I was preparing to teach Elie Wiesel’s Night to my freshmen English class but I knew that I could not go about it just any ol’ way. Two years before we saw the murder of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 and his killer, George Zimmerman walked. I remember that summer of 2014, Spike Lee featured his Rest In Power banners after the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. So as I combed through the countless resources I had available to me to teach this important memoir, I came across a theme, perhaps the most important theme that shapes Wiesel’s narrative and that is “bearing witness to man’s inhumanity to man”.
When I asked my students about their own awareness or knowledge of instances police brutality they could name a few but they all remembered Trayvon Martin. I could sense from their responses that they had never really had an opportunity to discuss police brutality and their own human rights as a part of a lesson or even as a class discussion. It became clear to me that I had to bring the past and more recent incidents of police brutality into focus. It was time to draw a parallel between the inhumanity Wiesel relates in his Holocaust memoir to the daily atrocities suffered by innocent men and women at the hands of police.
The images featured here are from a wall of remembrance that I created outside my classroom. I invited my students to look at the faces and see if they knew anything about these men or their fateful experiences with law enforcement. I understood that because of my students’ ages most would not have any real memory of these men and their experiences of police brutality but that made it even more imperative to teach them their stories. I wanted them to consider what responsibility we have as witnesses to man’s inhumanity to man, just Wiesel grapples with his witness of the terrors of the Holocaust. I wanted my students to see that the attacks and senseless murders of black and brown bodies must never be forgotten.
It is 2016 and it is a gross understatement to declare that these are trying times. The pain, frustration, rage, disgust, heartbreak, sorrow, and suffering of black people is undeniable. Here at CREAD we believe that the culturally responsive educator must demonstrate not only an deep knowledge and awareness of students’ cultural contexts but also a deep knowledge and awareness of their often complex sociopolitical contexts. As culturally responsive practitioners we must find the ways that our content can become entry points that help our students to make connections with the realities of their daily lives and uncover the hidden truths that reaffirm our students’ humanity every day.
Deep thinkers only