When I taught US history at Urban Prep Academy here in Chicago, one of the main books I utilized in my class was Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. This book not only opened my eyes as a lover of US History, but placed the burden of sharing the full story in my lap. My students were blown away at the mistruths that they were being taught prior. One memorable lesson, Christopher Columbus and the stealing of land and the genocide he led for the acquisition of the Americas. We all know that history is told from the eyes of the victor, not the "conquered" or vulnerable. Zinn's book does an amazing job of that.
Earlier this year, I was at an event where I was introduced to Kevin Coval, a story teller, poet and educator. I was blown away at what he shared with the audience who all gathered to learn about mentoring in communities of color. I had to go meet him. When I did, he gave me a copy of his book, and asked me to read it and tell him what I thought. My inner self asked, what feedback could I possibly offer a guy like him. Nonetheless, I took the book and read it.
In very simple terms, the book is amazing and very eye opening. Similar to Zinn's style of writing Coval discusses key moments in the history of Chicago and highlights a voice that is often left out of the conversation; whether it's city workers, poor people, or people of color. Some of my favorite poems in the book include Harold Washington, President Obama's election, the Great Migration and the founding of the city by Jean Baptiste Point duSable. Coval's writing paints a vivid image of the time period and the stories he is uplifting, oftentimes some that make the picture even clearer.
If I were still teaching, I would definitely incorporate this book in my class, and utilize some of the themes in teaching our often bitter-sweet history. Overall the book shows how ordinary people can transform a city, and in turn how a city can and will transform them and their posterity.
I look forward to sitting down with Kevin Coval soon to discuss this amazing piece of literature.
From the Publisher:
Known variously as "the Windy City," "the City of Big Shoulders," or "Chiraq," Chicago is one of the most widely celebrated, routinely demonized, and thoroughly contested cities in the world.
Chicago is the city of Gwendolyn Brooks and Chief Keef, Al Capone and Richard Wright, Lucy Parsons and Nelson Algren, Harold Washington and Studs Terkel. It is the city of Fred Hampton, house music, and the Haymarket Martyrs. Writing in the tradition of Howard Zinn, Kevin Coval's A People's History of Chicago celebrated the history of this great American city from the perspective of those on the margins, whose stories often go untold. These poems honor the everyday lives and enduring resistance of the city's workers, poor people, and people of color, whose cultural and political revolutions continue to shape the social landscape.