I saw a tweet last week that read something like this: “What if you look like the people others are afraid of?”
The context was the Syrian refugees, I’m sure. The terrors in Paris blasted the news. So many dead. So many injured.
So many with no place to go.
My heart hurt, and I am not sure about the timing, but I’m quite sure God told me to read the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, the story of two American teens who attend the same high school: one white, one black. Both with families who love them. Both caught in a situation that represents many we’ve heard over and over again: “the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.”
For the past couple of weeks my students and I have read some of the writing of Leonard Pitts, Jr. We read his work to learn to become better writers. Among others, we read “We need a better plan to probe police shootings,” and “We don’t want to watch police — but we have to.” We talked about Pitt’s message, and we analyzed his craft.
We questioned what we know has happened way too often, and we shared ideas and opinions about how the actions of some affect the lives of many.
We sat in a circle: Black and White and Chin and Mexican. We talked. And listened. We tried to understand.
All American Boys is a story for every classroom library. It’s a story for every classroom teacher. Every administrator. Every parent. Every police officer.
We must invite candid stories and candid conversations about race into our learning environments. How else will we ever learn to see past color into hearts and minds and hope?
Booklist Starred Review states: “. . .this hard-edged, ripped-from-the-headlines book is more than a problem novel; it’s a carefully plotted, psychologically acute, character-driven work of fiction that dramatizes an all-too-frequent occurrence. Police brutality and race relations in America are issues that demand debate and discussion, which this superb book powerfully enables.”
If you add one book to your reading list this fall, I hope it is All American Boys. It ranks right up there with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock for books that will stay with me forever.
I need about 10 copies for my classroom library.