Representation matters. An educator and children’s author from Greenwich, Connecticut, Valerie Bolling said to the Greenwich Time, “I loved being read to and reading books, but I never got to see books where kids look like me.” In her writing, she wants to ensure that all children, particularly those who are underrepresented in children’s literature, feel seen.
As an early career educator almost 30 years ago and before DEI was an acronym, Bolling went beyond teaching lessons in poetry and championed diversity, equity and inclusion. As a Black woman teaching in the most diverse schools of Greenwich, she combed the libraries for books that reflected her and her students. One of Bolling’s students, who she taught in both grades 5 and 8 wrote about her, “I want you to know that YOU had a HUGE influence on us all. Having a Black woman as a teacher and role model early on in our lives, you brought attention to topics that we would have never addressed at such an early age.”
Bolling transitioned to an instructional coaching position in 2009, but as Lori Mulligan, Vice President (Secondary Schools) of Greenwich Education Association stated, “Valerie never left the classroom. She found a new connection with students across our district to continue her work in DEI. While she helped teachers meet and exceed district evaluation standards, Valerie’s questions forced us to think critically about our craft and how to personalize and include all learners in our lessons.”
Bolling advances the causes important to Harper Councill Trenholm, who served for 21 years as executive secretary of the American Teachers Association (ATA). One of the country’s most outstanding Black educators, he helped build ATA’s numbers and strength and worked for the merger of ATA and NEA. Like Trenholm, Bolling goes beyond the call of duty to free the education profession from inequities based on race or ethnicity.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world, and the nation grappled with the reckoning of racism through the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Bolling published articles that advocated for the representation of all children in literature. She also penned children’s books that would help fill this void, including an award-winning book Let’s Dance! a story that included all races and cultures through dance. As publishers sought to include more representation, Bolling authored another book, coached teachers on managing student discussions, mentored students on anti-racist presentations, and presented to students on using their privilege for good.
In Spring 2021, a group of far-right community members stirred up public outcry against COVID-19 protections and against teaching an honest and accurate education. They argued that the district must redact DEI lessons, which the district approved just months prior. The far-right group also sought to defame Bolling, by attacking her character and reputation in the community and in children’s literature circles. These actions of intolerance and intimidation did not stop Bolling. She continues to work steadfastly to celebrate the voice and agency of all students.