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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 8: Social Justice and Action - Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Joseph Bruchac
Biography
Work
Interview
Francisco Jimenèz
Biography
Work
Interview
LeAlan Jones/ Lloyd Newman
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Our America

Two African American boys are the voices of this remarkable book, a first-person account of what it is like to be children growing up on the South Side of Chicago -- surrounded by drugs and alcoholism and joblessness and crime, and often with their parents absent. LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman were 13 and 14, longtime friends and longtime residents of the notorious Ida B. Wells housing project in Chicago, when David Isay of NPR's All Things Considered recruited them to help him make a radio documentary about public housing through the eyes of young people. Isay equipped the boys with tape recorders and sent them out to chronicle their everyday lives.

Through a series of penetrating, straightforward interviews, LeAlan and Lloyd produced an unvarnished portrait of the realities of childhood for poor blacks in the United States. They talked to family, friends, teachers -- everyone who made up their world. After the airing of two acclaimed documentaries, the team decided to turn the original material into a book enhanced with haunting photographs by John Brooks. The story was also made into an award-winning HBO documentary.

In the words of LeAlan Jones, "We live in a second America where the laws of the land don't apply and the laws of the street do. You must learn our America as we must learn your America, so that maybe, someday, we can become one." LeAlan is the principal teller of this story. He lived with his grandparents after his mother was institutionalized with mental illness. She once told him about his father: "He knows you exist. He seen you when you was about two." To LeAlan, that father was "just another man to me. He ain't nothing to me. If he ain't been here 13 years, what do I need him now for? I could die tomorrow and he still wouldn't know."

Lloyd Newman also spent years without his parents. His mother died of cirrhosis of the liver at 35. "I think about her every night," says Lloyd. "When she was here I used to wake up in the middle of the night, and go downstairs, and just lay beside her, and we'd watch TV and laugh." Lloyd's father, Chill, drank a lot, didn't live with the family, but kept in touch. "Do you think you've been a good father?" Lloyd asked in his interview. "Yes, I have ... to the best of my capability I could." But it fell to Lloyd's sisters, Sophia and Precious, to take care of the younger children after their mother died.

The central event of Our America was related starkly by LeAlan: "On October 13, 1994, a little boy was murdered in the Ida B. Wells. Five-year-old Eric Morse was thrown out of a 14th-story window by two other little boys, supposedly because he wouldn't steal candy for them. The story was big news all across America."

Johnny and Tyrone, the boys arrested for the murder, were 10 and 11 years old. LeAlan and Lloyd conducted another set of interviews of all the people involved with the story. They spoke to relatives of all three boys, went to prison to talk to Tyrone's father, and interviewed the chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. LeAlan's conclusion about this wrenching tragedy was, "No way you can lay all the blame on Johnny and Tyrone. I'd say it's 25 percent blame for the kids, 25 percent blame for the parents, 25 ... for the building, 25 ... for the environment. That equals 100 percent failure!"

Our America is unflinching in its depiction of life in the ghetto and the experience of those who endure it. But LeAlan is resolutely hopeful: "This is our neighborhood. This is our city, and this is our America. And we must somehow find a way to help one another. We must come together -- no matter what you believe in, no matter how you look -- and find some concrete solutions to the problems of the ghetto."

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