Recently I visited the Washington Middle School for Girls, in Washington DC. The appearance was arranged through An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization formed “to improve literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area by giving schools and students books and access to authors and illustrators.” I was the author to whom the students had access on that day.
I presented slides from my book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice to eighty or so middle-school-age girls. After my presentation, we had a long and vigorous back-and-forth which felt more like a conversation than a question-and-answer session. We talked about Ms. Colvin’s courage, the danger she accepted by putting her name on a lawsuit challenging Jim Crow, how I located her, why she decided to work with me, Dr. King, teen pregnancy, her children and grandchildren, the tactical decision to challenge segregated bus seating in federal court, how the Montgomery Bus Boycott worked, what the life of a writer is like, my family, Maine, and many, many other topics. It was a rich, deeply satisfying opportunity for me.
The Open Book Foundation indeed gave a copy of Claudette Clovin: Twice Toward Justice to each and every student. The students came in to meet me class-by-class, lining up to get their books signed. While there was an Amy, a Christina and two Londons, most of the names were unfamiliar to me and difficult for me to spell. “What’s your name?” I would say. “Lakeisha,” would be the reply. And I would try to spell it. I got better, but didn’t come close to getting half right. More and more I would hear girls whispering to each other in the back of the line, “He’s never gonna get YOUR name.”
One girl gave me a poem. It’s beautiful and emphatic and hopeful. I will seek her permission to share it with you. It was just one of those days when I had to kind of pinch myself to be so lucky. To share an afternoon with the wonderful young women of the Washington Middle School for Girls, talking about things that matter…it just can’t get any better than that. –Phillip Hoose