Protesting Injustice Then and Now

In August we wrote to you about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Our publisher said then that the matter of representation was urgent; now, four months later, we see that urgency for what it is: a matter of life or death. Michael Brown’s name now sits alongside new names like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley. How many more names will need to be added before things change?

Protests around the country remind us that we are not in a post-ferguson 2racial society, that inequality is still here. This can be a harrowing reminder, but it is also an important teachable moment for young people. How do we put current events in context and help young people engage in today’s big questions?

In difficult moments, books are often a good starting place for conversation. Books that touch on history can be read with fresh eyes in light of current events. For example, in Love to Langston, author Tony Medina describes when a seventh-grade Langston Hughes in 1914 peacefully protests his teacher’s segregation of black students to one row in the classroom. Even when he is expelled, Hughes fights for what he knows is right and his community joins beside him. The teacher is forced to integrate the classroom:

Jim Crow Row
from Love to Langston
By Tony Medina

In the seventh grade
in Lawrence, Kansas
the teacher puts all
us black kids in the same row
away from all the white kids

I don’t roll my eyes
or suck my teeth
with a heavy heavy sigh
and a why why why

I make signs
that read
that read

Jim Crow Row
Jim Crow Row
we in the Jim Crow Row

Jim Crow is a law
that separates white and black
making white feel better
and black feel left back

So we protest
with our parents
and let everybody
know about

Jim Crow Jim Crow
not allowing us
to grow

Jim Crow Jim Crow
don’t put us in a
Jim Crow Row

Whether it was this event or the lifetime of experiences of racism, Langston Hughes was profoundly transformed and wrote about and advocated for equality and justice throughout his life.

I, Too
By Langston Hughes
From the Poetry Foundation

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

How will today’s children be impacted and awakened as activists by images of and participation in the protesting in Ferguson, New York City, and around the nation? In what ways will this moment and experience affect our children’s lens by which they view the world and influence their life’s purpose or calling? What art will they create to express this moment and themselves?

A photo from one of the recent protests in New York City.
A photo from one of the recent protests in New York City.

Further reading:

Books on Protest:

 

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