On March 2 at 4:50 or 5:50 PM, 2015, NPR’s All Things Considered will air a story about Claudette Colvin. The broadcast will reach an audience of approximately 2 million listeners. The story features Phillip Hoose, author of Claudette Colvin, Twice Towards Justice and Claudette Colvin, herself. The story will also be featured on the award-winning Radio Diaries podcast.
Lillian Cook, you astound us. This song is great gift to Claudette Colvin and to readers of her story. We cannot tell you how moved we are.
This is an original song created as part of the Jeremy Salvner Memorial Music Competition, which is part of the Youngstown State University English Festival, a three-day celebration of reading and writing. This is the 2014 winner in the Junior High division (grades 7-9): Lillian Cook from the Willow Creek Learning Center. “Turn Your Back on Me” was inspired by Phillip Hoose’s book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, which was one of 7 books that nearly 3,000 students read as part of the 2014 English Festival.
(Included some photos of Claudette Colvin and Phillip Hoose’s book. In addition, many of the photos are candid shots from the 2014 English Festival, which featured guest author Jordan Sonnenblick and guest lecturer CJ Bott. The video was designed by Brielle Pritchard.)
We could not help but share this letter from the astounding student Erica Eliza Smith.
“I just finished reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice for the second time. The first time I read it was back in eighth grade (I’m a junior now) when I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a teenager in a world run by adults. This was the same year I read We Were There, Too! and It’s Our World, Too!
I believe that every book I’ve read has changed my life. But your books have changed my life more than any other book beyond certain religious texts and the books that taught me how to read. You’re the only author I’ve found who seems to care about young people who want to read about other young people.
Young people do have stories worth telling. I understand that my school textbooks will never devote a significant number of pages to young people for the same reasons they don’t talk all that much about women or people of color. Paper and class time is limited. We can only cover the presidents and generals. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t there too. That doesn’t mean we didn’t witness historical events at the very least. And there are always untold stories about people like Claudette who changed things.
I feel like youth are the most neglected of any demographic group. My school offers a women’s history class, which I’ll take next year, and all but one of the movies we watched in U.S. History this year featured African Americans. But so far as young people are concerned, we have Sacagawea and Emmett Till. I wish they’d include more stories about youth. It would help us see history as our story instead of something that happened to old dead guys.
Reading your books, especially We Were There, Too! felt like going through a treasure trove. Here was a young person for all my favorite pieces of history. The sweatshops of the Industrial Revolution. The women’s suffrage movement. The Salem Witch Trials (I’m descended from an accused witch). The pioneer trails (them too). And more little slices of history I’d never given much thought to. I can’t thank you enough for bringing all these stories to light. Please know that your efforts to dig up these people and put them on a page was worthwhile. I recommend them to teenagers and adults alike. Keep writing great stories!”
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
Our many thanks to the righteous folks at The Robert H. Jackson Center for keeping the honorable Supreme Justice’s civil rights legacy alive. The center honored Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice with state-wide book donations to schools in New York and an essay contest. Phil was happy to be on hand to congratulate the essay winners and talk with hundreds of students live in Jamestown, NY and statewide via broadcast.
Every student knows the Rosa Parks story. When students discover there was a teenager before Rosa and a teenager that was silenced, their sense of injustice is piqued. The students connect with Claudette Colvin because they know what it feels like to be ignored or dismissed because of their age.
“Claudette Colvin is a teenage student who stood up for what she believed in. How many students today would be willing to do what she did? It might be few or more than we would anticipate. Students can look to Claudette Colvin as a role model and someone that they may be able to connect with, given that she is one of them; a teen. This can relate to Emmett Till that we learn about in the text. “‘There had been lynchings and cross burnings before, but this was a much stronger warning. Emmett Till was age.’” (59)
An undeniable connection exists because they are all about the same age, thus, teens today may see Claudette as one of their peers. This is one way that students can begin to connect with the text, through Claudette herself. This is where the ball gets rolling; students may be more engaged with the text which opens up for more possible connections to be made.”–Katherine Rosario Blog