By Sam Piha
Daniel Summerhill is an Oakland native and a poet, spoken word artist and college professor. He recently led a ten-week writing workshop for young black men in Oakland which explored what it means to be young and black in today’s day and age. A collection of their work from that workshop was recently published in the new book Black Joy: An Anthology of Black Boy Poems.
I first heard Daniel Summerhill interviewed on KALW radio. Listen here. You can also view some of Daniel’s spoken word/poetry on his YouTube channel.
We thought that Daniel could help us in better understanding the intersection of equity and literacy. This post includes his responses to our interview questions.
Young folks of color have a different lane into literacy and the world of literature. Most of the canon is Eurocentric and is pretty well guarded to keep it that way. The canon as it stands may not be appealing to young people of color because they don’t see themselves in it.
Q: There are many people that believe that young people of color and those from low-income communities are not interested in writing or reading. Do you think this is a result of a “bias” issue? Would you also include this in a discussion of equity?
A: Absolutely. That notion is simply not true. In my experience as both a product of a low-income upbringing and my time teaching, I have found that young folks of color don’t have access to a catalog of genres/titles. Just as there is no one size fits all model for pedagogy, there is no one size fits all model for reading and writing. I wasn’t exposed to Shakespeare as a child, and honestly, I don’t know that I would have been interested if I had been. I was much more interested in Hip Hop Culture because that’s what I related to.
Young folks of color have a different lane into literacy and the world of literature. Most of the canon is Eurocentric and is pretty well guarded to keep it that way. The canon as it stands may not be appealing to young people of color because they don’t see themselves in it. That is what I discovered once I reached high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like to read, it was that I didn’t like to read things that made me feel “othered" or “separate” or “inferior.” It is all about finding what piece of reading interests you. The writing comes naturally after you find the right book.
Q: How did you get involved in writing? Was there an adult that encouraged you?
A: I began writing in middle school. The first person who served as a catalyst for the poetry already inside me was my oldest sister, Tenesha Smith. She is a poet as well. When I was just 12 years old, I found a journal of poems she had written while she was in high school. All it took was for me to recognize what words were capable of. In particular, she wrote a poem called Wishing Upon a 747. In the hood, stars aren’t visible, so her poem, a play on the Wishing on a Star idiom, showed me that I could also use my culture and my discourse to share that story, that vantage point.
Once I got to High School, I had an English teacher named Mr. Ross. We did a unit on poetry. We wrote poems and then we shared them with the class, mine was received well. The next day after class, he pulled me to the side, bought me a brand-new journal, and wrote in it: “so much talent, never waste it.” Til this day, I still have that journal and I have been looking for Mr. Ross to let him know the effect that day had on my career.
Q: Was there a time or event that got you interested in reading? Was there an adult that encouraged you?
A: During the same time Mr. Ross bought my journal, he also bought me my first book. It was called The White Boy Shuffle, by Paul Beatty. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to any young person (high School). Him buying me a book based on what he knew about me helped me realize that there was a world of writing separate from To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies.
When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.
Q: We have found that young people greatly enjoy reading, being read to, and express themselves through writing be it through journaling or poetry/spoken word. Can you comment?
A: Human beings by nature are empathic. We want to connect and to be understood and heard. For a young person, this is true even more as they are discovering their voice. It is up to adults to provide a scaffold or framework in which they can discover their voice. Poetry, reading, writing is a multifunctional way to accomplish this. Not only are they improving their literacy skills, but they are also learning how to critically think, how to articulate, how to convey information, how to rebel, how to advocate, and how to safely release emotions. All it takes is encouragement, a pen and a paper. Poetry in particular, is universally economical that way.
Q: Can you provide any advice on how to engage young people in out-of-school in reading or writing, especially those who are turned off by school?
A: If a student is turned off by school, it usually isn’t the student’s fault. It is because adults haven’t found the right method/environment of teaching for that young person. As we all know, there are a slew of different pedagogical methods, and many ways kids learn. Again, human beings are wired to learn. Whether it be in a classroom or in the streets, learning is inevitable. The key to fostering a safe and successful environment is discovering the student’s interest and the ways that they learn. This goes for outside of school as well. “What activity can you engage them in that will aid in their development?” is the question you should ask.
Q: We have found that older youth enjoy books that are read aloud- something rarely done in after school programs. Do you have book recommendations for young people of color?
A: Chike and the River, Everyday Use by Alice Walker and One Friday Morning by Langston Hughes. Also, check out some poetry collections. They are awesome to read out loud. Some good ones are Joshua Bennett’s’ The Sobbing School and Dreaming in Kreyol by Danielle Collins.
Q: Do you have any book recommendations that young people may enjoy reading alone?
A: It is sometimes challenging for young people of color to retain information when it comes to narrative. I have used short stories to combat this. Lost in the City, a collection of short stories by Edward P. Jones is a brilliant collection to tap into. Best of all, it is a collection of short stories through the lenses of young people. All American Boys is another favorite of mine, by a good friend Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. Anything by Chinua Achebe.
Hailing from Oakland, CA, Daniel B. Summerhill is an assistant professor of poetry/social action and composition studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of Divine, Devine, Devine (forthcoming), a semifinalist for the Charles B. Wheeler poetry prize. Summerhill holds an MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College (Solstice). He has received the Sharon Olds Fellowship and was nominated to Everipedia’s 30 under 30 list.
Daniel has performed alongside greats such as Jasmine Mans, Abiodun Oyewole, Lebogang Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe and others. He co-headlined a European tour and was invited by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the U.S. Embassy to teach and perform at the annual International Poetry Africa Festival in 2018. He is the 2015 NY Empire State Poetry Slam Champion and a 2015 Nitty Gritty Grand Slam Champion. His poems are published or forthcoming in the Lilly Review, Califragle, Button, Blavity and elsewhere. A chapter of his research, Black Voice: Cultivating Authentic Voice in Black Writers is forthcoming by the Massachusetts Reading Association.
By Sam Piha
As our young people are returning to classrooms and afterschool programs, our country is gripped by confusion, fear, and anger that is a result of hate speech, mass shootings and deportations. This is particularly true for communities of color and other marginalized groups. It is important that afterschool program leaders think about how they will respond and support their young people in light of this crisis.
My family is documented and we’re residents, but regardless of that fact, we’re just scared. We’re afraid that something can go down. Personally, I didn’t want to go to school. Anywhere I go, I feel threatened.
The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence (AzCASE) offers the following tips for afterschool providers:
We would add that it is important for program participants have a regular opportunity, such as a sharing circle, for young people to express their thoughts and concerns - not just when there is a local or national crisis.
It is important that adults and youth do not fall into hopelessness. To avoid this, it is suggested that we find ways to take action for change. Below are some leading organizations, assembled by Youth Service America, that will help you take action:
• March for Our Lives
• Everytown for Gun Safety
• Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence
• The Brady Campaign
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO ICE RAIDS?
We are currently researching how expanded learning programs should respond to ICE raids that impact their participants. We do know that some school districts have addressed this and if your program is school-based, you should seek advice from your school district host. Below are some recommendations from Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), who developed a 10-step guide to help schools and educators support children affected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids:
By Sam Piha
There is a new book series entitled Current Issues in Out-of-School Time. The Series Editor is Helen Janc Malone. The Series promotes and disseminates original theoretical and empirical research and promising practices from practitioners to further grow and strengthen the OST field.
The latest book in this series is entitled Changemakers! Practitioners Advance Equity and Access in Out-of-School Time Programs, edited by Femi Vance and Sara Hill. Because equity and access are such important issues in the out-of-school time field, we approached Femi and Sara with a few interview questions. Their responses are below.
Q: There is a lot of discussion among afterschool leaders and providers about the issue of “equity”. Can you define what you mean by equity?
A: With this volume we want to add to the discussion on “equity” and we cannot do that well if we all mean different things when we use the term. With that in mind, we define equity early on in the volume; it is “when young people have the tools, resources, and other supports they need to achieve desired outcomes”.
We also caution against confusing equity with equality, which is when everyone gets the exact same resources. As we know, each young person is an individual with unique needs, equality will provide some support but it may not be the kind of support each young person needs to succeed. Equity, as we see it, requires us to provide tools and resources that are intentionally aligned with, and match the needs of youth.
Q: Many afterschool programs, per their funding, are located in schools that serve black and brown families and those from low-income communities. Do you think this covers the issue of access?
A: It’s a start but it is not the full picture. A few of the chapters in the volume draw attention to strategies that we can use to improve access for youth and families and to resources for programs. Based on her work with her program, Rachel Loeper suggests concrete outreach and retention strategies to meet young people where they are and encourage programs to examine their existing practices that result in the most vulnerable youth being unaware of or worse feeling excluded from programs. Suzanne Stolz pushes us to think about how we can meet the needs of disabled youth and Andrés Henriquez and Sonia Bueno share how to get immigrant families “in the door” and provide meaningful opportunities for immigrant families to participate in and contribute to programs based in a science museum.
And, yet, we are just scratching the surface. For example, there is still a rather large unmet need for programs in the nation, and particularly in communities with concentrated poverty. What, beyond funding, is behind that? We should also be discussing access to programs for youth who live in rural communities and how we can ensure that youth continue to access resources during the summer. Locating programs in low-income schools is just the beginning, not the end.
Q: What can programs do in the way of promoting different experiences to address inequity?
A: One of the most impactful techniques that programs can use is to train staff to use a critical youth development approach with young people. In the volume, Merle McGee makes the case for why programs should invest in critical youth development and offers some practices and activities that can help programs to get started. In a nutshell, critical youth development helps youth to articulate, understand, analyze, and push against power, privilege, and oppression. Staff will need to examine and reflect on their own beliefs and attitudes about these issues to effectively use critical youth development.
We also encourage organizations to learn about implicit bias, or the beliefs and attitudes that unconsciously affect our thoughts and behaviors, both positively and negatively. Management and other professional staff can examine how implicit bias shows up in organizational policies and practices. In her chapter, Kathryn Sharpe taps into equity-minded OST leaders for recommendations on how to build equity and mitigate implicit bias. We think her chapter is a go-to resource for organizations ready to take that step.
Q: At the systems level, equity in afterschool concerns both issues of access and program experiences. Can you comment?
A: What we are currently lacking is an agenda that names the most pressing issues around equity and access so that we can begin to think through how we can address them. Legacy organizations, e.g. Boys and Girls Clubs, The Ys, 4H, because of their national span, may be the ones who can get this agenda rolling. Statewide intermediaries are also in a position to help set an equity and access agenda. As we have alluded to in our responses to earlier questions there is no shortage of issues that we can tackle. The tension will be deciding which issues to focus on first and the strategies to do so.
We can share a few equity and access issues that are currently on our minds. One is the misalignment between quality standards that call for equity, diversity, and inclusion and quality assessment tools that rarely address this issue thoroughly. Another is ensuring that people of color are better represented at all levels of the afterschool field, including the systems level.
A final topic that we have been paying attention to is how to recognize and respond to resistance, from people and organizations, to equity-driven practices. Equity can be uncomfortable for people to discuss because it requires us to examine the effects of privilege, power, and oppression on your daily lives. Undoubtedly, there will be resistance and knowing that, we can think through how to address it. We are currently collecting anecdotes of resistance to efforts to promote access and equity in OST programs, so if any of your readers would like to share their story, they should feel free to contact us.
People are already doing work on each of these topics, so there is progress. Again, we need a more intentional and unified approach to equity and access.
Femi Vance, Ph.D. is a researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR) where she researches and evaluates out-of-school time programs and provides technical assistance to youth development professionals. She strives to translate her research into practice via board service, training, and practical and relevant blog posts and guides. Dr. Vance holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy from UC Irvine.
Sara Hill, Ed.D. has over 25 years of experience in youth development, curriculum and instruction, nonprofit management, evaluation and research. Dr. Hill has designed and delivered professional development for hundreds of educators at all levels, including youth and staff at community based organizations, public school teachers and administrators. She received her M.Ed from Harvard University School of Education and her Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University, Peabody College.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.