by Carjamin Scott on February, 15, 2019, at 8:05 p.m. CST
I learned about The Hate U Give novel from a dear co-worker who is someone that I have been very honest with about my feelings as one of the few women of color in my office.
Before I came to Nashville, which was nearly four years ago, I worked in Memphis at a career college. To provide context, I went from working at a trade school in a strip mall to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country.
Let me be clear, I’m not ‘throwing shade’ at that institution. I worked my rear off to make a difference in the lives of our students and to protect the team that I managed. However, you can only imagine how difficult it was to prove myself at my new job.
I had to figure out how to fit in with colleagues who did not look or sound like me, who did not live in the community I live in, and who did not have the same kind of education I did. I had to understand the needs of students who had a very different upbringing than the trade school students that I loved and mentored.
It was tough to be authentic in a space where I felt that being authentic was a handicap. It took some time to understand why I was here and how I could truly make a difference. I thought that I had to look, sound, and live like my coworkers to be valued. And, as the child of parents who met in a GED class, whose mom and grandmother attended college in strip malls, I couldn’t figure out how I could be a resource to the privileged students at my new job or my very polished colleagues.
However, this was four years ago and now, I do not feel like that anymore. Times have changed and I have created opportunities to go beyond the surface to learn that I actually have a lot in common with my co-workers. It feels good to admit that I have created relationships with our students and added value to our team.
I also learned that my colleagues are intrigued by my willingness to share how I feel about issues. Most of them even encourage me to give my opinion on the things that matter to me. It’s people like my co-worker, or I should say, friend, who remind me that I deserve to be here and I am valuable.
When I read The Hate U Give, I immediately fell in love with Starr. Starr is a teenage girl who must navigate between two worlds. She witnessed Khalil, her childhood friend, get killed by a police officer. The crime garners different responses from her Williamson Prep classmates and the Garden Heights community.
Starr is forced to merge her two worlds together and express how the murder impacts her life. And, although she didn’t sign up for it, she becomes a spokesperson for her community. So when I learned that Angie Thomas, best-selling author of The Hate U Give was delivering a keynote lecture at my job, I had to attend.
Friends, it was so raw and unapologetic! There were times that I felt like she was talking directly to me. I snapped my fingers, clapped, and laughed. Her lecture resonated with me and I had a great time. She spoke about everything from seeing color, to black lives matter, and why we should recognize that we have power.
Thomas mentioned, “We should use our artistry to become activists. We should look at what’s going on in the world and use our power to create change. Empathy is our cure to equity.”
Thomas’s artistry is her writing ability. The Hate U Give has remained on the New York Times young adult best seller list for over 50 weeks, has been translated into a number of languages for world-wide distribution, and was made into a motion feature film.
On seeing color, Thomas addressed the crowd saying, “I need you to see color. I need you to understand that some people do not value us simply because of the color of our skin.” Thomas continued. “As a black woman in America, I feel that my existence is political, if I say my life matters, then I’m making a political statement. But politics are often personal and there is power in making it personal.”
Whether we like it or not, it’s true. The death of Khalil was personal and Starr was forced to explain that Khalil’s life mattered. She didn’t want it to be political but it became political. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
This is the theme that motivated her to write The Hate U Give. She wanted readers to fall in love with the characters so that we could have the courage to become like Starr.
However, the book is deemed controversial by some. The American Library Association, considered it ‘pervasively vulgar’ because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language. Some police districts have publicly condemned the book and some school districts have banned the book completely.
This has not stopped Thomas, who is currently on a book tour for her latest book, On the Come Up. She addressed the crowd, “Ask yourself, do I know what it’s like to be someone who is not from this campus?” Thomas continued. “If you change the world around you then you will find yourself changing the world,” and “I need you to care enough to make change.”
She ended the keynote with a call to action, “Everyone has the power to do even greater, you must be active. Be Starrs in the world.”
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Carjamin Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on twitter @scottcarjie.