Black Kids Rock! Texts That Highlight the Voices of Black Teens

A high school student sitting at a table and raising their hand.

These twelve engaging texts celebrate the voices of Black kids and teens.

It is essential to celebrate the diversity of voices in our classrooms. In order to do that, we’re showcasing texts that center Black teens and kids and show all the different ways they shine! This multi-genre collection includes informational texts about Black teens engaging in social activism to improve their communities and poems and stories about the day-to-day lives of Black teens.

Marley Dias: The 13-Year-Old Author Who Made a Difference” by Barrett Smith (6th Grade)

Reading about characters who reflect your experience is essential for students. Black students in particular can struggle to find stories that represent them. For thirteen year old Marley Dias, this problem inspired her to start a drive called #1000blackgirlbooks, which collects and donates books about Black girls to communities and libraries. As students read about Marley Dias, have them use the annotation tool to highlight the ways she has tried to solve this problem through social activism.

Sweet, Difficult Sounds” by I.M. Desta (6th Grade)

In this short story, Nothukula has recently moved from Zimbabwe to the United States. Nothukula can speak English, but she has trouble overcoming her fear of being judged by the other students.To make matters worse, her English teacher Ms. Johnson wants her to recite poetry in front of the class! Nothukula seeks help from her Auntie Thandi, who has an unconventional solution for her stage fright. As students read, encourage them to focus on the way that family plays a role in Nothukula’s success after a failure. Then, have them reflect on a time that the support of friends or family helped them overcome a difficult challenge.

Simone Biles” by Marty Kaminsky (6th Grade)

Simone Biles is one of the top athletes of our generation, and considered the best gymnast in the world. In this text, students will read about Biles’ journey to become the athlete she is today. As students read about Biles’ life, ask them to pay attention to how her outlook and attitude has influenced her success as a gymnast. After reading, have students come together in small groups to discuss what makes them successful at something they are passionate about.

The CommonLit lesson "Simone Biles."
Students will learn about Simone Biles’s childhood in the text “Simone Biles.”

Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambera (6th Grade)

In this short story, a young girl nicknamed Squeaky is the fastest runner in her school and proud of it. She looks after her older brother Raymond, who has a mental disability, and practices every day for the May Day races with him not far behind. This year, however, she has competition: new girl Gretchen who claims she will be the one to beat. Consider pairing this text with “Simone Biles” and have students compare and contrast the role of athletics in Simone and Squeaky’s lives.

East 149th Street (Symphony for a Black Girl)” by Teri Ellen Cross Davis (6th Grade)

This poem celebrates the beauty of Black hair by recounting the speaker’s experience of getting beads added to her cornrows by her mother and the joy the beads brought her as a child. As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on the images the speaker describes throughout the poem. Then, have students craft poems of their own that use rich imagery to describe what makes them proud of who they are.

The Satchel” by Lynette Samuel (6th Grade)

In this short story, Kojo struggles with feeling like he doesn’t belong at his new school. As a Ghanian-American, he feels self conscious about eating the traditional Ghanian food his grandmother provides for lunch. His grandmother tells Kojo the satchel’s history to encourage him not to be ashamed of his heritage. As students read, have them use the annotation tool to highlight the dishes Kojo brings for lunch. Then, as a group, have them research the different meals to learn about their significance in Ghanian culture.

Old Games, New Territory” by Khat Patrong (7th Grade)

In this short story, Rashid has recently moved to Florida and struggles to find his niche in his new neighborhood. He meets a mysterious girl named Gigi, who is an incredibly talented basketball player. When a pickup game of basketball gets a little rougher than he bargained for, it forces the two together, and Rashid learns there’s more to Gigi than he initially thought. After reading, have students discuss the significance of loss in this short story. Ask Discussion Question 2, “In the story, multiple characters face loss: the loss of home, family, and even opportunities. How would you describe loss? What are some ways a person can deal with loss?”

The Youngest of the Little Rock Nine Speaks Out About Holding onto History” by Allison Keyes (8th Grade)

In this informational text, Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, impresses the importance of remembering the history of the Civil Rights movement. LaNier was one of nine Black students who were the first to integrate a formerly all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas after Brown v. Board of Education ruled school segregation unconstitutional. After reading the passage, screen the Related Media video on the bombing of LaNier’s home to give students greater context to the events discussed in the text. Then, have students discuss what traits Carlotta LaNier had in order to overcome threats and violence in order to do the right thing.

The CommonLit lesson "The Youngest of the Little Rock Nine Speaks Out About Holding Onto History."
Have students reflect on history with “The Youngest of Little Rock Nine Speaks Out About Holding Onto History.”

Recognition” by Victor Lavalle (8th Grade)

This short story is set in March 2020, when Black and minority communities in New York City were disproportionately impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19. The narrator moves into a tenement building in December 2019, which quickly empties out with the pandemic surge. One day, she meets her elderly neighbor, Mirta, and they become friends as some of the few residents left. The two navigate isolation differently during the lockdown, and discover an unlikely connection that transcends lifetimes. After reading, have students discuss ways they keep themselves connected to friends and family during the pandemic.

Teen girls organized Nashville’s largest protest. They joined a long history of black women activists” by Lena Felton (8th Grade)

In this informational text, the author describes how fifteen-year-old Zee Thomas and her friends organized a huge protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the death of George Floyd. Although the thought of a group of teens organizing a protest seems novel, Zee and her friends are actually joining a long line of Black women and girls who have formed the backbone of social justice movements over the course of history. Consider pairing this text with “The Story of Ida B. Wells” to further build students’ knowledge about this lineage!

Akron at Night” by Teri Ellen Cross Davis (8th Grade)

This poem captures the exhilaration of taking an impromptu trip with family. After the speaker’s father separates from her mother, the speaker and her mother decide to drive to Akron, Ohio, a town they’d never been to before. While reading, encourage students to pay attention to the imagery in the poem. Then, have students describe how these details help them understand the poem’s message.

Eraser Tattoo” by Jason Reynolds (10th Grade)

In this short story, teenagers Dante and Shay face separation when Shay must move due to neighborhood gentrification. They wonder whether their relationship can survive and are forced to face hard truths about the risks and rewards of love. After students read this text, ask them to compare and contrast Dante and Shay’s outlook on their relationship’s future. Then, have them discuss what they think the eraser tattoo means for each character.

Next Steps

Looking for more texts to celebrate Black history and heritage? Browse the Black History text set and Black Heritage text set on CommonLit!

If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program for secondary students, join one of our upcoming webinars!