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Award-Winning Author Talks With McGillis Students About Black History, Culture, and Writing

Award-Winning Author Talks With McGillis Students About Black History, Culture, and Writing

By Liz Paige, Director of Ethics and Community, and Heather Novotny, Librarian


On Friday, February 5, The McGillis School was honored to welcome award-winning author Carol Boston Weatherford and acclaimed poet and artist Jeffery Weatherford, who is Carol's son. The McGillis School was particularly excited to host the Weatherfords during Black History Month, because their books tell powerful, inspiring stories about Black history and culture.


Carole Boston Weatherford's books have won numerous awards, including Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King honors. Last year, Carol published four outstanding books, and two of them just won major awards: R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul won the 2021 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom received a 2021 Newbery Honor. Further, poet and artist Jeffery Weatherford, who has an MFA from Howard University, founded the online hip-hop collective TRiiiBE Worldwide, and has performed, exhibited his fine art, and conducted workshops in the US, Middle East, and Africa.


We prepared for weeks by reading and enjoying dozens of Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Weatherford’s books. The Weatherford's books were integrated into lessons across curricular areas and read-aloud times. Ms. Annika used How Sweet the Sound, Carole Boston Weatherford’s 2018 book about the writing of “Amazing Grace,” to inspire 4th graders to write their own songs. Ms. Heather read R-E-S-P-E-C-T with to K-2nd grade when sharing recent award books. Ms. Mallory read Carole Boston Weatherford’s Newbery Honor book, Moses, to her 8th-grade students as part of a unit examining the role creative expression plays in a democratic society. Ms. Liz in Ethics read Carole’s newly published Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre to her fifth-grade students as part of their study of Black American history and the history of inequality in the United States. Mr. Blake read Be a King to the entire Lower School as part of the Lower School Shabbat on the Friday before the Dr. King holiday weekend. Middle School Kehilah crews even created an asynchronous buddy reading program by recording read-alouds of the Weatherfords works for Lower School students.


When the time finally came to welcome our guest artist and illustrator guest, we were nervous and excited. Although The McGillis School has hosted distinguished author and illustrator guests like Dr. Temple Grandin, Matt de la Peña, and Christain Robinson in person, we had never hosted a series of all-school virtual visits like this. Would the Zoom format allow for personal connection?


As we were hosting the Weatherfords via Zoom, we asked them to speak separately to grades K-2, grades 3-5, The Learning Center, and grades 6-8. Additionally, the Weatherford's led two writing workshops, one for our entire 5th grade and another for a self-selected group of 7th graders, focused on writing poetry and rap. Workshop groups both crafted a 16-line rap poem as a class. 


Though separated by over 1,000 miles, Zoom brought the Weatherfords into our classrooms and at-home learners’ spaces. Students listened attentively, asked questions, and shared ideas for rhymes. Our youngest students asked earnestly how to become writers and how books are published, while students and teachers of all ages were enamored by the dynamic of this mother-son team. There were many noteworthy moments such as when first-grade student Bela asked, “can a topic of a book could be any topic?”, and the Weatherford's both took time to answer her question and follow-up. The fifth grade wowed Jeffery Weatherford with their energetic participation and the internal rhymes of their collective poem. The students followed up their time with the Weatherfords by writing rap poem thank you notes to further express how much the experience meant to them. 


The McGillis School is committed to teaching the histories of all people and to instill in our students a commitment to anti-racism. Having the Weatherfords and their work to learn from and inspire us reflects our commitment and inspires us to do even more. We hope that this will be our first of many author studies and visits focusing on the work of writers of color and books that further our resolve to live lives of Derech Eretz/respect for all and Tikkun Olam/repairing the world.


Families, if you'd like to read and enjoy Carole Boston Weatherford's books at home, email Ms. Heather for print copies, or log on to Sora (email Ms. Heather if you need assistance) to read ebooks.