Poems and Stories for Parents, Teachers, and Anyone Who Wants to Delve More Deeply into the Issue of Racism
Sometimes only a few minutes a day can make all the difference in perspective
Being an English teacher for over twenty years and a student who attended a college where the black population was the majority, I consider myself well-educated on African American literature. And I’ve always believed that reading the words of others can bridge the gap between people.
And I also know that some of you are looking to educate your children on the current issues that they may see on the news or the topics they may discuss in the classroom when they return to school in order to make them more compassionate and informed.
So I have included a list of short poems and stories that you may consider looking at with your children. Please be aware that you need to read these options carefully yourself before offering them up to your children or students. Some are not appropriate for younger children as they may be too immature or too sensitive to deal with such painful or graphic tellings on the topics of racism and discrimination.
Most of the ones I list here could possibly be used for middle and high schoolers fairly safely.
This poem deals with the false persona of happiness that African Americans feel they have to hide behind in order to be safe and to not give those who try to control or belittle them the satisfaction of seeing their intense anguish.
This poem discusses not only the false promises of America to the black man but also to Indians and immigrants who have experienced the hypocrisy of a country that promises freedom to all and then turns its back on those who seek it.
This poem’s famous first line “What happens to a Dream Deferred?” speaks to the building anger and physical and emotional conflict that can occur when a man is deprived of his right to control his own life and move forward towards his dreams.
This poem discusses the way that African Americans are seen as second class citizens who will one day rise up and claim their spot of dignity and importance. It also states the embarrassment and shame that Americans will one day feel at the realization of how they have treated persons of color.
This poem centers around a mother’s words to her son that life for her has been a constant climb to survive. She warns him of the struggles he may face but urges him to continue climbing and never give up.
This inspirational poem forwards the message that in spite of great obstacles African Americans can rise up to reach their true potential if they keep their dreams alive.
Many older young adults love to read Shakur because they already know his music legacy. And he has a book of poetry that features the title of the poem mentioned above that can be ordered from most any book store.
This poem is especially relevant to current events. It discusses the beauty of seeing progress as African Americans join forces together to overcome their oppression. It is similar in theme to “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.”
The focus of this emotional poem is an eight-year-old African American boy’s first hearing of the “N” word and its intensely destructive effect on his happiness.
This deeply moving poem based on the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama focuses on a young African American girl who wants to go on a protest march for equality. Her mother fears the situation is too dangerous and sends her to church to sing in the choir instead, a destination the mother calls the “sacred place” where she has no worry that violence or harm will come to her child. The ending is heartwrenching and will not cease to leave a painful imprint on its reader.
In this poem, Angelou issues a plea for African Americans to heed the messages of their oppressed ancestors and to unify and rise up to claim their rightful place in the world.
In this poem, Angelou uses the comparison of the joys of a free bird to the miseries of a caged bird to show the miseries and unfulfilled longings of the oppressed.
Lorna Lee Cervantes “Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person, Could Believe in the War Between Races”
This poem is about the inner and outer destruction of oppression and a land that can never truly be free for the oppressed. It is in fact a call for a revolution against the bullets of the body that carry a swift death for the oppressed and the bullets of the mind that destroy a person of color slowly and painfully.
In this heartwrenching very short story, Walker presents a young innocent girl’s first realization of man’s cruelty to man when she comes upon a rotted noose and what remains of a lost human life.
This story is about a poverty-stricken African American mother and son’s trip to cure the son of a horrible toothache that he tries to ignore too long due to poverty. They head to the dentist’s office on a Jim Crow bus and when they arrive at the office, the boy encounters an interesting conversation between a preacher and a well-educated black man discussing how best to respond to the issue of race. They must wait to visit the dentist so in the time in between they go to many places to get out of the bitter cold and buy what little nourishment they can. Towards the end of their time in the city, the mother and son are shown kindness by an elderly white female store owner, and the resulting interactions between owner, mother, and son relay a message on what is required to be a proud and strong man of color.
Links to other short stories
This site provides a list of possible stories you may want to investigate. It contains short summaries and a link for most every story. Be aware that they state that most of these stories are best suited for students of high school age and older.
The bottom line:
African-American writer Alice Walker states of the racial divide that she thinks “[people of different races] have to own the fears that we have of each other and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to.”
Reading is a wonderful way to delve into the mind and life of another and to gain perspectives and truths that may be realized if not for those open pages. Stories are the quietest conductors of change and often the most powerful. And when their messages are discussed between teacher and student, parent and child, or any group of people we begin dialogues that they very well change not only individuals but the world itself as well.