Walking through Kent State University’s campus was a hug on this chilly, October day…
October, 2018 marked 34 years the Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Children’s Literature has been running. Bringing together authors that have written works rooted in showing the truth of our world, and the many cultures that live in it, along with workshop presenters and attendees, the Virginia Hamilton Conference is the longest running of its kind.
On the evening of Thursday, October 11th, this years keynote speaker, Marilyn Nelson, kicked off the conference was a glorious speech. What else could be more inspiring than hearing Marilyn Nelson live? Hearing Marilyn Nelson read from her books, poetry that grabs your ears and refuses to let go.
Post Marilyn’s speech (we’re on a first name basis, ok. She complemented my hair!) came the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award, also known as the Rudine Sims Bishop.
(If you don’t know who Rudine Sims Bishop is, please take a moment to look her up.)
The Arnold Adoff Poetry Award
Poetry for a reluctant reader is a bridge between one page to another. Novels in verse and poetry on the page give a child a task that can be accomplished. Too many times picking up a novel can feel like picking up a boulder.
Instead, books such as Nikki Grimes, One Last Word and Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down, make the task of reading an entire novel achievable. The blank space on the page, full of emotion and feeling. Full of the hidden meaning infused in lines of poetry.
Friday, October 12th was a packed day of speeches, presentations and workshops. All aimed to enlighten, invigorate and call to action the question, Literacy: Right or Privilege?
“Literacy is an obligation,” Marilyn stated Thursday evening, and that, I believe to be absolutely the truth.
What is also the truth is that children, especially black kids, are being let down in their early literacy education. My own presentation, Unlocking the Portal to Early Literacy Success in African American Children dove into the reasons behind this achievement gap, and ways in which parents, and educators can enhance early literacy in a black child’s life.
To end the day came the pièce de résistance…
Cheryl and Wade Hudson, founders of Just Us Books ended the day with a speech that encompassed not only the impact of multicultural children’s literature, but why we need books rooted with African American characters. They provided examples of how literature has been woven into their upbringing, from Wade writing plays and stories in his youth, to Cheryl being gifted a bible from the 1830’s that was once a relatives.
Their examples, stories and never-ending dedication to children’s books reflecting Black history, heritage and experience show the fire that’s been passed from generation to generation.
That fire lit when we were forbidden to read.
That fire ignited when we were forbidden to write.
That fire a flare set alight when few books reflected Black history, heritage and experience.
As last years conference stayed with me long after I left Kent State University, I am sure that this years conference will do the same.
I am lit to go forward.
Literacy: Right or Privilege?
It’s my obligation.