A Whistling Through the Water

This week was a weird but fruitful week. We read the poem “Emmett Till” by James A. Emanuel (link to the poem and link to Emanuel reading it below) and had great discussion in both Ms. Henley classes and Ms. Payne’s. Although no one wrote a poem this week everyone was really engaged in the story behind Emmett Till, especially since he was from Chicago and buried on the southside (there is some speculation around his remains being lost recently too).

Some students in Ms. Henley’s classes weren’t too familiar with the situation surrounding Emmett Till so reading the poem was more difficult for them, until we discussed the history. From there everyone was able to make text to real like connections. We looked at photos online and everyone had something to say about the cruelty of the situation.

In Ms. Payne’s class (who are 10th graders) they had a lot more knowledge of Emmett Till, to the point where one of the students kind of became the teacher/lecturer. They too were also able to make the text to real life connections in the poem, but from there we drew parallels to recent events such as those with Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. Something I can say myself I didn’t really connect until being involved in this discussion.

This was one of those teaching moments when the students were actively engaging in the activities and as a teaching artist felt good about the validity of poetry and the many ways it does open doors for people. I decided that what they were getting from this poem and discussion of the poem that stopping this dialogue would have almost been criminal. The prompt I had was for them to write about something they think is an injustice and why they think it’s wrong. But like I said this discussion these young people were having was all about injustices and histories of people of color and was lasting learning moment all sparked from a poem.

Links are below:

Emmett Till by James A. Emanuel



“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.