Speak Up, Speak Out!: The Extraordinary Life of Fighting Shirley Chisholm

Speak Up, Speak Out!: The Extraordinary Life of Fighting Shirley Chisholm
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Release Date
January 04, 2022
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From award-winning author Tonya Bolden comes a biography of the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Black woman to run for president with a major political party: Shirley Chisholm. Before there was Barack Obama, before there was Kamala Harris, there was Fighting Shirley Chisholm. A daughter of Barbadian immigrants, Chisholm developed her political chops in Brooklyn in the 1950s and went on to become the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. This “pepper pot,” as she was known, was not afraid to speak up for what she thought was right. While fighting for a better life for her constituents in New York’s 12th Congressional District, Chisholm routinely fought against sexism and racism in her own life and defied the norms of the time. As the first Black woman in the House and the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination from a major political party, Shirley Chisholm laid the groundwork for those who would come after her. Extensively researched and reviewed by experts, this inspiring biography traces Chisholm’s journey from her childhood in a small flat in Brooklyn where she read books with her sisters to Brooklyn College where she got her first taste of politics. Readers will cheer Chisholm on to victory from the campaign trail to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol, where she fought for fair wages, equal rights, and an end to the Vietnam War. And while the presidential campaign trail in 1972 did not end in victory, Shirley Chisholm shows us how you can change a country when you speak up and speak out.

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An Extraordinary Life
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Learning Value
If you work with middle school students, you NEED this 132 page biography (page count is important!) of the spirited and influential Chisholm. I'm surprised that this has no reviews on Goodreads and that I haven't seen it all over social media. With the combination of Bolden's fantastic writing, a forward from Stacy Abrams, the timely topic of Blacks in the political landscape and the start of Black History Month, eveyrone should know about this new book!

While I'm not usually a fan of books that start with maps, the map of Modern Day Brooklyn was very instructional for me. While I've read a lot of books set in New York City, so many of the Brooklyn neighborhoods sounded familiar, I wasn't quite aware that... they were all in Brooklyn? This was just a great way to introduce me to the world that Chisolm represented, and being able to see the geography (so much coastline!), proximity to Manhattan, and different places where Chisholm lived was very helpful.

Chisholm's family background, and her parent's immigration story, sets the stage for the environment in which she was raised. Born in 1924, and set to spend time with a grandmother in Barbados in 1928, Chisholm's life was shaped by the events of her times. However, she had a strong drive that propelled her to seek experiences outside of what was expected of women at that time. She attended college (although wasn't able to go as far as Oberlin or Vassar), started off pursuing a degree in education, but early on got interestested in politics. For a young Black woman in 1944 to get interested in politics? Wow. I can't imagine how many difficulties she would have faced.

By the late 1950s, she was the director of a day care center and heavily involved in local politics. With her background, she knew that to make changes and to get the people of her community things that they needed, she would have to "make a lot of noise". She eventually became vice president of the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council, and became the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly in 1964. She fought tremendous societal and personal challenges to become the first Black woman to win a congressional seat in 1968.
Good Points
What stood out to me was how invested in the welfare of her constituents Chisholm won. It seems like many elected officials are involved in politics to forward their own agenda, but Chisholm really wanted to make positive changes for the people in her community. This is a great message for young readers today. If more politicians had this motivation, the world would certainly be a better place.

Chisholm's story is an inspiring one. Bolden's concise and fast-paced writing, enlivened by a style that captures some of Chisholm's no nonsense rhetoric, brings to life a political figure everyone should know. There are pictures in the center of the book, although I wish that this had been a photobiography like National Geographic's Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. Chisholm was a colorful character, and it's a shame that so few color pictures of her exist! This book is a must purchase for any middle school or public library.
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