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Oregon Writing Project

Trayvon Martin and My Students: Writing toward justice

January 23, 2014

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OWP Director Linda Christensen has a new article in the latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine.

At a local protest over the killing of Trayvon Martin and the delayed arrest of George Zimmerman, Kelsey Turner, one of my students at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, brought many of us to tears when he said, “I wore a Ninja Turtle hoodie today because I wish I could go back to a day in time when I didn’t have to worry about these problems, to a time when I didn’t have to worry about me being an almost grown man and people feeling like they have the right to shoot me.”

When the jury acquitted Zimmerman of Trayvon Martin’s murder in July, I remembered Kelsey’s words and felt rage at the judicial system’s betrayal, the ongoing betrayal of black male students like Kelsey, who have sat in classrooms over the decades as the deaths of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Oscar Grant—other black men killed in racist interactions—run like ticker tape under the screen of school curriculum across the country. When school started in the fall, I knew that students needed to talk about the verdict, to have time to “wail,” as academic/activist Cornel West says, to be part of a national debate on racial profiling. And, as always, I wanted to meld this critical discussion with the development of students’ essay writing skills.

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