I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT DAY IN MARCH 2003 WHEN MY longtime professional colleague Dr. Donda West and I realized that our sons not only knew each other, but they actually were performing together on tour. She and I are both veteran professors of English--Donda taught at Chicago State University (she retired as English department chair in 2005), and I have been at Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.
Our mutual involvement in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) first brought us together years before. Donda and I had both served on a number of NCTE committees, working together on critical issues that affect the teaching of English language arts, in particular, to students of color. For a number of years, Donda was also president of NCTE's Black Caucus.
That spring, we were meeting in a New York City hotel suite as members of the CCCC's Black Caucus. During a break, NCTE Staff Liaison Sandra Gibbs said to me, "You know, Donda's son is a hip-hop performer, too." I turned to Donda, who said proudly, "My son is Kanye West. He is on tour now, opening for Talib Kweli."
"Talib Kweli is my son!" I exclaimed in surprise.
Talib Kweli is the elder of my two sons. Their dad (also an English professor) and I named our firstborn Talib Kweli Greene. (Our younger son, Jamal Kwame Greene, is the one who stuck more closely to his parents' academic path. A Yale Law School graduate, Jamal clerks for a Supreme Court Justice and is an emerging scholar of constitutional law.)
"Talib told me about this young tapper/producer who was opening for him--he said that he loved the stage," I continued in excitement. "I had had no idea he was talking about your son."
How ironic that we two educators were attending an academic conference focused on the teaching of English composition, while our sons were on tour performing original lyrics before arenas filled with thousands of eager young fans bobbing their heads to hip-hop beats.
Now Donda West is the first of our informal network of hip-hop mothers (which includes Dr. Mahalia Hines, mother of Common, and Sheron Smith, a nurse by profession and mother of Mos Def) to write a book about raising a son who has become a powerful user of language in our popular culture. I was pleased to be asked by Black Issues Book Review to read Raising Kanye: Life Lessons From the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar by Donda West with Karen Hunter, including a Preface by Kanye West (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, $24.95, ISBN 1-416-54470-4) and to interview Donda about our common experiences with the hip-hop generation--both as mothers and educators.
The story of Donda and her son Kanye will be inspirational for many, especially urban single mothers who have ambitions for their children and for themselves, too. (Kanye's parents divorced when he was four; he lived with his mother during the school year in Chicago and spent summers in Atlanta with his father, an academic administrator and photographer.) Donda and Kanye often took trips together and even lived in China one academic year while Donda held a teaching fellowship.
I enjoyed my conversation with my sister educator/hip-hop mom about how we both educated ourselves, our children and our students-and the work we all still have to do to instill confidence, pride and the gifts of literacy, creativity and innovative expression in children and students for generations to come. What follows is an edited transcript of our Brooklyn-to-LA phone call.