Thank You, Ms. Renee Watson


This public thank you letter is long overdo. Since this picture in 2019, I have seen Ms. Waston on many occasions and said thank you personally but putting it in writing has helped me shape the deepness behind my ‘thanks’.

Dear Ms. Watson,

This letter is about your involvement with the Langston Hughes’ house even though it was for a short period of time in which you (along with friends) made it into a community reading space.

It was in that short time, my interest in Langston Hughes sparked.

At the events, I met many writers such as the children’s book authors, Mr. and Mrs. Lesa Cline- Ransome, who wrote the book, Finding Langston and Mrs. Rita Williams-Garcia, the author behind the creation of the Gaither girls.

Meeting these authors and talking about their work in real time, was very pertinent to me as a teacher and writer. I did not know it then, but my school would soon be forced to relocate and my students would need as much of Langston Hughes and the Gaither girls as they could possibly have.

Last spring when the flowers were beginning to bud in front of the school building, the entire community was hit with terrible news- the school will be relocating. This shocked everyone. We were at our location for over 15 years. This news put everybody in another mode of survival (we were still coping with COVID-19). From the school’s administration to the children, plans had to be made and arrangements had to be set for the future.

As a teacher, one main thought of mine was, if the school remains open, whom can I teach next year that will open up discussions about displacement, gentrification, and Black migration in the U.S?

Because I had been involved in conversations about those very topics at the Langston Hughes House, it was easy for me to think of Hughes’ childhood and migration. I could think of no better person than this writer and renaissance man to teach and open up these tough discussions.

When putting together a syllabus for the school year, Langston Hughes’ children literature was sought after. Finding Langston by Lesa Celine-Ransom which deals with many relevant themes such as death, migration, poverty, Blackness, country living vs. city living and survival, wasn’t hard and it was the first book on their list. Gone Crazy in Alabama, was the last.

The children started Finding Langston at the same time the moving men started to pack the classrooms.

They read about Langston moving from Alabama and imagined they were in Langston’s shoes….The moving men were outside the classroom doors toting things away and they were in the classroom sitting on the floor with their legs crossed imaging they were on grass under the hot Alabama sun. Langston became us and we became him.

Learning about Langston Hughes and remembering the past conversations gave me a solace.

The students begin to bottle up their emotions and tried to process what was really going on. Their school building along with their friends and the comfort of common community was all being taken away.

Knowing the tough time they were experiencing, I drew from facts of Langston Hughes life and Black Life in general. For the rest of the year, we looked at Jim Crow laws, Brown Vs. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, and at the end of the year ended with the Black Panther Party and the 10 point system.

Langston Hughes was a child of the Great Migration. Our parents (my parents at least) were apart of the same migration.

But my students and even myself are apart of another type of migration, gentrification. It seems to be the same story, and the same folks.

Thank You Ms. Watson for providing me the tools to have these conversations.

Ms. Hurley