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James Taught Me Fire

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

My first exposure to James Baldwin's work was when my high school put on a production of Blues for Mr. Charlie, and my English teacher chose it as our core curriculum. This transformative play was inspired by the horrendous crimes against Emmett Till. As we read this play, my mind was ablaze, and a slow fire burned in me from then forward; that fire is a yearning for collective liberation. James taught me fire.

This was not my last encounter with Mr. Baldwin. I went on to read much of his work in college and after. I wrote my first (and only) published journal article on his work The Price of the Ticket. His Talk to Teachers is just as relevant today as it was when written close to 60 years ago.

We are at a tipping point in education (and the world); our collective disgust for the status quo is palpable. Many are waking up to what James spent his life illuminating. That this country is inequitable by design, and none can be free until we are all free. In The Fire Next Time he writes, “The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks—the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind.” James taught me fire.

What did James teach you? Write it in the comments.