I’d planned to write about the literacy for this week’s blog post, but I could not do that in good conscience without acknowledging a literary genius who affected my life so greatly: Dr. Toni Morrison. Where do I begin? When I found out that she died, I immediately thought of my professor, Dr. Hedda Marcus from Nassau Community College. When I first went back to school as an adult with two young children, Dr. Marcus was one of my first and favorite professors. We are still very close and our relationship has turned into a beloved friendship, pun intended. For it was through the reading of Toni Morrison’s Beloved that I truly began to explore the depths, vicissitudes, complexities, and intersections of our lives as members of the African diaspora living in the United States of America.
How eloquently Dr. Morrison wrote about infanticide and murder as a neccessity, as a tool of choice to fight back against the depraved inhumanity called slavery, for even choice is God-given and no one should take it away, not even from a runaway slave! She challenged me. She went through the corridors of my mind and my heart with her writing and caused me to reflect in ways I never had prior to reading Beloved.
I had already read The Bluest Eye. That was my first surface encounter with Toni Morrison and let me be clear – when I say surface, I mean that I just don’t think that I was at a maturity level in my late teens / early twenties to fully understand the complexities of what she was conveying. When I read it again years later, the meaning became deeper. It was through the canon of books Toni Morrison penned that for the first time as a Black woman I read about myself. Sula. Song of Solomon. Tar Baby. Jazz. God Help the Child. Each one stripped away the plaque of hurt, loss, shame, and uncertainty that had begun to strangle the blood flow of my heart. Just a few months ago, the book club of which I’m a member – Books With A Crew – NY — read Dr. Morrison’s book The Origin of Others and I am so grateful to have read this work because, once again, she challenged me to think deeply about our racial identities! To think deeply about our history! To think ever-so-deeply about what our ancestors endured and revolted against for us to have the opportunities that we have now.
Toni Morrison, I vow to teach my students about you, to give them the same joy that you gave me, to expose them to the opportunity to have their own personal reactions, like I did, when hearing your great mind come to life through your written words. You exemplify the power of the written word. You are the epitome of what it means to be a strong, Black woman, a beautiful Black woman, an unabashedly proud Black woman, and an American genius — one of our best and brightest. You wrote your first novel at age 39 when many would have considered themselves too old to pursue their dreams.
Oh, to be like you one day — not only your accolades but the way you affirm us is like none other. You’ve etched a permanent place in the heart. mind, and soul of yours truly and I just couldn’t let you go without telling the world what you mean to me.
I pray all of my students relate to an author’s writing as much and as profoundly as I relate to the work of Dr. Toni Morrison. Teachers, I charge you as I do myself this day to ensure that the work of Toni Morrison lives on forever in every one of our classroom libraries. It’s the least we can do. It’s what, I believe, if I may be so presumptuous, she would’ve wanted.
“Somebody has to take responsibility for being a leader.” – Toni Morrison