Judge Sotomayor

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At the beginning of the school year, I got an email from the cozy children book store on 18 West 18th street, Books of Wonder, informing me that Judge Sotomayor was coming to town for a meet and greet book signing!!

When I arrived, I picked up both of her children books, the picture book, Turing Pages: My Life Story and the adaptation for middle graders based on her bestselling adult memoir, The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor 

When she asked me who to sign it to, I told her to my third grade class.

Where do you work? she asked.

In the Bronx.

She smiled and replied thank you, thank you. Your job means so much. She asked me what part of the Bronx and spoke to me about how important teaching can be. Then she thanked me again. Knowing she grew up in the Bronx, made her encouragement even more meaningful.

I shared the books with my students during the months of  September and October, prior to our career week celebrations. I turned to the page with her signature and showed them that the judge herself, had taken the time to sign the book just for them! Their eyes got big and they sat even more still during the read aloud.The little boy who usually sits at the back, squiggled himself up to the front.

The students were engaged in her life story and I was extremely happy when one of my students declared that she wanted to also become a judge.

 

The National Book Awards Ceremony

I first learned of Jamel Brinkley during the Brooklyn book festival. I made a mental note to read and support the author who was a Bronx (and Brooklyn) native. But was too busy to attend his event during the festival. I was able to meet the author and purchase my copy of A Lucky Man during the National Book Awards Ceremony.

I also was blessed enough to meet poet Elizabeth Acevedo who reminded me of Tami Charles, author of Like Vanessa. I don’t read poetry as  much as I would like and definitely don’t buy poetry. I was surprised to see her novel written in poetry. She did so well during the reading, she made me curious enough to purchase a copy of her book.

Lastly, I met Leslie Connor whose reading style and mannerisms reminded me Kate DiCamillo.

Christopher Paul Curtis

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I was super excited to meet Christopher Paul Curtis at the National Book Awards Ceremony this month! I attended without finding out who were on the finalist list. I love surprises…especially if I can control them in some way.

The first thing I would always do when I arrive at the New School (which is where the ceremony is held) is visit the book seller’s table. I do this even before looking at the program. Looking at the books for sell tells me who I will be listening to that night.

When I came across The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis, I asked the vendor if he Mr. Curtis was going to be there that night. Sometimes authors don’t show up to the event.

Yeah, I believe so, he responded.

And, sure enough. He was there!

I was really happy to meet him in person because his writing kept me up at night as a little girl. His books were among the many books my favorite librarian, Mr. Hardy, placed in my hand when I was in middle school.

When I introduced myself to him during the intermission, he looked at me and smiled.

It’s a pleasure meeting you, Lystria. Do you teach?

Yes! I do! How did you know?

I actually didn’t. I didn’t know weather to ask if you taught or how old you were! You look so young.

Thank you, Thank you. I get that I a lot. I teach third grade.

Oh, third grade! I still remember my third grade teacher.

He signed my book and we spoke a little bit about his writing habits. I had remembered some of his habits by reading all of his books closely over and over again as a little girl.

Do you still wake up at 6 to write?

He started smiling. Well, Lystria, it’s getting earlier and earlier.

After we spoke, I met other authors. But meeting him and hearing him speak was by far the most nostalgic and settling for me.

Before I left, he introduced me to his wife Mrs. Curtis and author, Andrea Pinkney. They all looked at me in my eyes and told me how thankful they were that I was teaching.

Thank you for teaching our children.  They told me constantly.

I would be lying if I told you I did not leave that event feeling better then when I walked in. The same feeling I felt after reading  Bud, not Buddy or The Watsons go to Birmingham had returned to me when I met Christopher Paul Curtis in person.

The Locals and Legends Wall Mural

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That Saturday while in Jacksonville, I walked down A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and saw some amazing wall murals.

This was my second time in Jacksonville but my first time venturing places alone and learning of the city where James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston once lived.

Every block I walked, I inhaled the amazing culture. I took in the sights of my people Bar-B-Queing on their front lawns and of them walking in and out of shops owned by them. I took in the sounds of R & B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Gospel all hovering under the hot still sun. Each couple of blocks I walked, it was a new sound track. I took in the southern hospitality, the smiles and how-do-you-do’s.

I did not expect to see much art though and was surprised when I looked on the side of the Man Cave Barbershop building on the corner of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Pippin Street! I saw a colorful wall mural with seven figures. My first instinct was to try to connect with the historical figures. I could only name two.

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I knew who Zora was from her trademark hat and I knew James Weldon Johnson. But the rest… I was struggling with. I photographed the mural in different angles. Trying to get past the two cars in the lot.

I found out later through WJCT.org that the mural was painted by the locals, students and artist together.  It’s called the “Locals and Legends” mural and it features famous African American’s celebrated throughout history as well as local African Americans celebrated for their work in Jacksonville.

  1. The first subject on the left, Asa Phillip Randolph, is who the main street  is named after. He is known as A. Phillip Randolph and is a natural born leader. He was a civil rights activist, one of the few men who headed the March on Washington, and organized the first African American labor Union (just to list a few).

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2. The second one is my heroine Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and anthropologist who is best known for the novel, Their eyes were watching God. I love how she traveled through the south collecting stories from everyday people so that our rich culture would not be lost. She even recorded the southern vernacular.  ( I am looking forward to reading her  new book that  just came out this year Entitled Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave, it tells the true story of the last known survivor of the slave trade…  it’s on my birthday list).

3. The third figure is someone named Clarence Williams, who once owned the building where the art lies.

I had to call around to find out more information about him and spoke to Ms. Pickett who is the curator of street art in Jacksonville (isn’t that a hot job title?) She told me the purpose of the wall murals is to bring in visitors into the East Side of Jacksonville. One of their goals after the painting is done is to set up wall mural tours.

She told me that Clarence Williams was a citizen of Jacksonville in the Eastside. He was an entrepreneur and business owner and  passed away a few months before the mural was completed.
4.The fourth figure is Pearlie Graham, the long time owner of nearby Spot Rite Cleaners and the only living subject in the mural. She also owns the building that has the mural of the girls graduating.

5. The fifth figure is James Weldon Johnson, a writer, actor, activist, and most popular for writing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

I just finished one his books, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man. This book should be placed on every high school summer reading list or read closely during the school year. After visiting his city I found myself reading more of his work to figure out who he really was. I love love Johnson. If you don’t have much time to read, then you should start with his poetry. His poem, ‘The Creation’, sits on the wall in The Ritz Museum in Jacksonville. It is a lyric that retells how the world came to be. The fourth grader who was with me named MJ had just as much fun as I had reading it aloud.

6. The sixth figure is Bullet Bob Hayes, an athlete….I read about him on wiki.

7. The last figure, A.L Lewis, was the president of the (Afro- American) Life Insurance Company, and he also started American Beach, a Nassau County vacation spot for African-Americans during segregation.

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And down the street there’s another mural (which I already posted) in progress depicting an old school in Jacksonville for African-American girls which I learned a little history about.

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This building is owned by Pearlie Graham. However, the school that this mural represents is closed. It was called The Boylan Haven Mather School and was the first school for African American girls on the East Side. It started out as a school to train girls to be servants.

The school was founded in 1886 and was named for a benefactor, Ann Boylan DeGroot, treasurer of the Newark Conference. She’d hoped to atone for, and change the image of, her family, which had operated two large plantations. In 1901, the school established a nurse training department, which later became Brewster Hospital – the first for African Americans in Jacksonville. (taken from Wikipedia)

I must say here that their modest dressing was what made me take the photo. Believe it or not, this is how I dressed in high school. My mother got the uniform company to make my sisters and I long skirts. Can you spot me in the photo below?

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My Classroom Door

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The theme for this year was based on Javaka Steptoe’s book, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I got foam like crowns and pieces of foam for the frame from the dollar store. The radiant stars had to write one radiant thing they learned so far in the third grade.

100 Day of School Activity

 

For the 100th day of school, I wanted an activity that would encourage thinking, writing and even some math.

I found two coloring books with African American greats and made 19 different copies (one for each student) of our ancestors. Each sheet had a small paragraph or two about that historical figure along with their birthday and the year of their death (if they died).

My students had to figure out how old their figure was 100 years ago then write about what they thought their character was doing.

There was one student who got Crispus Attucks  (1723-1770) who figured out that he wasn’t alive 100 years ago. He was the only one who had to get another figure.

Becoming

NEW BOOK—This cover image released by Crown Publishing Group shows “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama, which comes out Nov. 13. (Crown Publishing Group via AP) NEW YORK (AP)—Michelle Obama has a picture to share. On Thursday, the former first lady unveiled the cover for her upcoming memoir, “Becoming.” She posted that image, a smiling close-up shot…

via Michelle Obama unveils cover for upcoming memoir — New Pittsburgh Courier

Kweli Literature Conference

 

Over the spring break, I attended Kweli’s book conference (the third annual Color of Children’s Literature Conference) held at CUNY graduate center in Manhattan.

I was super excited about going to the conference because I enjoy reading and writing stories for children.

The Kweli conference keynote was given by author, Angela Johnson. A trendsetter for children books and an admirer of mine. It was my first time meeting her and hearing her speak.

Her speech set the tone for the conference.  It was full of purpose, yet very comical and light. She began with short funny anecdotes about her book tours at schools. The following story (paraphrased) is one story she told that was my favorite. It made me think of a little girl in my class:

She began, Every elementary school has a little third grade girl who just knows everything. When I arrived at this particular school, I was assigned THAT girl. Her name was Ashley. When I told Ashley I needed to use the bathroom, she replied, I’m going to take you to the bathroom no one knows about; and she took me up to the third floor…I stayed in that bathroom for about a half hour or more locked in! Finally, when Ashley returned. She asked, Ms. Johnson, are you ok? Yes, I replied, I’m locked in. Ms. Johnson, she asked, did you push or pull the door?  

I laughed out loud at this story as I could see and hear the little girl in my class asking the same question.

As she continued her speech, the theme of memory and high expectations kept recurring. Even though she spoke about serious topics like race and acceptance,  the mood was very settle and light.

She spoke of her traumatic experiences as a first grader in 1967. It was interesting to hear how her parents did their best to prepare her for a world that was not welcoming to people of color and at the same time, her parents also seemingly managed to keep her sheltered enough so she could enjoy her childhood and the skin she was in.

“I had been told earlier on, she said, that the world would expect a little bit more of me”. Many parents of color often tell their children even today, that they have to work extra hard. However, her father put it in a more subtle way.

“My father, she continued,  “had told me I couldn’t be ordinary and I didn’t understand that…I been told gently by my father that some people wouldn’t accept me…I knew it had something to do with maybe the color of my skin. He never came out and said it”.

It seems like Ms. Johnson was given an opportunity (as most children) to look past people skin tones and treat everyone equally and expect the same fairness back, because her parents guarded her innocence.

Nonetheless, in first grade, she begin to understand the the world wasn’t all it was cut out to be.

On the first day of school during roll call, her teacher escorted her out of the classroom, pinned her against the wall then proceeded to ask her why was she there.

She continued, “I ached to be in the first grade…I always felt like I belonged in my world…they had showed there was no difference in all of us…so why was this teacher who was suppose to be my first grade teacher asking me why I was there?”

‘As a first grader, I  understood very little of what was going on’.

Eventually, she was moved  to another first grade class. Nonetheless, the memories stayed.

In her story, I learned that the person who placed her in the first- first grade class was seemingly a daring person. She was painted as a hippie, someone who believed in change and taking chances. However, this hippie teacher, an adult,  had to know how this other teacher was. As Ms. Johnson spoke about this hippie character, she praised her. But, I wondered, was she really praiseworthy and fully innocent?  She probably could have saved Johnson the trouble of experiencing this trauma as a little girl by not placing her in this prejudice teacher’s class altogether.

Johnson went on to explain how much [we] are responsible for children and I would even say, their memories. True we do not control how children perceive experiences but if we work really hard to give them great ones, (and we know when they are great because a happy adult makes a happy child) then we have met them half-way.

I relate this story only because it was one of my earlier memories, I relate this memory because it was one of my earliest traumas, I relate this trauma because it’s gone a long way in my understanding children and those people that are responsible for children and how we treat them on this planet. 

I am very happy I was able to attend the Kewi book conference. It was like a breath of fresh air to hear many authors and illustrators speak about their work! Ms. Johnson’s welcoming and friendly tone set the mood for the rest of the conference. I walked away with a strong sense of who my work was for and why I am responsible for their experiences and memories.