As I sit down to refine a post which was written in honor of the life’s work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. my brain is burning with the image of Omaha elder’s Nathan Phillips’ face as he played his ceremonial drum while a group of primarily white teenagers mocked the sacred song he was singing to honor community members during the first annual Indigenous Peoples March. This event took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The teenagers were surrounded by adult chaperones who did nothing to stop the teenagers’ cultural violence. Phillips’ simultaneously peaceful and defiant weariness breaks my heart. I hope that as teacher-librarians we will take this occasion to open up a conversation in our school communities about the intersections of race and religion in American politics especially as it relates to both the work of the Indigenous Peoples Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition to facilitating a school-wide discussion that includes staff and senior administrators, it is critical to initiate and/or continue an ongoing, intentional, and thorough analysis of our school library collections, programs, and services. One of best resources I know of with which to do this has been created and maintained by scholar Dr. Debbie Reese. Her website, American Indians in Children’s Literature, includes articles, presentations, and general guidance. Her July 2018 article for NCTE: Critical Indigenous Literacies gives an overview for the urgency of this type of work. Another recent article that is very useful is Sonja Cole’s Classroom Connections: Authentically Representing American Indians, published in Booklist (January 2019). Along with refining our collections, programs, and services, it is necessary to keep current and contribute to living conversations related to creating space for a wide range of experiences and voices. We can use the hashtags to search, follow, and participate in critical dialogues on Instagram, GoodReads, and Twitter: #NativeKidLit, #diversebooks, #diversekidlit, #ReadYourWorld, #WNDB, #kidlitwomen, and #ownvoices. Our active participation will allow us to make the collective connections and do the work that will prevent Saturday’s event from happening in the future. In Selma, Alabama, on March 8, 1965, Dr. King said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.” This moment on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial provides a chance for all of us to “stand up for what is right” and it is in our power as teacher-librarians to view it as an opportunity for difficult but necessary change.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Much can be done at every age. No parent wants a child or teenager to be racist. My bet is that most kids don’t want to be racist or commit racist acts. Maybe we could talk a bit about this next week when I am better.
Thank your for posting this. You remind us, again, of the importance of cultural literacy, kindness, and a willingness to be curious.
Thank you so much for your kind words.