I am currently pursuing my doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and I had been going back in forth in my mind on what my dissertation focus would be. But, finally, I just gave in to what is most dear to my heart—books that mirror the lives of black and brown children; and CSK plays a significant role in pushing such titles to the forefront. So now, the working title of my dissertation is: “Avoiding the Single Story: University Professionals Explore Narratives of the Black Experience through Coretta Scott King Book Award Titles.” I have selected four CSK titles for university faculty and/or leaders to read over the course of the fall semester via a virtual book club: Piecing Me Together, We Are the Ship, Crown, and The Crossover. I wanted to choose titles that told varied narratives of the black experience.
I will never forget my experience as a little black girl perusing through books in the public library in search of titles that mirrored people, places, and experiences familiar to me. Allow me to briefly take a stroll down memory lane to recall some of the friends I have met through CSK titles like Cassie, from Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Her ability to maintain her spunky personality and witty nature all while dealing with racism and social ills made me feel like we were best friends. My heart ached for Gayle from Rita Williams-Garcia’s Like Sisters on the Homefront as she went through the trials and tribulations of being a teen mom. And I was terrified for Steve as he stood trial in a world that only saw him as a villain and not as the young, black teen or human he was, but instead, as a monster (Could art be imitating life today?)—an unforgettable character from the late, great Walter Dean Myers’ novel, Monster. I could go on, and on.
I am honored, and I view it as a service to my community, to serve on the Coretta Scott King Book Awards jury. I know how important it is for little black and brown children to see themselves, their culture, their neighborhoods, and their language in literature. But it is equally important for little white boys and girls to see that there are many stories that contribute to the black experience and that having only one narrative of the black experience is what contributes to unfair and inaccurate narratives that lead to stereotyping of black people, prejudice, and racial profiling—all of which we are witnessing in today’s political climate. Through my research, I will challenge university faculty and leaders to open up their hearts and their bookshelves to not only this year’s winners but to go back and read previous CSK award-winning titles, in order to expose themselves to the plethora of narratives that contribute to the black experience. Libraries may transform lives, but the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles have the power to modify your spirit and to change your heart. I’ll be sure to report my findings to the blog next year. See you all in NOLA and happy reading!
LaKeshia Darden is a 2017-2019 member of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury. She is the Curriculum Materials/Media Librarian at Campbell University.