Wildwood students write letter to Obama about racial state of emergency
“Find a problem in the world and explore its possible solutions.” It was this prompt that inspired Wildwood Elementary sixth graders Bryson, Phoenix, Zayn, and Keidy to act.
Those four sixth grade boys ultimately wrote a letter to President Obama “seeking an urgent response on the Black Lives Matter movement and the current racial climate in the United States,” explained ARHS senior and People of Color United (POCU) co-president Lanre Thomas.
The boys’ letter was sent to the White House in early March and has been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook.
The boys wrote, “There have been several concerning incidents of African-American boys and girls, who are unarmed and have not been breaking any laws, being murdered. This is a state of emergency because if police keep on killing black lives for no reason and there is no one doing anything about it, nothing is going to change.”
The letter goes on to cite facts about the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, to commend the Black Lives Matter movement, and to request a personal conference with President Obama.
Wildwood paraprofessional Mtali William Banda, who spoke at a February advisory organized by the ARHS chapter of Black Lives Matter, helped the boys edit their letter.
Banda wrote about their story on his blog Soul Latte. “These youth are acknowledging how real and unrelenting the forces of racism are in the world they are growing up in,” he said.
Banda also acknowledged the risks associated with acting as public advocates for a controversial topic.
“There comes a certain responsibility with doing this kind of work that [the sixth graders] should be aware of,” he wrote on his blog. The letter has received negative feedback online.
Thomas said that “POCU has reached out to Phoenix, Zayn, Bryson, and Keidy, letting them know that they have our full and whole-hearted support.”
Thomas’s co-president and fellow senior Heaven Golden was impressed by the letter. “It’s very moving to see that these boys are in sixth grade. This is an issue for all people of color no matter what age you are,” she said.
Although POCU and a second ARHS club, Minority Students Achievement Network (MSAN), are distinct from one another, Golden explained that the membership of the two clubs is largely the same.
POCU is a discussion-based space for students of color whereas MSAN is more focused on action and activism.
As a result of an action plan made at the 2013 national MSAN student conference, the ARHS group has been mentoring fifth grade students at Fort River Elementary School. Phoenix, Zayn, Bryson, and Keidy’s letter was included in a recent lesson plan.
“As I was reading [the letter], it was a lot easier to show them what was going on. A letter written by sixth graders is a lot easier to understand than a New York Times article,” Golden said of sharing the letter with her fifth grade students.
At the same mentoring session, students learned about police brutality and filled out an “identity wheel” with categories like religion, ethnicity, and gender identity.
Golden’s work stems from her belief that “we can either be part of the change or ignore it.”
Echoing the same sentiment, Wildwood student Bryson recently told MassLive that he hopes his letter will start conversations.
“[Maybe it will] change things enough so we can grow up feeling safe,” he said.