“THANK YOU” FOR BANNING MY BOOKS: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CENTRAL YORK, PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL BOARD

by Nkechi Taifa, Esq.

Dear Central York, Pennsylvania School Board:

I read with great interest the article in The York Daily Record about the struggle the school board is having with adopting an anti-racism curriculum. As a current attorney and former teacher in the Black independent school movement, I know how hard it is for mainstream (white) school districts to handle material that center the experiences of Black/African people in world and American history. The so-called “racial reckoning” we have been experiencing since the murder of George Floyd has brought to the surface long-standing tensions within American society.

However, I have to admit some shock that two of my humble little books from over thirty years ago were on your forbidden list:

· Shining Legacy: A Treasury of Storypoems and Tales for the Young So Black Heroes Forever Will Be Sung by Nkechi Taifa (1983)

Ironically, I am working on a reparations book project that will be published early next year. Meanwhile, Shining Legacy, along with two of my other classic children’s books, is poised to be re-published next month for new generations to enjoy. So, thank you kindly for the publicity!

With all seriousness, however, this is an issue that transcends Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported on the American Library Association’s 2020 list of banned books. Many of these books deal with issues of racial injustice, particularly from the Black experience. As The Times reported:

The books, and the attempts made to ban them from institutions, are reflective of current social movements, according to E. Sybil Durand, an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University whose expertise includes young adult literature. Books, she said, can help facilitate conversations about race that some teachers may find difficult to bring up in the classroom.

“Good literature reflects what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in society,” Durand said. “It shows us the ugly parts, and I think that that’s what makes people uncomfortable.”

I hope that you will choose meaningful dialogue over crass censorship. In a settler state founded on the attempted genocide of the native population, followed by three centuries of the enslavement of Africans, followed by 100 years of segregation enforced and reinforced by violence, these issues have never been easy for the white populace to publicly confront. But, as James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It is my sincere hope that the growth that is destined to come out of your conflict increases knowledge and understanding.

As for me, I’m proud to join such historically banned company as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. More than fifty years after the Black Power Movement, I’m glad that Black people’s movements and literature seem to be having the hoped-for effect: creating the real friction necessary to radically transform a flawed society.

Signed,

Nkechi Taifa

Author,

Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice

Shining Legacy: Storypoems for the Young, So Black Heroes and Heroines Forever will be Sung (originally published 1983; new edition forthcoming Sept. 2021)

The Adventures of Kojo and Ama (originally published 1992; new edition forthcoming Sept. 2021)

The Tales of Wisdom (originally published 1983, forthcoming Sept. 2021)

Reparations Yes (originally published 1987, new book forthcoming winter 2022)

P.S. Here is the list of banned books and materials in the proposed Central York, PA. curriculum, as forwarded to me, courtesy of the local York NAACP:

ARTICLES/STATEMENTS:

· “Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter: Sharing God’s Truth in Troubled Times” by George Hellerman, The Good Book Blog, Biola University

· “Antiracist work in schools: Are you in it for the long haul?”

· Being Antiracist | National Museum of African American History and Culture

· Pennsylvania Association of Student Administrators (PASA) Statement on Racism

· AASA, The Schools Superintendents Association, Issues Statement on Recent Events and Racial Inequality in our Nation

· Learning Forward’s Statement in Support of Demands for Justice

· Addressing Race and Trauma in the Classroom, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Racial Equity and Inclusion

· “How To Root Out Racism in Your School” (Tyrone Howard, from Education Week)

· “15 Classroom Resources for Discussing Racism, Policing, and Protest” (from Education Week)

· “We Need to Name it: Racism is a Public Health Crisis” (from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families)

· Black Lives Matter at School (resources from the NEA)

· “As Diversity Grows, So Must We” by Gary R. Howard

· Resources from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

· “Leading Difficult Staff Conversations about Race” (from SHARE)

· “Race Talk: Engaging Young People in Conversations about Race and Racism” (from the Anti-Defamation League)

· Anti-Racist Resources (LeaningForwardPA)

· Research and Issues (from the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy)

· RaceWorks — A free, racial literacy digital toolkit (from Stanford University)

BOOKS:

· Anti-Racists Resources: List for Educators

· Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

· Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

· Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara Ahmed

· Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris

· This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work by Tifany Jewel (with Teaching Guide)

· Can we talk about race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD

· Beyond Theory: A Blueprint to Implement African-Centered Education by Abena Walker

· Our Favorite African Adrinkra Symbols: A Coloring Book by Abena Walker

· So You Want to Talk About Race by Ileoma Oluo

· Reparations Yes!: The Legal and Political Reasons Why New Afrikans, Black People in the United States, Should Be Paid Now for the Enslavement of Our Ancestors by Chokwe Lumumba, Imari Abubakari Obadele and Nkechi Taifa

· Shining Legacy: A Treasury of Storypoems and Tales for the Young So Black Heroes Forever Will Be Sung by Nkechi Taifa (1983)

DOCUMENTARIES:

· The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, a 6-part PBS documentary

· I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary based on the writings of James Baldwin

ONLINE RESOURCES:

· Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards

· Teaching Tolerance: Discussing Race, Racism, and other Difficult Topics with Students

· Unboxing Equity For Educators

· Curated Anti-Racism resources for educators:
http://bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES
Nearpod Racial Justice Guide

PRESENTATIONS:

· A Message to Central by Niema Abdullah

VIDEOS:

· I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White

· Jane Elliot’s variety of videos

· Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts Training (and Leader Guide and Participant Handout)

· TEDx talk of Camara Jones MD on Allegories on race

· Coming Together: Standing Up To Racism (a CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall For Kids and Families)

VIRTUAL EVENTS:

· Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms: A Response to Racism in America

WEBSITES:

· Teaching Tolerance

Movement Attorney, Author of BlackPowerBlackLawyer.com; TheTaifaGroup.com; NkechiTaifa.org; @Nkechi_Taifa; Convener of JusticeRoundtable.org; @justiceroundtab