Award-win­ning au­thors dis­cuss po­lice bru­tal­ity with lo­cal students

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

A young girl named Zianna Oliphant re­cently wept while speak­ing be­fore city lead­ers in Char­lotte, N.C., about African-Amer­i­can chil­dren los­ing their moth­ers and fa­thers to po­lice bru­tal­ity. Her tears are a per­ma­nent stain in one’s mem­ory and proof that youth are speak­ing up about race is­sues in their com­mu­ni­ties.

On Sept. 28, au­thors Ja­son Reynolds and Bren­dan Kiely, au­thors of “All Amer­i­can Boys,” par­tic­i­pated in a pub­lic fo­rum

and meet-and-greet at St. Charles High School in Wal­dorf. Reynolds, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., na­tive, and Kiely, of Bos­ton, were re­cip­i­ents of the Coretta Scott King/John Step­toe Award for New Tal­ent, 2016 Wal­ter Dean Myers Award for Out­stand­ing Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture, and the 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.

The event was sponsored by One Mary­land One Book, a state-wide read­ing project which aims to bring to­gether di­verse peo­ple in com­mu­ni­ties across Mary­land through the shared ex­pe­ri­ence of read­ing the same book and par­tic­i­pat­ing in dis­cus­sions. In co­op­er­a­tion with Charles County Pub­lic School Sys­tem, Charles County Pub­lic Li­brary, Calvert County Li­brary and other spon­sors, the event wel­comed 325 students, teach­ers and res­i­dents who dis­cussed po­lice bru­tal­ity and how it is rel­e­vant to­day.

“Is­sues such as racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity are very top­i­cal for to­day’s so­ci­ety,” said Sarah Guy, pro­gram­ming and youth ser­vices co­or­di­na­tor for the Charles County Pub­lic Li­brary. “Whilst read­ing the novel I got up­set, but un­for­tu­nately it is what hap­pens in our so­ci­ety. We lob­bied to have this event in Charles County be­cause we have such a mix­ture of cul­tures in our com­mu­nity and the topic needs to be dis­cussed.”

“All Amer­i­can Boys” is a novel about two teens — one white, one black — who deal with the reper­cus­sions of a vi­o­lent act that leads to di­vi­sion and racial ten­sion, both lo­cally and na­tion­ally. Writ­ten in tan­dem, the story takes place in a bodega with a cop, Paul Gal­luzzo, who mis­takes a lo­cal stu­dent, Rashad, for be­ing a sho­plifter and bru­tally beats him. Wit­nesses were Quinn Collins, a var­sity basketball player who has been raised by Gal­luzzo since his own fa­ther died in Afghanistan, and a video cam­era. Soon the beat­ing is all over the news and Gal­luzzo is get­ting threat­ened with ac­cu­sa­tions of prej­u­dice and racial bru­tal­ity.

“The teens are left out of the dis­cus­sion all the time,” Reynolds said. “When we talk about po­lice bru­tal­ity in Amer­ica, the peo­ple who are talk­ing most of the time are adults — and no one is con­sid­er­ing what young peo­ple might be feel­ing or think­ing about an is­sue that is af­fect­ing them far greater than it is af­fect­ing ev­ery­one else in the coun­try.”

Reynolds and Kiely said the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the book is the in­flux of pub­lic dis­plays and aware­ness of po­lice bru­tal­ity. Reynolds said the fi­nal straw for both au­thors was the death of Michael Brown, a stu­dent shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer 12 times in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

“When that hap­pened we said let’s do some­thing about it,” Reynolds said. “We want to en­cour­age this con­ver­sa­tion in the com­mu­ni­ties, and in case the com­mu­nity turns its back, we want the youth to feel em­pow­ered to have these con­ver­sa­tions on their own.”

“We have been for­tu­nate to talk with over 30,000 students across the coun­try in all dif­fer­ent types of com­mu­ni­ties and no mat­ter where we go, they want to talk about it,” Kiely said. “We feel like we owe it to them to start those con­ver­sa­tions. They de­serve a safe space to have a con­ver­sa­tion about race, racism, po­lice and bru­tal­ity.”

Reynolds and Kiely be­came friends dur­ing an un­re­lated book tour while watch­ing news re­ports con­cern­ing po­lice bru­tal­ity across the na­tion. Out of their new friend­ship, they say, the novel was born.

“I want con­ver­sa­tions about race, vi­o­lence in Amer­ica and the preva­lence of racism to be­come a pri­or­ity in all the in­sti­tu­tions in Amer­ica,” Kiely said. “I hope that by hav­ing more events like these, schools will pri­or­i­tize con­ver­sa­tions so that we’re no longer un­der the yolk of that si­lence but we’re con­fronting it re­al­is­ti­cally. As a white man, I en­cour­age white folks to get past their own com­fort­a­bil­ity so that the rest of peo­ple in this coun­try can feel safer.”

Both au­thors agreed the change can start with

young peo­ple.

Isa­iah John­son, 16, a stu­dent at Hunt­ing­town High School in Calvert County, said there is not enough dis­cus­sion of po­lice bru­tal­ity.

“I liked the au­thors’ hon­esty about po­lice of­fi­cers hav­ing a re­ally hard job and how it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult for them to make split-sec­ond de­ci­sions,” John­son said. “The book was a lit­tle un­com­fort­able to read and it’s scary as an African-Amer­i­can to know peo­ple who have gone through that, but I have hope be­cause of the fact that there are videos, which means that peo­ple care and it’s be­ing put out there.”

Jimmy Bartle­baugh, 15, also a stu­dent at Hunt­ing­town, said he has never been ex­posed to this much con­ver­sa­tion about the topic.

“I’ve never thought so deeply about it,” Bartle­baugh said. “But I think that we are to­mor­row, we shape the Amer­ica that we want and this con­ver­sa­tion is needed for our to­mor­row to be good.”

Au­gust Miles, 16, a stu­dent at Thomas Stone High School, said he still won­ders why po­lice of­fi­cers are so brutal to black peo­ple and why ev­ery­one can’t just be peace­ful with one an­other.

“The au­thors were right about teens needing an out­let and safe place to talk about the book,” said De­naé Huff, 16, a stu­dent at Mau­rice J. McDonough High School. “My stom­ach did turn at cer­tain parts in the book, but I still wished I could have read more of the of­fi­cer’s point of view.”

St. Charles High School students Zamira Flu­cas, 16, Madisen Adel­man, 17, and Ka­maria Har­mon, 16, have each been dis­tressed af­ter watch­ing so many on­line videos high­light­ing vi­o­lent clashes between ci­ti­zens and po­lice. They feel the govern­ment needs to re-ex­am­ine the po­lice sys­tem, de­crease stereo­types on the po­lice force, and hire more of­fi­cers that ac­tu­ally pro­tect the com­mu­ni­ties and make res­i­dents feel safe.

“All Amer­i­can Boys” author Ja­son Reynolds, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. na­tive, speaks to students dur­ing a pub­lic fo­rum Sept. 28 at St. Charles High School in Wal­dorf.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

Bren­dan Kiely, co-author of “All Amer­i­can Boys,” speaks dur­ing a pub­lic fo­rum at St. Charles High School in Wal­dorf.

The au­thors of “All Amer­i­can Boys,” Ja­son Reynolds and Bren­dan Kiely, sign copies of their book dur­ing a meet-and-greet held at St. Charles High School in Wal­dorf.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

Ja­son Reynolds and Bren­dan Kiely, au­thors of “All Amer­i­can Boys,” talk with students at a pub­lic fo­rum Sept. 28 at St. Charles High School in Wal­dorf.

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