A story from Day Four of Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools.
As a part of Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools, SEED Public Charter School educator Topher Kandik did a powerful lesson on the last words of victims of police brutality. Students started out the class by reading the poem “Bell Canto” about Sean Bell by Derrick Weston Brown. Students took turns reading the poem and stopped after each stanza to discuss imagery, tone, and meaning of the poem.
A student stated that the poem makes them think “about exhaustion because [police brutality] is something that happens so often in so many places and people are beyond tired, they are exhausted.”
Next, students were given a worksheet that had the following quotes in boxes:
“Mom, I’m going to college.”
“I don’t want to die young”
“I love you, too”
“I didn’t do nothing.”
“Please don’t let me die”
“What are you following me for?”
“Officers, why do you have your guns out?”
“This isn’t real.”
As Mr. Kandik discussed the quotes, he asked students to draw pictures to represent the quotes but didn’t give context as to what the quotes were about. Students came up with creative ways to convey the messages of the quotes. When students finished drawing pictures for every quote, Mr. Kandik revealed that those quotes were actually the last words said by people before they were killed. There was a heavy sigh among students, realizing what these images and quotes represented. A student stated he wanted to “redraw the pictures” now that he knew what the quotes meant.
The students had a discussion about how they felt re-reading the quotes and expressed reactions of frustration, anger, and disappointment thinking about the stories of the victims. Students then looked at the Last Words Project by Shirin Barghi and matched the quotes with the actual victims. Students asked questions and discussed the different scenarios each victim was in when they said their last words.
After going through the project a student stated: “every person that is a victim of police brutality is another chapter in the sad book that is American history.” This was a powerful activity in imagery and poetry. Next, students will make their own poems.