[Dr. David E. Kirkland]
Usually seeds aren’t planted into the ground in the stubborn cold of February. But what other month could capture such seeds as the ones that our dear friend Jerrie planted in her lifetime. For February stands out not only for the shared history that we commemorate but the campaign of Black books that Jerrie so awesomely pushed.
The African American Read-In was always more than a Caucus event, it was central to Jerrie’s cause, inspired by her deep love and yearning for all people—not just Black people. She understood even then that our world could be no better than the books we study. So she championed the cause of studying stories of Black life and Black lives, which, for her, have never ceased to matter.
I met Jerrie some many years ago, perhaps in 1996 at my first NCTE Black Caucus meeting. We were in Detroit back then. She stood with a humble, southern-articulate grace. Her heavy hands heaved the miraculous and tender stories of a history too often defiled. I believe she was expressing the humble histories of our cause, speaking of Black language in Black language and getting everyone to read books by Black authors and/or about Black people. And though she stood close to the floor, her presence had the rhythm of the wind which leapt to the ceiling. Stilted, she rose like the unfolding arms of sun rays or the brisk, comfortable laughter and bellows of Black bellies soaring past our bondage. Her energy matched creation; her smile was a distant constellation. She has always been one of our stars!
When I began co-chairing the Caucus, Jerrie approached me. I believe her smile, which that day itself mimicked a nebula, caught me in its awesome gravity. She began to speak of things, of past struggles and triumphs. She spoke of a place of meeting, which has been one of the reasons for our Caucus, and she spoke of many other things that today I vaguely recall. But I do remember is that voice, always reassuring, the still quietness of it all. She spoke of leadership and persistence. Our Caucus must remember her, and strive!