About Jheanell Lumsden

Jheanell Lumsden is a young, black educator who hails from Jamaica but is currently working in Toronto, Canada. She is dedicated to ensuring her curriculum is diverse and reflective of stories from all over the world and from groups that are typically left out from English curriculum. Furthermore, she works to create a revolutionary classroom in which her students are critically thinking about the world and seeking to enact real change.

On January 20th or Inauguration Day, Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet, a young black woman stood in front of the United States and blew us away with her moving words, and her beautiful delivery. As an educator, a young black woman, and an immigrant, I felt invigorated by her words. One line, in particular, stuck with me ever since I first heard her poem, The Hill We Climb, and continues to stick with me almost a week later.

She said: “We will rebuild, reconcile and recover” and I felt as if she was speaking to the hopefulness and vigor, which I see in my generation and in the generations of which my students belong. As I said in my article, 2020: Reflections of an Educator Working Through a Pandemic, young people are thirsty to create change, to rebuild a society that is equitable, and for some who have been affected by such oppression, her words represent how some persons are seeking avenues to confront, address and recover from the generational and personal trauma that they experience daily. Gorman’s work reinforced for me, that my students need to continue to see the power of words and use them as a first step in critically thinking about social issues that plague our communities.

As such, Amanda Gorman’s performance inspired a portion of the final assignment for my last unit in my Grade 11 English class, which was centered on Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic novel that describes the childhood of a young Marjane who grew up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. Typically, I have students select a social issue that they feel passionate about, and conduct research on that issue: its prevalence, who is most impacted by the issue, and possible solutions (on an individual and/or a group basis). They then would create a poster that captures some of the main points they learned. However, this semester, I decided to add an element to the assignment, which I’ve never done before, which is a poetry reading.

To be honest, I’ve been so fearful that I wouldn’t do a good job of teaching students how to write poetry, that it’s made me anxious to do it prior. However, we discussed and looked at various ways in which one can write poetry (and next semester, I will further integrate writing original poetry into my units so students will be more familiar with the practice). Students then wrote poems of varying lengths, forms, and about different topics ranging from gun violence, to racial discrimination, to wealth inequality and they performed them for their peers on Zoom. It was truly fabulous to watch. My students stepped up and performed with passion, emotions, and conviction. They cheered each other on and gave each other feedback. In fact, they even wanted to do more poems.

Amanda Gorman was the reminder we, as educators (despite our teaching disciplines), needed to ensure our classrooms are creating space for students to be creative, to speak out against injustice, but also, that we as educators need to be a part of the deconstructing and rebuilding that our society needs while ensuring that we are not further traumatizing our students in the classroom. As she described in her poem, it’s time for unity and togetherness as we traverse the uncertain future of our society. Her words, lasting and resolute, will forever resonate with me and speak to the power of young people like her and our students, many of whom are ready to create the change they want to see.

If you haven’t already read or listened to Amanda’s poem, read it here: Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem

Amanda GOrman

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