I’ve never been very good with closure. Classtime runs out, we can be in the middle of a discussion, folk need to go to their next class, and I’ll just blurt out, all uncouth, well, yall, it’s time to go. And that will be the end of it. No synthesis, no last words of encouragement, no group hug. I can’t synthesize when I am still processing; and I’m not Jerry Springer with a final public service announcement. After 20 years of teaching, you’d think I would have found some solutions but I have not been able to succeed at any attempt. Maybe I just don’t think serious issues are easily resolved with dialogue alone or I am resisting the simple, Western rush to solutions and conclusions to complex issues. I no longer look for closure at the end of a class. I do put a lot of thought into the first days and weeks of my classes, but I’m not good at going out with a bang on the last day.
When I was teaching at a small college in Brooklyn, I learned the importance of the last day though. Students in an African American children’s literature class inspired me. My plan was simple: let’s eat together on the last day and share what we have done for final projects. That’s it. Nice and simple. Well, they turnt it up and out. They brought in trays, and I mean TRAYYYYS of food. Their kids came too and told us what they liked about the literature (this was a Friday evening class of 39 women and 2 men, all of whom were thirty years old and above.) And my favorite part, of course, was the special corner, far away from the kids, that was for grown-ups only: a maxi-bar that featured a bottle of rum from what seemed like every country in the Caribbean. I made many trips to that special corner. That’s a class that I remember fondly, I can still see each face in my mind’s eyes. It’s the same for the students who did the assembly/performance with their families attending or the students with their curriculum showcases when I was a teacher educator. You can’t really predict this though. Sometimes students are as dull and dry as wheat thins; other times, they are PURE FIRE. My point is that the last class should do something, you should feel the weight of the time that you spent together, you should feel like you have been somewhere together. I no longer assume I can achieve that; students have to do that for and with one another.
Today, however, I thought I would be compelling and close the semester with my favorite thank you speech. I would use black women’s audacity when even saying thank you to thank my class, as if it were me talking to them. I am talking about En Vogue. Instead of walking up to the stage at the 1990 Billboard Awards, all fake-surprised and theatrically-shocked that they won for their single, “Hold On,” these sistas knew they had this award and so they performed an acceptance speech that blew away the crowd– in the very style of the song that was being awarded. I don’t mean to suggest that I deserve the award En Vogue received, but I do feel like the semester was my own sort of award. I must admit that I was little impressed with myself. I had finally found a good-bye lesson plan… but then my little stuff got showed up real fast.
Today, anthologies were due. Anthologies are, well, just that. Students create mini-curricula for their colleagues using black women’s primary texts that exemplify some rhetorical practice or process. Instead of writing the traditional Western essay for this, they create an artifact that does the analysis. Last year, Fedaling made photocopies of texts written by black women, dipped them in tea, burned the edges, and then put them all in a well-worn, beat up piece of luggage. This luggage was supposed to represent the way the family kept its identity papers, papers that had been passed down to her from generations of black grandmothers about their history and lives. An opening letter explained the significance of each text and asked the viewer to add their own writing. Aysha used the same technique and put all of these papers in a decorated shoebox, to look like something she found under her mother’s bed. Celeste created a graphic novel of black supersheroes, “TEAM ABLE” [who consist of (A) Angela Davis, (B) Bessie Smith, (L) Lucy Wilmot Smith, and (E) Ella Baker]. These women do not fight traditional, individual villains. Instead, they fight silence, inaction, and unconsciousness! You get the picture here. I am what we call a visual learner so I have always leaned on multi-media projects in class. Sometimes you just have to mix up the writing assignments because that gets boring real fast for me. Plus, I can deduce my students’ understanding of black women’s history, black women’s rhetoric, and the connections they are making just as easily, if not more easily, with such 3D/multimedia artifacts as with any written exam or essay. This year was a first though— it was a project I had never seen.
Today, Caroline gave us a process. First, there was a collection of black women’s poems where black women discuss sexuality, their bodies; their right to love, live, and own themselves (the first image on this page). It is called “For Colored Girls!” There was an accompanying poster, now gifted to me, soon to be framed in my office (the second image on this page). The process continued with a red velvet cake with chocolate on the outside (the third image on this page). The cake was in the shape of a black woman’s torso, fully naked, demonized dark nipples in full tow, wrapped in chains (signifying too on the Swedish cake performance). Caroline cut the chains from the cake in front of all of us so that we could break this black woman free. She then offered us the inside and outside of this new black woman, ourselves.
It was the perfect closure with a group of students I will not likely forget! Like I said, the students themselves will do the work. I’m glad that I was able to listen to that first group of 39 women and 2 men who taught me this lesson many years ago.