Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Answer is Yes -- reflections on the power of literature, of stories, of community

My friends, we live in a time when the world is being thrown about by so many forces. There are times when I feel swept under by the prejudice and hate that still engulfs our world. But then I look at the way we are able to create good in small measures--especially through sharing stories and songs and community--and I know that we can recreate our worlds step by step.
celebrating the Coretta Scott King Awards with Emerson students and staff

Christian Robinson
& Patricia Hruby Powell
I was thrilled and honored to share the Coretta Scott King Awards celebration with two students and two staff members from my school community. The awardees' speeches are still reverberating within me. Christian Robinson spoke about how Josephine Baker had always inspired him with her courage and determination, and then he and Patricia Hruby Powell danced with delight.

Kwame Alexander, accepting the CSK honor award for The Crossover, read a poem he had written just a few nights before, filled with hope, pain, and the determination to change the world for our children.

Christopher Myers, in his acceptance speech, talked about giving up on the world:
"I can barely hear, over the silence of all those children, those lives that we have cut out of our literature. I am frightened by the possibilities that all of their voices, so long censored, can only now be heard on news broadcasts in burning cities, on endless loops of helicopter film footage."
The pain he talked about reverberates through me--as an educator, I am so disheartened by the persistent racial achievement gap in my community. And yet, Chris also talked about the power of stories to change our world, to create new worlds for our children.
"I’d just about given up on the world.

Then I remembered that I am a storyteller, and in the hands of a storyteller, we can make new worlds. Our narratives can carry the full weight of the past and build infinite futures. With pens and word processors, with paint and ink and collage, we can, like Misty, like my father, create possibilities where there weren’t any before. Rewrite reality. And there will be days I want to give up on the world as it is, but I will never give up on the worlds that I have yet to make, the worlds that my friends are making, the worlds that all of us here share and do so much to bring into reality."
Jacqueline Woodson began her speech by talking about the power of community, the power of gathering together in a room to celebrate and to share. In this age of online communication, it is so important to carve out time to be together in person.

But then she went on to talk about the strength of our broader community, both in the ancestors that walk with us every day and the people who hold us up here and now.
"We are here because of our ancestors and elders and the people who hold us up every day — thanks for helping all of us never forget them or the way each of us finds a way to make a way out of no way — every single day. Thank you so much, all of you who believe in Diverse Books, who believe in keeping young brown children — and all children — dreaming."
This community of authors, illustrators, and librarians comes together to keep our children dreaming in the possible, in making new realities. It is hard work, advocating and supporting and promoting good literature that speaks to children. But together we can.

I love how good teaching passes from one person to another, creating a life of its own. Nikki Giovanni wrote in her profile of Newbery-winning author Kwame Alexander,
"Kwame learned maybe only one thing…from me…The
Answer Is Yes…
Yes to small cities and Book Festivals around the country who needed
a writing friend…Yes to starting his own Book Festival…
His own publishing company…His own line of greeting
cards and posters…Yes to his own idea of empowering
young writers by helping them publish a Book-in-a-
Day…Yes to the excitement of life…to writing on the
road…to growing taller and stronger while trusting that
vision and strength…and every time he said Yes we all
said Yes to him…"
The Answer is Yes. That's it. I want to share that buoyancy, that power to keep afloat, with my students. And I am sure, as sure as I can be, that our stories help us not only see ourselves but also see what our world can be. The Answer is Yes.

Please take the time to read the Coretta Scott King Award acceptance speeches, published in The Horn Book and available online.

Thank you to Andrea Davis Pinkney who helped me bring my students to the CSK breakfast. Thank you to all the honored authors and artists for inspiring us to keep sharing stories with students and with each other. Thank you to my family for supporting me and helping me celebrate with the world beyond our immediate community.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

1 comment:

  1. Mary Ann, your emotion shines through this piece! What a great experience for you, including being able to share it with students and staff. It sounds like a memory you will cherish for a long, long time.