Embracing Every Hue: Brotherhood beyond Borders - National Council of Teachers of English
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Embracing Every Hue: Brotherhood beyond Borders

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 our narratives as testimonies to carve the pathway to emancipation for this new generation. Poet, 2023 recipient of the NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Award, assistant director of programs under the Center for Publishing & Applied Liberal Arts (PALA) department at NYU, and Brooklyn Poets manager, Darius amplifies the work of BIPOC poet-educators Taiyo Na and R.A. Villanueva in honor of National Poetry Month and Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. 


“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” —bell hooks (2021)

Growing up, I was never taught how to truly dive into the work of poetry, specifically the emotional aspect of the work that has now defined many aspects of my pedagogy, in my school settings. We never covered anything poetry related until middle school, and even then, it was only focused on syntax, structure, and form—never the backstory of why these poets wrote, who or what inspired the poem, or even what emotion their work evoked in us as students. 

While many young men of color might be told to shy away from publicly expressing their emotions, I was fortunate that I grew up in a single-parent household where my mother always encouraged me to embrace my own. She allowed me to inspect the journey that they took me on and let me find comfort in writing my own poetry and illustration as the emotions flowed—sometimes, admittedly, too deeply. Flash forward to now, as an administrator and professor in English education, when I take the time to reflect on my pedagogy, it has been those who have come before me, and most importantly, those who walk beside me, who molded me into the researcher, practitioner, and emerging poet that lies before you.

This past week, I was fortunate enough to teach a lesson known as “Connecting Personally with Poetry” with a group of amazing sixth graders who yearned to know more about writing, poetry, and channeling emotions through their respective work. As a guest poet-educator, the question was asked of me who inspires me to continue to write. Ruminating on this question,  I thought back to my September 2023 article, “Embracing Every Hue: Using Our Narratives to Cultivate Healing.” In this piece, I stated, “An educator can be both a teacher and a writer in their classroom. The connecting puzzle piece is vulnerability. A true teacher, especially one teaching English/language arts, has to be ready and willing to open themselves up, not only to face issues about themselves and their writing but allowing their students to be witnesses to the process as well.” In addition to this, in his Poets.org blog post, Willie Perdomo (2024) states, “Writing poetry can be a lonely endeavor, and community can be hard to locate.” Despite wearing many hats and juggling various tasks these last two years, I have unexpectedly found a true community, but more importantly brotherhood through writing and immersing myself deep in the world of poetry. This has led to me meeting two poet-educators who have played and continue to play pivotal roles in many parts of life and never fail to immerse themselves in community, inspiring me to grow: Taiyo Na and R.A. Villanueva.

In his 2019 blog post “Writing & Teaching in a Time of Crisis: Lessons from June Jordan with Taiyo Na,Taiyo details how “Teaching a people’s poetry is an act of creating sanctuary, especially for the last, least, and lost amongst us. It’s knowing not everybody will be a poet, but everybody is a poet because music and metaphors are how this world works.” Since our coincidental meeting last winter, I have had the chance on many occasions to see Taiyo in action in both his classroom and on the stage; each time I am left in utter amazement.

Taiyo Na is, to put it simply, a rarity in this world. He is that pivotal change we need in our English language arts classrooms. When I hear Taiyo speak, sing his lyrics, or even recite his poems, I feel a sense of familiarity, a sense of comfort, but most importantly, I feel at ease. His energy alone speaks volumes with his classroom being a true brave space—all voices are amplified and acknowledged through whatever medium they see fit. Diving into various forms of artistic expression through his music, pedagogy, and specifically poetry, we are blessed to have a deeper look into his stance on topics such as solidarity, immigration, and radical love through pieces such as “Weeks in the Womb,” which chronicles the story of his three-year-old son’s birth during a time where the world would never be the same. With upcoming work featured in our very own Collective Dream symposium for the special issue of English Education and an upcoming article in English Journal, Na is just getting started with leaving his mark on the world, leading us by example as he uses his narrative as an emancipatory testimony. I am forever thankful to be a small part of his journey and to have him as a brother for life.

Last but certainly not least, R.A. Villanueva is the poet, the educator, the father, and the man I strive to be at least half of in this life. With his debut collection, Reliquaria, released in 2014 courtesy of Nebraska Press, winner of The Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, and one of the many deserving poet-educators’ works featured in Teach Living Poets, courtesy of our very own NCTE Press, his work is one that even a decade later still resonates with both educators and students alike.

R.A. is one of the few poets who has truly taken me under wing, showcasing what it means to pay it forward without expecting anything in return. Under Villanueva’s guidance as a mentee, I have furthered my understanding of how a teacher can bring that duality as a writer and practitioner into their own classroom. Within the last three months, I have looked inward at my relationship with craft and language through a more perceptive and evolutionary lens. Prior, I was intimidated and, admittedly, felt a strong sense of imposter syndrome when it came to my work. Villanueva has given me a new sense of calling and purpose, not just for writing, but in my daily life. Even though he is a veteran in the field, with his forthcoming second collection, A Holy Dread, winner of the 2024 Alice James Book Award, I know there is more to come with R.A.’s work in the literary and education field.

Strength, resilience, inspiration, and radical love are just some of the qualities these BIPOC poets emulate. Their actions speak louder than their words, and the number of lives they’ve touched with both their pedagogy and poetry is countless. These two have never asked me for anything but have given me more than I have ever dreamed of through their words, their poetry, and pedagogy. I am grateful to call both of these iconic poet-educators my brothers and two of my biggest inspirations, for their bodies of work, pedagogy, and practice have laid the foundation for a legacy that will last a lifetime.

“Students crave connections and a free exchange of ideas with teachers whom they can trust. Joy is cultivated in shared spaces, and in order to curate joy, we must make students feel celebrated, admitted, understood, and, most importantly, loved” (Phelps 2023). When we #TeachLivingPoets, we are showing our students that there is power behind their voices, there is resonance in their emotions, and that there is comfort in knowing that there are those similar to their backgrounds sharing both their vulnerabilities and authentic truths. When we begin to express our vulnerability, it is as if we are building with the blocks of our very own psyche, as if  we are using our pain as fertilizer to create a world where our souls are emancipated from the troubles of the world.

Poetry is the glue that holds the bricks together—bricks of our past, present, and future. Poetry is architecture; allowing us to both liberate and escape. Oftentimes, as people of color we find ourselves pondering what it means to truly be “broken.” Like crayons, we are made of many hues, all different shapes and hues. bell hooks said “the function of art is do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.” These two phenomenal men of color do more than imagine: they create new worlds, safe havens—places of belonging where every hue can truly be embraced, showcasing that what may seem impossible is possible. 



hooks, bell. 2021. All about Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow and Company. 

Na, Taiyo (@taiyona). 2023. “Weeks in the Womb.” Tumblr, November 5, 2023. https://www.tumblr.com/taiyona/733154289424465920/weeks-in-the-womb?source=share.

Na, Taiyo. 2019. “Writing & Teaching in a Time of Crisis: Lessons from June Jordan with Taiyo Na.” Poets House. March 15, 2019. https://poetshouse.org/writing-teaching-in-a-time-of-crisis-lessons-from-june-jordan-taiyo-na/.

Perdomo, Willie. “On Poetry and Community: Willie Perdomo.” Poets.org. February, 20, 2024. https://poets.org/text/poetry-and-community-willie-perdomo.

Phelps, Darius. 2023. “Embracing Every Hue: Using Our Narratives to Cultivate Healing.” Language Arts 101, no. 1 (September): 58–64. https://publicationsncte.org/content/journals/10.58680/la202332602

Villanueva, R. A. 2014. Reliquaria. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.


Darius Phelps is a PhD candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, and 2023 recipient of the NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Award. He is the assistant director of programs under the Center for Publishing & Applied Liberal Arts (PALA) department at NYU and is a 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 work and poems have appeared in the School Library Journal, 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.

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.


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