Me: What book series are we talking about today?
Vera: (rolls her eyes). Mom, can't you just be normal?
Okay, the graphic novel series March [by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell]. John Lewis is a congressman now. He did all of the marches with MLK. And he planned the lunch counter sit-ins. He did so many things before. It makes sense that he’s still doing them now.
Me: Why did you choose to read this series?
Vera: I saw it on the coffee table. I started reading it, and I liked it.
Me: And what made you keep reading? You read all three books in the series today!
Vera: It was interesting about history and stuff. The bombing of black people’s houses. How white people would even pull black people out of their cars to harm them. John Lewis got smashed in the face with a billy stick and had to go to the hospital. I like history, but I don’t like people being hurt. I need to know and be smarter reading history. Then you go to college. Then you become 20. Then you are an adult. And you’ll know how to take care of the world.
You'll also have more job offers (laughs).
Me: Why would you keep reading if the book talks about so much harm?
Vera: I want to know about history. I just do.
Me: Were there examples of strength and solidarity?
Vera: Yes, the song "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine." People would sing these songs while marching or when they were in jail, but they kept singing. You can do anything with singing. You can talk about important stuff in songs. Music is our lives. That’s why our hearts have a beat. That was on a pillow where I have my piano lesson.
Me: I’ve heard you singing "This Little Light of Mine" around the house. How does that song make you feel?
Vera: I got it stuck in my head, so... (shrugs shoulders)
Me: As a multi-racial Black person, how do you feel when you read this history?
Vera: Some stuff in it was funny -- like when a rabbi came and had a long white beard and a little girl said, “I think that’s God.” And there were some parts that were sad -- when someone’s daughter died when a church was bombed and lit on fire.
Me: Do you ever feel mad when you read this?
Vera: No, but sometimes when I’m reading it, I feel like it’s just horrible. But you can’t change history.
Me: Do you feel like the history connects to things happening today?
Vera: Black People are being pulled over in cars by police for nothing. And racism is still a thing. We still need to fight against it. Do anything you can. Do marches. Vote against President Trump. Wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts. Have a sign in your yard. Treat everyone the same. You can read history.
But if you don’t know anything about race in America, you probably shouldn’t start with March. There are picture books that give the information to you more slowly -- like Let the Children March.
Me: What work did you do with us [your family], at school, or with other books to prepare to read this book?
Vera: I saw the play Who I Am: Celebrating Me by Ms. Shalanda [Sims], who was a teacher at my school. I knew mostly all of it, but there were some things that I didn’t know. There was the “n” word in the play, so we had a conversation about it with our class when I was still at school.
I learned this information over time, so it’s kind of hard to remember. But somehow, I know a lot about black history and today. You’re a teacher and my dad is mixed and has studied a lot of Black history and plays Black American music. We talk about identity and race in our house every day. We talk about the sad stuff and we celebrate, too.
Me: Anything else you want to say?
Vera: Nope (walks into the other room and starts humming “This Little Light of Mine”)