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March 9, 2021

Community Engagement Scholarship Award

Anti-Racist English Language Teaching and Scholarship 

April Baker-Bell

Associate Professor
Departments of English, and African American and African Studies 
College of Arts and Letters

Mimi Henderson-Hudson

Master English Language Arts Teacher 
Detroit Denby High School
Detroit Public Schools Community District
April Baker-Bell
April Baker-Bell

The Community Engagement Scholarship is pleased to honor April Baker-Bell, associate professor of English and African American and African Studies, and Mimi Henderson-Hudson, language arts teacher at Detroit Denby High School, for their inspired community-university partnership between the MSU College of Arts and Letters English education program and a network of high school English teachers and students in Detroit.

Baker-Bell’s interdisciplinary work is primarily located in three fields: English teacher education, composition and literacy studies, and raciolinguistics, an emerging field that examines the mutually constructing domains of race and language. The partnership with Henderson-Hudson is based on Baker-Bell’s groundbreaking scholarship in the teaching of Black language through anti-racist approaches, especially her first book “Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, Pedagogy.” 

In her teaching and research, Baker-Bell explores how anti-black linguistic racism is normalized and institutionalized in schools and curriculum. Her research, developed in reciprocal partnerships with high schools in Detroit, is designed to challenge the ways that Black students internalize forms of anti-Black racism apparent in the teaching of language and literacy practices in high schools.

Mimi Henderson-Hudson
Mimi Henderson-Hudson

In her collaboration with Henderson-Hudson, Baker-Bell developed and refined forms of anti-racist black language pedagogy by building on the linguistic assets that Black students bring with them into English classrooms. She designed and facilitated a workshop around Black language for Denby High School students that allowed her to build the relationships that led to an event series in 2018-19 at MSU centered on Angie Thomas’ young adult book, “The Hate U Give,” and its film adaptation. 

Baker-Bell used the novel in her MSU classes to engage English education students in a discussion of anti-black linguistic racism, then opened this conversation to a range of campus and community events, including a film screening of the adaptation of the book. A campus-based conversation about the adaptation involving faculty and students, a collaboration between MSU English education courses and English language arts classes in Detroit to support the classroom teaching of the book, and a teach-in that provided a professional development event for Michigan educators interested in receiving support and resources for teaching issues of race and racism in the literacy classroom rounded out the event series.

As a result of this university–community collaboration, Baker-Bell provided her time and expertise to Henderson-Hudson’s classroom, serving as guest instructor, assisting with curriculum development and donating classroom resources directly to Detroit classrooms.

Because this collaboration centers student interests, Baker-Bell brought Detroit-area students to MSU to better inform the English education curriculum, positioning these high school students not as recipients of MSU-based expertise and knowledge, but rather as experts in their own right. This focus responds to an urgent need for educators in English education to build productively on the linguistic assets that Black students bring with them into English classrooms. This issue and topic has particular relevance to the English education program and the African and African American Studies program — the two programs in which Baker-Bell works at MSU. 

For the English education program, this topic provides English teachers with justice-oriented approaches to teaching that they can apply as educators. For students in the AAAS program, this topic functions as a corrective to inaccurate depictions of Black language seen through Eurocentric frameworks.

The results of this collaboration have been made public in a variety of formats accessible to scholars, educators, MSU students and Detroit youth. Baker-Bell also shared the research nurtured by this partnership in meetings of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and a series of professional development workshops on linguistic racism for Michigan teachers. 

The Community Engagement Scholarship Award recognizes and honors collaborative projects between MSU individuals and community partners that affect both the community and the university. The work that Baker-Bell and Henderson-Hudson accomplished through the emerging field of raciolinguistics honors students’ dignity, humanity and promise, and affirms MSU’s land-grant mission. 

Baker-Bell, Henderson-Hudson and the students in Henderson-Hudson’s senior English class at Denby High School deserve recognition for their cutting-edge work developing and refining forms of anti-racist black language pedagogy throughout the English education profession that center the teaching and learning of Black language, literacy and literature in pursuit of racial, linguistic and educational justice.

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By: Beth Brauer and Marguerite Halversen

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