Memorial High all-school read sparks conversations about race, social justice

Memorial High all-school read sparks conversations about race, social justice

Madison’s Memorial High School is taking a unique approach to a nationwide issue.

Memorial teacher Cara Fitzgerald and librarian Robin Amado read a book called “All American Boys,” and thought its message would make a significant impact in their school.

“One of the things the book teaches is that we’re all part of a community. We all have a role and we can’t just stand by when issues are happening,” Fitzgerald said.

The book is about a black high school student named Rashad who is wrongfully beaten by a police officer, while a classmate, Quinn, sees it happen from a distance and doesn’t know what to do about it.

“This was a conversation starter,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald and Amado brought the idea for an all-school read to Memorial’s principal, who was happy to approve it.

“We said to each other, wouldn’t it be cool if every student in our school could read the book? That’s where the project started,” Amado said.

Through fundraising efforts, all 2,000 students and 200 staff members received a copy of “All American Boys.”

When they saw the interest grow, the project turned into monthlong events and discussions, with themes each week including policing, racism and community action.

The book also became a teaching tool in a restorative justice class.

The project came full circle when Fitzgerald and Amado reached out to the book’s authors, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. They agreed to travel from Washington, D.C., and New York to Madison to share their message with Memorial students on Monday.

The project also brought together other community entities, like the Madison Police Department.

“We had, I think, 20 Madison officers who read the book and some of them came and had book discussions with some of our students,” Amado said.

The school’s student resource officer, Shane Olsen, said at first, he had reservations about the proposal.

“Everybody initially thought, are we just teaching people to hate police officers? But as we talked through it, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s not it at all. We have to move past that,'” Olsen said.

He’s now hoping the book will lead to more conversations about racial disparities.

“This is not about teaching the kids what they need to know, this is more about kids being actively involved in this discussion,” Olsen said.

The last day for Memorial’s all-school book reading will be Friday, closing with a community potluck in the cafeteria at 5 p.m.