"Ms. Clay!!! You came!!!" One of my 6th grade creative writing students was surprised to see me as I walked into the hall.
"Of course I came. Where else would I be? You didn't know I was coming?"
"No but I am so happy to see you because now you can take my mom's place. She couldn't be here tonight."
"Awww Amber. I love being a fairy god mother. Your mom would've been here if she could have been. You know you are loved and super supported!"
We both smiled, although I could tell Amber was still disappointed in her mom. I was glad that I was able to be at the event for her and so many of my other students.
After getting a few refreshments, I headed over to the table to pick up my copy of "Charm" the very first issue of the Voices of Baltimore's Youth literary magazine.
I sat down in the middle of the crowded hall in the Frederick Douglass museum, located in the East Harbor, and began to flip through the book.
Thanks to Corey Gaber, the 6th grade literacy teacher and my former intern, many of our student submitted their writing into the contest to have their poems selected to be in the magazine. This is the type of authenticity that our students need in order to truly motivate them to write high quality poems, narratives, and essays. They need a real audience.
I was aware that 8 of my students had writing pieces, that were created in my class, in the book ...but what I didn't know was that their poems were selected to be on the very first and last pages. The placement of their poems speaks volumes about how powerful their work is. As their teacher, I couldn't help but be elated.
A woman behind me said, "Look! My daughter is page on 40!"
"Wow!" I said... Even though what I wanted to say was, "Honey! My babies are on page 1, 7, 21, 26.... All up in there! And the last page too!!!!" But I held my tongue. It was her time to shine.
I turned around in my seat and began to silently reflect. I'm such sap when it comes to these things. Tears of joy filled my eyes but I would not let them fall... At least not until I turned the book over and read, "Girl, you know you want to cut that pumpkin!"... Every drop of water that I had been holding back came racing down my face like a monsoon. "Oh my goshhh!!!" I screamed so loud that Amber had to turn around and see what was wrong.
"Amber, this pumpkin quote was David's infamous line from his "Just Desert" Harris Burrdick story." David's story is one of my favorite short stories ever! I mean, I loved that story so much that I had David read it to all of my other classes and to the 1st graders in our elementary school!
"Ms. Clay? Are you crying?"
"I am so proud of y'all. This is so overwhelming. Out of all of the kids in the city that submitted their writing, you guys were chosen.. And you begin and end the book.... And you have the back cover!!! I am just so proud."
I couldn't stop crying. Crazy thing was, 4 of them were chosen to recite their poems at the event ...so the real tears had yet to begin. Amber was even chosen to give the welcome address. She represented our school very well. She was poised and graceful. A true flourishing blossom.
Aiyana couldn't make it though, so I was asked to read her "Daybreak in Baltimore" poem on her behalf. I texted her to inform her and she wrote, "You better read it like you mean it!" Talk about pressure!
But according to the audience, I read it with "power" and "purpose". A few of the parents and other teachers told me that the poem's content was strong and gives them hope for the future. I must admit, the writing of my students gives me hope as well. I have no doubt in my mind that my students will have a strong impact on Baltimore's future. No doubt at all.
My Ambers, Aiyanas, and Davids are going to make their mark on the world, just like so many of the great writers and activists that came before them. There work will go beyond the ink.
This morning, when I got the news about Maya Angelou's passing, I immediately thought about the fact that it happened on the same day that my students were being honored with this book. I couldn't help but to think that Maya Angelou's legacy will live on, stronger than ever, through my students and so many others students, who will soon be known as the new voices of our world.
Next year, 5 years from now, 20 years from now --- I will look back at these pictures, our smiles, and think about the tears that I can't stop from profusely falling from my face. I am so proud of my students. For me, tonight was a highlight of my career.. For them, it just the beginning of their journey.
Lead, learn, love ...
Write, advocate, perform..