This morning I sat in the library/media center of our Junior High and listened as 13-14 year old students talked about issues that send adults into unintelligible tizzies. Let me set this up for you. Project Lit is a community book club that is designed to help students and entire communities (parents, business owners, stakeholders) come together to discuss books that have themes that speak to the whole of the world, from the good to the bad. After having a period of time to read the book, we come together as a sort of celebration to discuss what we have gotten from our reading. The book for this meeting was Dear Martin by Nic Stone. In this book, Justyce, the protagonist, deals with race relations and other issues in his life by writing letters in his journal to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After having studied him in school, Justyce embarks on a journey to try and live his life the way that Dr. King would have, which sometimes leads him to more trouble, and other times helps him with extensive wisdom.
One of the major themes in this book is racism. There is no covering it up. It is approached head on, and when I sat back and listened to the students begin to talk about acceptance and stereotypes, my heart was strengthened. We listened as they admitted that they did not know that this type of racism still existed, that what they thought they knew about different ethnic groups were wrong. They talked about how they now could see how joining a gang could provide a sense of security for kids who don’t have a real family. In a word, they wounded so….adult. They sounded wise beyond their years. They listened to understand, not just to respond, and we all were better for what happened in the LMC this morning.
It would be cliche of me to spout the Whitney Houston song, “The Greatest Love of All”, right here. I would be well within my rights, though, because these students showed the kind of leaders they could become one day. And they showed me just how poor a job we, as adults, have done in showing them the right way to disagree. Yet somehow, they navigated this sensitive topic with diplomacy that has seemingly gone by the wayside in our political structure. It seemed innate for them to not hate someone based on disagreeing on a perspective.
What a novel concept! Hmm…