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, have received two prestigious awards from Michigan State University honoring their inspired community-university partnership between MSU’s College of Arts & Letters English Education program and a network of high school English teachers and students in Detroit.
The awards they have won include the 2021 Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Creative Activity and the 2021 Community Engagement Scholarship Award (CESA).
“I’m honored to have been selected for the 2021 Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Creative Activity and the Community Engagement Scholarship Award alongside Mimi Henderson-Hudson and the students at Denby High School for our work on Antiracist English Language Teaching and Scholarship,” Baker-Bell said. “Thanks to the selection committee for selecting us for these awards!”
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.”
“I am a Detroit native…born, raised, schooled, and I taught for years as a high school English Language Arts teacher,” Baker-Bell said. “I met Mimi Henderson-Hudson in 2003 at Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, where we taught ELA on the eastside of Detroit. Ms. Henderson-Hudson can attest that I was already involved in community-based teaching and learning way back then. I was always interested in creating learning activities connected to the community and for establishing community-engaged involving partnerships between Detroit teachers and students and community leaders, organizers, activists, and local organizations.”
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.
I was always interested in creating learning activities connected to the community and for establishing community-engaged involving partnerships between Detroit teachers and students and community leaders, organizers, activists, and local organizations.April Baker-Bell, Associate Professor of English
“Once I joined the professoriate, I became increasingly interested in establishing a sustained and reciprocal community-university partnership and teaching and learning experience between MSU and the Detroit Public Schools,” Baker-Bell said. “In particular, I saw the need to create a community-engaged teaching and learning experience that involved Detroit teachers and students and MSU faculty and pre-service teachers that centered the teaching and learning of Black language, literacies, and literature in pursuit of racial, linguistic, and educational justice.”
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.
“It has been a privilege to collaborate with [Dr. Baker-Bell] and MSU. We have a partnership that has now spanned more than two decades and a lifelong friendship,” Henderson-Hudson said. “As a graduate of DPSCD – for our students, [Dr. Baker-Bell] serves as a mirror, a reflection of their roots and as a window because in her they can see the possibilities of future academic success.”
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 African and African American Studies program, this topic functions as a corrective to inaccurate depictions of Black language seen through Eurocentric frameworks.
As a graduate of DPSCD – for our students, [Dr. Baker-Bell] serves as a mirror, a reflection of their roots and as a window because in her they can see the possibilities of future academic success.Mimi Henderson-Hudson, Language Arts Teacher
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.
“I am grateful to MSU for providing me with space and resources to sustain this partnership,” Baker-Bell said, “and my gratitude to Mimi Henderson-Hudson for her continued advocacy for Black youth in Detroit and willingness to continue this journey with me.”
The Community Engagement Scholarship Award, supported by the Office of the Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement, 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.
Baker-Bell and Henderson-Hudson were honored for having received the Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Creative Activity during the Michigan State University Outreach and Engagement Awards Ceremony, which was a virtual ceremony this year that took place on February 24. They will be presented with the Community Engagement Scholarship Award during the MSU Awards Convocation, which is being scheduled for next year due to the pandemic.