Harlem’s Little Blackbird

More  now than ever before, I find myself asking, “What can I do to support anti-racism movements and how might I aid in bringing about social change?”

I consider myself to be open-minded, empathetic, kind and just.   My first car, a 1985 maroon Honda Accord that was passed down from my mom to my sister to me when I  finally learned to drive, flashed a Celebrate Diversity  bumper sticker with a rainbow background.  In college, I chose to live in the international dorm at UC Berkeley with students from around the world.  I have been committed to learning a second language as an adult and I seek out cultural events to attend with my family.  For heaven’s sake, I write a blog called Sail Away Story…a celebration of children’s literature from around the world!

And yet, I am aware that I have so much to learn about the complexities and intricacies of white privilege and systematic racism.  I also know that the question above “What can I do?” has a different answer for every individual.

While some may be moved to protest in public places, others may be inspired to write powerful testimonies.  While some may be inclined to lead, others may be motivated to educate or be educated.

What can I do?  What is my calling in the movement of anti-racism and social change?

First and foremost, I acknowledge that I am learning.  I am asking questions.  I am reading articles.  I am listening.  I am accepting that my personal awareness plays a role in a collective awareness.

Second, I accept that as an educator and a parent, I can engage in meaningful action to build a better future for my children and the children in my care.  I can begin to generate social change by:

  1.  Including diverse books in both my home library and school library.
  2.  Reading diverse books to my children and my students.
  3. Creating a safe environment in both my home and my school for children to ask questions about racism and social justice.
  4. Listening deeply to our youth.
  5. Modeling anti-racist behavior for my children.

While I recognize that the road to dismantle  institutional racism is long and rigorous, I know that there are small steps I can take now.

Earlier this week I virtually joined the KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives, created by Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds and sponsored by The Brown Bookshelf.   Today I ordered a copy of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds.  Tomorrow I will read Renee Watson’s, Harlem’s Little Blackbird, The Story of Florence Mills to my daughters.

Perhaps you will join us!


Click on the link above to hear Renée Watson read from and discuss the creation of her book, “Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills,” with third grade students and compare the challenges she faced in her competitive career with those of her real-life protagonist, singer Florence Mills. The program in the Library of Congress Young Readers Center was co-sponsored by the nonprofit literacy organization, EverybodyWinsDC.

*Forward to 13 minutes to hear the story without previous commentary.

Renee Watson asks of white educators, librarians and youth workers to “not only share stories about our pain, but  about our joy too.”  Harlem’s Little Blackbird is Florence Mill’s story told by Renee Watson and illustrated by Christian Robinson.  The book is a  poetic biography about justice, equality, struggle, success and….joy.

Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by her fellow black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights.

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Family Discussion:

1. What was Florence passionate about?  What are you passionate about?

2. How would you feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do what you love because of the way you look?

3. What are a few of the examples of racism/discrimination that Florence encountered during her life time?

Racism is  is when a group of people are treated unfairly because of their race. Some groups of people are even treated violently because of the color of their skin.

4.  Have you heard the word racism in conversations recently?  In what context?

5.  What are a few examples of racism that Black Americans face today?

6.  What small or big steps can you take to be anti-racist?

Family Activities:

  • Learn more about Florence Mills here.
  • Make a self portrait of yourself participating in an activity that you are passionate about similar to the portrait of Florence below:


  • Explore the lives of other inspiring Black Americans who have influenced social change by reading their biographies.  A few of my favorite titles include:









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