Happy Black History Month! Admonitions and 4 Resources for Teaching Black Poetry/Narrative

It’s the first day of February, which means that it’s officially the first day of Black History Month.

  1. If this month is the only time that is spent examining black history, culture, and/or literature in your classroom, you are not teaching responsibly. Black history should be woven into the very fabric of your curriculum, not tacked on like a pretty ribbon as an afterthought. Please don’t despair if that is your current reality. Instead, take this as an opportunity to change course. Continue your reading of black poetry through March. Include a study of Black Harlem Renaissance writers in your study of The Great Gatsby. Add a specific lesson about the often overlooked black women who were real-life Rosie the Riveters to your unit on World War II. Also, start to ask questions of your building leaders: Have we made sure that our summer reading selections sufficiently represent black authors? Whose achievements are represented by the holidays, assemblies, or even wall displays that we have in this building? Are African American contributions sufficiently recognized?
  2. Seek balance in your coverage, as black history is neither solely a story of triumph nor tragedy. Be sure that you go beyond the cute “African American Firsts” bulletin boards, complete with the kente borders that you found on Amazon. But also be sure you go beyond painting black history as starting with the transatlantic slave trade. Strive to be truthful and honest. Personally, I do not believe in Dr. King’s idea that the arc of history “bends towards justice,” so that is not a narrative that I espouse. I urge teachers of all content areas to tiptoe slowly away from this and urge instead a critical eye at the way the African American experience has unfolded.
  3. Continue to seek good counsel from minds sharper than mine. This ain’t a new conversation at all. I recommend reading James Baldwin’s 1963 “A Talk to Teachers” as a reminder to all teachers of what is at stake in the process of educating black youth (Link to Baldwin’s “Talk to Teachers” ). I also adore Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children as a guidebook for navigating the potential pitfalls of integrated education (Link to Lisa Delpit’s book ) .  

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my musings out, I wanted to share some FREE resources for teaching black poetry/narrative throughout this month and the rest of the year. Here’s a brief description of each, along with relevant links:

  • Narrative Nonfiction: Close Reading of Oladuah Equiano’s slave narrative with a lesson focus on word choice (connotative diction); this would be useful for a unit of study on the slave narrative as a genre in and of itself. Link to Olaudah Equiano resource
  • Poetry: Close Reading of the song “Young, Gifted, and Black,” as popularized by Nina Simone; I’ve actually made an earlier blog post on this particular resource that you can view. #TPT Thursdays: Close Reading of Young, Gifted, and Black (Free)
  • Poetry: Close Reading of Gwendolyn Brooks’s “To Those of My Sisters Who Kept their Naturals”; in this lesson, students are guided through strategic annotation of the poem, examination of Brooks’s craft/structural choices, and a thematic exploration of the importance of hair. I originally utilized this as part of a unit on A Raisin in the Sun, in order to help students understand the significance of Beneatha’s choice to shed her hair. Link to Gwendolyn Brooks Close Reading
  • Poetry: Close Reading of “Declaration” by Philip Williams, a young African-American poet from Chicago who beautifully and succinctly relates the realities of the racial disparities that divide the city. Link to Philip Williams’s Declaration

I have some nonfiction resources coming your way sometime throughout the weekend, so stay tuned. Please drop a line and let me know how it went, should you decide to utilize any of the resources I’ve shared.