READ + DISCUSS: Renee Watson's This Side of Home

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

Preserving Local History in Communities Facing Gentrification

Reflections & Learning Activity Content by Amy, Marilyn, and Akylai

(Social Justice in K12 Education, Summer 2019)

Preserving Local History in Communities
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For our group project we read a book called “This Side of Home” by Renee Watson. This story is based off of the authors experience of growing up in a small community of black and minority families who were pushed out of their houses due to gentrification. Our group focused on learning about cultural identity, ancestral guidance, and modern diversity in society in order to grasp the main messages of this story.

Maya and Nikki are African American twins who live in Portland, OR. With their best friend Essence, they have their whole future planned out. However, their senior year gentrification takes place in the streets of Portland. While Nikki enjoys the process, Maya is concerned by the lack of local black-owned businesses. Her frustration only starts to grow as Essence and her alcoholic mom had to move across the town and a wealthy white family moves in. Maya gets involved in school to bring more attention to Black culture and evolves her relationship with her friends to create new goals and support for each other.

By having weekly meetings we discussed the main points that the author wanted to get across to readers. This coming-of-age story wasn’t easy to reflect upon because the issues that these high schoolers were dealing with are intense, and from our reflections we found that there is no easy solution or answer for gentrification. Using the equity lens our group dove into the systematic racism that was uncovered in this story, but we also uncovered truth about self discovery and acceptance of change in the world.

Discussion Questions for Reading Groups & Classrooms

  • How does Maya preserve the local history while also embracing change?

  • How do we have a cultural identity without being closed off to others in society?

  • How does Maya utilize her ancestral legacy to move forward in life?

  • How does Maya develop the equity lens of her own community as she develops?

  • Discuss the two sisters unique journeys to finding personal equity and empowerment in their communities and within themselves. How do their journeys differ? How do they find mutual agreements in the end?

Additional Relevant Readings

If You Liked This Side of Home, You'll Like...

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

Piecing Me Together, Renee Watson

A is for Activist, Innosanto Nagara

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