Learning from Jason Reynolds

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.

11 thoughts on “Learning from Jason Reynolds”

  1. I love how you contrasted but then found the common thread. I heard Jason Reynolds last fall in Westport and had the same reaction of listening for the what but then being mesmerized by the how of his delivery.

    1. Have you read any of his books? I really wasn’t familiar with him, which makes me a little embarrassed! Where did he speak in Westport? The summer book festival?

      1. I’ve read several of the books in the Ghost series. I saw him at the Saugatuck Story Fest this fall at the library, and several of my students came to his talk. His books were very popular in our book clubs this year. I really like his style and the fact that the settings are less familiar to most of our kids.

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience. I was supposed to be there, but was grounded by a family full of fevers. Love the way you describe his pacing and the way he made everyone feel included. Reminds me of a Drew Dudley quote: “Story is the basic unit of human understanding.”

  3. I’ve seen him talk before so I went to the other keynote–it sounds like JR was great. I love how you compare and contrast your existences in your reflections.

    Also, it was really fun to meet you in person! I’ll see you tonight.

  4. I would have loved to hear him speak. Maybe he will come close to where I live for that opportunity. I loved how you made a connection between your life and his. It gave me something to think about.
    I have read most of his books and have loved them. He and Kawame Alexander has allowed several of my boys to try reading again. For that, I am grateful.

  5. I love how you described Jason’s delivery, slowing down and then firing bullet shots. He is a great speaker, I understand. Some day I hope to hear him in person as you did.

  6. “He pulled us in by finding all sorts of common threads to weave into the fabric of his story.” This metaphor of weaving a fabric of his story in which everyone could find parts of themselves resonates especially with me. I wasn’t there but your post makes me feel as if I had been.

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