Whose Streets?, Charlottesville, and Activist Storytelling

Last Saturday morning, I headed to the movie theater, eyes glued to my phone as I tried (unsuccessfully) to navigate and check twitter at the same time. I found my seat in the dark, still trying to piece together what was happening and what had already happened in Charlottesville.

Then I shut off my phone to watch Whose Streets? — which is, well… the short version would be to say that it’s a look at community activism in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. But that’s a sanitized and simplified version of the truth.

A few weeks earlier, my sister told me to go watch Whose Streets. I forgot about it until the 9th, when I read an interview with activist Ashley Yates about what happened in Ferguson three years ago. It reminded me of why I’d stopped trusting my local newspaper, the paper I’d grown up reading: During the protests that continued for years in St. Louis (and still continue), the newspaper said one thing, and my sister said another. The crinkled newsprint said that the protestors turned violent, and my sister said that the police tear gassed MoKaBe’s, a local coffee shop.

St. Louis ArchSo I went to watch Whose Streets?, meeting up with a friend and sidling into a mostly empty theater where only a few older white folks were. It was chilling to watch the documentary and make the obvious connection to the weekend events — how the police met the community in Ferguson with violence, while Nazis in Charlottesville marched freely. How activist Brittany Ferrell was charged with a felony for kicking a car plowing through a protest line (read: a woman trying to drive over protestors, wtf) — and how that morning, a white supremacist had driven into a crowd of anti-racist counter protestors.

I was reminded that (racist) history repeats itself, and that the only way to break that cycle is to learn from it. That’s why Whose Streets? is so important. According to its website, it’s a documentary “told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement” and “an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising.” It’s about what really happened in Ferguson, not some distorted, sensationalist version shown in the news half a country away.

What I want most in this push for diversity in YA lit is for marginalized writers to get to tell their own stories, whatever that may be – immigration, slice-of-life romance, social justice, magic boarding school, you name it. Storytelling is how we connect with others, help people feel less alone, and learn from (and fight) the past. It’s crucial that the people who should be heard, get heard.

Whose Streets? does that and far more. It’s activist storytelling (well, truthtelling) – and we can never have too much of that. You should absolutely go watch the documentary if it’s still showing in theaters in your area. For more on this:
Theater showtimes
Whose Streets? trailer
Ferguson Doc ‘Whose Streets’ Shows The Power Of Black People Telling Black Stories
Non-profits to support in Charlottesville
RIC Teaching, self-care, and resources round-up in re: Charlottesville

Share

YA Reading and Activism

Given the terrifying speed at which things have been moving in the political realm these days, it’s hard not to feel helpless and hopeless. As my sister pointed out to me right after the November election, things have always been bad (see: unclean water in Flint, wars abroad and police brutality at home – the list goes on), and now things are just… worse, in a way that affects everyone and certain groups of people in particular.

I love YA and reading, and I will fight anyone who dismisses it as shallow nonsense. Stories have power. At the same time, it’s frustrating to watch people (myself included!) be all talk and no action. To be clear, any action that you can contribute, however small, to making things less awful is always valuable.

In that vein, here’s a list of YA fiction starring people most vulnerable right now – immigrants, religious and racial minorities, and LGBTQIA people – and organizations that are doing good work and could use your volunteer hours, money, or signal boosting:

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell – March tells the story of John Lewis’s work at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Given the racial inequality and current attack on voting rights happening today, his comic book series is a necessary primer on American history.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – Music, cross-cultural friendship, and life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the 1970s — you’ll want to read this.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Rare is the book that features gay and PoC characters, but that’s what this is. Dante and Aristotle’s love story is just the sweetest, and I’ve been love with this book since day one.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung – This is an Australian YA book that I honestly wish was way more popular in America. It tells the story of Lucy, a girl from a working class immigrant family, who ends up navigating the treacherous waters of an all-girls private school.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – I’ll let the book blurb do the talking: “Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?” As a Muslim Pakistani-American girl, Naila comes face to face with love and her cultural heritage.

Organizations that could use your money or time: 
Southern Poverty Law Center
International Refugee Assistance Project
#NoDAPL Standing Rock
Trans Lifeline
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Road to 2018: The book community in politics

What are you doing and reading these days? How do you stay informed without getting overwhelmed? How is your bookshelf meeting your activism?

Share