This past week, I have been haunted by an interview I saw on TV. It has lingered in my heart and in my mind for days and I just have to write about it.
I'm sure you all have heard the story of Jada Williams, the extremely bright 13-year-old who, as instructed by her teachers, wrote an essay after reading Frederick Douglass' book, published in 1845, called The Narrative Life of Fredrick Douglass.
Miss Williams followed her teacher's instruction to the letter: they said they hoped students would connect with the abolitionist's struggle to learn how to read, at a time when slaves were prohibited from becoming literate. Essays would be entered in a contest for the Frederick Douglass Foundation.
Jada was moved by the book and was eager to complete her essay. And, apparently, it was easy for her to draw a parallel between Douglass' experience and the rampant illiteracy she saw in her own city school. And that's when she got in trouble. Her teacher has stated that she was "offended" by Jada's essay; and that was just the beginning of her being singled out for her comments. For starters, her essay was not entered in the contest.
In her essay Jada wrote, "When I find myself sitting in a crowded classroom where no real instruction is taking place I can say history does repeat itself. The reality of this is that most of my peers can not read, and therefore comprehend the materials that have been provided. So I feel like not much has changed. Just different people. Different era. The same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man."
Jada went on, "My advice to my peers, people of color, and my generation, start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you. They tooled this profession, they brag about their credentials, they brag about their tenure, so if you have so much experience then find a more productive way to teach the so-called 'unteachable'."
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking....singling out the "white teachers" does have the ring of a rascist statement. And when it's read as the written word, it is easy to assume the same meaning as her teacher.
During this phase of the interview, Jada's mother encourages her daughter that it's OK to cry, and then states, "I know this is absolutely not about racism, it's about the education of our children, and that's what needs to be the focus. If that's all it's about (color), then how far will we ever get?"
So now we have a thirteen-year-old girl who is keenly aware that our First Amendment Right of Freedom of Speech is in jeopardy. And it saddens her. For speaking her mind, and honestly expressing her opinion, she began receiving low grades, threatened with in-school suspension, and her records were not shared with her parents. She was branded a problem. Her parents decided to pull her from school and after trying to get into several other schools, were told to try "this one". That school turned out to be a school of throwaway students who were deemed unmanageable; in short, the school system took an exceptional student, with the radical idea that kids should learn to read, and they punished her for daring to speak her mind.
At the core of her essay, Jada dared to compare today's poor educational system with the system that Frederick Douglass experienced. She feels that illiteracy holds her fellow students back in society. Her call to action was declared in the summary of her essay: " A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct, and I encourage my people to not just be a student, but become a learner."
So Jada Williams, instead of being commended for her intelligence and her keen mind, has been persecuted for speaking her mind. And like Jada, this loss of our Freedom of Speech saddens me, too.
On Saturday, February 18, 2012, the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York presented the first Spirit of Freedom award to Jada Williams.
1 Timothy 4:12 "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.