We envision a future where people actively work to dismantle injustices and build a more peaceful, equitable world.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton: Celebrate Our Differences & Similarities

Intermediate & Middle School Activity

Meet Vanessa Brantley-Newton contributor to ‘We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices’ and Jane Addams Award recipient as Illustrator of ‘We Shall Overcome.’

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
Vanessa Brantley-Newton
We Shall Overcome

Read a summary of the book

We Shall Overcome. “When people sing out, they can change the world” Widely known as a Civil Rights anthem, the song has along history starting in “slavery times” when enslaved people sang out “I do believe, I’ll be alright some day”. From gospel, to the labor movement, to the civil rights struggles, the song evolved, gave courage, focused attention, and became a collective anthem for change. With lively illustrations and moving prose, the book explores the power of community and action through the story of one song – still evolving – still being sung internationally. 

Learn More

Watch and listen to Vanessa share her story of growing up in a wonderfully caring and diverse home, but in a world where she did not see herself in picture books. Look for connections between Vanessa’s experience and your own and/or the experience of family members, classmates, neighbors near and far. Catch Vanessa’s enthusiasm for spreading ‘unexpected happiness’ and depicting us all with joy…

Then, explore Vanessa’s website. Be sure to look through the galleries!

Next, check out her blog! Don’t miss her craft offerings and messages for us during this stay-at-home time.

Listen to a bit of a historic recording of Pete Seeger singing ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!

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

Vanessa’s mission is that all children see themselves represented in picture books. Are there children’s picture books in your house—your own books, books that belong to a younger sibling’?  Gather a pile and conduct an informal survey.

  • Who is represented in the illustrations?
  • Are you seeing a wide variety of people in these books or only certain kinds of people?
  • Do you see yourself?
  • Do you think every child would see themselves?

Write about what you notice. Be sure to include what you feel and what you wish about what you notice.

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

Now for some action!  How will you celebrates the differences and similarities between all of us today, whether those differences and similarities are in your own home, your extended family, or your neighborhood or school community? Choose something—an art piece, a special note, a gesture, a message, an offer to play a game. It’s up to you to decide. Be sure though, whatever you do, that your action does two or more of the following things—brings unexpected happiness, takes takes you on an adventure, shows kindness, or makes you giggle!

You are welcome to share what you chose to do 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