Your teacher-smile says welcome to my new class
To my home away from home
But at my house where my parents live
There are pictures of me in every room
Pictures of my grandparents, too
But not just pictures of my people, but of our stories
Holidays, recipes, and music
Even things and people we’ve lost but don’t want to forget
So your smile says, “Welcome.”
But am I really welcomed.. this time?
Then, I see the class library and… wait!
Are those mirrors of myself I see?
This year, my kinky hair, barrettes, and braids
Made it all the way to your teacher shelves
But not just me but lots of folks who look like me
I see the rainbow of faces and shades of brown
I see my friends on these shelves, too
And I see my stories… our stories
Looking at these books on these shelves
Has me thinking maybe you’re not like the other teachers
Maybe you’re even smarter than the principal
Because you’re on to me in every good way
Simply because you see me
Hey, you want to know what I’m thinking?
I’m thinking that when we read these books together
This year I’ll have as much to teach you as you have to teach me
You see because this year, I get to be the teacher, too
Because this year the learning is mine
I hope you come to class prepared
To learn about me through these books on your shelves
About what I bring to the class
What my people have brought all along
Something inside of me drums, beats, and leaps
When I see the books on your shelves
Like you’ve been thinking of me and the space I come from
And something else inside of me has yawned, and stretched, and jumped up, too
Though often ignored by these shelves
It awakens, gratefully at attention… My Curiosity
So maybe, this year, I’ll give you a chance
Because of these beautiful brown books on your shelves
Still I must warn you that my ancestors know where I’m going
Even if I’m too young to know myself just yet
They’ve paved my path and prayed a promise over me
My church, my neighbors, and my community
They’ve nurtured my brilliance and beauty
You see they have big, big plans for me
And even though we’ve just met I think you already know a little about me
Of where I’ve been and where I’m going
That’s because these books on these shelves
Tell me a little about you, too
And of what you think of me
Teacher, I know we just met
But can we start learning now?
You see, I was born ready.
I was just waiting on you.
*This short piece is for the teachers who are courageous, committed, and curious enough to do the work of choosing diverse books that do not center even themselves nor their own personal or cultural backgrounds but those of the students. These same students are willing and ready to learn but only when the teacher is willing and ready to do the same. By insisting and demanding diverse books that center the experiences of their students and their diverse backgrounds, educators demonstrate to families of color that what and how they teach will reflect what has always been of inherent value, relevance, and beauty within the narratives of black and brown people. Within shelves ladened with diverse books, these educators are pledging their commitment to reject the paralyzing excuses of personal, societal, or political blindspots and to instead fully see that the worth and contribution of these families are not insufficient nor inferior but are indeed historically and presently enough. We agree that the narratives of our students and their families will no longer be ignored and marked by curriculum and instruction as absent. Let us not remain in the business of believing the racist and classist myth of deficit thinking weaponized against our communities of color. Instead, let us address the deficit education within policies designed by school leadership and educators and the unjust and inequitable history of absent narratives.