From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter

Ancestral Writing as a Pedagogy of Hope

by Marva McClean (Author)
©2019 Textbook X, 160 Pages


In this narrative rooted in autoethnography, the author juxtaposes her personal story with that of international stories of resistance to oppression and calls on educators to include children’s personal stories as critical pedagogy to honor their funds of knowledge and foster their historical consciousness. With a focus on eighteenth-century freedom fighter Nanny of the Maroons, From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter emphasizes the historical connections between Indigenous people worldwide who have harnessed their ancestral roots to disrupt cultural hegemony. The book emphasizes the imaginative and radical assertions of the enduring resistance of the formerly colonized, going back to the era of slavery through to the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter, and calls for a radical shift in the global curriculum to include these stories.
Storytelling is acknowledged as an intergenerational teaching methodology rooted in Indigenous Epistemology which serves to honor our common humanity. The essential message of the text is conveyed through the socio-educational and cultural interventions that are asserted as transformational pedagogy that will serve to elevate students’ voices and promote their academic achievement. This book bears witness to the ways in which the history and sociocultural background of Indigenous people have been ignored and at times rendered invisible or inconsequential, and offers innovative strategies to correct history and write Indigenous people into the literature with creativity and sensitivity. From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter is a narrative of social justice that seeks to raise the reader’s historical consciousness and provide authentic strategies to decolonize the global curriculum.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Praise for From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Reading the Curriculum Through a Post-Colonial Lens
  • Preamble to Part I: Reading the Curriculum Through a Post-Colonial Lens
  • Chapter 1. Rooting Identity: Individual Memory and the Collective Narrative
  • Chapter 2. Fostering the Indigenous Spirit
  • Chapter 3. Gazing Inward: The Efficacy of Communal Research
  • Part II: Reading the Curriculum Through Global Inquiry
  • Preamble to Part II: Reading the Curriculum Through Global Inquiry
  • Chapter 4. Narratives From the Classroom
  • Chapter 5. Creating Cultural Spaces in the Classroom
  • Chapter 6. Reading the World: A Praxis of Global Citizenship
  • Chapter 7. From the Field to the Classroom: Celebrating the Heroes of the Black Atlantic
  • Chapter 8. Correcting History: Indigenous Children Writing Their Cultural Narratives
  • Part III: Viewing the Curriculum Through an Anti-Colonial Lens
  • Preamble to Part III: Viewing the Curriculum Through an Anti-Colonial Lens
  • Chapter 9. From Africa to the New World: The Sustainable Maroon Communities of Jamaica
  • Chapter 10. African Cultural Retentions
  • Postscript: Writing Truth into History
  • Index

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If there is a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

—Toni Morrison

Preparation for the writing of this book has been taking shape for decades, going as far back as my school days at Excelsior High School in Kingston, Jamaica, where I was nurtured to be a critical thinker who appreciated the roots of her heritage and the wisdom of her ancestors. Throughout my early schooling, our teachers worked to build our historical consciousness about our colonial background, emphasizing the power of our Indigenous heritage; a majority people of African heritage brought from the Motherland through captivity who resisted and rose above colonialism. Our education, they told us, was a tool to read the world, break boundaries, and dare to achieve. I am therefore grateful to my teachers who introduced me to West Indian history and sparked my interest in slavery and emancipation and Nanny of the Maroons in particular. Deep gratitude goes to my sister Charmaine Wade Perry for the engaged discourses she has facilitated on Nanny of the Maroons, offering me guidance and perspective. Dr. Rovan Locke prodded and provoked political interrogation of key ideological standpoints, pushing me to think critically and to examine Nanny through multiple lenses. In more recent ← vii | viii → times, my colleague Marcus Waters, whom I met at the 2014 Annual Maroon Conference in Jamaica, directed my attention to the ways in which the culture and history of Indigenous people are entangled across the globe and to the continuing disenfranchisement of Aboriginals in their own country in Australia. Our collaborative inquiry has pushed me to expand my worldview on Indigeneity and the innovative ways in which the resistance movement persists across the globe, standing up to the might of neo-colonialism. I owe him a wealth of gratitude.

I am most grateful to my children who have kept me on my toes with an enlightened perspective of the need to be vigilant and safeguard our heritage and ensure that it is passed down through the generations. The hundreds of children I have taught over the years have pushed me to keep in the forefront the need to disrupt the prevailing hegemonic discourses that propel the mega-narrative of European superiority and ignore the magnificent accomplishments of Black and Indigenous people across the globe. These students have remained a stark reminder of the scholar’s responsibility to tell the truth; to counter the marginalization of our history and write our story into living history. They reminded me of the need to write this book so that they can read it and be inspired to take action. I am grateful to them.

The Maroons today exert control over their past, including the history of slavery and emancipation in Jamaica and the New World. I am deeply grateful to the conference committee who organized the 2014 Annual Maroon conference and made the meeting of minds possible. It continues to be a most fascinating and inspiring experience to stand on Maroon land, and I am inspired by this legacy and the warrior woman who led them through the most turbulent warfare with the Imperialists in such a manner that harkened the ending of slavery. And so, I seek to tell the story of the resolute, brave, and committed Nanny of the Maroons, 18th-century freedom fighter; a feminist icon for all generations, and write this narrative with deep gratitude.

← viii | 1 →


From their survival of the horrific Middle Passage, through to riots, rebellions, and revolutions on slave plantations, and in more recent times, the courageous resistance against neo-colonialism as expressed through movements such as Black Lives Matter, I am motivated to bring stories of disenfranchised people into the curriculum and incorporate diverse cultures and students’ funds of knowledge as material that speaks to how we can engage in protest, resistance, and enduring change.

Born in Jamaica out of the legacy of British colonialism rooted in the Transatlantic slave trade, I self-identify as an Indigenous scholar and question the pervasive failure of Black children, whom I also identify as Indigenous, in schools across the globe. As I examine this historical background with an ethnographic attentiveness to education and its cultural practices, the story of Nanny of the Maroons becomes increasingly important to my identity. It provides a blueprint to guide my path, connecting me to stories of historical empowerment within the African Diaspora.

I first heard the story of Nanny of the Maroons as a child in Jamaica, told to me, my siblings, and cousins by our grandmother as we gathered to tell stories at evening time. This story pointed to the possibilities that can emerge from courageous action. My grandmother told us that almost three centuries ← 1 | 2 → ago, Nanny, leader of the Windward Maroons, escaped from slavery and along with her four brothers established a community that today is firmly rooted in our ancestral heritage. Under the leadership of Nanny and her brothers, the Maroons fought a valiant guerilla warfare with such fortitude that the British were forced to sign peace treaties with them, resulting in their sovereign ownership of the land to this day. These warriors challenged the institution of slavery and helped to bring it to an end. Of all the stories she told, this stood out for me as the mighty accomplishments of an ordinary woman who dared. Since then, this story has remained central to my identity. While I cannot claim to be a Maroon, I identify (Gee, 2001) with the fighting spirit of Nanny, whom Jamaicans readily liken to the biblical David. A small, wiry woman who amassed the meagre resources of her community to thwart the Goliath of Imperialism. I have carried this story around with me, plucking courage from the metaphor, applying the message it upholds as a blueprint for my professional development.

While colonial narratives portrayed and simplified Nanny as a flat figure by calling her “obeah woman” and “old hag” in the few places she is mentioned, the oral history carried over the ages and post-colonial texts by Caribbean scholars reveal Nanny as complex and multi-faceted with contradictory subjectivities and desires. It is this perspective that I convey in my scholarship. The story of Nanny’s indomitable will, her efforts and success in carving out an alternative society in Nanny Town, and her perseverance in fighting the British to earn the identity of a thorn in their side, all speak to the will of any marginalized or disenfranchised people who are determined to confront adversity and assert their rights. Based on the relevance of Nanny of the Maroons in my personal story and cultural heritage, I am committed to taking agentive action to assert her biography, and in so doing, directly address the paucity of the stories of rebel leaders such as her in the historiography of slavery and resistance movements. I ask myself, if her story has had such an impact on my life, how might children be affected when they are denied the opportunity to experience similar stories from their cultural heritage in their academic lives?

The writing, sharing, and asserting of these stories must be a deliberate act of conscientization to confront and disrupt the Western world’s attempt to effect the erasure of Indigenous people and their cultures from contemporary history. The legitimation of cultural capital of marginalized groups is essential to the conscientization of the curriculum that social justice educators seek. According to Freire (1970), conscientization is an act of understanding that ← 2 | 3 → allows the oppressed to identify the unequal power and resource distribution that exist and to devise the means by which to transform an oppressive reality into an empowering experience. Freire’s (1998) work calls attention to the potential of educators to create and nurture transformative educational experiences that resist the confines of dominant paradigms. This is a channel to assist children to share and bring alive their own cultural stories as a method of pushing against pedagogical limitations in the classroom, pointing educators to ways in which to answer the question: How are the children doing? This popular greeting from the peoples of the African continent pushes me into a stance of criticality as I ponder this persistent failure of our children in school.

I have long been concerned with the deficit framings of stories and the history of Indigenous people in classroom texts which do not address the larger systemic issues that shape the contemporary lives of children. It is important to examine those situations where the texts that include stories of people of color utilize a deficit frame, and more often than not, present them in roles such as laborers, victims, criminals, and maids. I have borne witness to the debilitating impact on children of color in classrooms where their background is presented in this one-dimensional way; where race and ethnicity are constructed along lines of superiority and inferiority. In contexts where the emotional dimensions of literacy are ignored, I have seen children cringe and diminish. In contrast, where I have utilized the critical tradition to engage children as curriculum collaborators, I have observed that storytelling provides strength for Indigenous children in classrooms, as it did for me. I remember the fragility of my own position in Western classrooms extending all the way to the academy, and I offer my experiences as guiding principles to validate the cultural life of our offspring, engage their stories as cultural spaces, and lift up their voices in acknowledgment that they have a historical and cultural background that is valid, substantial, and of great merit.


X, 160
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2019. X, 160 pp.

Biographical notes

Marva McClean (Author)

Marva McClean is a public school educator and teacher-researcher who utilizes a social justice platform to engage teachers and students in collaborative inquiry that creates spaces of empowerment and transformation. Dr. McClean’s research focuses on social justice and equity in education, the sociology of middle school, transnationalism and post-colonial studies, and Indigenous/Aboriginal cultures and Marronage. She engages in collaborative inquiry with international scholars to explore Indigeneity across the globe and create strategies to build the historical consciousness of youth in schools. She advocates for the conscientization of curriculum and pedagogy to foster students’ ability to become agents of change.


Title: From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter