Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood

The Lauryn Hill Reader

by M. Billye Sankofa Waters (Volume editor) Venus Evans-Winters (Volume editor) Bettina L. Love (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook XIV, 332 Pages
Series: Urban Girls, Volume 2


The album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sold over 420,000 copies in its first week, received ten Grammy nominations (winning five). Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood: The Lauryn Hill Reader critically engages the work of Ms. Hill, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the album. Beyond the album’s commercial success, Ms. Hill’s radical self-consciousness and exuberance for life led listeners through her Black girl journey of love, motherhood, admonition, redemption, spirituality, sexuality, politics, and nostalgia that affirmed the power of creativity, resistance, and the tradition of African storytelling. Ms. Hill’s album provides inspirational energies that serve as a foundational text for Black girlhood. In many ways it is the definitive work of Black girlhood for the Hip Hop generation and beyond because it opened our eyes to a holistic narrative of woman and mother. Twenty years after the release of the album, we pay tribute to this work by adding to the quilt of Black girls’ stories with the threads of feminist consciousness, which are particularly imperative in this space where we declare: Black girls matter.
Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood is the first book to academically engage the work of the incomparable Ms. Hill. It intellectually wrestles with the interdisciplinary nature of Ms. Hill’s album, centering the connection between the music of Ms. Hill and the lives of Black girls. The essays in this collection utilize personal narratives and professional pedagogies and invite students, scholars, and readers to reflect on how Ms. Hill’s album influenced their past, present, and future.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood: The Lauryn Hill Reader
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Liner Notes: Introducing a 20-Year Reflection (M. Billye Sankofa Waters)
  • Side A | Power of Rhetoric and Verse
  • Track 1 Hard Rock (The Truth about Jezebel) (Grisel Y. Acosta)
  • Track 2 Examining Linguistic Continuity and the Richness and Multidimensionality of Black Atlantic Communicative Practices through the Lyricism of Lauryn Hill (Adrienne R. Washington / Diana A. Burnett)
  • Track 3 Blackgirl Praxis through Rhetorical Architecture: An Ethnopoetic Reading of Miseducation (Qiana M. Cutts)
  • Track 4 Black Feminist Rhetorical Praxis: The Agency of Holistic Black Women in Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Contemporary Works (Alexis McGee)
  • Side B | Unconditional Love
  • Track 5 Give Me My Crooked Crown Momma (Aja D. Reynolds)
  • Track 6 Nothing but Us (Grisel Y. Acosta)
  • Track 7 Care for Me: One Black Girl’s Road to Acknowledging the Ex-Factor (Dawn N. Hicks Tafari / Nwachi G. E. Tafari)
  • Track 8 Revolution Mami (Grisel Y. Acosta)
  • Track 9 The Rhetoric of the Womb: (Academic) Mothering in Trying Times on the Road to Zion (Raven Jones Stanbrough / Ashley Newby)
  • Track 10 Forgive Them Father for They Know Not What They Do… But What If They Do Know?!: The Impact of Unforgivable Whiteness on Black and Brown Women (Geneva L. Sarcedo / Cheryl E. Matias)
  • Side C | Space for Self
  • Track 11 My Sister, Myself: Why the Miseducation of Black Girls Requires Spaces and Places for Their Healing (Sherell A. McArthur)
  • Track 12 Saving Me Softly: A Black Girl in Japan (Nazera Sadiq Wright)
  • Track 13 Father, You Saved Me (Sarah Abdelaziz)
  • Track 14 “Somebody/anybody, sing a black girl’s song”: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as Blackgirl Autoethnography (Robin M. Boylorn)
  • Track 15 Tell Me Who I Can Be: Mentoring Queer Black Girls in Hostile Educational Spaces (Torie Weiston-Serdan)
  • Side D | Higher/Education
  • Track 16 Fantasy, Reality, and What Is Needed: Debunking Fantasy and Centering Truth in Black Women College Students’ Experiences (Nadrea R. Njoku / Shawna M. Patterson-Stephens / Lori D. Patton / Maurisa Li-A-Ping / Ellise Smith)
  • Track 17 Lauryn Hill and the Power of Digital Storytelling in Writing Classrooms (Jessica Edwards)
  • Track 18 Lauryn Hill and Pedagogies of Critical Hip-Hop (David Green)
  • Track 19 The Miseducation Was Ms. Lauryn Hill’s Education: The Inspiration and Activism of an Emcee (Tara Betts)
  • Track 20 Forgive Them: The Silencing of Black Women in Graduate School (Shanyce L. Campbell)
  • Track 21 A Re-Storying of the Academy by the Lost Ones (ReAnna S. Roby / Elizabeth J. Cook)
  • Side E | Clapback, Praxis, and Solidarity
  • Track 22 Black Feminist Auto-Ethnography on Black Womanhood across Space (Tanja Burkhard / Valerie Kinloch)
  • Track 23 Wrecking Patriarchy and Capitalism in Lauryn Hill’s Hip Hop (Stephanie Troutman / Eric A. House)
  • Track 24 The Hill from Whence My Help Comes: Black Women Rapping and Preaching Activism and Liberation (Conā S. M. Marshall)
  • Track 25 Negotiating Complicated Relationships with Misogynoir in Hip Hop (Marta Mack-Washington / Magaela C. Bethune / Ahmad R. Washington)
  • Track 26 Lessons from a Black Feminist Critical Scholar (Lauren Leigh Kelly)
  • Track 27 Practice Extending across the Atlas: Black Girls’ Geographies in Settler Societies (Stephanie Latty / Sefanit Habtom / Eve Tuck)
  • Contributors
  • Series Index

← viii | ix →


Liner Notes

Introducing a 20-Year Reflection



Alright family: pull out your CD, queue up your MP3 tracks, or blow the dust off your vinyl (if you were hardcore true to that vintage sound;) it’s time to sit down with a classic. For sure, you may still have each lyric etched in your brain—but this here collection is over two years in the making and we have gathered—reunited, if you will—to take a deeper listen. These chapters are thoughtfully interactive and we invite you to read each as an accompaniment to the album, as Ms. Lauryn Hill speaks for herself.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released August 25, 1998. The album sold over 420,000 copies the first week, over 10 million by the following year, and received 10 Grammy nominations, winning five, including “Best New Artist,” and “Album of the Year”.1 Beyond the album’s commercial success, Hill’s radical self-consciousness and exuberance for life lead us through her Blackgirl journey of love, motherhood, admonition, redemption, spirituality, sexuality, politics, and nostalgia.

This particular project, affectionately titled The Lauryn Hill Reader, was introduced as a Love Letter (no pun intended, but sure, go for it) to celebrate the cultural, artistic, intellectual, and spiritual gifts of Miseducation and Lauryn Hill. Twenty years after Ms. Hill unapologetically dared to bare herself vulnerable ← ix | x → for the world, we humbly tribute this work by adding to the quilt of Black girls’ stories, which are imperative in this space where we declare: Blackgirls matter. Sometimes we refer to her as “Hill,” “Ms.” or we employ the use of her full name because we honor the formalities of her work as a sacred text. Sometimes we refer to her as “Lauryn” because we honor the vulnerability of her work as a sister or close kin.


A few of us were first introduced to Lauryn on the “soaps” while most of us met her as the breakout star of the “Sister Act” sequel. However, not many of us knew her range just yet. Blunted on Reality with The Fugees got us there in 1994, but The Score which was released two years later, made us realize how much we’d always missed her voice; perhaps how much we always needed her voice. I was a little too young to grasp Sha-Rock or Roxanne Shante, and was just barely becoming aware of myself with the late Ms. Melodie, Salt n Pepa, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Sista Soulja, and Yo-Yo. My conscious context was threaded between TLC, Mary J. Blige, and Lil Kim. Lauryn weaved them all. She poured in the familiarity of the Saturday morning cleaning rituals with Roberta Flack in the background, gave the empathetic critique of brothers and sisters lost in ego and materialism, and awakened the newness of my body and its power to both end and extend life. She crossed the Black classics of Rhythm and Blues with Hip Hop and engendered Neosoul. Lauryn’s lyrics deeply connected to my intersectional identities as a Blackgirl. And when the call for this book came, we all realized we were/are connected with others across the globe—too many to count.

No doubt, Miseducation is an album you listen to straight-through because each track grows into the next. Others choose them shuffled or maybe wear down that one track on never-ending repeat. But we know all the lyrics, so much so that even two words in, you can finish an entire verse. (You’re probably doing it now). Even the interludes, yo. We’d been patiently and painfully waiting for Lauryn to birth this, so we hung on every word. I remember standing in a loooooooong line outside of Willie’s on Georgia Ave in DC at midnight! waiting for this CD to drop. Yes, the compact disc. In a moment when she is juggling a dozen different activities, including picking up her children from school, Bettina pauses hard to recall the exact moment she heard Miseducation with a type of recollection one can only have with a time machine: “I was at The Crew’s house (in Long Island) playin Spades. It was a late night and we weren’t going to [class] the next day. Ebony and Tina were rappers and they were like, ‘you gotta listen to this!’ We were blown. away. We listened to it over and over and over again.” Venus recalls when the album first dropped, “I was experiencing my own growing pains—trying to ← x | xi → decide on adolescent love or grown peoples kind of love. Either way, education or the hood never taught me which love is conducive to healing unseen pain and fostering self-love. Lauryn sang my pain with naming it for me/us. That naming came when my son was born two years later, and then, I knew what Zion represented for her/us.”

No doubt, there are a lot of 20-year old sisters and brothers out here now beautiful and thriving because of Lauryn’s testimony “to Zion.” Many of us were able to dig deeper into our spiritual selves through her scriptural call to worship on the hidden track “Tell Him.” Many of us could feel the warmth of our youths in Chicago, Long Island, DC, Canada, Mississippi, Cuba, Japan, Jamaica because she crossed cities and countries when she talked about Newark in “Every Ghetto, Every City.” Many of us were finally equipped with language to clapback and assert our own voices after listening to “Lost Ones” and then released a collective, if not tear-filled, breath to acknowledge our romantic relationship toxins with “When It Hurts So Bad,” and “Ex-Factor.” In fact, the latter may have been the first time that many of us even understood what the word reciprocity really meant. And there are many of us who were trained to ride a beat and critique our traditional lenses with “Everything is Everything” or to cradle and enjoy an intimate love with “Nothing Even Matters.” The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the Combahee soundtrack for the Blackgirl shaped by Hip hop and a global window toward a holistic narrative of woman and mother. These are a small sampling of the voices you’ll experience with this collection.


Coming together to respond to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has been an act of respect and community building. In hindsight, creating the call for the chapters was the simplest task because when you say “Lauryn Hill,” the people will come! Reading through the pages, lyrics, narratives, of so many scholars, practitioners, artists, and activists, has been true love labor; synthesizing and organizing was complicated. The 27! chapters presented in this collection are mere slices of infinite brilliance reflected through five overarching themes and they are far from definitive. In choosing the format for the book, we could have easily listed each chapter in alphabetical order of the writers; we could have listed each chapter to align with the track order of the album; yet no choice would have been perfect because the styles, structures, and content of each submission bleed through one another. The intersectional veins that resonate the highest are: coming of age; leveraging power; and healing. These were the codes that were consistent throughout each chapter. They informed the nuances of the themes and thus, the book is organized according to the following “Sides”: ← xi | xii →

The chapters, rather the Tracks, of this collection communicate with one another—and us—in the call-and-response tradition. They play with time, memory, space, and identity. They contradict and run parallel. They cite praxis and break beats. Therefore, we invite you to engage with these texts just as you likely did with the album: on the first round, let it play all the way through. Then you may decide to shuffle the tracks or find the ones you need to put on repeat. The ones that make you break out your journal or the ones that make you shift something in your curriculum.

This work is a gumbo of poetry, testimonies, pedagogical maps. It contributes to the academic cannons of Sociology of Education, Black Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Ethnomusicology, Performance, Black Feminisms, Qualitative Inquiry, English, and Theology; the grassroots activisms of Blackgirls, Hip hop; and the intersectional Villages that we love and fight for. These contributions are not necessarily so because we aimed to cover all of these areas, but rather Lauryn Hill laid provided this foundation with this album. And while you’ll surely find references to Ntozake Shange, Carter G. Woodson, Sonny Carson, The Civil Rights Movement, Joan Morgan, #blacklivesmatter #sayhername, et al. each voice exerts its own power wielding new tools to build new canons. In this way, each writer is implicitly responding to the question: “Yo, what were you doing when that Lauryn Hill solo album dropped?!” More than a question, it’s a declaration: I know you heard it. How did it make you feel? What did it make you do?

1 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the first Hip Hop album to win a Grammy for “Album of the Year.” Additionally, Lauryn Hill was the first woman to receive such a high number of nominations in one year.

← xii | 1 →

Side A | Power of Rhetoric and Verse

← 1 | 2 →

← 2 | 3 →


Hard Rock (The Truth ABOUT Jezebel)



“Hard Rock” explores ideas of female autonomy in “Doo Wop (That Thing).” I find this song the most complex to respond to because, in terms of gender, Hill is warning against falling into both male and female stereotypical behavior, but at the same time she is limiting the idea of what a “good female” is, in terms of sexual relationships. Arguably, this was the most popular song on the album, and I wonder if it is because it upholds stereotypical concepts of gender. Furthermore, I explore who her audience might be for this song: is it only women and men of color? If so, how might that affect a person of color’s self-perception, needing to be warned?

spike chains blue hair bad brains scream
identity issues broken mirror explanations
bring back black answers across oceans and seas
Caribbean music movements in screeching wails and bangs

hard rock girls shave their heads
hard rock girls have armpit hair
hard rock women aren’t sanitary
hard rock women are diamonds, diamonds, diamonds

what are you afraid of?
warnings are futile

poseur punks in lime green and pink pathetic
money hungry corporate mimicry globalized murder ← 3 | 4 →
black boot bangs against fascist rhythms,
sexist clichés, racist schisms, yama, yama

hard rock girls shave their heads
hard rock girls have fuzzy leg hair
hard rock women don’t fear sexuality
hard rock women are diamonds, diamonds, diamonds

what the heck are you warning me of?

demolish machista demolition with angular philosophy
and androgynous gardens of soul crooning hula hoops
breast bearing bustiers and day-glo body paint piercing skank dance
tattooed serpent siren making rulers into followers with a baritone wink

hard rock girls shave their heads
hard rock girls have fuzzy hair
hard rock women wear oversized suits
hard rock women are diamonds, diamonds, diamonds

what are you afraid of?
warnings are futile

base base base saxophone drum beat beat beat
tough skin consciousness ready to defend against
ignorant don’t know my history or your contribution
blindness red hair anger flows free in the pit, smiling, wild

hard rock girls shave their heads
hard rock girls have manic panic hair
hard rock women are educated mo-fos
hard rock women are diamonds, diamonds, diamonds

what the heck are you warning me of?
better beware of me
watch out
better beware of me
watch out
better beware of me
watch out
punk rock hard rock afro-woman diamond, diamond, diamond

1 The word “yama” refers to “right living” and the word is used by the Afro-punk band X-Ray Spex in the song “Cliché” in a different format; this is not a quote of the lyric, as much as it is a reference to the word and a reference to the spirit of the frontwoman, Poly Styrene aka Marion Joan Elliot-Said.

← 4 | 5 →


Examining Linguistic Continuity AND THE Richness AND Multidimensionality OF Black Atlantic Communicative Practices THROUGH THE Lyricism OF Lauryn Hill





XIV, 332
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XIV, 332 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

M. Billye Sankofa Waters (Volume editor) Venus Evans-Winters (Volume editor) Bettina L. Love (Volume editor)

M. Billye Sankofa Waters is Associate Teaching Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Northeastern University. Her research interests include sociology of education, Black feminism, critical race theory, and qualitative inquiry. Venus E. Evans-Winters is Associate Professor of Education at Illinois State University in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations. Her research interests are school resilience, urban education policy and reform, and the schooling of Black girls and women across the Diaspora. Bettina L. Love is Associate Professor of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on the ways in which urban youth negotiate Hip Hop music and culture to form social, cultural, and political identities to create new and sustaining ways of thinking about urban education and intersectional social justice.


Title: Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood
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