Name of Book: Believe Me, I Know
Author: Valerie Chow Bush, editor
Illustrator: Photos taken by the children of the WritersCorps Youth
Publisher: WritersCorps Books 2002
Audience: 8 – 18 year olds. While there are poems written by children as young as 6 and 7 included in this collection, I believe that the majority of the works would be better suited to children slightly older; therefore I have selected a somewhat higher age range than some of the contributors.
Summary: This is a collection of poems, and photographs, written by young people ages 6 – 22 who participated in the WritersCorps program in 2001. This is a project of the San Fransisco Arts Commission and works in tandem with teachers to promote the writing arts. The poems are all original works that deal with a range of topics from home life, to crushes, to drugs and violence. The most prevalent topic seems to be racial/ethnic discrimination spanning from African-American children, to Hispanic/Latino children, to children of Asia-Pacific countries.
Literary elements at work in the story: This is a non-fiction collection of poetic works primarily in free-verse. The imagery and “word art” of the children is often sophisticated beyond their years and speaks of a depth of understanding of the world that we would rather not believe children possess at such young ages. The overall maturity of the poems and clarity of expression is impressive. The free verse style is accessible to everyone and is not intimidating for those unfamiliar with poetry. The photos enhance the overall message that these are poems by young adults in a multicultural world, but they do not necessarily illustrate any particular poem.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/abilities: As mentioned earlier, the race and culture of the students in this program is a major theme for poems in this collection. The feelings of alienation and unworthiness are often the product of being considered an outsider. These children appear to come primarily from the lower socio-economic strata and their cultures are often misunderstood in their school systems and communities. Their poems reflect their individual struggles to express themselves as valid and unique individuals who do not want to be labeled and pigeon-holed by society.
Scripture: Romans 12:9 – 10, 17-18; Galatians 3:28-29; Mark 3:24-25
Theology: Many of the poems, such as “The Color of My Skin,” “You Say,” “Whenever My Name is Mispronounced,” and “How You Figure?” are representative of the discrimination and alienation that some of these young adults feel in their everyday lives. By lifting up passages that emphasize unity in Christ and the message of the gospel that is brought to and for all people, it encourages children to think of themselves a part of the body of Christ and welcome members of the Kingdom.
The passages referring to a divided kingdom, divided house emphasize that God asks us to love and respect and honor not only the stranger, but also those with whom with live. Peaceful living is not relegated to religious services, but is meant to be enacted and lived everywhere we go and with everyone we meet.
Overcoming prejudices and creating peaceful and respectful relationships is difficult in a world that is already broken and struggling for identity. This is compounded when people’s relationship with God is either absent or strained. However, for those whose identity is grounded in the belief that they are beloved children of God, being the catalyst for change can become less confrontational and more pastoral. These passages help reinforce this identity in Christ and may be a way to encourage young adults to reach out even to those who persecute them. Change will never come if someone does not reach beyond their brokenness, with God’s help, to embrace the “other.” The selected passages also give a foundation upon which to build solid and respectful relationships with others who are different from us that can withstand judgment and ridicule from those who cling to their prejudices and anger and seek to destroy rather than to restore peace in God’s world.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Why do you think God created so many different varieties of people in the first place? Tell me what you value most about being _________. (a Latina, a Chinese-American, Indian, etc.)
- Do you think that God discriminates? Why or why not? Did anything/anyone in your faith community or in scripture lead you to this answer?
- How would like others to see you? What do think prevents them from seeing you this way? How do you think that God sees you?
- If God’s first response is to love, and our first response is often to judge or even to hate, how can we come closer to how God would like us to treat one another?
- Who in your family, school or community embodies Romans 12: 9-10 (showing mutual affection and honor) and how do they do this?
Review prepared by Nadine Ellsworth-Moran, MDiv/MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2004
Believe Me I Know by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.