According to a report in Chalkbeat, elementary school students at P.S. 125 in Harlem recently read The 1619 Project: Born on the Water and had the opportunity to meet with the books’ co-authors, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson.
Born on the Water is a lyrical picture book in verse that chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States. It is based on a story journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tells in the Pulitzer Prize–winning opening essay of The 1619 Project, which first appeared as a special issue of the New York Times Magazine in 2019, marking the 400th anniversary of slavery in America. Hannah-Jones co-wrote the book with Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson, and it includes striking illustrations by Nikkolas Smith.
The book tells the story of a young student who receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Her grandmother gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders. But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.
“Students spent the morning reading poems to Watson and Hannah-Jones, which included the refrain ‘I am from,’ and talked about eating meals of black beans and rice, vacations spent lakeside with grandparents, and growing up in a small apartment. The students asked questions about how the two became authors, tips for writing, and what inspired them to pen the book.
‘We’re lucky to be in a city that is not trying to restrict what our children can learn about Black history and about Black culture,’ Hannah-Jones said in an interview at the school. ‘You can see from the dialogue that these students were able to engage in, there’s nothing to be afraid of, that our children are capable of having complex thoughts and dealing with histories that are tough, and feeling empowered by that.'”