Another early morning driveway shuffle. My wife ready to leave for work, my car parked behind hers in the driveway. Clad in my bathrobe and flip-flops, I ambled out to the still-dark Monday, backed my car out of the way, pulled back into the driveway, and then just sat in my car, in my robe, in the dark for what NPR has donned—the driveway moment.


Kwame Alexander was mid poem.


Though I had missed the beginning of the poem and any exposition, I knew exactly what the poem was about from the first lines I caught:


"Today I hesitate

for the first time, I wonder if I should stay home and not walk the neighborhood.

it’s not the weather or the virus—the day is beautiful


I’m frozen


I cannot hide

This skin

This hair

These eyes.

I see the punch, punch, punch of a community at war.

Today I am a witness.

I rush past the jeering white boys that say I brought corona to America.

My soul is wary."


I sat in the car in the driveway in my robe in the dark and listened as stanza after stanza from the poem began with the word today and thought, today, this poem must go beyond my NPR driveway moment and find its way to students. I’m sure a lot of teachers also listening, whether in their driveways or on their commutes to classrooms, thought the same thing.


As Asian and Pacific-Island Heritage month confronts the attention turned to campaigns such as Stop AAPI Hate, teachers can add to students’ understanding of this moment of national attention to build empathy and bring attention to AAPI writers and creators. Teachers may want to book talk or introduce such works as the Legend series or Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu. American Born Chinese, Level Up and Boxers & Saints, all graphic novels by Gene Luen Yang that were perennial favorites in my classroom. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei is also a graphic novel about his firsthand account as a child in a Japanese internment camp.


And if Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, and The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan are not part of your classroom library, do yourself and your students a major solid and add multiple copies because students will fall in love with these books and, high probability, not return them to you, which is one of best book testimonies out there.


But beyond empathy and awareness, we can also allow for agency on the part of our students to go beyond the zeitgeist to action or involvement.


From Crowdsourced to Found Poetry Back to Crowdsourced

The poem I heard Kwame Alexander reading on NPR, “Today, I Am A Witness to Change,” was crowdsourced by Alexander as NPR’s poet in residence from responses listeners sent in about how they grapple with increased violence and discrimination. Our students are also grappling. Inspired by this crowdsourced poem, teachers can implement the lesson found here to inform and enhance students’ understanding of these incidents of AAPI hate.


Early morning driveway shuffles are not my favorite way to start the day, but if they come with poetry, followed by coffee, I just might start parking behind my wife on purpose.




Michael Méndez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, high school, has worked as a district level leader, and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel  The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.