Kadir Nelson exhibition of the paintings from The Undefeated

Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated, the poem that forms the text backdrop of The Undefeated is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Kadir Nelson's paintings illustrate generations of black American heroes "emerging from the shadows."

"[The Undefeated] begins with Jesse Owens literally jumping out of the darkness into the light ..." Nelson says. "By the time we get to toward the middle and end of the book those shadows have disappeared and the brilliance and excellence of the subjects have completely emerged into the bright light."

The Undefeated & K-12 Curriculum

More than 2000 people were able to see Nelson's paintings in person before Calvin's campus closed due to COVID-19; since then, the CCFW has been working to bring Nelson's art to students. In consultation with community educators & literacy advocates, the CCFW created a free, K-12 curriculum for The Undefeated to be used in virtual and in-person classrooms. Designed to meet Michigan's Common Core requirements, the curriculum includes material for:

  • Self-Discovery
  • Art
  • Social Studies
  • Language
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Research

If you are a West Michigan educator or program leader, request a digital copy of the curriculum by emailing us at ccfw@calvin.edu. The CCFW Digital Studio is also producing a complementary series of interviews with community leaders to inspire the next generation of history-makers. Watch this page for updates!

This project is made possible in part by a grant from Michigan Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Michigan Humanities          National Endowment for the Humanities