Talena Lachelle Queen's Poem Featured in New Jersey Black History Curriculum


IAS alum Talena Lachelle Queen (MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics, 2014) has been busy at work with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) to support the design and implementation of representative curricula throughout the state.

Queen's poem "How Do I Tell Them," which appeared in the 2014 issue of Clamor: UW Bothell's Literary and Arts Journal while she was student, plays a key role in the development of new Black History curriculum in New Jersey. It addresses what it means to be a Black mother in America, and the difficult questions surrounding the violence and racism experienced by African Americans that mothers are called on to answer—questions that continue to resonate and reverberate.

The text, which is full of historical, cultural, and literary reference, provides the backdrop for a series of 20 educational posters on key figures and topics from the poem. Educators and curriculum designers taking part in NJEA's training sessions have the opportunity to hear Queen perform the piece and post their responses to a FlipGrid presentation that includes prompts for further reflection. The resulting tapestry of reminiscences, meditations, and commitments brings educators and designers into close dialogue about their own role in answering the question, "how do I tell them?" with respect to New Jersey schoolchildren.

This project is part of NJEA's work developing an inclusive and representative curriculum throughout New Jersey schools—from Pre-K through twelfth grade. The state now mandates curriculum inclusion for Amistad, Holocaust and Genocide studies, LGBTQIA+, Persons with Disabilities, and Asian American / Pacific Islander history, and NJEA is working with educators across the state to support, in Queen's words, "the teaching of truth in the classroom."

Queen has been working closely with Chrissi Miles, Ed.D., Director of Professional Development and Instructional Issues for NJEA, who writes, "Queen has been an integral member of the design team, and the team has begun presenting as a way of heightening awareness and increasing interest in the work." Grounding their presentations in Queen's poem, NJEA opens a virtual space for participants to connect to one another, to Black History, and to the power of education.

Learn more about Talena Lachelle Queen and her work through her non-profit, WordSeed Inc., which hosts a wide range of initiatives to build community around words in Paterson, New Jersey, her home town.

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