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Missing from my education? Black poetry

By Light Bailey German
Special to the American-Statesman
Amanda Gorman recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.

For the last six weeks, I have been part of a weekly study group, just one  of several on Layla Saad’s book, "Me and White Supremacy," offered on Zoom by my church, Trinity, which is both Methodist and United Church of Christ..

Originally, I decided to take the class as a way to connect with my fellow church members and to find out what white supremacy was all about.

We read a chapter a week, wrote responses in journals, and then met on Zoom to share our observations. I did learn a lot about what is included in white supremacy, and it caused me to search out my own beliefs as a privileged white woman.

I learned about white privilege, tokenism and saviorism. I learned about of what I was guilty and of what I wasn’t.

It was definitely a mind-opening experience that I would recommend to any white reader who is open to new insights.

There is much more that I learned and that I would like to share with you. I, my husband, and my two sons are all English teachers. Among the four of us are nine English degrees.

Light Bailey German is the director of writing and reading skills development at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

We all spent years in English undergraduate and graduate classes, mostly learning about literature. We had general literature classes and classes on special genres, fiction, drama, poetry. We also had classes on women writers, Jewish writers, and Southern writers — in other words, many kind of class you can imagine. What is shocking is that we never had a class on African-American poets.

In teaching our own students, we have only included Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou because that was what we had been taught. No one had told us of the breadth and beauty of so many other Black poets.

While being part of my church’s anti-white-supremacy class, I began looking for more African-American poets. What I found was amazing and heart-breaking. I found poets who were as good as Langston Hughes, as good as the well-known fiction writers, James Baldwin and Jacquelyn Woodson.

My family and I in all those English classes had never heard of them, which means that our own English students have not heard of them either. For the last 60 years, I have cheated my students of part of their American literary heritage. More importantly, I have done a great disservice to my fellow writers, especially to Black poets such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Robert Hayden.

I intend to change that. I intend to make this my work for Black equality.

Light Bailey German is the director of writing and reading skills development at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Find more Black poetry

Here are a few resources for discovering more poets.

The Poetry  Foundation, poetryfoundation.org/collections/101640/celebrating-black-history-month

The Root, theroot.com/20-black-poets-you-should-know-and-love-1790868612

Poets.orgpoets.org/12-poems-read-black-history-month

Well and Good, wellandgood.com/black-poets/