Sunday, July 26, 2015

Culturally Diverse Novels for AP English

Yesterday, I presented on one of my many passions at the Advanced Placement Conference in Austin, Texas: Novels

Words, and authors, and talking with people are three things that I love, and it brings me a lot of joy to do all three at the same time.

When I first saw my name in the AP program guide book, I felt a little nervous, but I quickly reminded myself that I belong here, I am prepared, and novels are my love.

So I went to do what I do; I felt good and confident. I hope that I conveyed my love for novels to the audience, and they will go home and share that love with their families, colleagues, and ultimately the children in which they teach, because all of this is really about our students, their lives, and the world that we want to help to create.

The look that you have when you live in Purpose!

My people, find what you are passionate about, and watch your happiness soar.

Off to Houston to meet my sisters of Delta Sigma Theta for our National Convention....

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Land of the Free and the Home of the BRAVE!

I am a Black woman who lives in “The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” and I am not feeling so brave....

With the public display for what appears to be hate against Black People, I must admit for the first time in life, I feel afraid.

I was thinking that the attack was on Black boys, then I thought it was on Black men and boys, then I thought that it was Black men, boys, and young girls, but after seeing a guy go into a church and killing nine people and finally seeing Sandra Bland, a college educated African American woman, being thrown on the ground, and later dying, it has finally sunken in that I have a real cause to be afraid.

"The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave!"

I have traveled all over this country, oftentimes by myself, and I have never felt afraid, cautious for sure, but never afraid. I would drive from Michigan to Alabama, without a cell phone, and it never crossed my mind that I could be targeted, because I am Black. I always thought that if anything came up, the police would come to my rescue. Now, I am starting to be believe that maybe I have been quite naive, and maybe I should have been fearful all alone.

Later today I will be flying to Austin, Texas for a conference. I will get to Austin around midnight and will need to take a cab to my hotel, and my people, I am feeling a little afraid.

I am a Black woman traveling alone in the United States, “The land of the Free and the Home of the Brave," and I am wondering if I should call someone at midnight and stay on the phone with that person until I am safely in my hotel.

Sunday, I am renting a car and traveling from Austin to Houston, and my people, I feel afraid. I am going to follow all the rules of the road, including using my turn signal when I change lanes. However, I am wondering if “following all of the rules” will keep me safe and alive.

If I am stopped, and I humbly say “Yes Sir,” will this keep a cop from pulling me out of my car and throwing me to ground.

Must I forget that "I am somebody” in order to stay alive.

I think that being Black in America, whether I am a “Good Negro” or not, makes me very unsafe....

“The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave!”

I am going to fly to Austin, drive to Houston, and just like my ancestors, continue to move forward through the fear....

I’ve been thinking about the words Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave, and all I can do is shake my head!

Where Do We Go From Here!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I’ve been at Colgate University for almost three weeks studying Abolitionism and The Underground Railroad.....

This experience has been truly amazing, and all day everyday, I have been thinking God for this opportunity!

There are so many things that I am going to share with you about this experience, but right now I am going to focus on passion.

Over the course of this seminar, we have had three visiting professors: Judith Wellman, Stacey Robertson, and Stanly Harrold.

Me and Dr. Judith Wellman

We spent last Thursday and Friday in Seneca Falls and Rochester with Dr. Wellman, and her passion for history was apparent the minute that she boarded the bus. She literally was bubbling over with excitement and passion for Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Stanton and all of the other people who were involved directly and indirectly with the abolitionist movement in the 1800s.

When we went into the house of Elizabeth Stanton, she excitedly told intimate, fascinating stories about Elizabeth. At Harriet Tubman's house, I literally followed her around, because I wanted to hear every detail that poured naturally from her mouth. Dr. Wellman even walked us through a Quaker cemetary to pay homage to the one unidentified slave who was buried there.

We went to a library at the University of Rochester to look at some primary documents that included a lock of Frederick Douglass’ hair, a letter to William Seward, the first book that Frederick Douglass bought and so on.

Well, there was a letter from a slave owner that stated something like “I won’t spend a nickel on a slave woman,” and Dr. Wellman could not finish the letter, because she was overcome with grief. Now, this is some passion when a person feels grief over a letter that was written over one hundred years ago. Dr. Wellman’s display of compassion caused to me respect her even more knowing that she is passionate and loves my people as much, if not more, than I do.

Dr. Wellman wears passion well!

Dr. Robertson and me!

We sent Monday morning having an interactive lecture led by Dr. Stacey Robertson. Dr. Robertson, just like Dr. Wellman, filled the room with her presence the minute that she walked in. I absolutely admired how her presence demanded respect, and she took control of the room and passionately drove the discussion.

Dr. Robertson’s lectured on her book Hearts Beating for Liberty, and my people, she passionately brought these fierce, women abolitionist of the Old Northwest to life. Listening to hear, I was frantically typing trying to capture as many of her words as possible; I wanted to remember them long after she was gone. She taught this lecture on slavery and brought it home to modern day slavery and gave us suggestions of things that we can do to help end modern day slavery.

She lectured in a manner that was both informative and uplifting, and I thought to myself, "When I go to Austin at the end of the week to present at the Advanced Placement conference, I am going to take the confidence and command of Dr. Robertson and do what I do".

You know, passion also looks very well on Dr. Robertson.

Dr. Harrold and me!

This morning was spent listening to a lecture given by Dr. Stanley Harrold, a professor at South Carolina State, a Historical Black College or University (HBCU). Yep, Dr. Harrold teaches at a HBCU, and he instantly earned my respect for spreading his wealth of knowledge at an HBCU.

Dr. Harrold lectured on his book that I learned quite a bit from Border War, and it was evident that this man knew his stuff. I got the feeling that Dr. Harrold could talk about the fight over slavery all day long and would not get tired.

Now, the bonus is that I was riding through town with a fellow NEH participant, and we saw Dr. Graham, our fearless NEH leader, and Dr. Harrold siting outside of a restaurant. So, of course, we stopped and had quite a lively discussion with Dr. Hodges and Dr. Harold, and know, there is no way that you can talk with these two without talking about slavery if only for a few minutes.

Spending time with these incredible historians over the past few days, it is apparent that they have passion for their subject matter.

I believe that finding things that we are passionate about keeps us alive, and vibrant, and happy. All three of these historian appeared relax, happy, and satisfied. I believe that the peace that was emitting from them came from following their passions and working within their purpose.

My People, We Can All Wear Passion Well.......

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Freeing Charles by Scott Christianson

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. Chimamanda Adichie
Not sure about you, but many of the stories that I was told about Africans who were enslaved were told from the perspective that enslaved Africans were brought to America, fought a little but basically waited for their freedom, were freed, and then Dr. King came alone and fought for our rights.

Not sure about you, but I was not taught that enslaved Africans have being fighting to be free since they landed. History portrays enslaved Africans as the Uncle Tom and Mamie type who were just happy to be alive even if they were enslaved.

However, through my readings this summer, I am hearing a very empowering story of an enslaved people who fought and risked their lives to be free and to free others. African American who fought with the British during The Revolutionary War, fought during The Civil War, and had an organized plan for escape that was called The Underground Railroad and on and on and on.

If we told the Africa American story in American from different perspectives, we would learn some stories that would perhaps empower and inspire.

This story, Freeing Charles, is about an enslaved man named Charles who emancipated himself and fled from Virginia to Philadelphia to live as a free man. He was successful at doing this, but eventually someone found out that he was a fugitive slave, and his master came to Philadelphia to capture him. But what is so remarkable about this story is that the community pulled together and literally fought, like a street fight, to free Charles. “There were Whites, Blacks, women as well as men, girls, and boys.”

In the crowd was The Harriet Tubman, and Christianson turned her into a superhero: “Through it all, Tubman kept thrashing like a demon, even as she was losing all of her gear except for a dilapidated outskirt. She seized an officer and pulled him down, grabbed another and tore away him from Nalle, all the while keeping hold of the slave...” (P.113)

I just love the way that this book showed the community working together to free this man, and it also showed the strength of Harriet Tubman. This is not the story that I was taught...

Eventually, people were able to raise money for Charles’ freedom, and he was able to live happily ever after with his wife Kitty and their children in Washington, DC. “Kitty and Charles appear to have been extremely devoted to each other, leaving behind a story that speaks to the power of love between a man and woman who were determined to remain together despite all of the obstacles placed in their way.” (P. 139)

Now, I have never heard about this type of romantic love between a man and a women during slavery time, and if only this story was told more often.

Scott Christianson dared to tell the enslaved African story from a perspective that uplifts and empowers and shows the power of love......

If you tell a people’s story from different perspectives, it gets us away from that one definitive story.....

This book is approachable, and you may want to add it to your reading list!

Knowledge is power, and I am feeling empowered...

Happy Thursday, My People!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Arlington County Virginia had a series called Black Lives Matter, and Jesmyn was one of the speakers....

Jesmyn started speaking with a sweet southern twang, and she completely captivated me and the rest of the audience. She told her heartfelt experience with racism in the South in a manner that was not abrasive nor in a manner that would put people off but in a manner that was very forthright yet inviting. 

I did not have great experiences with Jesmyn first two novels, so I was only going to this forum to hear her speak; I was not planning to buy the book. But, after hearing her speak, I bought the book and looked forward to learning more about Jesmyn’s story.

I started reading this incredible story, and I was captivated from the first page until the last. There were parts of this book that I had to read and reread and think and think. Being a Southern girl myself, I identified with this memoir, and my heart was saddened to the core. 

She tells her story of growing up in DeLisle, Mississippi in an impoverished situation where there seem to be little to no hope. In the telling of her story, we learn about the complexity of her family and the complexity of living in Mississippi. With this novel, she very boldly, yet subtly, posed the question of Do Black Lives Matter, and I also was left asking myself if our lives matter to us...... 

Jesmyn merges the telling of her story with the story of five young men, including her brother, who died premature deaths. Reading about the death of each of these young Black men who all died in different manners, and only one of them, her brother, died by the direct hands of someone else, I am still pondering did society, by not seeing and acknowledging these young men, contribute to their deaths indirectly??

I identified and connected with this novel more than I thought that I would, and when I finished I could not keep myself from crying and wondering Where Do We Go From Here?

This is a story that will make people uncomfortable and maybe sad, but I also hope that it makes us have open, honest conversations about race and place in this country which may lead to some sort of plan of action. 

This is a very important book, and it needs to be included in the important conversations that we are having today in this country on race...

This book is short, well-written, and it should be read and discussed over and over again.

All praises to Jesmyn Ward for having the courage to tell this courageous story.....

This book is more confirmation that We Must Tell Our Stories!

Me and Jesmyn Ward

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Some of that Green Grass on the Other Side....

The Tuskegee University!

So, I am at Colgate University going to class from 8:30 to 12AM, having great, intellectual conversations with other scholars whom I both like and respect, and the rest of the day is spent doing things that bring me complete joy: reading, cycling, going to the gym, laughing, fellowshipping, and really casting all of my cares away.....

Academia can be like a haven from the real world, especially if the college is located in a small town like Colgate and Tuskegee. People are able to talk about theories, views, scholarly journals and textbook, in a isolated somewhat Utopian society, and yesterday I was thinking that I can really get use to this life where I am sort of shielded from all that is going on the world.

However, I had to quickly remind myself that the grass is not always greener on the other side; oftentimes, it’s green...

I remember the joy that I experienced in classes that really interested me as I was pursing all three of my degrees, but I also remember the stress and the complete lack of joy I experienced when I was taking classes just because they fulfilled the requirement for graduation. I did learn in those classes, but the learning did not bring me joy.

The beauty of no longer desiring the need to pursue a degree or to have a grade next to my name is that I get to study whatever brings me joy!! I appreciate that I am in a profession and position where I have enough totally free time, summers, to partake of just a few of the varied opportunities that are afforded to me during the summer...

I absolutely love studying, learning, having intellectual discussions and debates, and today I am grateful that I am able to experience some of that grass that is on the other side, if only for a little while!

My people, I know that different things bring different people complete joy, and I hope that you consider or is already pursing things that bring you joy, and Yes, we have to pursue it!

This is the day....

Monday, July 6, 2015

Literary Scholars and Historians!

Dr. Graham Hodges: our passionate leader

“I have always said fiction writers have a lot of ground to cover if we want to catch up with the scholars.”      Dolen Perkins-Valdez author of Wench and Balm.

So, we had a first session today to discuss abolitionism and The Underground Railroad. It was a very interactive lecture led by our fearless, passionate leader, Dr. Graham Hodges.

We discussed the idea of The Underground Railroad being non-governmental help for slaves; how Harriet Tubman risked her own life, by crossing the Mason-Dixon line, to help people to get to freedom; how The Underground Movement was the first integrated Civil Rights Movement; how The Underground Railroad does not have to viewed as a political event but can viewed as a movement etc.

For almost every topic that Dr. Hodges mentioned, I could think of a novel that matched the scenario. When Dr. Hodges mentioned abolitionist being viewed as fanatical, I thought of The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. When he talked about maroon groups, groups who isolated themselves and were self-governed, I thought of “The Seven Days” from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. When he spoke of the life of slaves after the end of The Civil War, I thought of Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 

I have great confidence in most fiction writers especially when it comes to historical fiction, and many times I will do my own research to verify many of the things that I read in novels. However, sitting in this room with mostly historians, I started to wonder if there is a place in the history conversation for literary scholars. 

I held back from interjecting literary examples to support or dispute the lecture. However, even though my examples are fictional and loosely based on history, I thought about the idea of using novels to give students examples of historical events. I know that historians tend to love hard, cold facts, and literary scholars tend to love flowery truth. However, I don’t see why the two ideas can not merge in order to enhance the teaching of history and literature. 

After the lecture, I asked many of the historians if they thought that there was a place in the historical conversation for literature and many thought that there were. Many of the historians even commented on the fact that they also thought of movies or novels that they have read as Dr. Graham was giving his lecture. 

So, I posed the question to Dr. Hodges, and I used the example of James McBride making John Brown appear fanatical in the wonderfully written The Good Lord Bird. Dr Hodges chuckled and stated that he like that book, and he also believes that there is a place for literary discussions among historians.

Hearing this from Dr. Hodges gave me a little comfort in the belief that I can interject literature in the discussion, but I am not sure that I will actually do it. I know that literature and history compliment each other in schools, but I am still not convinced that the interjection is appropriate in highly scholarly conversations like the ones that we are having during this seminar.

I may try a little interjection, or I may not...

My People, Weigh In!

Happy Monday.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Home for Three Weeks.....

Ralph Bunche House: My Home for three weeks!

I made it to Hamilton, NY, and I am staying in the Ralph Bunche house....

For those who do not know, Ralph Bunche was an U.S. diplomat, a key member of the United Nations for more than two decades, and the first African American winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1950 for his successful negotiation of an Arab-Israeli truce in Palestine the previous year.

Ralph Bunche (1903-1971)

Abolitionism, The Underground Railroad, The Ralph Bunche House, other teachers, a professor, summer, no responsibilities.... PERFECTION!!!

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Dolen and Me!

Dolen Perkins-Valdez can sho’ nuff tell a story.....

I read her debut novel Wench, and just let me tell you, I can talk about Wench all day long. Every time that I am with people and books come up, I have to mention Wench. 

So, I met Dolen a few weeks back, and of course I had to tell her about my love for Wench. I hope that Dolen did not think I was completely crazy, because first of all, I could not believe that I was actually talking to her, and I had to try to contain my joy. Then, I couldn’t stop myself from talking about her and her book and this literary movement that she and some other women of color are spearheading.

These women of color are writing about love and Black folks with such care and dignity and it is causing much excitement much like the excitement that Zora Neale Hurston must have caused when she wrote about that passionate, respectful, feel-good love between Janie and Teacake in Their Eyes Were Watching God.... strong female characters who love and are loved back.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that Balm, Til the Well Runs Dry, Land of Love Drowning, or Their Eyes Were Watching God or any of those other novels written by women of color are just about love. Yes, they are love stories, and soooo much more.

Balm is set right after The Civil War, and we meet Madge who has magically hands, Sadie who can speak to the dead, and Hemp who is an ex-slave who is frantically searching for his wife.

With this novel, one of the themes that Dolen deals with is the theme of “letting go of that shit that’s holding you back,” as stated by Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon. All three characters had to deal with their past in order to fly. And, once they made peace with the past, everything was all right...

However, the love part of this story really spoke to my heart. I won’t share much about that part, but know that when I got to the end of part one, I started crying uncontrollable while I was sitting in Whole Foods... Yep, I cried, and cried, and cried!

And my emotional outbreaks leads me to talk about Dolen’s writing style.....

Dolen uses well crafted storytelling in order to tell every major and a few minor characters' stories. I felt like I knew these characters, and when one character used her entire body to take away another character’s pain, this evoked emotions that I did not know I had, and I cried, and cried, and cried. I could feel his pain, and I could feel the other character’s desire to help him with the one thing that she  knew that he needed, her body.

Near the end of the novel Dolen states “The sisters had preached self-reliance, but the real thing was community.” This theme also resonated through the entire novel, and Dolen cleverly drove home the point that people need other people. I just loved the sense of community that’s all over this book.

My people, I LOVED EVERY WORD OF THIS NOVEL, and you MUST read it soon......

This is a sho’ nuff good one!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Six Days of Workouts...

Today, I completed my last workout with Berhane, The Greatest Trainer in the World, for a month....

I have been working out with The Greatest Trainer in the World, Berhane, for over four years, and I  have never gone an entire month without working out with Berhane. Yes, I have gone on vacations and so has he, but I have never not worked out with him for four straight weeks in the past four years, and I am a little nervous about this.

I know that my diet helps me to stay slim, and that exercise basically keeps me fit and tone. However, knowing this, I am still concerned about what will happen to my body if I do not lift weights for an entire month. Of course, I am taking my bike and will continue to do cardio, but I know that lifting weights is just as important as doing cardio when it comes to keeping my weight down and my body healthy.

So, I asked Berhane if I run the risk of losing muscle if I do not do weights for a month, and he assured me that I would not, but he stated that I would definitely be weaker if I do not do weights.

Now, not sure about you, but I love being strong. I also love the energy boost that I get from lifting, and I love that after I am done with lifting, my body continues to 'burn baby burn.’

Now Berhane believes that his clients should always be thinking about their health, and yesterday he sent me six days of workouts that I should do while I am away.. Yes, six days of workouts.

At first, I thought, this guy is crazy... I am concerned about my exercise routine, but I was just going to monitor my weight through my diet, ride my bike, and focus on regaining the strength that I may lose when I returned home.

But, Oh no.... Berhane sent these workouts, and if you know me at all, I am going to do as many of these workouts as my schedule will allow.

My People, My trainer is the best trainer in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD, but six days of workouts while I’m away REALLY?

I guess I can cast my health concerns away, and do those damn workouts!

As I was leaving my workout today, Berhane seriously stated: “Do those workouts while you are away; I don’t want you to come back out of shape and overweight.”

I just have to love this guy!

Consider surrounding yourself with people who always expect the best of you and from you...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones. Here is the article that accompanies the above picture.

I am teaching a nine day, three hour class where I am basically teaching students learning strategies to be successful in advanced classes.

One of the main strategies that I am teaching is critical thinking, and I am using literature to do that. Over the past eight days we have analyzed poems and short shorties to practice this very important skill.

One of my favorite short stories that I love to use to teach critical thinking skills is "The First Day" by Edward T. Jones.

Jones is a DC native, who is "The New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton.” (

His short story "The First Day" is about a little girl, who lives in DC, and she is getting ready for her very first day of school. Her mother goes out of her way to make sure that the first day of school is special, and we eventually learn that she wants her daughter to have a better life than she had. We also learn that the little girl eventually “learns to be ashamed of her mother” when she finds out on her very first day of school that her mother can not read. The story is beautifully written, and Jones, with great care, gives an avenue to discuss things such as social class, parents love for their children, devotion, etc.

I did a quick search on Edward P. Jones, and quite a few articles came up. I read quite a few of them, but the one that struck me the most was this very telling article from the Washington Post that I just can not stop thinking about. Read it here. 

When I first read the article, I felt quite sad. Here is this accomplished writer who has earned millions for his gift, and he has "no bed (he sleeps on a pallet), no bookshelves, no couch, nor much to sit on other than a kitchen chair. He does not have a car, a driver's license or any mechanized means of transport, not even a bicycle. He has no cellphone, no DVD player, and his Internet connection is sporadic. Though he loves movies and trash daytime television -- in particular, those judge shows -- he has only a 10-year-old, 13-inch TV and has never had cable. He has never been to a sporting event. He has no deep romantic attachments. He says his closest friend has been Lil Coyne, an elderly woman who for 20 years lived down the hall from him in an apartment building in Alexandria. She died this summer at age 90." 

I have thought about how many of us are shaped by our childhood experiences, and for many of us those childhood experiences continue to creep into our lives. It appears that Jones had a tumultuous childhood. His family moved around eighteen times in eighteen years, and he sort of blocked himself from meaningful relationships, maybe because in his own words "when you move 18 times in 18 years, you learn that the world is forever shifting; you can't be certain of anything... But once you leave your apartment, once you leave your home, then you can't predict anything. It's not your world; you can't control it."

However, I thought, what if Jones would tell himself another story, could his life be different?

What if he told himself that yes, we moved around eighteen times in eighteen years, and my illiterate mother did the best that she could, but I have made millions, and I deserve to sleep in a bed, and I can create stability for myself? What if he told himself that yes, the world is not predictable, and I can not control it, and I will give up trying to control it, and just enjoy it?

What if he told himself that all people are not bad, and God uses people to help us? Or what if he heard, like I heard and believed when Reverend T.D. Jakes stated that “it is impossible to be fruitful alone?” What if he told himself that I have no friends from childhood, but I can establish great relationships with people who will love me and care for me deeply? What if he told himself that I can create a different life than the one that was handed to me?

According to the article, Jones was invited to "Jamaica to discuss his books, and he was told the event would be at a hillside resort. I don't know that I like cliffs," he explained to me, without irony, "and I thought if I was up there, I might just get blown off the side."

Now, he assumed that he does not like cliffs, but he really did not know. What if he actually traveled to Jamaica to give those cliffs a try, and he actually enhanced his life by falling madly in love with cliffs? Or maybe he would hate those cliffs, but at least he could say that I tried them, and I hated them. Also, he thought that maybe he “would be blown off the side.” I wonder what made him think that something so tragic would happen to him?

I wonder if he is allowing FEAR to control him??

So, I guess I am thinking a lot about the stories that we tell ourselves, and if we told ourselves different stories, could we live different lives...

Life is unpredictable, and I guess that we can see unpredictability as scary or exciting, and I guess the way that we view unpredictability could determine how we live our lives....

Edward B. Jones is a very intriguing man to say the least and has given me much to think about!

Here is my review of Edward P. Jones’ All Aunt Hagar’s Children.

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