The Power of Voice: Celebrating African American History

Celebrating African American History through Poetry

February is National African American History Month in the United States. It is a time to honor the work, achievements and contributions of African Americans. It is also a time to remember the struggle for civil rights and the importance of equality, civic action, social justice and solidarity.

In our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts we discussed the power of voice and words as illustrated by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Continuing this exploration of the inspirational power of words, let’s take a closer look at two poems by African Americans that illustrate the power of voice and words: Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde.  Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry for Young People by African-American Poet, Langston Hughes

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper

“Bring me all of your dreams, You dreamers, Bring me all of your Heart melodies That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too-rough fingers Of the world.”

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

This is the opening to one of my very favorite books of poetry for children. Originally published in 1932, The Dream Keeper, written by African-American poet, Langston Hughes, included 59 poems selected especially for young people. Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, became an important literary figure during the Harlem Renaissance.

He was a successful poet, novelist, short story writer, editor, translator, and lecturer, publishing dozens of works during his lifetime. His experiences traveling around the world informed his poetry, which readers will enjoy in the section titled, “Sea Charm.”

Poignant, sensitive, passionate, brilliant, beautiful, sweet, musical, intuitive – the poems in this collection are all of the above. Ranging in subject matter from the sharpness of the winter moon to a piano player’s weary blues, Hughes is able to communicate universal truths that ring just as true today as they did 80 years ago.

Through verse that sometimes rhymes, and sometimes doesn’t, and images that are sometimes playful, and sometimes serious, Hughes expresses a love for humanity and a hope for the world which young readers will find deeply inspiring. His ability to write about the life and emotion of black people in poems such as “The Negro” and “Mother To Son,” while maintaining a child-like sense of wonder and whimsy in poems such as “Fairies” and “Snail,” shows his versatility in communicating diverse experiences through poetry and mastery of his craft.

The Dream Keeper was re-issued in 1994 with seven additional poems and more than 50 scratch-board illustrations by African-American illustrator, Brian Pinkney, making Hughes’ poems even more accessible to children today. Readers, both young and old, will be uplifted by Hughes’ message of love and unwavering faith in reaching for your dreams.

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems written by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994. 83 pg. ISBN: 0-679-88347-9


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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