By Renée Watson
"I'm afraid that one day I'll be shot by the cops for no reason," a 7th-grade student blurted out in our class discussion. My teaching partner and I had asked students to call out their hopes and fears. "What do you hope for your community? What is it about your community that makes you afraid?" we asked. I wrote their answers on chart paper and by the end of the discussion, our class list included better schools, more parks, peace, and safer neighborhoods. Our list also included violence, drugs, bullying, and police brutality.
One student, Felix, passionately talked about the mistreatment from the police he'd seen with his own eyes just outside his Bronx apartment window. "They always shoot us," he said. "It makes me angry."
"Me too," students in the class shouted. "They do us wrong."
Us. The word was so alive, so inclusive. Even the students who just last week had been outsiders to the cliques that often form in middle school classrooms were a part of Us. Everyone who lived in the Bronx, agreed among themselves that there was an Us and Them. Ninety-five percent of the students were of Latino or African decent. Their school was one of many New York public schools that was under corrective action from the state because of low test scores.