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This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality

Review

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality

THIS PROMISE OF CHANGE: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality, by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy tells the true story of 14-year-old Jo Ann’s experience as one of 12 black teenagers integrated into Clinton High School in Tennessee after the Brown vs. Board of Ed Supreme Court decision. Told in verse, this book provides an emotional account of the harrowing journey towards racial equality in the United States, while touching upon issues relevant to today’s society and maintaining a hopeful voice for readers to find solace in.

"THIS PROMISE OF CHANGE is an incredible, firsthand account of a time of great progress in America, but it is also brutally honest in its depiction of the turmoil that followed..."

In 1956, the town of Clinton allowed 12 African American students to attend their previously all-white high school in order to obey federal and state laws. These students were among the first to attend a white school in the effort for integration. While relations among the town people were fairly positive at first --- Jo Ann, our heroine, was elected vice president of her homeroom, and the people, while not overly friendly, were tolerant --- the introduction of an outside voice, the fear-mongering preacher John Kasper, incites violence and hatred never before brought to the surface of this small Tennessee town. As a result, Jo Ann becomes a leading voice in the black community at her young age, from local paper interviews to a sit down with the Attorney General, she is thrown into this leadership position and broadcast around the country. From the very beginning, Jo Ann exhibits a wisdom and grace beyond her years; she is patient and practical, proud and poised. She resolves to fight for what is right, to pave the way for the students she knows will come after her.

It is Jo Ann’s quiet resolve that will provide readers with a piece of hope as they witness the destruction of peace in this Tennessee town. Through angry mobs, fights breaking out and even one of Jo Ann’s peers getting thrown out of the school window, we see the perseverance of a group of kids who know what they must fight for.

Accompanying the beautiful verse across these pages are headlines and media clippings from this time, exhibiting the hatred and vitriol that these teenagers had to endure. These primary sources provide a different perspective that is not often told about this time period. Like any time of great change, integration experience some critical growing pains. All I remember from what I learned in school is the facts --- mainly, Brown v. Board of Education --- we never learned the emotion and social ramifications that came with integration; danger and violence gets lost in the history books, which is why this book is extremely important for young people to read now. The emotion behind these words will give people a way to sympathize with these teenagers in a way that we have not been allowed before. When people learn about the hardships that others have gone through in society, they become more understanding of why certain aspects of the American way need to be remedied, even today. Especially today.

THIS PROMISE OF CHANGE is an incredible, firsthand account of a time of great progress in America, but it is also brutally honest in its depiction of the turmoil that followed, which is often overlooked. Young people will find a wonderful role model in Jo Ann Allen, whose story of perseverance and courage in the face of adversity is inspiring, and should be shared with every American. Readers will be able to get through the book quickly due to its format in verse, but will be sad when Jo Ann’s story comes to a close.

Reviewed by Cat Barra on January 30, 2019

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality
by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy