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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jacqueline Woodson was scheduled to speak at the Books for Children luncheon at NCTE. I bought a ticket. In the hallways of the NCTE convention, there was a buzz about the National Book Award. Jacqueline Woodson had won for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. We had all read it.

Brown Girl Dreaming

You see, to English teachers, authors are our heroes. The words we say to our students are important, but the words we read aloud from authors are magical. When I read aloud Each Kindness By Jacqueline Woodson, the room became completely silent. How could it end? How could the new girl disappear with no way to make amends for the meanness?

When I learned of the offhand, stupid comment that Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) made at the National Book Award Ceremony, I was appalled. How could someone who values words, who uses words as a way to reach into the hearts and lives of young people, be so flippant and capricious? At the luncheon, Jacqueline spoke of this “joke” abstractly and told us that her response would be in an article for the NY Times. The article appeared on Saturday.
Jacqueline Woodson’s New York Times article, The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.

Jackie Woodson

Jackie Woodson

I have lived in the deep south all my life. I was raised in a time of racial turmoil. My school desegregated in 1971, and I was bussed across town to a strange area, strange school with a strange curriculum (Remember the open classroom concept?) However, I knew this was necessary. For too long, black people in the south were given second best. Neighborhood schools resulted in segregated schools. My new fourth grade teacher became Mrs. Love, a loving and warm African American woman. I remember how much I loved Mrs. Love.

The next year in 5th grade, I walked into the classroom holding the hand of my new friend. The teacher (a white woman) looked at our hands and said, “Don’t do that.” I knew her reprimand was due to the difference in our skin color.

Things have changed. In my small community, we have black leaders. In my school, I have black colleagues. I really hadn’t taken note of this until race became such a hot point these days. One of my close friends is black, and just yesterday we talked about how we don’t even notice it.

Things have changed. My students don’t see color. They love each other (and argue with each other) equally. When I talk about race, they don’t “get it.” I have to tell them the history.

When Obama became president, I heard Will Smith tell Oprah, “We don’t have any more excuses.” I believe none of us do. There are no reasons to ridicule anyone for their heritage, whatever that may be. As Jacqueline Woodson so eloquently put it in her speech, “We are all every day people.”

It is time for us to respect the dignity of every human being. It is time for us all to live in love and kindness. It is time for things to change.

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