Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options

Download this Issue


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

This collection, digitized in collaboration with the Michigan Daily and the Board for Student Publications, contains materials that are protected by copyright law. Access to these materials is provided for non-profit educational and research purposes. If you use an item from this collection, it is your responsibility to consider the work's copyright status and obtain any required permission.

December 08, 2021 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

8 — Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Michigan in Color
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

The lack of diversity in public schools: A reflection of my time with Black Men Read

When I take the time to reflect on my child-

hood, I cannot help but appreciate the parts of
my upbringing that nurtured a love for who
I am and the cultural community that I come
from. Growing up in a Black household in a
largely Black area, I obtained ample exposure
to my culture, especially through literature and
the arts. As a young child, the sound of Stevie
Wonder’s “Sir Duke” or Chaka Khan’s “One for
All Time” would be the first thing that I would
hear on weekend mornings, invigorating me as
I started my day. When I woke up to this music,
I instantly knew that someone in my household
was downstairs cleaning. Sure enough, I would
walk downstairs to find one of my parents
scrubbing the counters in the kitchen, one of
the many rooms in our home whose walls were
covered with the work of Black artists. Wheth-
er it be a depiction of a man playing the blues on
his saxophone for a live audience or a painting
that simply shows a family praying over their
meal, it was important to my parents that my
siblings and I were constantly surrounded by
positive and meaningful visual depictions of
people who looked like us.

The commitment that my family embraced

to showcasing our culture extended outside
the four walls of our home. When driving us
to school, my mom often played a CD that my
dad made for her with all her favorite songs,
which quickly became some of our favorites
too. In fact, I often refused to get out of the car
until I could finish belting the last note of Mary
J. Blige’s “Be Without You.” When I eventu-
ally did leave my mother’s car, I entered class-
rooms that similarly incorporated aspects of
African-American culture into our education.
Throughout my secondary education, it was
normal for me to have English curricula that
were mostly, if not completely, centered around
the works of Black authors and the actions of
Black revolutionaries. Whether it was writ-
ing papers about the Harlem Renaissance and
watching “A Raisin in the Sun” in my seventh
grade English class or reading Toni Morrison’s
“Song of Solomon” in my AP Literature class, I
could always count on being able to see myself
and my people in many of my English classes’
curricula. Not only did I feel represented in
the curriculum, but also felt seen by those who
were teaching it to me. A majority of my teach-
ers during K–12 were Black, and not only did
they make it a point to teach us our culture and
history, but to affirm our ability to succeed in
this world as Black people. I was also able to
see Black people in positions of power, with my
principals and administrators as leading exam-
ples. This benefit also extended to outside the
school grounds. I was also fortunate enough
in that I lived in a community filled with Black
people who had gone far in their respective
careers. All of these actions made by my family
and school district were done with the inten-
tion of cultivating a sense of pride in our racial
identity. I can say for myself that it worked.

As beneficial as this environment was for

me, I soon realized that it created a blind spot

in me. I thought that embedding positive Black
representations into a child’s experience was
how communities typically operated, because
that was how my community operated. I did
not know anything beyond my community
until I had the opportunity to have conversa-
tions with Black peers in different places. It was
through these conversations that I realized we
didn’t all have a common experience. Many of
them told stories of feeling disconnected from
our culture and ignorant to our history, a direct
consequence of curricula that did not serve
them or honor their culture and history. I was
saddened to hear about their experiences living
in predominantly non-Black spaces without
role models who looked like them beyond the
walls of their household. Hearing these stories
created a feeling of discontentment inside of
me. When I think about the pride that I take in
where I came from and the passion I have for
advocating for my community, it all stems from
my culturally-affirming upbringing. I can also
say that my love for reading came from being
able to read books that I felt represented me.
Knowing that others weren’t privy to these
benefits didn’t sit right with me. Originally, I
thought this was a phenomenon that I would
be forced to accept. Fortunately, I was wrong.
An opportunity to fuel my discontentment into
meaningful change came when I was selected
for a fellowship through the Ginsberg Center.

For the 2020-21 school year, I got chosen to

be a Community Leadership Fellow through
the Edward Ginsberg Center at the Univer-
sity of Michigan. Through this opportunity,
I was paired with a community organization
in the southeastern Michigan area and was
paid to act as their intern for the year. Based on
the interest form that I filled out, I was paired
with Black Men Read. An organization based
in Ypsilanti, their mission is to “uplift Black
men, all children, and all communities through
stories of the African diaspora.” I instantly
felt connected to the organization’s initiatives
because of how they aligned with the cultural
exposure and pride that was interwoven into
my childhood experience. Turns out, creating
environments similar to the one I was privy to
as a child was the inspiration for the organiza-
tion’s creation.

During my first weekly meeting with my

supervisor, Tamara Tucker-Ibarisha, she told
me the story of how Black Men came to be. In
2016, her daughter went to school with the son of
Yodit Mesfin-Johnson, who would go on to co-
create Black Men Read with her. One thing that
was undeniable about the school’s atmosphere
was the lack of Black male teachers — there were
none. The absence of Black male influences in
this academic environment became so apparent
to one of the school’s teachers that she took the
time to ask Mesfin-Johnson if she knew of any
Black men who would be willing to come to the
school to read to their students. After approach-
ing Tucker-Ibarisha with the proposition, the
two decided to invite some of the Black men
from their communities to the school to read
a story to the children, specifically a story that
centers a Black child. This initiative was well
received by the students, resulting in these sto-
rytimes becoming a somewhat regular occasion

at the school. Seeing the success of this initiative
and realizing that so few students in the Washt-
enaw County area get to experience having a
Black male teacher, they decided to start invit-
ing Black men to read at Blackstone Bookstore
in order to reach a larger audience. Similar to
the storytimes they hosted at their children’s
school, the events at Blackstone consisted of the
kids enjoying a story being read by a Black man.
However, since Blackstone acted as a less formal
space compared to a classroom, the kids were
also able to interact freely with each other. The
atmosphere of these events was so relaxed that
the storytimes at the bookstore were affection-
ately referred to as “book parties,” bringing an
air of joy and celebration to the idea of reading.

The book parties became just as much of a

success as the classroom storytimes, with par-
ents commenting on how these events have
cultivated a love of confidence in reading in
their children. As a result, the parents request-
ed for more parties to be hosted. Mesfin-John-
son and Tucker-Ibarisha, happily obliged and
started making events at Blackstone an occur-
rence that happened at least once a month. The
willingness of these two women to fulfill this
need expressed by the community is how Black
Men Read was officially created.

Before the start of the pandemic, in-person

storytimes and book parties comprised the
foundation of the offerings that Black Men
Read provided the Washtenaw County com-
munity. Unfortunately, as the first few months
of 2020 saw the increasing spread and severity
of the coronavirus, gathering children in one
small space became less and less feasible. The
progressing state of COVID-19 and the way
it was altering the nation’s social landscape
meant that Black Men Read needed an alter-
native strategy for connecting with children in
the community. This is where I came in.

Since my internship started just six months

after the virus put a pause on the organization’s
in-person events, it was my job to help them
replicate the sense of community they had cre-
ated in public spaces and transfer it to digital
platforms. This meant that I spent a lot of my
time helping to develop their visual program-
ming, mainly their YouTube channel, which
would consist of videos of Black men reading
children’s books, asking comprehension ques-
tions and answering questions about their lives
in order to create a connection with the audi-
ence. To be more specific, my role was to pick
out the books and create a script for each video,
which includes transcribing the words of the
book, writing the comprehension questions
and coming up with personal questions for the

men to answer.

As I started choosing books to be read, I

began to realize how much intention goes into
crafting a curriculum that centers Black culture
while also telling the stories of Black people.
Each book that I chose reflected the specific
theme that Tucker-Ibarisha, who served as
my supervisor, chose for the given season. The
theme for fall was confidence, which led to us
choosing “I Am Every Good Thing” by Der-
rick Barnes to be read. With the winter season
encompassing Black History Month, the story
“Wind Flyers” by Angela Johnson, which tells
the story of a Tuskegee Airman, was a perfect
choice. Lastly, we chose “Over and Under the
Pond” by Kate Messner in order to celebrate
the coming of spring and the desire that comes
with it. The different themes, along with the
very different stories that were told in each one,
were nothing short of a result of a calculated
strategy. My supervisor and I chose the themes
and the resulting books as a way to provide a
holistic depiction of Black life. With these three
books, we highlighted milestone achievements
in the Black community while also showcasing
Black people enjoying the everyday wonders of
life. We aimed to convey the message that yes,
Black people are exceptional, but we don’t have
to be doing something monumental in order to
be worthy of being seen.

After we chose the books, I shifted gears

to creating the script. Not only did the scripts
include the words of the book that would be
read and the comprehension questions that
would be asked, but they also detailed instruc-
tions for how words would be presented on
the screen. Because Black Men Read aimed to
improve literacy through these videos, it was
essential that the words were presented in a
way that was conducive to kids’ understand-
ing and retention of basic vocabulary and
phonetic skills. With the help of Nuola Akinde,
Black Men Read’s Director of Culture and Cur-
riculum and the founder of Kekere Freedom
School, I developed techniques to ensure that
our literacy-improving goal would be met. The
main strategy I utilized was highlighting dolch
words, which are frequently-used English
vocabulary words that are often used to teach
kids to read. Dolch words include basic words
such as “the” and “for.” For every book that we
were recording a reading of, I wrote down the
words of the book and highlighted all the Dolch
words in them, as a way to signal to the design
team that those words needed to be empha-
sized on the screen. Once the Dolch words
were highlighted, I moved onto the compre-
hension questions. In creating the questions,
I was tasked with ensuring the questions
required the children to practice their critical
thinking skills in a way that challenged them
without being too difficult which was tedious.
Yet, from performing these two tasks, I gained
an appreciation for both the organization I was
working for and the teachers in my childhood
that worked hard to provide the same benefits
to me and my peers.

Whenever I finished creating a script for

the YouTube videos based on a given book, it
was then time for me to correspond with the
volunteers who committed to being the ones to

actually star in the video. While instructing me
on how to communicate with the readers, my
supervisor casually mentioned that their deci-
sion to center the organization around Black
men was about more than just filling the void
of Black male figures in secondary education.
The creation of Black Men Read also stemmed
from a desire to dispel the stereotype that Black
men are not involved in their communities, a
stereotype that Tucker-Ibarisha says — and
I can confirm — is very untrue. Because the
organization was serving as a form of correc-
tive representation for Black men, she told me
that she was intentional about choosing men
who she knew were active in their communi-
ties and who were passionate about leaving a
lasting impact on the lives of children.

After spending time emailing instructions

back-and-forth between myself and the read-
ers, I finally obtained the video footage that
would be used to create the YouTube videos.
When I pressed play, I was met with the enthu-
siastic tone of a man reading the book “I Am
Every Good Thing” in a way that made the
story come to life. Once he finished reading the
book and asking the comprehension question,
he went on to talk about his life. Here, he includ-
ed a description of his career and expressed
how much he enjoyed being a husband and
father. Reviewing this video made it clear why
he — and all the other men who would read —
were chosen to represent the mission of Black
Men Read. The passion that these men had for
connecting with children and improving their
literacy reminded me of the dedication exhib-
ited by the men in my own community, who
were always very hands-on. The ideas that
these videos, and the men, would contribute to
Black children being able to see themselves in
educational spaces warmed my heart.

While providing uplifting representations

to Black kids is an integral part of the organiza-
tion’s purpose, their mission statement explic-
itly states that their overall goal is to empower
“all children.” My supervisor would sometimes
reiterate this during our Monday afternoon
meetings. One day, I asked her if there was any
intention behind aiming to serve all children
instead of tailoring the program to Black chil-
dren. Her answer surprised me. She told me
that, oftentimes, when a police officer shoots
an unarmed Black man, they defend them-
selves by saying they felt threatened. Her view
was that, in some cases, the officer is telling the
truth when they say that line, because whether
the subject is actually presenting a threat or not,
the social narrative of Black men is that they
are to be feared. Because of this, she wanted to
make the Black Men Read’s initiative available
to all children in order to prevent and combat
the development and progression of these irra-
tional fears of Black men.

This was in no way said as a justification for

police brutality — in fact, it’s the exact oppo-
site. She explained that there not being enough
positive representations of Black people in the
media and in academic settings causes people
to develop damaging biases against Black
people that continuously go unchallenged.


MiC Columnist

Design by Melia Kenney

I’m startled awake as my 30th alarm drones

monotonously in my ear.

I’m drenched in a cold sweat, cursing as I

realize it’s 12:50 and my class starts at 1:00 p.m.
I swing my legs over the edge of my bed and
scurry through my room, grasping for my final
clean pair of jeans and a sweater that’s been
worn three other times this week. I can’t see the
floor of my room, but I’ve learned to navigate
the war zone, memorized the clearings that I
can step on without tripping over landmines of
laundry or discarded Amazon boxes or takeout
containers. I sprint down the stairs and clamber
into my car, equally as messy, and speed down
to class; I make it at 12:59 on the dot.

All of this to say, I’m the messiest person I


It’s an unexpected idiosyncrasy of mine,

and I’m shocked when people tell me that I
seem sooo put together. When they tell me
this, I manage a strangled laugh, because I’m
about as composed as a four-car collision or
an oil spill or a blazing forest being put out by
water guns. But I’ve become well-trained in
the art of deception, and I revel in my expert
ability to keep the uncontrolled chaos just
below the surface.

When the messiness seeps through the

cracks, begging to be seen and heard and felt, I
do not panic; instead, I turn it into a punchline.
I wear it shamelessly on my sleeve, roll my eyes
and say, “I know, I’m such a mess!” I internalize
it, trying to make it an endearing personality
trait, like when a doe-eyed child talks too much
or when a clumsy pet scampers into a wall one-
too-many times. I think if I brandish it like a
comedic weapon, take this ghastly flaw and
furiously shine it, the carefully curated lacquer
will make it sparkle, make it lovable somehow.

But my ownership of the mess doesn’t make

it any more sexy or captivating. Up close, it is
grotesque and all-encompassing, permeating
every corner of my life. My speech is messy,
punctuated by stammers and sloppily-strung-
together tangents. My writing is messy,
wrought with technical errors and screaming-
red truths that border on unprovoked
oversharing. My room is messy, as is my car
and closet and mind. If it’s possible to be a hot
mess, then I am on fire, always half-heartedly
snuffing out the flames but never really putting
out the blaze. Living like this demands a bizarre
form of introspection, and lately, I’ve spent a lot
of time trying to decipher what the mess means.

I tell you without really saying it, because I

lack the courage, and I think the mess likes to
speak for me anyway. When I say, “I’m sorry
about my room,” what I mean is that I’m tired.

That the days bleed into weeks and months
and a task as simple as laundry would drain
every iota of my energy. That my living space
has become a battleground and I’ve settled for
a truce. That I’ve opted for subordinate forms
of self-punishment, that I don’t deserve a clean
room or a safe space, that it’d be just another
thing for me to inevitably destroy. That I’m
fraught with failures: I forgot to eat today, I
forgot to text you back, I forgot how to put out
the million little fires, how to be anything other
than this.

Maybe I don’t tell you any of this because

sorry is easier, anyway. It fits like a well-loved
sweater, a default word rolling off of my tongue
with miraculous ease as if it’s not leaving
bruises in the back of my throat. All the sorries
buzz around like gnats, trapped behind heavy,
chapped lips. They scream, “I’m sorry I’m such
a mess and I’m sorry that all I have to show for it
is this bloody, mangled sorry I’m biting down on.”
I’m sorry that sorry doesn’t clean up messes.

When I set aside the time to clean up my

room, or my car, or my inbox, I hate myself for
it, wondering when I let it get like this. I sift
through the clothes on my floor, aging them
with principles of superposition like deeply
embedded fossils. I become an accidental
archaeologist, realizing the shirt at the bottom
of the pile is stained with September’s sadness
and the jeans draped over the back of my desk

chair are perfumed with the exhaustion of
exams. The coffee cup marks on my desk
culminate like rings in a tree trunk, and I realize
this mess is old. I realize it might’ve been here
before me, roots planted too stubbornly in the
ground for me to ever move.

I give myself cheap cop-outs, blaming it

on school or stress or grief. Because what is
grief if not a mess you can never quite quell? A
coffee cup cemented to your nightstand, a pile
of laundry slowly towering on the floor despite
you never adding to it, something you can’t
bring yourself to confront or clean up. In those
moments, I decide the easiest thing to do is let
the mess win and lay in it instead, let it swallow
me whole because it’s earned its rightful place
there and has grown too prideful to ever go
away. Most nights, I do.

Other nights, I clean up. It takes two cups

of coffee, three loads of laundry, four garbage
bags and countless breaks strewn in between.
I curl up atop half-folded clothes and let the
ache wash over me, cruel and demanding, and
it takes everything in me to continue. But I
do. I laboriously chip away at the mess until it
disappears entirely until the bed gets made and
the room smells of Febreze and fresh starts. I
resent myself the entire time, like a beguiled
mother cleaning up after a reckless toddler. I
pretend it isn’t my mess, that the girl who let
it spiral is just a lazy liability I’m forced to take

care of. But the satisfaction of it all is tinged
with shame, because I remember that I am her
and that means the mess hasn’t gone away, not
really. Maybe it never will, and maybe it’s less
about the mess and more about the resolve
required to clean it up.

These days, I’ve been trying to redefine

the relationship I have with cleaning. I mold
it into something that’s more meditative than
miserable, something I do for myself rather
than to spite myself. I do it because I love
the girl who let it get this bad. I was there
on the sleepless nights, felt the dull ache in
her chest that persisted for weeks on end,
and I understand why a mess was easier to
maintain. She deserves compassion, too, even
on her worst days. Even when she can’t muster
the will to see the world through anything
other than jaded, glassy eyes, even when she
destroys everything she touches. Even then,
she deserves to rest her debilitated bones
on warm linens, to have a space that is rid of
the reminders of her failures. When I say I’m
cleaning my room tonight, what I mean is,
I’m extending her the same tenderness she’s
always extended me. I’m thanking her for

In the same breath, I thank my friends for

being brave enough to love the mess.

What the mess means


MiC Columnist

Design by Camille Andrew

Read more at MichiganDaily.com

Read more at MichiganDaily.com

Back to Top

© 2024 Regents of the University of Michigan