A few weeks ago my freshmen began a very difficult but rewarding project: they were going to Amplify the Story of someone who has been silenced by violence. The inspiration came directly from page 443 of Angie Thomas’ breakthrough young adult novel, The Hate U Give (THUG). On it, Thomas lists first names of actual people, rather than characters, who have died by police brutality or racist attacks.
My students were asked one question when reviewing her list: Who do you guys know about?
Well, they didn’t.
They recognized Emmett Till since I covered him early on in the semester, and a few knew of Trayvon Martin, but that was about it, from quite a list of names and stories that were covered in the media. This worried me.
For a few days I grappled with how to go about this task-it asked a lot. It was heavy. It was time consuming. It was necessary.
I decided to begin where the inspiration started: the names.
I asked them to find the last names of the victims to match the first names that Thomas used. Then I asked them to choose one name and find out what happened, but more importantly, who the victim of violence was before the tragedy.
They were engaged.
I was proud of them and their focus on reading and finding facts. Then the work really began. We discussed reliable sources, and how to steal Wikipedia’s references at the very bottom of the wiki entry. We discussed what videos we could and could not trust. We discussed how to share this new information with their peers, and our school. We discussed creative genres to Amplify the Story of the victim they had chosen to research. We discussed the responsibility and honor we had with the re-telling of this person’s story.
We were appalled.
Then one day, we weren’t.
It is sad to know that this group of students have never known a day without police brutality in the news. It is sad to know they have a distrust of police and always will. It is sad-but not alarming- given the facts. Police training must change, and it has in many states. We researched that, and we also brought in our school liaison officer to discuss our fears with-and his reaction to reading THUG with us. That day will forever be one of my most memorable as a teacher.
Our projects are going to be further amplified the first week in February for Black Lives Matter in Schools. We are working through a few ideas on how best to educate our school with the artifacts that were created. A gallery walk in one hallway or a museum like environment in the media center. We are still brainstorming and will share ideas tomorrow with one another, but for now, I am content. I am proud. I am sad.
And mostly I am tired.