I was shock to read that one of the greatest children authors left us, Walter Dean Myers. His writing touched me as a reader. He gave voice to the African American youth, which were voices not readily heard in literature.
I remember I was at an education conference and Mr. Myers books were on display. I picked up, The Autobiography of My Dead Brother, and was immediately captivated as I read the first pages. Walter began his story with a pastor giving an eulogy of Bobby Green, a fourteen-year-old who was killed by a drive-by shooting. I immediately got goose bumps all over. I knew I wanted to share this book. It needed to be read. And I knew the special class of students who would soak it up.
At the time I was an assistant principal at Hillcrest Intermediate School in Rockland County, NY. It would be considered and “urban” school in an suburban setting. Predominantly black student population at the time. The district transitioned from having a predominantly white student population. My students were the best. I loved seeing my students, my children, my people grow, learn, excel! I was fortunate to have a dynamic sixth grade teacher, Elizabeth Englebracht, who had a love of reading and passed it on to her students. I get excited when I experience ‘distinguished teaching.’ To be honest…it is a rare occurrence…unfortunately. When a teacher can ignite the love of learning in her students, you know they will be touched forever!
I knew I had to get this book into her hands and into the classroom. I knew she would conduct a book talk or a Socratic Seminar with her students. So without hesitation, I bought a set of books…with my own money. No, I did not wait for a purchase order from the school or district. The reading couldn’t wait. All I could think about was how I was going to entice the students into reading this book. I decided I was going to create an atmosphere of drama and suspense.
I walked into the room and stood in the front of the class. The students became quiet. All eyes were on me. They probably thought someone was about to get in trouble. Then, without any introduction or fanfare, I opened the book to the first page. I began to read out loud with the inflection in my voice as would black preacher …the eulogy.
“Lord knows we are tired today as we gather here in fellowship and sorrow, in brotherhood and despair, for the going-home ceremony of fourteen-year-old Bobby Green.” Pastor Loving rocked forward as he spoke. “Lord knows we are tired of burying our young men, of driving behind hearses and seeing the painted letters of remembrance on the walls of our neighborhoods.”
“As we close this chapter of young Booby’s life, let us send our prayers with him to the other side.” Pastor Loving, a big, dark man, wiped the sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief. “Let us send our prayers with him so that maybe one day those left behind will finally be able to do what we hope for him– to rest in peace without the violence that blows through our community like the winds of winter. This loss chills the heart and challenges the soul, and yet we must keep on. To young Bobby’s parents I extend my hand and the promise of a just God who will heal the heavy heart and rest the weary soul. As you leave the church today, stop and pass a word to Bobby’s grieving mother, Louise, and his grieving father, John. Let them know that in the middle of darkness there is and will always be the everlasting light of Christian faith. Amen.”
I closed the book, laid it down on the desk and walked out the classroom.
Rest in peace Walter Dean Myers
New York Times, Sunday Review Opinion March 15, 2014 – Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books? – Walter Dean Myers
Author Angela Alexander