From NCTE’s Standing Committee on Global Citizenship
This post was written by NCTE member Darius Phelps, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.
As Committee members, we have discussed how we can utilize diverse literature as the pathway to emancipation for this new generation. Poet and lecturer in the Multicultural Education/Early Childhood Department at Medgar Evers College, and Brooklyn Poets assistant manager, Darius amplifies the legacy of award-winning author Minh Lê and his impact on both children’s literature and the field of English education over the last decade.
“When you have a great friend, the rest of the world can seem to disappear.” —Minh Lê, Real to Me (2023)
Many teachers dream of forming a genuine bond with their favorite author, and I was fortunate to do just that in 2018 when I first connected with award-winning author Minh Lê via social media. Over the years, we have worked together in various capacities and formed a true friendship, both professionally and personally.
What makes him the “crème de la crème” in my eyes is that he has always been willing to share his truth in the most groundbreaking and authentic ways. Minh invites you as the reader to take a closer look, not only at yourself but at the world around you, and how we as educators especially can advocate for and amplify that change. Through his words, over the last decade, readers have been able to witness the journeys his characters walk in their respective truths as they bear witness to their vulnerabilities, ultimately looking within themselves to unearth their respective joys.
With his extensive catalog, Minh has set the tone and paved the way for writers of color, specifically those of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) descent. Beginning his journey in 2016 with the heartwarming Let Me Finish, Minh details a story that every avid reader, librarian, and educator can resonate with. This is complemented by 2019’s The Perfect Seat, which mirrors that deep love of reading. His phenomenal partnership with author/illustrator Dan Santat began in 2018 with the groundbreaking Drawn Together, which highlights the power of an unspoken connection between grandfather with his grandson, showcasing themes of love and family—themes that continued with Lift, The Blur, and the forthcoming Built to Last (2024). Minh has a way of amplifying this feeling of genuine warmth, care, and radical love, one that radiates from himself in real life.
In Lê’s Green Lantern series, the first graphic novel, Legacy (2021), and Alliance (2022), the follow-up, find Lê putting a spin on the favorite DC superhero comic by recreating the tale through the eyes of a young Vietnamese boy, Tai. In the series, Tai faces various challenges in coming to terms with his newfound powers, including real-world issues like grief, vulnerability, and self-discovery as a young man of color.
It is in 2023 that I feel Minh is rising in his power, kicking off the year strong with a dive into the YA genre with his chapter in You Are Here: Connecting Flights, an empowering anthology centering AANHPI voices edited by Ellen Cho, and following up with his heart-warming tale of deep friendship and what it is like to experience sudden change in Real to Me. With his newest title, the graphic novel Enlighten Me, being released this month, Minh has stepped deeper into his power as an authentic storyteller, artist, and activist. In retrospect, I feel all of Minh’s work has led to this pivotal moment. Enlighten Me centers the story of a middle-grade-aged Vietnamese boy who learns the power behind meditation, owning his emotions, but most importantly embracing who is is at the core and letting every hue shine from within.
Reading his latest work led me to revisit bell hooks’ The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love and reminded me of just how much Minh has changed the face of children’s literature. Lê embodies what it means to be a man, specifically a man of color, walking in his purpose, exemplifying what it means to be vulnerable, honest, and perceptive as he navigates the many hats he wears—an early childhood policy analyst by day, writer by night, on top of being a wonderful husband, an amazing father, and truly a phenomenal friend.
“If we are lucky enough as children to be surrounded by grown-ups who love us, then our sense of wholeness is not just the sense of completeness in ourselves but also is the sense of belonging to others and to our place; it is an unconscious awareness of community, of having in common.” ―bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love
On my toughest days, it has been Minh’s love and encouragement that has gotten me through my own journey. His impact, his story, and his authentic truth will stand the test of time. His legacy will forever be one that inspires young men of color around the world. Minh, my friend, thank you for being a rarity and true beacon of light. Your light, your truth, and your words will always lead the way, even in the darkest of times.
Darius Phelps is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a full-time lecturer at Medgar Evers College and assistant manager at Brooklyn Poets. An educator, poet, spoken-word artist, and activist, Darius writes poems about grief, liberation, emancipation, and reflection through the lens of a teacher of color and experiencing Black boy joy. His poems have appeared in the NY English Record, NCTE’s English Journal, Pearl Press Magazine, ëëN Magazine, and many more. Recently, he was featured on WCBS and highlighted the importance of Black male educators in the classroom. Darius can be contacted via email.
The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the Council and within members’ teaching contexts.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.