social justice · writing workshop

Activism, Achievement, Abundance: Celebrations of Black Excellence

This post is a collaboration between Melanie and Nawal Qarooni Casiano.

Cultivating Spaces for Equity, Conversation and Celebration of Black Abundance

Black History month and the celebration of Black achievements and abundance in schools is often– and inappropriately– relegated to a single month on the calendar. Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. are names that become familiar to students. But true multicultural education encompasses wider celebrations of diversity and positive social interactions across differences, ensuring White students learn multiple perspectives and providing students of color opportunities to see themselves in curriculum- not just in February, but consistently. 

What began as an idea for creating a “Black History Museum” in schools led us to the curation of several multimodal resource sets for celebrating Black achievement and abundance- honoring the long history of richness in Black lineage- that we hope will serve as a jumping off point for continued learning, study and discussion. Perhaps each classroom researches a specific person towards a larger, school-wide sharing celebration. Perhaps groups of students research different people. The iterations are boundless, but the content is imperative: celebrate Black achievements and abundance wide and deep. 

Curating Communication Sets

We have curated a list of picture books, most of them narrative nonfiction, to bring into the classroom.  Just as all curricular resources are never truly complete and always require updating, so is this initial set. We welcome other educators to contribute to this developing list, and, when expanding, hope the following will be considered: 

  • Contribution
    • Who wrote the books? We aimed for #OwnVoices – texts that are written by voices in those experiences. 
    • What perspectives do they offer? 
  • Achievements
    • To what extent is a wide variety of content and achievements represented?
    • Do they showcase the diversity of Black Americans when considering gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status? 
  • Currency
    • Have the books been published recently?
    • To what extent are people with current achievements included? 

The word ‘abundance’ communicates the spirit of our intentions. We cannot overemphasize the importance of ongoing study and celebration. With this project, we mean for teachers to use the text suggestions and accompanying materials as a springboard to open discussion and school-wide sharing, woven throughout the school year as part of the everyday fabric: to exalt the abundance and achievements of Black people for Black History Month and beyond. 

Multi-modal Reading Text Sets 

In order for students to engage in learning across different modes, we set up a Padlet of resources.

Made with Padlet

Each column leads with one of the books, and also offers different ways to learn about the person and their achievements: video, recordings, images and text.  We want to offer students multiple means of representation to learn new information, an important component of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We also created a slide deck with the same content, and Jamboard to house artifacts from student and class conversations.

While our Padlet can serve as an initial resource, we encourage others to build their own as well. Students can collaboratively build them as well – imparting valuable research skills on them while inviting them into the decision-making process with a similar set of criteria laid out above. These components are further critical to UDL. 

Multi-modal Writing Mentor Sets

The variation in the collections provides students not only with materials to expand appreciation for Black achievements and reading / listening/ watching materials to deepen their understanding, but also materials that broaden their ideas about how writers create and present information and ideas. Let us not privilege the alphabetic form of writing alone, as we know communication can and should be encouraged in multiple modalities, from visual representation to aural (for the ear; think: Podcasts). There are different ways to convey information, and the collections serve as mentor texts and beyond. These are communication sets meant to expand students’ thinking about what they might write, design, or create while valuing thoughtful, process-oriented creation in all modes. 

Art as Mentors

To further support various modes of literacy language and learning, we created a Padlet of inspiring, contemporary Black artists, including videos, short biographies, longer nonfiction texts, and the art itself.

Made with Padlet

This resource deck offers students opportunities to analyze and discuss  art, much like we ask them to closely read alphabetic text. By sharing with students question and conversation stems that can be applied both to writing and visual arts, we once again expand equity and access. In this way, we invite students with diverse learning modalities to join in the conversation. There is nothing we can’t closely read. The world is our curriculum. 

Concluding and Moving Forward

Through the variety of resources, the widening of access points, the flexibility of expression, and the inclusion of art as a mode for interpretation and analysis, all students- especially students who have been historically marginalized- have additional opportunities for impactful instruction and participation. Our goal, as ever, is to center and validate students and their experiences on a path towards growth in community. These communication sets support that endeavor. Exalt process, lay roads for equity, and ensure access for all students. 

Additional Reading Recommendations and Resources

Coppola, Shawna. Writing Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose. Stenhouse 2020. 

Coppola, Shawna. Writing Redefined One-Pager: Broadening Our Ideas of What it Means to Compose

Hammond, Zarretta. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin 2015. 

Muhammad, Gholdy. Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework. Scholastic 2020.

Black History Month resources from the Center for Racial Justice in Education

Historical Black Excellence Provides a Blueprint for Reimagining Education

Classroom Library QuestionnaireSocial and Emotional Learning Diverse Reading List
Social Activism Diverse Reading List 
Trauma-Informed Diverse Reading List
LGBTQ+ Children’s Literature List 
Native and Indigenous Book List 


Nawal Qarooni Casiano (Chicago, IL) is a writer and educator forever passionate about growing critical thinkers. In Brooklyn and Chicago, she worked as a classroom teacher and curriculum developer before moving into literacy coaching. She launched NQC Literacy in 2014, where she and her team have since supported literacy instruction in dozens of schools throughout Chicagoland.  Nawal holds a Bachelor of English from the University of Michigan, a Master of Teaching from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She won a NJ Press Association Award for her international reporting and transitioned into education as a NYC Teaching Fellow. Nawal is also the proud mother of four multiethnic, multilingual little kids with whom she shares her zeal for reading and writing every day.

3 thoughts on “Activism, Achievement, Abundance: Celebrations of Black Excellence

  1. Thank you both for such a timely and treasure trove of valuable resources to share with students. I know a post like this takes countless hours of hard work and I appreciate the effort and love put into this amazing post.

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