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Live from the NCMA: A Conversation with Jaki Shelton Green (Story)

On February 28, 2019, we connected with more than 230 students across North Carolina in a live stream program featuring NC Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green, to celebrate Black History Month and Digital Learning Day by making connections between art, storytelling, and poetry. During this program, students posed thoughtful questions to Jaki and worked with her to produce short, poetic ruminations related to Forward, a painting by artist Jacob Lawrence depicting a scene from the life of Harriet Tubman.

To get students writing, Jaki asked them to imagine themselves within the work of art in unconventional ways–as the weary feet of a figure shown in the scene, or as the ground beneath their feet. She encouraged students to consider strong words, indicative of action. She asked students, “What would you whisper to the figures shown here?” In a very short window of time, students produced remarkable contributions, some of which are shared below. Many thanks to all of the schools who participated!

rustic ground, beating with weary feet to freedom

I would be the divide in the dirt

scared to move forward, forced into the night

push me into the unknown, take me away

Shy, hovering like a blanket of darkness. Guiding.

Earthy smell in the fatal night

Wind, holding her baby, dry, fear, rising horizon

Forward out of the darkness, into the light.

Fear, hands, pushing, running, stormy, night, Egypt, terror

Empty, but determined into the fear I cannot fathom

MY body, nothing but fierce pain, alas my mind is finally free

I am the tension in her strong arm

anger anxiety love freedom fear courage unity resistance

strong, weak, leaving yesterday, moving forward

The moon watching over with a sense of hope

Feeling fearful to move on because the future is uncertain

Escaping this fear, I am a quiet shadow, tensely traveling

Witness fear empathy. Running from sadness. Do not look back.

Bareness….not only the bareness of feet, but the bareness of protection, the lack of knowing the future

Dark night, Eerie Moon, Dusk Fright Steering Soon

Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate