Lesson Plan: Incident, Countee Cullen

Author’s Note:

This exercise is taken from a two day training titled, Cultural Fluency: Transcending the Boundaries of Power. The training seeks to redefine how we understand and relate to culture; how we understand the “other” by identifying our own “otherness.” Using Countee Cullen’s poem, “Incident, this exercise explores how our past experience of difference affects our present lives and relationships.

Lesson Plan Goals

  • To wrestle with participants’ own situations by reflecting on Countee Cullen’s poem.

Intended Audience

  • This activity is for all age groups.

Materials Needed

  • A copy of Countee Cullen’s poem, “Incident.”

Overview and Context

There is continuity between the past and the present. We all carry our past experiences with us and don’t often have the opportunity to reflect on how those experiences are playing out in our current reality. At some point in our past we have learned about difference, oppression, and separation. I have a poem that I think will stir our memories from the past. Let’s read it, and then we’ll have a conversation about it.

  1. Say: Take a moment to read the poem silently to yourself and underline any words or phrases that stand out for you.
  2. Read (or have participants read) the poem out loud two or three times.
  3. Ask: What words, lines or phrases did you underline? What were you reminded of in your own life? What was the “difference” you were made aware of? What was your experience when it was happening? What role, if any did adults play? What is the impact of your incident on your life? Where do you see it playing out now in your work or your relationships? If there was an ally at the time of your incident, what would you have liked them to say or do? Who do you feel needs to hear this poem? Why?
  4. We are products of our pasts yet they do not have to control our present. Thank you very much for sharing your stories.

Final Thoughts

This activity can be done in a large group setting or you can have pairs interview each other and then share in the large group.



Once riding in old Baltimore,

Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,

I saw a Baltimorean

Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,

And he was no whit bigger,

And so I smiled, but he poked out

His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore

From May until December;

Of all the things that happened there

That’s all that I remember.

Countee Cullen was considered by many to be the most promising of the young poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Cullen preferred not to be considered as a Black poet, but rather wanted to achieve success on the basis of traditional English standards. However, in spite of this, it was his race-conscious lyrics which were his most powerful.

About the Author

Stacey Daraio brings 30 years of experience working in the field of youth development as a designer, facilitator, trainer, evaluator, and coach. She has experience training and coaching diverse audience groups, from afterschool practitioners to funders and technical assistance providers. In her prior life she did professional theater, both acting and directing and was a drama therapist.  She lives in San Francisco with her partner Kari, two children—Keana and Kai, and two creatures—a husky, Coda and a cat, Simon. Left to her own devices, she would be either sitting in the sun with a book and cup of coffee, or curled up on the couch with the creatures (all of them!), a book and cup of coffee.