Celebrating African American History Month


Place a number of teen friendly, inexpensive gifts in paper bags (bookmarks, key chains, candy, flash drives, pens, etc).  Have enough bags so that everyone that attends has a bag in hand.  Announce that everyone should make a big circle and  keep the bags closed.  Inform the teens that you will read the book, What is a  ZaWadi to We.  Each time that they hear you say the word ZaWadi (gift) they should pass the bag in hand to the person on their right.  After the story has been read, everyone opens the bag that they have in hand.

What is a  ZaWadi to We by Vandella Brown

“While walking in a park, an African-American family, who celebrates Kwanzaa, meets and old storyteller, who tells them the meaning of Kwanzaa gifts called Zawadi. This American story is filled with information about the African-American holiday called Kwanzaa. A glossery assists the reader with definitions, pronunciations, phrases, symbols and explanation of practices.  As a picture book, the colorful paper family images and collage add depth and imagination to the story and African-American history. The poetic verse adds rhyme, rap, and imagery, making the story a one-of-a-kind fun and creative account.  Along with understanding a meaning behind Kwanzaa, another new tradition is introduced with this book on gifting. Although this is a story celebrating Kwanzaa, it is one that can be used for any gift-giving occasions.”

Vandella Brown is the Diversity Program Manager at the Illinois State Library, Springfield, Illinois and is also the author of Celebrating the Family: Steps to Planning a Family Reunion

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Share the story of how this song came to be known as “The Black National Anthem”

It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. It was first performed in public in the Johnsons’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.

Booklist: A Selection

Along this Way: The Autobiography of  James Weldon Johnson by James Weldon Johnson. c1934,  Penguin Classics, 2008. This was the first autobiography by a person of color to be reviewed in The New York Times.

Lift Every Voice and Sing: a Celebration of the Negro National Anthem, 100 Years, 100 Voices edited by  Julian Bond and Sondra Kathryn Wilson.  Random House, 2000.

Lift every voice and sing  by James Weldon Johnson. Woodcuts by Elizabeth Catlett.  Walker, 1993.

Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Amistad, 2007.

Lift Every Voice and Sing: S elected Poems by James Weldon Johnson, Sondra Kathryn Wilson.   Penguin Classics, 2000.

Reader’s Theater

God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927) by James Weldon Johnson

A collection of poetic sermons written in free verse.  It is said the Johnson considered the voice of the black preacher to be a musical instrument “not a piano . . . or trumpet but a trombone”.