Dear Denise Juneau: Eagles Demand Representation

Ninth graders from Cleveland High School in Seattle Public Schools wrote letters to their superintendent imploring her to update the 9th grade reading list to include more Black and POC authors. Below are some excerpts from the letters, posted with permission from the students. 

Anqi Lui

Hello. My name is Anqi Lui and I am a Chinese-American student at Cleveland STEM, a diverse high school consisting of over 30% African American students making up its demographic. Recently, we’ve noticed an inconsistency between the strategic plan and the 9th grade reading list. According to the Seattle Public Schools’ Strategic Plan, it states that “Seattle Public Schools (SPS) strives to provide safe learning environments, and a curriculum that incorporates a student’s life experiences and culture…” But currently, only 3 out of the 25 authors on the 9th grade reading list are black, and they are all deceased.

I rarely ever touched books written by black authors, and never realized what kind of issues they ever went through until recently. This became a problem for me, because all my family has ever taught me was to stay away from black people, even if I already knew that was wrong, they engraved a fear in me that I always try so hard to get rid of, but never succeed. The books I’ve recently been reading have opened up a window for me that helped change my perspective more positively.

Jacob Mulugeta

My name is Jacob Mulugeta and I am a student at Cleveland High School. I believe there’s not many books in the school district’s 9th grade list that contains Black authors. The school district has not updated their book list since 2008.

In general, I would like you to include the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds. I say that is a problem because children of color or not won’t learn many things about the Black culture if it’s not coming from someone who is Black. It is important because we can’t have our schools supporting Black Lives Matter movements or have Black Lives Matter assembly if the students don’t even know the history or what they are fighting for. 

Kaitlin H. Fischl

It’s important for schools to not only teach us our history, our roots, and of our past, but to teach us about the current social justice issues and revolutions that impact us now. Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, writer, actor, and host of the Daily Show, interviewed Angie Thomas, author of The Hate You Give and On the Come Up. Trevor Noah asked what Tomas’s thoughts were when she heard schools were banning her books because of the profanity in her writing.

Tomas responded with “…I can’t lie, I was so angry because I knew that was a cop-out… There are exactly 89 instances of the F-word in The Hate You Give… But last year alone, over 800 people lost their lives at the hands of police brutality… When you’re telling me that it’s the language, no that’s not what it is, you just don’t wanna talk about the topic”. Sheltering kids from these realities help no one but the oppressors. If we want to see change, we have to arm ourselves with knowledge, and from that knowledge; the power, and voice to make a difference. Books by Angie Thomas help students like me, an Asian American, empathize, relate, and understand the struggles my race prevents me from experiencing. Her books give me the tools to fight for members in my community and show me why support from everyone, regardless of how they identify, is necessary.

Phuc T Nguyen

I have read a book written about Vietnamese past lives, the book is called The Best We Could Do written by Thi Bui. This book talks about the experience of my family and talks about immigrants like me. I was surprised when the teacher teaches the whole class about Vietnamese history and their perspective. This is important because of the way that Thi Bui added pictures into her novel and how she added a couple of Vietnamese into the texts, this makes the students and me to understand a little about the background about the Vietnamese immigrants. This makes me feel involved in the class, this makes me less lonely, less marginalized. I also read another book called Inside Out and Back Again written by Thanhha Lai. This is another book that presents a very powerful story of me as an immigrant, talks about my background, and family. This is important because the books will reflect [back] people’s identity, background, and daily lives, when students read those books it truly sparked out my identity and background.

Selam Moges

We lose ourselves in books: we find ourselves there too. 

During the past month me and my peers were assigned with the task of reading a book written recently and by a[n author of color], and while reading All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Bredan Kiely, I saw myself so engaged with the book that I just didn’t want to put it down.

As someone who is truly inspired and motivated by this book, I ask you to please consider including All American Boys to the Seattle Public Schools 9th Grade reading list. 

This book dives into issues such as police brutality, racism, and internal conflict within young people, all common conflicts that are present in society today.

Why are we trying to shield teens from realities in our society ? These things happen and it’s important for young people to be aware of them early on. All American Boys not only opens our eyes to the problems of the world, issues we will eventually face as we grow, it also helps us learn how to avoid and detangle ourselves from similar issues.

You say that our district makes it a priority to teach and explore the different cultures that attend our schools, but how is that happening when the reading list contains only three black authors, and their books were written over 40 year ago!

Selam, who identifies as Black, never received a response and wrote again after the murder of George Floyd for “another favor”:

Dear Superintendent Juneau,

Hellooooo!! It’s Selam again. I don’t know if you have received it, but I wrote you a letter earlier this year about how it was important for our district to include books written by black authors in the ninth grade reading list, and I’m reaching out again to ask for another favor.

I’m sure Seattle Public Schools prides itself for being a district that celebrates a broad and diverse set of students and staff. There have also been many policies implemented to protect the community, but I’m also sure that you recognize you need to do more, particularly with the Black community, hence why I’m suggesting that SPS should end their contract with the Seattle Police.

What happened to George Floyd was not the first, and it’s pretty clear that because of the world that we live in, it probably won’t be the last. The very systems, institutions, and processes that we’ve been told to trust and believe in have failed us. Not once, not twice, but time and time again.

It’s time that we take action and proceed to fix this dysfunctional system one step at a time.

When SPS ends their contract with the SPD, the department becomes defunded, which has proven to push departments to reform their officers which is something we desperately need. We can’t continue to be outraged for a certain amount of time then forget the injustices till they happen again. We must do something!!

Please…help us feel heard. Haven’t we been oppressed enough?  We’re tired. 


Best Regards,

Selam Moges

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