This past Friday, Feb. 10, I attended a lecture given by Jane Fleming, co-founder of Kids Like Us, a non-profit that advocates for the presence of culturally relevant texts (CRTs) in classrooms. I came to this lecture to fulfil a lecture requirement set by my sociology professor, Peggy Levitt for Urban Studies and Social Policy, and to address my deep interest in understanding self-representation in the classroom setting for children of color and from marginalized backgrounds.
Prior to attending the lecture, I reflected upon the literature I read growing up. I clearly remembered reading “Junie B. Jones”, “Charlotte’s Web”,” Magic Tree House” and a few other book series that were on the shelves in my classrooms. I was drawn to many of these books because they were easily accessible, and also because a classmate and I would race to see who could finish a series of books first. When I was not immersed in a reading competition with my classmate, however, it became a bit harder for me to stay engaged with literature. This in spite of my mom taking me to Barnes & Noble every weekend after ballet to enjoy the plethora of books set before me.
At the time, I thought that my lack of interest in books stemmed solely from my mother diligently taking me on weekly Barnes & Noble excursions, but Ms. Fleming’s lecture offered me a new perspective from which I could understand my own experience and those of children like me. She discussed the importance of including literature in the classroom that is relevant to the experiences of the students within them. She argued that the presence of these books would enhance the students’ language and literacy skills by allowing them to associate the images they see in books with their lived experiences. Hailing from the West Side of Chicago, a community that Ms. Fleming said was comprised primarily of African-Americans, Ms. Fleming spoke about her use of a book set in Chicago with two African-American main characters that allowed her students to connect the photos on the page to the streets outside As Ms. Fleming continued through her slide presentation, she went to a page that brought me close to tears which featured books that followed the stories of children of color. Three of those books, “Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni, “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles and “Something Beautiful” by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, were books I had owned growing up that I can remember reading over and over again because they represented both who I was and also who I could be.
Ms. Fleming’s lecture left me with a lot to ponder about how educators can incorporate social justice into their classrooms. The incorporation of CRTs represents a first step on the part of educators to show their students of all backgrounds that they matter within the classroom and outside of it. This incorporation is in itself an act of social justice. After attending the lecture, I was left with the hope that young children of color will begin to see themselves and their communities on their teachers’ bookshelves and that the manner in which they are depicted will be both positive and authentic.
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