All American Boys Authors Come to JMM

As you all have probably heard, our school has been participating in many events based around the book All American Boys and the discussions of racism. The All School Read project began when teachers Ms. Fitz, Ms. Mitchell, and Ms. Amado received a large grant to purchase a copy of All American Boys for every student and teacher in the school. Activities were programmed for an entire month, with events ranging from talks with the Madison Police Department to read-alouds.

  When the four teachers met Reynolds and Kiely at a book read in LaCrosse, the authors were so impressed with Memorial’s all-school read that they decided to take time out of their extremely busy schedules to come visit our school. The teachers were so excited that they organized an all-school assembly for the first time in 32 years on Monday, April 24th.

After a shortened Monday class schedule, students found themselves in a high-energy, packed gym with the two inspiring authors of All American Boys. Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds walked through the gym doors to a huge round of applause from the large group of Memorial staff and students. The assembly started with both authors talking about their experiences of being pulled over by cops.

When Reynolds was a teenager, the friend he was riding with turned left on a yellow light and they got pulled over. Everyone in the car was black. A police officer asked for their car’s registration, and called in for a huge amount of backup when the teens spent a couple of minutes finding their papers. The police officers then told the teens to get out of the car, handcuffed them, and made them lie on the ground. They proceeded to root through the entire car, throwing their school supplies, miscellaneous car junk, and personal items out onto the street. After not finding any drugs in the car, the police uncuffed the teens and left them to chase after their belongings on the roadside. The teens didn’t tell their parents about the incident, because as Reynolds described, that was just a normal Tuesday for them.

On the other hand, Kiely’s experience was much less traumatic. Kiely was pulled over while driving 30 mph above the highway speed limit. He was in a car full of friends and was so inexperienced with run-ins with the law that when the police lights started flashing, he continued to drive and drive, only pulling over and parking in a restaurant parking lot once it was “safe to do so”. The police officer asked for his registration, then let him off the hook, warning him not do something like this again and to “make sure your friends get home safely”.

The differences between the two authors’ stories demonstrate the huge problem of racism in this country. Hearing from the authors themselves brought this extreme problem to a real level for many. The book discussed these same issues, but hearing about it as a piece of fiction isn’t as potent as hearing it from a real person who has lived it. Reading the book one could say “Oh sure, that happened, but not near me. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.” Hearing it from someone’s mouth is much more personal and much more serious.

After finishing with their stories, Reynolds and Kiely opened the floor to questions. Questions ranged from “Are you encouraging white bashing? Does that solve anything?” to “Do you think racism will ever end?” to some lighter questions like “How did you two meet?” Reynolds and Kiely shared their ideas, putting their thoughts into words very concisely and professionally. There was also discussion of the Black Lives Matter campaign. At one point, Kiely even exclaimed, “Black lives matter, black lives matter, black lives matter!” An immediate roar of cheers filled the gymnasium.

Students that helped organize events for All American Boys this month had an opportunity to eat lunch and participate in a Q&A with the authors on April 24th. Here’s an experience shared by one of those students:

“Having lunch with the authors of All American Boys was an insightful experience. They were people that you could listen to all day. In 2014, Reynolds and Kiely, while on a book tour together, bonded over deep conversations about racial disparities. In doing so, the inspiration for All American Boys came about as the authors found moments in their childhoods to reflect through their characters. This effectively helped them set up their characters, Rashad and Quinn. The ending was written purposefully, in hopes of getting across the whole idea of ‘people don’t have to personally meet and sing “kumbaya’ to understand an issue.” Sharing the little secrets of the story and reasons as to why they wrote some scenes the way they did gave students a new insight on the issue of police brutality and racism. It was incredible to have these authors come visit Memorial. There were some more events during the last week of April, ending with a banquet Friday night.” – Evanka Annyapu

– Evanka Annyapu and Garrett Kennedy

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