world, it slips away, and suddenly again, you’re swarmed by strange shapes and impossible angles.”

 

I was very moved by his experiences and found this book haunting my thoughts long after I finished it.

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is an award winning book for young people. It won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming book, and I just wanted to take Bud (not Buddy) home with me.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

— This is what Bud’s mother told him about his name, and is why he always introduces himself as “Bud, not Buddy.”

Bud is an orphan, having lost his mother four years ago, and not knowing who his father was, he was placed in an orphanage. The time was during the depression; the place was Flint, Michigan; and an orphanage during that time was a miserable place to be. After being in the orphanage, and then experiencing an abusive foster home, Bud ran away and decided to try to find out who his father was from the clues his mother left behind. He carried those clues with him everywhere in a tattered old suitcase tied up with twine.

His first stop after running away was the library. The librarian had always been very kind to him, and he knew she would understand and help him. However, he discovered that she had gotten married and moved away, but the new librarian took him underwing and helped him figure out a walking route to Grand Rapids, where he thought his father might be, based on his mother’s clues.

Shucks, this is one of the bad things about talking to librarians, I asked one question and already she had us digging through three different books.

The twists and turns of how he finally got to a destination in Grand Rapids were fun to read, and quite adventurous. It was not easy for anyone to travel during that period of time, and it was especially dangerous for a young black boy to be traveling alone. But he met some Helpers along the way, and what awaited him in Grand Rapids was a new life, but not without twists and turns first.

If you didn’t have a real good imagination you’d probably think those noises were the sounds of some kid blowing a horn for the first time, but I knew better than that. I could tell those were the squeaks and squawks of one door closing and another one opening.

In the Afterword to the book, the author, Christopher Paul Curtis, talked about how he learned about this period of time and how he based some of the characters on his own grandfathers. He had a wonderful piece of advice for his readers:

Much of what I discovered about the depression I learned through research in books, which is a shame—I didn’t take advantage of the family history that surrounded me for many years. I’m afraid that when I was younger and my grandparents and parents would start to talk about their lives during the depression, my eyes would glaze over and I’d think, “Oh, no, not those boring tall tales again!” and I’d find the most convenient excuse I could to get away from them. Now I feel a real sorrow when I think of all the knowledge, wisdom and stories that have been forever lost with the deaths of my grandparents. Be smarter than I was: Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.

This is such an enjoyable book to read, especially during Black History Month, which this year focuses on families. Read it with your family, read it to your middle grade students, or read it by yourself on a snowy afternoon. It will warm your heart.

Bass Player, by La Shun Beal

Our Time is Now

When I heard the announcement this week that Stacey Abrams has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work against voter suppression, I was thrilled.  I read her book, Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, a few weeks ago (actually, I first listened to her narrating the audiobook version of her book, and then read the print version), and I was deeply impressed.

Our Time Is Now, is very well written and also very engaging. As I read through it, I kept thinking that it should be required reading for every high school student, and for every voter! Do we still teach Civics in high school? This book would be an extremely important addition to that curriculum! Are we, as voters, educated about the right to vote or do we just take it for granted?

I (shamefully) didn’t know very much about the way voting really works, and doesn’t work, in this country. But I was gifted an extensive education about it by Stacey Abrams. It is shocking and sobering to learn what has happened to our right to vote, but she elucidates the issue very well and goes way beyond describing that sobering news. She creates a clear and hopeful guide for how it can be dealt with and changed, and how powerful and necessary those changes are to insure fair elections in the future. Her knowledge and understanding of that process is extensive and impressive, and her writing very clear and understandable.

Our Time Is Now is my longer, more complicated answer to how we can frame and revise voting rights and the architecture of American democracy for the current age. My hope is that they can read this book, written by a sojourner like myself who has seen glimpses of our possible future.

Stacey Abrams is one of my heroes, and this book solidified that feeling even more for me. I told my family that this book is a “must read…” And I repeat that here for all voters, and young people preparing to become voters!

Across That Bridge

“Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Violence can never overcome violence, only peace can do that. Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that.”

The life of Representative John Lewis was inspirational. The more I learn about this great American leader, the more I admire him. I just finished reading his 2017 book called  Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, in which he told his own story of his path that lead him to the bridge in Alabama that day, his commitment to the ideals of his country and to the concept of non-violent protest for change, and his deep love of humanity. But as the title suggests, it is more than his story. His vision for change and the future of our country is a gift and a legacy for all of us! This book should be required reading for all of us. Do we still have “civics” classes in high school? It would definitely be on that reading list. And it should be on every book list for understanding the Black experience and for “becoming anti-racist.”

“But we must accept one central truth and responsibility as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

There are eight chapters in this book, and Congressman Lewis called them his “lessons.” Each one is full of wisdom, insight, and compassion.

CHAPTER 1: Faith
CHAPTER 2: Patience
CHAPTER 3: Study
CHAPTER 4: Truth
CHAPTER 5: Act
CHAPTER 6: Peace
CHAPTER 7: Love
CHAPTER 8: Reconciliation

I have written these lessons on freedom and meditations on change for the generations who will take us into the future, for the dreamers young and ever young who should never get lost in a sea of despair, but are faithfully readying themselves for the next push for change. It is for the parents who want to inspire their sons and daughters to build a more just society. And, it’s for the sons and daughters who hear the call of a new age. This book is for the people.

It is for the grassroots leaders who will emerge not for the sake of fame or fortune, but with a burning desire to do good. It is for all those willing to join in the human spirit’s age-old struggle to break free from the bondage of concepts and structures that have lost their use. It is for the masses of people who with each new day have the chance to peel the scales from their eyes and remember it is they alone who are the most powerful agents of change. It is for anyone who wants to reform his or her existence or to fashion a better life for the children. It’s for those who want to improve their community or make their mark in history. This book is a collection of a few of the truths that I have learned as one who dreamed, worked, and struggled in America’s last revolution.

I know that there are quite a few books coming out now on the life of this great man, but this would be my recommended starting place to learn more about him and his important contributions to our nation.

Kindred

I actually read Kindred, by Octavia Butler, last year, but did not review it when I finished it because there was so much from the story to process and absorb. What I’ve discovered in the months that have passed since I finished it, is that it was a powerfully haunting experience to read it. I’ve thought a lot about it and don’t know when a book has stuck with me, haunted me, quite like this one. It was a powerful reading experience because Octavia Butler, being such a gifted writer/storyteller, makes you feel as if you are right there with her main character, Dana, throughout all her experiences, in the past and in the present. Those experiences were profoundly life-changing. Experiencing firsthand the life of her enslaved ancestors, being catapulted back and forth to the time of her ancestors and then back to her life in present times brought an incredible depth to Dana’s understanding of her own life experience. And it had a powerful impact on those of us who traveled with her. It is definitely a book I would highly recommend, although it is not an easy story. And for anyone wanting to gain more understanding of the black experience in this country, this is a creative and fascinating book to read.

from the publisher:

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Author Octavia E. Butler skillfully juxtaposes the serious issues of slavery, human rights, and racial prejudice with an exciting science-fiction, romance, and historical adventure.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Maryland.

Books to Start Important Conversations With Children

I have always loved reading children’s books, and so I am now exploring the wealth of books on  diversity that are available to teach the Black and Brown experience to children. These books were checked out of my library’s e-book collection, and I’m very happy to say that they are being read by a lot of people right now! That fills me with hope! I enjoyed reading them and will post a mini-review of each one. They are all really good, and some are real treasures, like Nikki Giovanni’s poems.

I Am Loved, by Nikki Giovanni.

A beautiful little book of poems. The illustrations and the poems were beautiful and moving.

from the publisher:

There is nothing more important to a child than to feel loved, and this gorgeous gathering of poems written by Nikki Giovanni celebrates exactly that. Hand-selected by Newbery honoree Ashley Bryan, he has, with his masterful flourish of color, shape, and movement, added a visual layering that drums the most impartant message of all to young, old, parent, child, grandparent, and friend alike: You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. As a bonus, one page is mirrored, so children reading the book can see exactly who is loved—themselves!

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh

This was an historical happening that I had never heard about, but it is an important story to read with children when talking about segregation.

from the publisher:

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

A Kids Book About Racism, by Jelani Memory

This little picture book, written by a Portland, Oregon, author, is a great way to start conversations with children about racism. It is powerful in it’s simple, straightforward language and information.

from the publisher:

Yes, this really is a kids book about racism. Inside, you’ll find a clear description of what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it, and how to spot it when it happens.

This is one conversation that’s never too early to start, and this book was written to be an introduction for kids on the topic.

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss

This is a powerful book about the difficulty of traveling for families of color back in the 1950s. A good way to start the conversation about Jim Crow laws and how things have, or have not, changed since that time.

from the publisher:

Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family’s new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that black travelers weren’t treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws . . .

Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth’s family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers. With this guidebook―and the kindness of strangers―Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma’s house in Alabama.

Almost to Freedom, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Colin Bootman

This was a very moving story about the Underground Railroad.

from the publisher:

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

If you haven’t read any of these little books, I highly recommend them for parents and grandparents to read with their loved ones, and for teachers to start important discussions with their students (of all ages). The conversations they inspire would be heartfelt.