What can Langton Hughes teach us about Dreams for a Better World?

I Dream a World

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

By:Langton Hughes

This poem was taken from the opera Troubled Island which Langston Hughes wrote with the composer William Grant Still. I love this poem’s vision of how the world should be: filled with kindness, celebrated diversity, and peace. When I talk with children about this poem I ask them who else had a famous dream? They all say quickly, “Martin Luther King, Jr” with great enthusiasm! This then sparks conversation about the I Have a Dream speech as well. Both Hughes and King spoke of how the world should be. The good news is we call can help create that better world, one kind act at a time.

I love how the Introduction begins in the book Poetry for Young People – Langston Hughes. It starts, “From the 1920s until his death in 1967, Langston Hughes was probably the foremost poet among African Americans. His importance for later African-American literature has been immense, for he sought to not only ‘sing’ of Black America in his poems, but also to do so in its every day language.” I am grateful to have heard his experience and voice which brings to life the problems he faced and yet also great joy and hope for the future. The poems in this collection are accessible for children as young as nine. Also, the illustrations by Benny Andrews are spectacular.

From Langston Hughes I have learned to believe in the beauty and importance of having dreams for oneself and for the world. I have also learned more from him about the fight for equality, which he eloquently reveals through his verses. He is a joy to teach to children and his poems provide a great way to start a conversation about what we can do to make the world better.

Activities for Parents and Teachers:

Read the poem with children in your life and ask them what they think about his dream? What dream to they have for the future?

Provide a copy of Langston Hughes poem and the I Have a Dream speech to read to children. I recommend the I Have a Dream children’s book with the speech and beautiful illustrations by Kadir Nelson. Ask the children, “What similarities there are between the two and where are they different?”

Learn about the Harlem Renaissance and share some of the history with children in your life. New York City in the 1920s was home to incredible African -American writers and artists and there needs to be a lot more awareness in the United States of the great books, art, and plays they created.

Questions for the Day for Discussion or Journaling:

What is your dream for the world?

What can you do today to help that dream along?

Children’s Activity: Creating Diversity Sculptures

I highly recommend Mem Fox’s book Whoever You Are (for children ages 4-8) and Walt Whitman’s volume of the Poetry for Young People Series (ages 9 – 12) to spark conversations around diversity.

Once we read one of these, or other books on diversity, children in The Respect Program create diversity sculptures. I provide children standard colors in model magic clay as well as four different colors of clay for skin tones. It is amazing to see what the children create.  Here is a favorite if mine from a past program. I love how the child combined the red and white colors in the two figures outstretched arms.

What are other ways to start discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion with the children in your life?