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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Crossing Cultures, Featured |




Being from a wealthy and predominantly white suburb of Washington D.C. I didn’t quite know what to expect on November 9th. Before Block One had even begun, I noticed that some students were wandering the hallways dejected –obviously defeated, like all the air had been deflated right out of them. Other students marched proudly down the hallways with their “Trump: Make America Great Again” t-shirts and hats. Some were more brazen, meeting each other in the hallway and shouting, “Build the wall!”

It wasn’t until I sat down with my first block class that the weight of the results fully hit me. I was starting class like normal: discussing upcoming homework and answering student questions, except no one was listening. No one was writing in their agendas. No one was typing notes into their phone. No one was even really looking at me.

I stopped mid-sentence and asked, “Do you want to talk about the election?” All twenty-seven bodies perked to attention and stared at me with intent eyes. “I saw something this morning on Facebook,” I told them. “Something I really liked. It read: If you just won, don’t gloat. And if you just lost, don’t despair.” I told them how much I had appreciated that non-partisan stance within the sea of hate and anguish being splayed across my mini-feed. I also told them that some people would be happy and some people would be really upset and that they needed to be conscious of their friendships.

Not that I get all my life lessons from social media, but a Tweet I read later around Thanksgiving said it best:The person sitting across from you would probably give their life for you. The candidate you are defending doesn’t even know you exist. I tried to keep my students conscious of this fact over the course of the day, pleading with them not to lose friendships and to continue to strive being the wonderful people they are.

So over the remainder of 2016, I witnessed students react to the impending inauguration in a myriad forms. But it wasn’t until I was touching base with a former student and current #bowtieboy, Sam Fremin, that I witnessed a student channel his disappointment into something I felt truly impactful. This sophomore in high school crafted his frustrations into art – and he used the disciplines of our English classroom to do so. An avid reader with a huge vocabulary, he wrote and performed the following rap as a method of catharsis as he struggled to come to terms with the results of the election:
My walls have insulation
Yet I have grown impatient
Yes I understand the new situation He’s faced with,
And I can see the microscopic lens He’s been placed in,
But we can’t just ignore the blatant
Attempts to undermine this nation’s relations
With its population
Of citizens constantly dealing with discrimination

Yes, my walls have insulation
Yet I do not have a sick fascination
With hating, harassing, or hazing
Different denominations, derivations or orientations
That xenophobic sensation
Deserves no normalization
Otherwise our society unwinds into desolation

My walls have insulation
Yet I don’t see how He’ll be an inspiration
For the caring type of children we want to be raising
Unless we want them to become brash and brazen
And drive us down a road of destruction, not creation
Because their steering wheel lacked maturation
Guiding them to act out of a misguided need for retaliation

My walls have insulation
Yet I won’t take a vacation
From recognizing the false notions of victimization
By those who haven’t reached the realization
That prejudice has no rationalization
And whose imagination
Paints them as a casualty of defamation

My walls have insulation
Yet I disagree with the condemnation
Of people hoping to get rightful representation
Or their unalienables promised in the declaration

My walls have insulation
Yet I can’t comprehend the elation
Stemming from His impending inauguration

Are you a Hamilton fan? Did you just hear Lin Manuel Miranda channeled before your very senses? Inspired by that musical and Miranda’s message of tolerance, Sam pastiched in his style “Big Pun” (using excessive internal rhyme). Sam consciously referred to his own white privilege, remembering that the artist, Macklemore received heat for writing a song about “Black Lives Matter” from a white man’s perspective.

He took me through his writing process stating this rap began as several words that rhymed with discrimination (a word he closely associated with Trump) on a whiteboard in his bedroom from which he continued to brainstorm words until 3:00am when his rap was finally complete. As he crafted, he wanted to recognize that some of the attacks against Trump were blind and unwarranted, stating “that’s like when homophobia is fought with heterophobia.” He also however, was angry enough to write in a fashion that could be read as “A letter to President-Elect Trump” –but realizing his emotion was negatively impacting his writing, he scaled back in an effort to demonstrate the “civility politics should have.”

He hoped his rap could be a way to open a rational discussion with other students who disagree with him politically. And looking back on it, while Sam kept his message broad and didn’t delve deeply into specific facts, he realized his mission was not to change his friends’ minds. Because this is very difficult to do. He merely hoped this could get people talking. And talking it did.

After posting to Instagram and Facebook he received 400 and 600 views respectively as well as a litany of comments –many of which from teachers across the nation. Some shared his rap on their own social media pages while others asked his permission to use his rap as a model for the students in their own classrooms. Before posting, Sam conferenced via Twitter with Black Rights Matter activist, Tariq Toure and LGBT author, e. E. Charlton-Trujillo. G. Neri, Coretta Scott King award-winner of “Real Teen Fiction” got in on the fun, speaking with Charlton-Trujillo who in return emailed Sam her “edits” in verse.

This authentic experience Sam had: from feeling a passion that desperately needed an outlet of release, to his drafting process, to editing with real-life activists and authors, all concluding with popular publication to social media is a prime example of why we do what we do as English teachers. We teach students how to read and write, yes –but we teach them how to express themselves, how to navigate the world, and how to share their voice to the story.

Jason P. Augustowski, M.Ed.