The British International School of Washington’s primary school has been learning about the significance of Black History Month in the United States and observing it in meaningful ways. On February 9, the students enjoyed a virtual author talk by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, anti-racism activist and author of the children’s book “Your Name Is a Song.” Each primary school year group read this book before meeting the author. In the story, a young Black girl discovers the musicality of names from various cultures, including African and Black-American. She learns to take pride in her name, and she helps people around her appreciate the beauty in their names.
During the Q&A portion of the event, students asked excellent questions. One student asked, “What inspired you to write this book?” Ms Thompkins-Bigelow happily shared some of the real-life experiences that inspired her to write “Your Name Is a Song.” She once had a student, she said, whose name was beautiful like a song; she loved the idea of a name being a song and wanted to write a story about it. Another student wanted to know how she came up with the names in her book. She shared that she discovered many of the names through research. For example, if she wanted a name that meant fire, she looked for a name with that meaning in a different culture. When a student asked if anyone had ever mispronounced Ms Thompkins-Bigelow’s first name, Jamilah, she affirmed that, yes, she had faced that experience when she was young. Then, Ms Thompkins-Bigelow was delighted to answer the question, “How can a person become a good writer?” She explained that it takes practice and that anyone who wants to be a good writer should also be a good reader and read as many books as possible.
Ms Thompkins-Bigelow wrapped up the event by reading another of her books, “Mommy’s Khimar.” In this book, a young girl tries on her mother’s khimars to become different things, like a bird or a superhero. The book describes what khimars are, how they are worn, and that they are called hijabs in some cultures. It also defines terminology like the greeting “Assalamu alaikum,” which means “Peace to you” in Arabic; some of the students were excited and said, “I know what that means! My family says that too!”
For students at BISW, a school with students from more than 70 nationalities, this experience was empowering and exciting. In addition, it struck a personal chord for some of the children. It was lovely to see the students make connections to their own lives.