James Baldwin to Angela Davis

“If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

“Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Y. Davis” (1971)

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

The Weekly Text, February 15, 2019

When I first began work in Lower Manhattan in 2008, for the first time in my career, I worked with students who were reading—decoding and comprehending—at grade level or very close to it. The primary challenge to serving these students revolved around the issues of interest and choice; they could read, they simply chose not to because they were completely uninterested in the material assigned them.

Back then, there was a Borders bookstore just east of the school in which I worked on Trinity Place, over on Broadway, right across from Trinity Church. I often found myself there during my lunch break. In the course of my browsing, it occurred to me that I might be able to co-opt kids into reading by supplying them with high interest articles from what looked like the two leading Hip-Hop magazines of the day, to wit XXL and Vibe. I say “looked like” because these two periodicals, while ostensibly about Hip-Hop music, also contained a number of features of interest to young, inner-city residents. Not only that, but the prose was really first-rate.

And bingo! Students who had theretofore been failing English began to read articles and submit—completed!—the comprehension worksheets I wrote to attend them.

Still, I knew these assignments ultimately would suffer from expiration dates. As I mentioned in a blog post a year or so ago, I remember the time before Hip-Hop was part of popular music’s landscape. That means, of course, that I have seen a lot of rappers come and go. So, it was only a matter of time before these readings and worksheets became obsolete. While students may know who 50 Cent is, but as far as they’re concerned, he is not as au courant as whoever is the newest and flashiest star in the Hip-Hop firmament.

Like many rappers (I ask again, how many people remember Kool Moe Dee, a rapper I really liked in the 1980s), Borders was a casualty of time and circumstance—in its case, the 2008 economic collapse that took the bookseller, like electronics superstore chain Circuit City—down the drain. Over time, I’ve disposed of all the materials I accumulated after students began, once again, turning up their noses at those articles and worksheets. Vibe appears to have survived the transition to digital media,  as did  XXL. I just haven’t the time to keep up with the always rapidly changing rises and falls of stars in Hip-Hop.

However, I did keep one article, Jay-Z’s resume, because I understood that it had value as a well-constructed example of such a document. Moreover, across time, it became clear that unlike many rappers, (and his resume tends to affirm this, I think), Jay-Z is a permanent part of the global cultural landscape. So here is a PDF of Jay-Z’s resume scanned directly from the pages of  Vibe (and the hyperlink at the beginning of this paragraph is a web page with a better reproduction of the document). If you think it might be easier to use, you might consider sacrificing some authenticity an use this typescript of Jay-Z’s resume I prepared, in Word format. I sought to keep the fonts and formatting consistent while assembling a graphically presentable and readable document.

For both teachers and students, I also prepared this glossary of key words used in the document. Finally, here are two comprehension worksheets to attend these documents.

You’ll notice, as of this writing, that no lesson plans or do-nows accompany these materials. I have a lesson plan template made and a few preliminary questions formulated, but this work, without a lesson plan, remains incomplete. As a rule, indeed, a relatively rigid one here at Mark’s Text Terminal, I don’t like to post incomplete work. I do so now because Jay-Z has been in the news a good deal lately for a variety of things–primarily political stances–and I think students should know what self- and community advocacy look like. If you use this material, check back here occasionally for an addendum that will render the assembled document an complete lesson plan.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

 

Richard Wright on Inequality

“Goddamit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like living in hell.”

Native Son, bk. 1 (1940)

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Lorraine Hansberry

When I lived in The Bronx I would occasionally get off the 2 or the 5 train to at West Farms Square-East Tremont Avenue to look at the Manhattan skyline. Just below and to the east and south of that very high station, sits the Lorraine Hansberry School. In the past couple of years, some new high-rise apartment buildings have gone up there, so the view is now obscured. But the school remains, thank goodness.

Lorraine Hansberry has crossed my radar screen several times recently: she was the subject of a PBS American Masters series, and she is featured prominently in Raoul Peck’s superlative documentary, James Baldwin: I Am Not Your Negro. Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin were great friends, and her early death was a great tragedy for him, and for the theater.

Here, hot off the press, is a reading on playwright Lorraine Hansberry and its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Jack Johnson

(originally John Arthur) (1878-1946) U.S. heavyweight boxing champion, the first black to hold the title. Born in Galveston, Texas, his career was marked from the beginning by racial discrimination. He won the national heavyweight crown in 1908 by knocking out Tommy Burns and kept it until 1915, when he was knocked out in Havana by Jess Willard in 26 rounds. After he became champion, a cry for a ‘Great White Hope’ to defeat him produced numerous opponents. He was excoriated by the press for twice marrying white women. In 1912 he was convicted of violating the Mann Act for transporting his fiancée across state lines. He fled to Canada and then to Europe, continuing to fight as a fugitive before surrendering in 1920 to serve a one-year sentence. He died in a car crash. He won 80 of his 114 bouts.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

Cultural Literacy: Boston Massacre

One of the supreme and bitter ironies of the events leading up to the founding of this nation is the death, in the Boston Massacre, of Crispus Attucks. Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Boston Massacre which, even in its squib, makes sure that the first person to die for the cause of American liberty was a black man.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Dr. King on America’s Defaulted Debt

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir…America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned.”

Speech at Civil Rights March, Washington, D.C., 28 August 1963

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.