The 2016 One Maryland One Book, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, is written from two perspectives about an incident of police brutality that divides a city. As Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Kiely shared during this year’s One Maryland One Book author tour, their goal was for All American Boys to inspire readers to share their perspectives with others and speak up for what they think is right.
Led by Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, Frederick Community College students read All American Boys and wrote personal essays inspired by the book. Here’s what FCC students Joshua Moore and Sofia McCluskey had to say about identity and responsibility in All American Boys:
Writing this essay on an American College Football Saturday, wearing a Team USA t-shirt made by Nike, and having SportsCenter on as my background noise, it is almost a challenge not to feel like an All-American Boy. I live in my All-American house, with old glory hanging off my front porch, two blocks away from where I had watched an All-American high school football game the night before. My All-American beagle, who’s snoring under my chair, is wearing his US flag scarf. However, in the middle of growing up in this small community of Middletown, Maryland, graduating from this small high school, and working 25 hours per week in a small gas station, I feel as if I have lost sight of the big topics that don’t translate easily to small town white suburbia. Where I grew up, and where I still call home, is not a community exposed to violence, crime, or even moderate police presence. If I was raised by this community, a predominately-white upper class collective, how could I really know what it’s like to feel socially challenged? I graduated from a public high school, I shoot fireworks on July 4th. I sing the Star-Spangled Banner at each sporting event I attend. Does that define “American”? If not, what more do I need to take in or do to qualify for that “A”? (As All-American public high school taught me that I could succeed with the bare minimum.) Tell me, exactly, how “All-American” am I supposed to be?
Quinn, a protagonist [in All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely], has mixed emotions on what he should do after witnessing the police beating of his unarmed schoolmate, Rashad Butler, who is an African American. The authors made a statement putting Quinn, portrayed as a quiet individual, in a rather loud predicament: sometimes the ‘right thing’, can be the most difficult. [..] Quinn felt as if he had to be that narrowly defined “All American Boy” because of what happened to his father and his family. When he sees how difficult life still is for people of color in the U.S., he starts to question what the phrase “All-American” is supposed to mean. What made All American Boys truly appeal to me was that I could connect and identify with Quinn. Yes, I have been in situations as a young person that I thought no adult, or anyone for that matter, could understand; nonetheless, how he felt after the passing of his father, hit close to home. I lost my father due to complications from a car accident in January of 2012. At the time, I had just turned the age of 14. I learned that he, like Quinn’s father, affected and changed people’s lives that I wasn’t even aware of. People –strangers– would tell me that he was an exceptional man and boss, that they loved working for him and always trusted him. And believe me, it made me truly happy that so many people loved him and everything he did for them. However, I found myself at a loss when I heard: “You look just like your father…”, or my personal favorite “You are going to be a great man, just like your dad.” I felt as if once my dad died, my future was almost written for me or if I didn’t fulfill what people saw in my father, I would’ve failed.
I often felt as if I was supposed to live up to the “legend” of a man my father was. My dad grew up poor, served in the army, went to college, then earned a six-figure-salary by the time of his death. He lived the “American Dream.” This novel was so important to me because it made me realize that I wasn’t required to fit the mold my dad left behind. I’m allowed to be different.
The two topics I felt most compelled to speak on was what it means to “walk with ‘the other’ “ and the recovery of the community after situations of injustice. Recovery is filled with pain and anger and sadness and everyone has a different way of coping with those certain things and it’s up to the community to come together and speak up. One quote that was almost a parallel to myself the first time I attended a Black Lives Matter rally was when Kiely and Reynolds wrote “so many people, mostly strangers, but everyone there for the same reason. It was unreal” (313). The more voices that speak, the more powerful the community will become… “this is a real moment of history, Quinn… I want to make sure I’m on the right side of it” (299) The fact the fact that the last two quotes exemplify the fact that different races, ethnicities, genders, and identities coming together and walking with the “other” shows the reader a majority people want to stand up but they are afraid, but once they do they will soon realize that they are not alone. A lot of people are scared to stand up for what they personally believe is right, but if you sit by and don’t stand for something you feel strongly about, then what’s the point of even standing at all? When Quinn and Jill stand up, it represents all the bystanders realizing that they can no longer keep quiet in this monumental moment in history that is the Black Lives Matter movement.
If we are able to come together as a whole and face the oppressor, with all of our different norms and biases, it shows that we will no longer tolerate the injustices. “I locked eyes with a kid I didn’t know, but felt like I did. A white guy, who I could tell was thinking about those names too”(284). When Quinn finally chose to speak up and no longer be a bystander, that showed that he was more willing to change than the oppressor. That he was ready to stand up for the injustice, and when he heard the names of all the lives that have been lost as a cause of injustice he knew that he made the right choice, not matter how scared he was. If we all took the time to work towards being more empathetic and understanding of the unconscious biases that are occurring to this day, we will be more able to stand up to the oppressor and show that silence is another kind of violence that will not be tolerated.
About the Authors
Sofia McCluskey is studying nursing at Frederick Community College.
Joshua Moore is studying political science and pre-law at Frederick Community College.
Did you read the 2016 One Maryland One Book All American Boys? How did you connect to the characters and themes of the book? Share your perspective in the comments!