On a recent winter day, sixth graders sat attentively in Steeber Commons as they listened to author Amina Luqman-Dawson read aloud from her novel, “Freewater,” a fictional account of a secret community founded by runaway slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp. In the book, she imagines a world filled with freedom and love. Ms. Luqman-Dawson’s visit to Steward was a prelude to Black History Month and the result of a months-long collaboration spearheaded by Middle/Upper School Librarian Crystal Hamlin.
In early 2022, Associate Director of College Counseling Khadijah Luqman shared with Ms. Hamlin that her sister had written a book and had donated a copy of it to the Middle/Upper School Library. Around the same time, sixth-grade English Teacher Shannon Elsea was at work redesigning her curriculum around a book club model. She culled four or five titles whose themes coincide with national celebrations, including Black History Month, for students to select and read. “I suggested to Ms. Elsea that she add ‘Freewater’ to her book club selections for Black History Month,” recalled Ms. Hamlin.
After Ms. Amina Luqman-Dawson read her book to the students, she talked about her love for writing, especially for young people. “That’s what makes me happiest,” she said. Ms. Luqman-Dawson is also the author of the pictorial history book “Images of America: African Americans of Petersburg,” and her op-eds on race and popular culture have appeared in The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle.
Leadership + Justice
That same day, Ms. Luqman-Dawson met with second-year Leadership students for an informal talk over lunch. Upper School Social Studies Teacher and Leadership Program Coordinator Eliza McGehee said, “Students were fascinated to learn about the inspiration behind her writing and what it takes to become a published author. This semester, we’re examining the theme of ‘justice’ and its relation to leadership. Ms. Luqman-Dawson’s commitment to promoting justice for all people inspired our students to think critically about the importance of ethical leadership.”
In conjunction with Ms. Luqman-Dawson’s visit to Steward, the Middle/Upper School Library partnered with Richmond Public Schools to arrange for the author to visit Binford Middle School.
“She generously offered to visit Steward pro bono and suggested the idea of having us pay forward a visit to a school that otherwise couldn’t afford an author visit,” noted Ms. Hamlin. “I was over the moon about this." In addition, Richmond independent bookstore bbgb offered Steward parents, faculty, and staff the opportunity to purchase personalized, autographed copies of “Freewater.”
Ms. Hamlin said that Ms. Luqman-Dawson’s visit “was a true community event, bringing together a local female Black author, a woman-owned independent bookstore, local history, and a partnership with a nearby school. To see everything fall into place was such a joy!”
Update on 1/30/23: On January 30, Ms. Luqman-Dawson was awarded two prestigious awards: the coveted Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Book Award. The Newbery Medal, which the American Library Association awards to the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year, was announced at the American Library Association's annual Youth Media Awards. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards honor African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. The awards were announced during the American Library Association’s LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience in New Orleans. Congratulations, Ms. Luqman-Dawson!
View the Steward Snaps from Ms. Luqman-Dawson’s visit.