Conquering Kryptonite with the Tiniest of Heroes

Posted 10 March 2014 12:00 AM by Toni "Bee" Brooks, Interactive Readings: Stories Alive! Teaching Artist for Kadir Nelson's "I HAVE A DREAM"

In February we got to celebrate the culture of Love on Valentine’s Day and the accomplishments of others all month in recognizing Black History. It is a special and exciting time for me because this year I got to read to the masses about one of my favorite historical figures Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Of course I must confess when I got the assignment – Wait, THE Dr. King?!? - whoa - the shivers got my big timbered self to question my abilities. It was not that green gem that weakens Superman – but my own brand of invisible kryptonite, a fear disguised as – a lack of confidence. I had reason – we scared ones always do – so here is the …reasoning which ran 90 miles an hour through my brain: Throughout my middle school years I remember celebrating King’s birthday with talent and feast filled events where videos of marches were played and nervous kids (like me) recited poems and King’s speeches. I recall us joy–jumping, the entire school at assembly, when Dr. King’s birthday became an official holiday! And and ...and yeah…my mind, changed quick.

I remembered my adult definition of "roots" is more stable from that youthful experience; I became a community advocate and storyteller today because of that time as a…kid. Hmmmm – after all the suffering that King and his sidekicks went thru - I truly need to stop allowing my branches to shake.

All of that shaking and a moment of remembering made me realize – it is about the Youth. It is a new season to tell the kids to dream positive; time for them to see how artist Kadir Nelson helped King’s dream come alive; it is time to tell them that they, like King, can use their natural and learned abilities to change the world – even if it is a tiny corner of it. I threw the shivers back to planet Krypton, because now in this Earthly realm I had a mission – to tell the future heroes to dream. Let me tell you how the voyage went…

We traveled throughout various cities and into BCYF nooks and libraries with interactive readings of King’s words as illustrated in Kadir Nelson’s picture book, I HAVE A DREAM. It was a lovely opportunity to explain that Dr. King’s superpower ability was “using powerful words and public speaking.” This made way for two modes of creativity: defining & acting out words and creating beats!

It was quite necessary for the children to comprehend words for it made them better actors. They showed me what “sweltering” meant and it was fun watching kids feign fainting and fan me as I bent on one knee “from oppression.” When I spoke of Dr. King’s dream to unite us as brothers and sisters, “Ummm YOU are not my sister!” was a response I welcomed for it opened the space ship door for me to explain what that statement meant in colloquial terms: “I will protect you from harm even if I don’t know you” I often heard back from them, “you will?" and saw their eyes brighten.

The beats, the organic rhythms, when that entered into the activity I sensed the energy level go higher in every place I initiated it - and saw the kids build their skills by taking it to another level! With The Hands - at the Community Art Center of Cambridge a steady handed counselor kept reggae beat, which the kids followed as we all chanted, “I Have A Dream, We All Sing…” With The Mouth - a duo at Nazzarro Center in the North End became beat-boxers; With An Instrument – my daughter Selena banged a R’n'B beat on the baby grand piano, as we walked in circles chanting, “…let freedom ring…” How do I know the kids learned the lesson even more from the adding of music and chants? It is because I spoke to groups of kids after each session. It was important for them to tell me what their abilities were “I can draw”, "I can build”! That was the best time to reinforce – you can transform your pocket of the world!

I became transformed by the kids’ dreams that my Sidekick Jossie gathered; more inspired every time Miss Teisha introduced each reading with the audio of Dr. King’s dream speech; and the visit to the young leaders in the hospital…I should mention how that transformed us all!

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