To help you make the most of And We Rise by Erica Martin (Viking Books for Young Readers 2022), School Library Connection is sharing these resources:
— Lesson, "The Civil Rights Movement in Poetry," by Sylvia Vardell
Curriculum Connections & Book Pairings by Sylvia Vardell
In And We Rise, Erica Martin gives us an insightful glimpse into the history of the civil rights movement through poems that are vivid with voice, full of compelling details, and creative in their structure and form. The book proceeds chronologically with poems set from 1877 to 1968 and provides a factual timeline in the backmatter to review the significant landmarks alluded to in the poetry. Heart-breakingly true historical events anchor many of the poems and weave in actual figures like Claudette Colvin (https://africanamerican.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1510414), Emmett Till (https://africanamerican.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1501746), Martin Luther King, Jr. (https://africanamerican.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1477392) and others. Periodically, a single poem "… And On and On Blacks Marched" reminds us of the need for constant activism. It's important to begin with sensitivity and openness as we challenge ourselves and each other to learn all we can about the ongoing struggle for equality in the United States.
Preparing for/Engaging with the Text
Start by opening a discussion of the term "civil rights." Invite students to share what they know about this term, as well as about the movement.
As you prepare to jump into reading and discussing And We Rise, start with some video footage to provide background context. The Voices of the Civil Rights Movement website (https://voicesofthecivilrightsmovement.com) has a multitude of excellent resources to share with students. One great choice is the short video "A Dream for America" featuring the late Congressman John Lewis sharing some of his story and lifelong work in the fight for civil rights (https://voicesofthecivilrightsmovement.com/Video-Collection/2020/2/4/A-Dream-for-America).
Since And We Rise is a collection of poems, it lends itself to sharing excerpts out loud and even reading chorally with groups or volunteers. Begin with the very first poem (pages 1–2) and invite seven student volunteers to each read one of the following words/phrases: schools, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, prisons, public transit, restaurants, while you read the rest of the poem out loud, pausing for a moment at the end of each line for greater impact. Talk with students about why things don't always change in society, even when the laws change. What can we do to bring further social change to our country? What would equality look like?
The fight for Civil Rights in the United States has been the focus of many books for young people over the years. Poetry, in particular, is a powerful way to capture some of the emotions and moments of the movement. Here are just 10 recent books of poetry that feature this important struggle.
For poetic representations of the movement that you can share with your middle school to high school readers, look for the heart-breaking A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2005), the informative Freedom like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans by J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions, Mankato 2000), the inspiring Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford (Candlewick Press 2015), and the compelling Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 by George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis (Wordsong 2014). Don't miss Amanda Gorman's recent collection, Call Us What We Carry: Poems (Viking Books 2021), a powerful look at history, identity, and language. Critics have called Gorman "our messenger from the past; our voice for the future."
To bring this topic in poetry to younger, middle-grade readers, I recommend When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis (Chronicle Books 2012) and Christopher Myers' rendering of his father's poetry in We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart (HarperCollins 2015), a poetic rallying cry for seeing the beauty in every American. The poetry of Langston Hughes has been re-interpreted by multiple artists and I, Too, Am America illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2012) is a moving example that can provide a model for artist students, who can seek inspiration from poetry. Carole Boston Weatherford also shares Black history through poetry in the award-winning poetry books Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People (Philomel Books 2002) and Birmingham, 1963 (Wordsong 2007).
Dip into any of these powerful books for inspiring poetry to complement and extend reading and discussion of And We Rise and the civil rights movement.
Finally, websites can offer visual and audio resources that make the discussion of And We Rise and the civil rights movement vivid, real, and immediate. The National Civil Rights Museum offers in-depth resources including films, oral histories, and interactive media (https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/). The Library of Congress provides a variety of materials, including archival photographs, primary source documents, and sound recordings (https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/civilrights/home), and NPR has collected "Songs of the Civil Rights movement" (http://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/99315652/songs-of-the-civil-rights-movement) with audio files and background information that students are sure to find fascinating. Also, ABC-CLIO's The American Mosaic: The African American Experience features eight topic centers and nearly 1,000 entries on the civil rights movement, including primary sources, reference entries, and classroom-ready student activities.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2005)
Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman (Viking Books 2021)
Freedom like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans by J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions, Mankato 2000)
Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 by George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis (Wordsong 2014)
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford (Candlewick Press 2015)
Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford (Wordsong 2007)
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2012)
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis (Chronicle Books 2012)
We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart By Walter Dean Myers, Illustrated by Christopher Myers
Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People by Carole Boston Weatherford (Philomel Books 2002)
Vardell, Sylvia . "And We Rise Educator Guide." School Library Connection, April 2022, schoollibraryconnection.com/Content/LiteratureLesson/2276372.
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