“I’d like anyone who has a lot of self-esteem to stand up.”
None of the children moved. I stood in the center of the room and searched their faces for some response, but I was greeted by blank stares.
Finally, one little girl put up her hand.
“What’s self esteem?” she asked.
“Self esteem is loving yourself, being confident, knowing that you are valuable and worthy.”
This was a snippet of a conversation that I had with third, fourth and fifth graders when I read from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories at the Opa-Locka Branch Library on Wednesday, February 25, 2009.
It was one of the more rewarding experiences that I’ve had with my children’s book, and although I’ve had a few doubts during my writing career, this was one of those instances that put me right again.
And when we talked about confidence, I gave them the example of President Obama and his address to Congress on the previous night.
“If there’s one thing that I want you to remember,” I said, “when you tell your friends about the Jamaican writer who visited you, is that he told you to respect yourself.”
“Say something Jamaican.”
I recited a line from one of my many patwa poems and explained to them my choice of using patwa or Standard English depended on the audience.
“Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of how you speak or how you sound. But realize that if you are going to survive in South Florida, you may have to change how you speak. For example, when I’m speaking with the president of my college, I speak like this: (fake British accent)."I then read from the second chapter from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories where Jimmy encounters the bully, Kevin. We discussed how Anancy, as the smallest animal in the jungle, overcame his enemies by using his wits. We also made the connection between what Jimmy was going through with Kevin and Anancy’s conflict with Snake.
"And when I'm playing dominoes with my Jamaican friends, I speak like this, “Man, shuffle de kyard dem right.”
“So no matter what you encounter in life,” I added, “you never have to resort to violence. You never have to use your fists to solve a problem. And no one can ever make you feel small or disrespect you because you have self esteem and you don’t depend on other people to make you make you feel worthy."About eighteen out of the twenty children stood up. The other two were being pressured by their peers to stand up.
The children clapped
"Okay, so how many of you have self-esteem? I want you to stand up.”
“They don’t have to stand up,” I explained. “Self worth begins with being honest with yourself and sometimes it means not doing what everyone else is doing. And if they don’t feel it right now, then I hope they’ll feel it in the future.”
The children clapped and they all sat down.
Not bad for a day’s work, I thought.