Survival and Dreams - Tupac Shakur | Langston Hughes

I browsed through this book during a recent visit to Chapters.  As much as I enjoy his music, his poems on print did not do it for me. The title poem, the first in the book, is probably the best piece of writing in there from a literary perspective at least.  But this poem is a great idea for a minds on or hook activity. There's lots to unpack. The imagery and metaphors are loaded. 

The Rose that Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur (sung by Nikki Giovanni)
Did you hear about the rose
that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's laws wrong
it learned how to walk without havin feet.
Funny it seems but, by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else even cared.
No one else even cared..
The rose that grew from concrete.

The song version below is from a tribute album compiling some of Tupac's written work after his death.

In Ippolito's article, she mentions the lesson planning process behind teaching literacy.  One teacher wanted to approach music and poetry precisely: Langston Hughes, rhythm and blues structure, and the Harlem Renaissance.  But she had to take a broader approach and explore the big idea.  The relationship between music and poetry.  Its evolution and influence over time.  The teacher suggests comparing a poem and a song side by side, before asking students to gather and present their own examples (Research #1).
  • What makes a poem a poem?  What makes a song a song? Explore the stylistic differences and thematic similiarities.
Why not put Tupac's poem turned song next to Hughes' Harlem.  Some big ideas in both texts are...
  • struggle
  • survival
  • ambition
  • identity
  • hope
  • dreams

Harlem by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?
Some critical literacy type questions you can ask are...(based on Research #10)
  • What words, images, and phrases come to mind when you think about Harlem, New York (incidentally where Tupac was raised until the age of 13)?  What about the Bronx? Vancouver's Downtown Eastside? Toronto's Rexdale or Parkdale? 
  • How would Tupac's or Hughes' poems be different if they were written from the perspective of a man who grew up in Manhattan? West Vancouver? Toronto's Rosedale?  If it were told from the perspective of a child, parent, or older sibling in the same stigmatized neighbourhood?
  • How do people in society judge each other based on hometown, financial status, race, sex, ambitions and dreams?  What messages are Tupac or Hughes presenting in their poems?  How are they different?
  • Would Tupac's message ring true for a young child attending a slum school in an impoverished country?  If you went to a squatter area in Metro Manila and told some of the little children that they could be anything they wanted to be someday if they studied and worked really hard, how can you justify your message of hope.  What environmental condititions are needed for dreams to take root and actually flourish? 

 From a reader response perspective (based on Research #8), you can ask...
  • Looking at Tupac's poem, has anyone ever told you that you could not do something?  That you are incapable of accomplishing a goal you set out for yourself?  How did you feel?  What did you do?
  • Describe a time when you succeeded against all odds.
  • Answer Hughes' question: "What happens to a dream deferred?"
  • Do any of the speakers in either poem, remind you of a sibling, friend, or classmate?  In what ways?
  • Have you ever dreamed of doing anything that you did not pursue or act on?  What emotions or thoughts do you feel looking back at the past?

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