On Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to start my day by listening to writer and master storyteller, Jason Reynolds. Reynolds gave the keynote address to a massive group of teachers who gathered together in the vast Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of New York City.
Jason began by saying, “I’m just going to tell all of you the same story I tell the kids.” At first I was mesmerized by his life story. In so many ways, his life was the opposite of mine. He grew up in a city. I grew up in the suburbs. He was black. I was white. He was a boy. I was a girl. He experienced the drug epidemic of the 80’s firsthand. I somehow missed the whole thing. He listened to rap music. I listened to rock and roll. He wanted to be Queen Latifah. I wanted to be Stevie Nicks.
But it also struck me that in some ways we were very much the same. I didn’t see any connection between books like Moby Dick, Lord of the Rings, and my suburban life as a young woman. I didn’t think those authors were talking to me, and I didn’t think they knew anything about who I was. I think I probably was as invisible to them as Jason was. I did read the books, but just because I was pretty compliant in those days. I, like Jason, had a person in my life who believed in me and encouraged me to take risks and follow my dreams. I, like Jason, believe that education is, in itself, a favor. I, like Jason, like Michael Jackson and have tried for years to bust a few of his moves (no luck yet)!
I was listening to the content of Jason’s keynote, but then I started noticing how he was telling us his story. The way he would slow down in some parts, and then fire at us like bullet shots when sharing some of the hard and ugly parts of his story. I noticed how he masterfully found a way to make everyone feel like they were included. He pulled us in by finding all sorts of common threads to weave into the fabric of his story. He was pacing back and forth in front of the church. His energy filling the entire space. People were laughing, sighing, wondering, pausing, crying, and even yelling out agreement when he would say something they connected to.
Jason left me with so much to think about. I have questions to ask, ideas to consider, new lenses to look through, and a whole new list of Jason Reynolds books to read.