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Javaka Steptoe: Inspiration for Your Words & Art

Intermediate & Middle School Activity

Javaka Steptoe, contributer to We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and Jane Addams award recipient, as a child was a model for his late father the award winning author/illustrator John Steptoe. Today, Javaka is an award wining artist, designer, author, and illustrator himself!

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
Javaka Steptoe

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Look closely at his work via the covers of his books. What do you notice? Get inspired for a some writing and artwork of your own!

In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers
Do You Know What I’ll Do? authored by Charlotte Zolotow 

A Pocketful of Poems authored by Nikki Grimes
Hot Day on Abbott Avenue, authored by Karen English (2005 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Title for Younger Children)
The Jones Family Express
Rain Play authored by Cynthia Cotten
Amiri and Odette: A Love Story by author Walter Dean Myers
Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of Young Jimi Hendrix authored by Gary Golio
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Then, while you contemplate a story or poem you’d like to write and illustrate, listen to an interview with Javaka about his creative process…

Here are some more thoughts from Javaka’s website that will help you get ready for your own creating: Utilizing everyday objects, from aluminum plates to pocket lint, and sometimes illustrating with a jigsaw and paint, he delivers reflective and thoughtful collage creations filled with vitality, playful energy, and strength.

For Steptoe, “…collage is a means of survival. It is how Black folks survived four hundred years of oppression, taking the scraps of life and transforming them into art forms.” As both an artist and educator, he challenges traditional notions of Black art, emphasizing the richness of our collective past through his use of family as a recurring theme and centerpiece. Steptoe explains, “I want my audience no matter what their background, to be able to enter into my world and make connections with comparable experiences in their own lives.” 

Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!

Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:

 Javaka says to start with what you know, the characters in your family and the people close to you. Okay, pick someone! He also says to have fun and celebrate how you/they look and who you/they are. Choose a simple gesture, habit, action, story related to that person. Write a poem or short story celebrating and appreciating them. Have fun with it! Don’t forget humor!

You are welcome to share your poem or story in our comment section (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

Now for the art piece! Hope you’ve already been thinking about this. Illustrate the spirit of what you wrote (you don’t have to literally illustrate the person or action in your writing, though you certainly may). Start by collecting scraps, odds and ends from around your home to put together into a collage. Find paper or cardboard to build your collage on. Can you find glue? If not, make some from flour and water. Go for it!! Be willing to be surprised by what you create! Be sure to share your work with your family and friends as it is possible!

You are welcome to share a picture of your creation in our comment section below (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo.

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Jane Addams Peace Association