In the wake of protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing, monuments to Confederate leaders are being toppled and removed across the southern United States. In my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, the massive General Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue has become the center of ongoing demonstrations. The site is now adorned with tributes to people of color who have lost their lives at the hands of police. At the base of the statue, someone has posted a sign with the following anonymous poem:
Dream like Martin
Lead like Harriet
Fight like Malcom
Think like Garvey
Write like Maya
Build like Madam C. J.
Speak like Frederick
Educate like W. E. B.
Believe like Thurgood
Challenge like Rosa
Inspire like Obama
Perhaps you too have seen this poem on T-shirts, bumper stickers, journal covers, or social media posts.
Though the names of the Black activists mentioned in the poem are familiar to many Americans, they may not be as well known to English language learners. In this time of heightened awareness of social justice issues, students may value learning more about historical Black leaders who have made a difference in the fight for equality. This poem provides an ideal approach to this subject.
After sharing the poem with your students, in groups or individually, have them choose an activist to learn more about by going online and conducting a search. You can guide their research with the following questions:
- When did this person live?
- What is he/she famous for?
- What do you think is his/her greatest accomplishment?
- What do you think is the most interesting fact about this person?
- What character traits did/does this person have?
- Find one quote by this person and share it with the class.
If you would like to ease into the project as a class, ESL Library features lessons on several of the figures noted in the poem. In our Famous People section, you will find lessons on Martin Luther King Jr. (Low‑Intermediate and Intermediate), Harriet Tubman, and Maya Angelou. In Easy Readers, we have a lesson about Rosa Parks, and in our American Presidents category, we have three lessons about Barack Obama (Beginner, Low Intermediate, and High Intermediate – Advanced).
After students have had time to complete their research, give them the opportunity to present their findings. They can give a short oral presentation or write up their research in essay form.