February 20, 2024

"I see me" - The Magic of Representation

Zula is brilliant, creative, and caring. She has an advanced vocabulary but struggles with basic literacy skills. Like many of our youth, she is overlooked in the classroom and not given the proper supports she needs to shine. As a result, when she is asked to read, Zula gets anxious and shuts down.

Michelle knew that she needed to redirect Zula’s nervous energy before they could work on literacy skills. That’s what happened the first time she walked into Michelle’s room. She instantly deflated at sight of all the books and covered her face with a piece of paper, wanting to disappear. When Michelle asked her to remove it, she did but continued to cover her face with her hands.

IMG 2570

She asked Zula what she does really well and Zula confidently proclaimed, “Art!” Michelle asked her to draw her a picture and Zula excitedly dropped her hands and got to work.

She drew a picture of her family and talked about how much she loves her family the entire time. Michelle took note that Zula drew herself with blonde hair and blue eyes and the rest of her family faceless.

9545ed7f bba7 6428 6430 b52e9d403031

She knew this meant that Zula was struggling with her Black identity and chose the book, “I like my hair” to highlight the beauty of diverse skin tones and hair textures. Before reading it Michelle asked Zula who she identified with on the cover. Zula pointed to a light-skinned girl.

They began reading and when they got to this page, Michelle said, “Tell me about the page, what do you see?

7418eeb8 daa8 a258 b319 4b828399efcb

Zula excitedly exclaimed, “I see me!”

This is a powerful moment for Zula. Her ability to identify with Black beauty is a huge breakthrough for her in dismantling internalized racism and seeing herself and her perspective represented in the world.

The books we use to teach literacy matter. The way that we teach literacy matters.

Michelle will continue to work with Zula so that she can see her beauty and power.

Literacy helps children know who they are and who they can become. Literacy opens children’s worlds to possibilities, hope, and belonging.

When we empower children to read, we empower them to soar.