Award-winning author Kekla Magoon spoke to school librarians during Saturday’s Author General Session at AASL National Conference. Her upcoming work, “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People,” publishes next month and has already been longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature adding to Kekla’s many honors including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the John Steptoe New Talent Award, three Coretta Scott King Honors, a Walter Award honor, and an NAACP Image Award.
Kekla’s passion and dedication to telling the true story of the Black Panthers came alive during the session. She encouraged school librarians to fill in the gaps in their knowledge – what generally amounts to one or two paragraphs in a history textbook – and discover the impact that the party had on the Civil Rights Movement past and present. The Black Panthers’ platform centered community, yet they were thought of as dangerous because powerful [White] people controlled the narrative. Systemic racism and historical bias created misconceptions about the party as a whole.
“Revolution In Our Time” was ten years in the making. Kekla had originally intended to publish “Revolution In Our Time” in line with the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Panthers in 2016, but the stars did not align. She was patient, wanting to wait for the right publisher to accept what she considered unconventional storytelling – a mix of photographs and words encapsulating the Black Panthers organization.
Kekla’s research brought her to Oakland, as well as several other cities, as she sought out any place that had records or memorabilia about the Black Panthers. Writing this book and uncovering the movement’s history took an emotional toll on her and at times she needed to set the work aside. Kekla admitted that shadows of the past have a way of catching up with us. She reminded the audience to #SayTheirNames connecting the past and the present.
During the session, Kekla related the work of the Black Panthers to our current Civil Rights Movement reminding us that their part had lasting consequences on our society including the free breakfast program and access to health clinics. “This is not just Black history. This is American history. This is ALL of our history.” School librarians related to a short vignette Kekla shared about a young boy attending a Political Action Training demanding, “I’m here. I am ready. Arm me.” as the trainer put books in his hand, the boy responded, “I said I want you to arm me” to which the trainer replies, “I just did.”
Kekla acknowledged that what she was saying “may be uncomfortable for you and that is okay. We mustn’t try to run away from discomfort or keep it from our children.” Kekla noted the recent book challenges authored by BIPOC individuals and encouraged school librarians to act, even in seemingly small ways. “Shelving a book is a small ordinary act in the course of your day, but it is powerful. Shelving a book that is important to young readers is as important as marching with Dr. King.” Our moments of activism “seem like small raindrops, but they build to rainstorms that create floods and carve out change.” Kekla called for school librarians to affirm their commitment to change as she led school librarians in a repeat-after-me affirmation: “I AM A REVOLUTIONARY!” She challenged school librarians to think about what small thing they can do right now to bring about the change they seek.
Look for “Revolution in Our Time” out on November 23, 2021.
Author: Shannon DeSantis Gile
Shannon DeSantis Gile is the solo school librarian at Peoples Academy Middle Level and High School in Vermont. She wears many proud hats in the school library world including AASL School Library Month Chair and Vermont School Library Association board member. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram (@gileslibrarian) or on Facebook.