In the Writing for Change series, I've asked writers to share how the political climate has shaped their work. Today, I have Pamela Courtney, a teacher and a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program. Take it away, Pamela!
What do the following have in common? Freedom in Congo Square, Last Stop on Market Street, Tar Beach, The Sound that Jazz Makes, The Snowy Day.
Need a hint? In the 1990 publication of Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop writes, “Books are sometimes windows. When…conditions are just right, a window can also be a mirror.”
Each morning, I’m greeted by gleaming, eager faces in every hue of brown. Introducing them to well written literature, whose images mirror those of my early learners, is paramount. And so, these books adorn every flat surface in my classroom. My duty is great. I am a writer who teaches. I am a teacher who writes.
“Books can also be a mirror." More specifically, words mirror attitudes and feelings. Words, allowed and encouraged by the hostile political climate we’ve maintained, actively work to devalue, to lessen, to take away. I am acutely aware how the lack of words is used to alter, and in many cases eliminate actual events.
Slavery…the ugliest, most shameful, most influential institution of our country is not mentioned in some curricula. Therefore, how a people endeavored to forge indelible, remarkable paths impacting our world is devalued. The strength of a people to endure is altered. Eliminated. Children are listening. Children are learning. Children are responding to what and how information is offered. Mirrors and Windows.
In our deeds, through our words, from the environment that we create, children are taught to accept or dismiss people unlike Us. We must ensure that children are carefully taught to develop awareness for other peoples: their culture, their traditions, and their beliefs. I share in my writing little known historical events that have shaped traditions, familial roles, and world views. Events inextricably woven, unnoticed into the rich tapestry of our lives. Each strand a distinguished, necessary raised bit of thread. Every child deserves quality literature that illustrates cultural authenticity.
So, what do those books have in common? It’s not quite the answer you think. Each book holds a special place in the heart of my classroom. My students experience the obstinate courage of a people, the familiarity of intergenerational relationships, how social injustices impact family structures, the sorrows felt and gifts created by a marginalized people, the first commercially successful book featuring a child of color who is simply experiencing snow.
These are the books my students reach for again and again. These books and books like them guide my writing. They are more than mentor texts. They are mirrors. They are windows. The profound responsibility I own as a teacher, as a writer, has never been more deeply felt.
Pamela Courtney lives in Atlanta, GA, but the Red River of Louisiana permanently flows through her veins. She is a former Curriculum Consultant, but is now proud to claim herself "Teacher of some of the most intellectually stimulating Kindergarteners and 1st Graders." Pamela is a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program; mentored by Carole Boston Weatherford.
Thanks so much, Pamela! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena, Rachel Lynn Solomon and Samira Ahmed.