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Kanene Holder
Kanene.holder@gmail.com
Social Studies and Social Justice Middle School Teacher
“…until that day
The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained
Now everywhere is war – war- ….” - Emperor Haile Selassie – as sung by Bob Marley
“Give me liberty or give me death” - Patrick Henry
Before I knew how to walk or talk, I knew that something was wrong. Something was wrong with me
and something was wrong with society. In the womb, songs of freedom filled our two-bedroom
apartment in the predominantly Caribbean section of Brooklyn called Flatbush in the 80’s and
permeated my ability to float undisturbed in my nurturing sea of tranquility. Instead of lasting peace,
my embryonic subconscious mind was filled with reckoning.
Though I couldn’t yet see, I could hear and feel. I felt confused, helpless and insecure. “Say it loud,
I’m black and I’m proud!”, I asked “why?” “..old pirates….sold I to the merchant ships, minutes after
they took from the bottomless pit…. Redemption song” I asked “who?” “…I am leaving out a dis yah
land, …this place could never be my home...” I asked “where?”
I suppose my upbringing was like Siddhartha’s in reverse. My parents and specifically my father were
very intentional when exposing me to the suffering and injustice of the world from a very young age.
Instead of wondering what the world was like, I wondered why the world was that way. I was aware
and I was troubled. Now, as a middle school history and social justice teacher, I ask critical and
introspective questions including “What does it mean to be awakened?”, and conversely “What does it
mean to be asleep?” These questions and the ever mounting supporting evidence of Robert Burns’
notion of “man’s inhumanity to man” that burdens our past and clouds our future, I see as
opportunities to be curious, inspired and proactive to seek positive change.
Kanene Holder
Kanene.holder@gmail.com
Social Studies and Social Justice Middle School Teacher
Throughout elementary school, I was plagued by questions. I guess I thought life and the world was
like a Rubix Cube, and I kept trying to solve it, in vain. In school I remember reciting The Pledge of
Allegiance “…with liberty and justice for all” and “God bless America, my home sweet home”, and at
home singing along with Gil Scott Heron’s “Winter in America”, Peter Tosh’s “400 Years” and
Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” Every time I learned something new, it was like
solving the Rubix Cube all over again.
And then in the fourth grade, in 1991, there was a breaking news story about an African Burial Ground
in downtown Manhattan. What? “I thought slavery only happened in the south!!!!” Were my teachers
lying to me? Textbooks lying to me? The pledge of allegiance lying to me? It was as if the Rubix Cube
melted and became immobile. I was stuck on this fact. I suppose, in the fourth grade I became
“awakened”. What else is missing? Who else is not speaking the whole truth? Daddy?!? So help me
God, I vowed from that day forward to question everything.
Over the years, I realized the power of history and memory. History is so powerful that it could erase
whole civilizations, events and replace mystery with “facts”. I realized that New York City has a rich
history that is hidden under the surface. Literally Harriet Tubman had an outpost for her underground
railroad in Brooklyn, and there was a fight to get it designated as a landmark. So now as a history and
social justice teacher, my students and I are fascinated about the pivotal role people in Brooklyn
played to make America “a more perfect union”. Who were the people that embodied “the fierce
urgency of now” long before MLK Had a Dream and Marched on Washington? Who were the key
players that bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice right here in Brooklyn, perhaps
Kanene Holder
Kanene.holder@gmail.com
Social Studies and Social Justice Middle School Teacher
organizing a meeting where there now is a Starbucks? How can I make the understanding of history
more accurate in its inclusion of the downtrodden and disenfranchised?
Now more than ever during #Election2016, as we see women running for president, The Fight For
Fifteen, the rise of #blacklivesmatter and mainstream conversations about intersectionality, I yearn to
have my pedagogy (re)formed and invigorated by primary sources from the architects of the
abolitionist and suffragist movements. These resources and the resulting interactions with scholars and
fellow participants will allow me to again reconfigure my Rubix Cube and hence further empower my
students and especially my all girl poetry troupe. As continue to present both my praxis and my
students’ performances at conference and published poems, I want to present all sides of the issues,
including those complicit in hindering justice and those who sacrificed so we can be free to exclaim
“Ain’t I a Woman” without recrimination. I want my students to know that history repeats itself and
they too, can rewrite history both by presenting counternarratives to our understanding of Brooklyn as
the nexus of abolition and suffrage and also add new chapters to our current question for justice by
becoming modern suffragists and abolitionists of racial ills. I yearn to have my students become fully
aware of Brooklyn’s role in ending the schism of first class and second-class citizens in our nation.
When my students listen to Nas’ “Who’s World Is This”, they will have a deeper understanding of that
world and how they fit in and can change it to respect them.
My previous fellowship participants for Colin Powell’s Center for Policy Study, CORO and most
recently at Columbia University’s Community Scholar Program could attest to the diligence and
passion I devote to acquiring new information and infusing it into my curriculum and sharing with co-
workers and other stakeholders in our learning community including parents!

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KHolder NEH BK Historical Essay

  • 1. Kanene Holder Kanene.holder@gmail.com Social Studies and Social Justice Middle School Teacher “…until that day The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship Rule of international morality Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained Now everywhere is war – war- ….” - Emperor Haile Selassie – as sung by Bob Marley “Give me liberty or give me death” - Patrick Henry Before I knew how to walk or talk, I knew that something was wrong. Something was wrong with me and something was wrong with society. In the womb, songs of freedom filled our two-bedroom apartment in the predominantly Caribbean section of Brooklyn called Flatbush in the 80’s and permeated my ability to float undisturbed in my nurturing sea of tranquility. Instead of lasting peace, my embryonic subconscious mind was filled with reckoning. Though I couldn’t yet see, I could hear and feel. I felt confused, helpless and insecure. “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!”, I asked “why?” “..old pirates….sold I to the merchant ships, minutes after they took from the bottomless pit…. Redemption song” I asked “who?” “…I am leaving out a dis yah land, …this place could never be my home...” I asked “where?” I suppose my upbringing was like Siddhartha’s in reverse. My parents and specifically my father were very intentional when exposing me to the suffering and injustice of the world from a very young age. Instead of wondering what the world was like, I wondered why the world was that way. I was aware and I was troubled. Now, as a middle school history and social justice teacher, I ask critical and introspective questions including “What does it mean to be awakened?”, and conversely “What does it mean to be asleep?” These questions and the ever mounting supporting evidence of Robert Burns’ notion of “man’s inhumanity to man” that burdens our past and clouds our future, I see as opportunities to be curious, inspired and proactive to seek positive change.
  • 2. Kanene Holder Kanene.holder@gmail.com Social Studies and Social Justice Middle School Teacher Throughout elementary school, I was plagued by questions. I guess I thought life and the world was like a Rubix Cube, and I kept trying to solve it, in vain. In school I remember reciting The Pledge of Allegiance “…with liberty and justice for all” and “God bless America, my home sweet home”, and at home singing along with Gil Scott Heron’s “Winter in America”, Peter Tosh’s “400 Years” and Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” Every time I learned something new, it was like solving the Rubix Cube all over again. And then in the fourth grade, in 1991, there was a breaking news story about an African Burial Ground in downtown Manhattan. What? “I thought slavery only happened in the south!!!!” Were my teachers lying to me? Textbooks lying to me? The pledge of allegiance lying to me? It was as if the Rubix Cube melted and became immobile. I was stuck on this fact. I suppose, in the fourth grade I became “awakened”. What else is missing? Who else is not speaking the whole truth? Daddy?!? So help me God, I vowed from that day forward to question everything. Over the years, I realized the power of history and memory. History is so powerful that it could erase whole civilizations, events and replace mystery with “facts”. I realized that New York City has a rich history that is hidden under the surface. Literally Harriet Tubman had an outpost for her underground railroad in Brooklyn, and there was a fight to get it designated as a landmark. So now as a history and social justice teacher, my students and I are fascinated about the pivotal role people in Brooklyn played to make America “a more perfect union”. Who were the people that embodied “the fierce urgency of now” long before MLK Had a Dream and Marched on Washington? Who were the key players that bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice right here in Brooklyn, perhaps
  • 3. Kanene Holder Kanene.holder@gmail.com Social Studies and Social Justice Middle School Teacher organizing a meeting where there now is a Starbucks? How can I make the understanding of history more accurate in its inclusion of the downtrodden and disenfranchised? Now more than ever during #Election2016, as we see women running for president, The Fight For Fifteen, the rise of #blacklivesmatter and mainstream conversations about intersectionality, I yearn to have my pedagogy (re)formed and invigorated by primary sources from the architects of the abolitionist and suffragist movements. These resources and the resulting interactions with scholars and fellow participants will allow me to again reconfigure my Rubix Cube and hence further empower my students and especially my all girl poetry troupe. As continue to present both my praxis and my students’ performances at conference and published poems, I want to present all sides of the issues, including those complicit in hindering justice and those who sacrificed so we can be free to exclaim “Ain’t I a Woman” without recrimination. I want my students to know that history repeats itself and they too, can rewrite history both by presenting counternarratives to our understanding of Brooklyn as the nexus of abolition and suffrage and also add new chapters to our current question for justice by becoming modern suffragists and abolitionists of racial ills. I yearn to have my students become fully aware of Brooklyn’s role in ending the schism of first class and second-class citizens in our nation. When my students listen to Nas’ “Who’s World Is This”, they will have a deeper understanding of that world and how they fit in and can change it to respect them. My previous fellowship participants for Colin Powell’s Center for Policy Study, CORO and most recently at Columbia University’s Community Scholar Program could attest to the diligence and passion I devote to acquiring new information and infusing it into my curriculum and sharing with co- workers and other stakeholders in our learning community including parents!