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Brevard Students Featured in NPR Poetry Challenge

Brevard Elementary students seen on the screen of a zoom class.
Jeanne DeJong
Brevard Elementary students discuss and create their own poetry in Jeanne DeJong's fifth grade class.

A Western North Carolina class recently had their original poetry featured on NPR. Jeanne DeJong is a fifth grade teacher for the Online Learning Path at Brevard Elementary School in Transylvania County. She asked her students to write their own "I Dream A World’” poem to submit to Morning Edition and some of her students’ lines made it into the final version that aired Thursday, January 28.

What did her students think when they heard their words? Felix said: “When I heard that my line was on National Public Radio, I was excited and surprised and felt confused. Then when I heard (the segment) then I thought that was cool.” BPR reached out to DeJong to learn more about this creative collaboration and the poem "This Is Our Dream: A Crowdsourced Poem To Inspire Hope."

How did your class get involved in Kwame Alexander’s community poem project?

I had heard the NPR segment on MLK Day with Kwame Alexander about how Martin Luther King had gotten inspiration for his “I Have A Dream Speech” from Langston Hughes’ poem “I Dream A World.” In our class we read poetry regularly, watch many of Kwame Alexander’s Poetry Time videos, and crowdsourcing seemed like a really neat idea to try.

Tell us about the verse you wrote - what was your process?

I created a lesson plan that involved listening to the NPR segment, learning about Langston Hughes, and discussing his poem. I asked students to write their own “I Dream A World” poem. After writing their own poems they got together in groups and shared their poems, selecting the best parts of each student’s poem to create six group poems. From those six, we created a final class poem, which is what we submitted to NPR.

What did you want to capture?

After reading Langston Hughes’ poem I wanted students to “Dream A World” that they would want to live in and that definitely came out in their words.

What was it like hearing it read on Morning Edition?

[That] morning I told the students I had a surprise for them, then told them how part of our class poem was chosen to be part of Kwame’s poem. Watching the students' faces as Kwame Alexander read the poem was truly priceless. I wish I had taken a picture. The wide-eyed awe and bright smiles on their faces was wonderful. They congratulated each other, and one student said, “This is crazy, the whole world heard us on the radio!”

The verse written by DeJong’s students is highlighted below.

This Is Our Dream

I dream a world that sounds like a gentle "good morning,"
like "sleep tight" at the end of the day,
like Ella scatting,
a world filled with a universal song.
A hallelujah of joyous rejoicing, in this moment's gift of life.

I dream a world in color,
Where nature's artist takes the lead.
Clear, blue oceans and vibrant reefs,
and all creatures thrive with what they need.

Where peace floats from every direction.
Where it's not too late to change the people who hate.
Where race and color are not what the scales weigh.
Where the root of all evil is pulled up,
and the rain pours down until the ground swells with fertile soil.
Where potential is the currency of the day,
and you can be able to see what's next
without being scared.

I dream of that world
The one that lifts the silenced souls from shackles.
Where vision cannot be smothered beneath my eyes beyond my reach
Where what lies waiting aches to teach.

I dream a world where a bridge is arching over troubled waters, built on a foundation of truth.
Where children grow up learning only one kind of division, the long kind.
a world where Sharing kindness is commonplace;
Where deeds are done with heart and zest
Where doing right should be the quest

I Dream A World
Where every day is Earth Day
and pollution is not a thing.
Where we take care of the ocean and the world.

Where masks are only for the ball
that celebrates
A new beginning for us all.

Where we can see every person smile.
Where the coronavirus goes away so we can go to school.
Where people can hug their family and friends whenever they want
Where all have the luxury simply to sit and build a puzzle.
I dream of seeing foxes walking in a field. I would like to walk with them.
That is my wish.

I dream a world where native fish fly free,
Unfettered, many miles to reach the sea.
And those whose sacred presence
On our shores predates
The ships galore that brought
Conquerors, colonists, and slaves in chains.
Where the monarch butterflies are the only concern we have about migration.
I hunger for that world!

a safe world
for children whose skin is darker than mine.
A beautiful sunrise after the night,
Equity, kindness, color and light.
For my daughter's daughters; for my son's sons.

I dream of a world
Where the problems are the problem, not the people debating them.
Where we lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms
Where we know each other's joys and sorrows
All these days and all the 'morrows
Where The News Brings A Smile

I dream a world straight; crooked paths are only for walking
A world drunk with self-esteem, fearless and ready
A world where you hold onto your dreams, and I'll hold the door
Pass right through, 'cause the world is yours

I dream a world where that world is not a dream,
but awake, vigilant
Community gardens on every corner
No more social media advertisements for body armor
People with mental health issues, accepted as whole
A mosaic of humans not separated by color, opinion, belief

Rusted cages,
empty and unlocked, doors swung open,
guards long since gone home.
Where facts matter.
A world as simple as a poem
Written in pencil, full of mistakes and erasures
On the relentless path to its honest truth.

Where, as soldiers of democracy nurturing us,
teachers are publicly thanked for their service.
I dream of a world transparent.
Walls and floors, built of some durable crystalline material.
Where we know which student is really watching a TikTok video
when we leave the room for a moment.

I dream a world
Where there is quiet
Enough to hear
Each other

The young care for the old,
And the earth is cared for by all.

Where nations' boundaries blur
by a bridge of millions of hands,
reaching across to embrace in oneness.
Where people are as free
as the poet's meter.
And inclusion is real
Not mandated by law, but embraced with zeal

Where I can be black and woman, and be safe
I dream a world where white folks see
All non-white folks in the land of the free
As true heirs to the founders' liberty
From oppression and powerful tyranny;

I dream the world, king dreamed for me
That the paved gold that America promises prospers
Where the playing field is level, the same,
for anyone willing and able.

where we anchor to hope and all it brings

Do you not see it is time to finish what has begun?
A world that we want to live in.

Such is a world I dream of!