Welcome to To Be Free, an anthology of writing by the seventh-grade students of IS 187-Hudson Cliffs School in Manhattan. It was completed during a ten-week residency from December of 2016 through February of 2017 for Teachers & Writers Collaborative.
The goal of the residency was to bring creative writing strategies into the social studies classroom––specifically, to help deepen students’ understanding of the human impact of slavery in the early United States.
First, we presented the students with pictures of slavery. We asked them to bring those pictures to life by identifying with a person in that picture, and then use empathy and imagination to answer a series of questions: What does the person in this picture see? What do they hear? What are they afraid of? What do they want? Students then crafted their answers into the monologues and persona poems you’ll find in this book. Next, we looked at “runaway slave posters,” and at one in particular describing a family of five who escaped together. We created a list of characters involved in this event. We then asked the students to tell the story of the escape from the perspective of more than one character. Again, the students used empathy and imagination to turn these forgotten names on a poster into living, breathing human beings.
My thanks to Cynthia Chory, principal of IS 187, and to Assistant Principal Nilda Marrero for their support for this project. A special thanks to Parent Coordinator Isabelle Eaton for her enthusiasm and positivity in making this program possible. My thanks especially to John Holthusen, seventh-grade teacher at IS 187, for being a strong and supportive partner in the classroom.
Finally, a big thank you to all the seventh-grade students of IS 187 for your hard work, empathy, and imagination. This book is for you.
by Riley (7th grade)
I look below, and all there is is darkness.
I am afraid. The waves splash against the moving beast.
I am afraid.
They push me below and the scent of death fills my nose.
I am afraid. I wish for love.
I am too afraid to think. It seems that death has come to me.
I ask the question, Am I afraid? Or are my senses fooling me, and all of us?