Social Justice Saturday

On Saturday, September 16th, six hundred educators gathered at Teachers College for the TCRWP’s second Social Justice Saturday. Lucy Calkins opened the day with a solemn tone, noting that participants had convened in hopes of finding strength and solidarity with each other so that we can find ways to make stands for justice in these difficult times. Cornelius Minor followed Lucy, and in his brief but powerful talk, he rallied the group to be more willing to call out racist and oppressive policies and actions, even if doing so made us, and the people around us, uncomfortable.

The keynote speakers that morning were Andrea and Brian Pickney, the award winning authors of books including Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride, Martin & Mahalia, and Sit-In. Andrea opened by pointing out that diversity has become the buzzword of the day, and she and Brian proceeded to use song, story and art to help participants know how embracing social justice and fighting against racism can be so much more than a buzzword.

The day was organized like TCRWP’s famous ‘Saturdays,’ with participants being able to choose between an array of workshops during each of three sections of the day. One of the workshops was led by leaders from the renowned organization, Border Crossers. Sonja Cherry-Paul led another session, tackling the question of how race and racism can (and must) be taught in mostly white, affluent suburban districts. Arlene Casimir-Siar led a session on writing through trouble, in which she drew on her work with the children of Katrina, to help teachers know ways to help young people use writing as a way to heal from trauma. Other sessions included: Be the Teacher Your Muslim Students Need in Today’s World, led by Hareem Atif Khan; Struggle Is Not the Only Narrative: Making LGBTQ a Story of Beauty, led by Katy Wischow; and Debatable History: Whose Stories Are Told, What Issues Remain Unresolved?, led by Mary Ehrenworth.

The closing speaker was Janet Wong, poet and children’s book author of dozens of titles, including You Have to Write and the Poetry Friday series. Janet offered numerous ways to invite students to be advocates, and to study examples of protest and advocacy.

One of the highlights of the day was a book sale that featured books by diverse authors, written about protagonists from often marginalized, historically oppressed social groups. The collection of books was especially chosen to include some of the best of children’s literature, and to feature narratives with kids of color who are just living their lives—running for class president, organizing a school event—rather than always spotlighting victimization.