Quote Unquote: Kwame Alexander

Quote, unquote is an eclectic sampling of things said at and about Hope College.

In conjunction with national Black History Month, Hope hosted a virtual visit with Kwame Alexander, the New York Times bestselling author whose most recent book of 35, Light for the World to See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope, was published in November. The event was a collaborative effort of several Hope organizations: the NEA Big Read Lakeshore, Black Student Union, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Ruth Tensen Creative Writing Fund, Cultural Affairs Committee, Department of Education and Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series.

Requiring a creative approach, as so much during the pandemic has, the Feb. 26 presentation was framed as a conversation. Hope junior Danait Yonas, president of Black Student Union, posed questions (including some submitted by local elementary classes that had read his award-winning middle-grade book The Crossover), and Alexander answered from his home in Virginia. The topics were correspondingly varied, ranging from whether or not he had ever met Amanda Gorman, who read her poem at the presidential inauguration (yes), to which of his books is his favorite (whichever he is currently writing).

In the following excerpt, he reflects on his approach to racial justice, with suggestions for others who might wish to follow a similar path.

“I’m more interested in actually going out in the world and doing the work to make the world a better place. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about what other people should be doing or what should be going on or what politicians… I’m just going to go out and try to change the world one word at a time.

Be an advocate, and if you really want to do something, be an ally: say something, do something.

“So, if it means that I’m going to write a book that is going to be a mirror for Black kids to be able to see themselves and it’s going to be a window for non-Black kids to be able to see Black kids, then that’s what I would do.

“If it means I’m going to go out and build a library and a health clinic in Ghana because I know these 200 kids in this village in the eastern region that I’ve been to, and they have one book and they don’t have a health clinic — if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’m going to do. So I’m going to be about the business of putting in the work to make this world a better place, and I’m going to hopefully try to surround myself with people who want to do the same thing. That’s where I choose to sort of spend my energy — on actually doing the work.

“I think there are a lot of people who would have wonderful conversations and pontificate about what needs to be done or what the world is doing with racial injustice. I’m just not one of those people. I just like to work.

“So my challenge to students at Hope College, in the community, is to be an advocate when things are not going right, when you see something going wrong, when you see somebody being unfairly treated. Be an advocate, and if you really want to do something, be an ally: say something, do something.

“I think we all have to have something to offer to this world to help make this world better… So you’ve got to be great. You’ve got to be great at who you are and who you are becoming so that you can then use that greatness in whatever it is you do and then offer it to us to help us be great.”

For more about Kwame Alexander, please visit his website.