June Jordan: A Voice for Liberation

In 2008, I taught a community history course with my freshmen students at Boys and Girls High School.  As part of their culminating project they decided to create a magazine featuring famous Black people with roots in Bed-Stuy.  I loved that project because I was learning so much from my students and what they were researching.  So I was super astounded to learn that June Jordan grew up in Bed-Stuy.  If you are from “The Stuy” or know anything about it, you realize its streets are paved with cultural gold; but I digress.

June Jordan’s Brooklyn beginnings are no doubt important as she expresses in her coming of age work, Soldier: A Poet’s Childhoodjordan book cover1Published in 2000, Jordan explained her intention for writing, “I wanted to honor my father, first of all, and secondly, I wanted people to pay attention to a little girl who is gifted intellectually and creative, and to see that there’s a complexity here that we may otherwise not be prepared to acknowledge or even search for, let alone encourage, and to understand that this is an okay story…a story, I think, with a happy outcome.”  Her comments reveal two of the many things that were important to Jordan: her identity and purpose as a writer and poet and the lives and identities of black children.

Although Ms. Jordan was known as fierce and important presence in the struggle for human rights and progressive political action, she was also concerned with the black community and keeping its culture alive. Some of her earliest works were written for and about children: Who Look at Me (1969), His Own Where (1971), Dry Victories (1972), New Life: New Room (1975), and Kimako’s Story (1981), inspired by the young daughter of Jordan’s friend, fellow writer Alice Walker. Jordan encouraged the use of black vernacular in her writing and in the writing of her young black and brown students.

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Images of June Jordan as a little girl and young woman.

In the opening lines of her poem, “A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters”, Jordan calls out the racist, white supremacist theories of black intellectual inferiority and then goes on to replace it with an affirmation of the roots and origins of black brilliance, wisdom and authority:

“A few years back and they told me Black
means a hole where other folks
got brain/it was like the cells in the heads
of Black children was out to every hour on the hour naps
Scientists called the phenomenon the Notorious
Jensen Lapse, remember?
Anyway I was thinking
about how to devise
a test for the wise…”

 

Jordan’s life and work beautifully illustrate our work and responsibility as parents, educators and all folks who love black and brown children.  We can never overlook the importance of giving our children voice both at home and in school to express their ideas and to uncover the own talents, gifts and passions. We must continue to acknowledge there are forces and structures that work to deny the beauty, brilliance and promise of our children and we must work tirelessly to reveal the truth of their gifts and their humanity.

You can learn more about June Jordan and her incredible work as a poet, essayist and activist here.

Peace and love good people.

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Posted in Black Brilliance, Black Literature, education and politics, Teacher as Activist, We Honor You.

One Comment

  1. My favorite piece from her is “A Poem About My Rights” which is about self-validation of pain, and breaking free of being victimized.
    -Steven

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