Chicago Students To News Media: 'You Don't Know Us'

In response to the media's coverage of crime in their neighborhood, a group of students wrote an op-ed for The Chicago Tribune. NPR's Scott Simon talks with two of those students and their teacher.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed written by a class of fifth graders. It's entitled, "You Don't Know Us." And it's retort for much of the news media - written by a group of students from the Bradwell School of Excellence in the city's South Shore neighborhood, which is one of the areas that has seen so many murders in recent years, a place some have come to call Chi-raq. We're joined now by two of those students from Bradwell - Rondayle Sanders and Damiontaye Rogers, as well as their teacher Linsey Rose. Let me say hello to all of you. Thanks for being with us.

LINSEY ROSE: Hello.

RONDAYLE SANDERS: Hello.

ROSE: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: I was very moved by this essay, when I saw it in the paper this week. And I wonder if I can get each of you to read an excerpt from this essay.

SANDERS: (Reading) We saw your news trucks and cameras here last week. And we read the article, "Six Shot At South Shore Laundromat" and "Another Mass Shooting In Terror Town." We saw the reporters with fancy suits in front of our Laundromat. You spend 24 hours here. But you really don't know us. Those who don't know us think this is a poor neighborhood with those abandoned buildings everywhere with wood covering the windows and broken doors. Those who don't know us see the police on the corner and think that we're all violence and drugs.

DAMIONTAYE ROGERS: (Reading) We want you to know us. We aren't afraid.

SANDERS: (Reading) We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. Those girls jumping rope are Precious and Aniya and Nivia. The people in the suits are people not going to funerals, but to church.

ROGERS: If you listen, you will hear the laughter and chattering from a group of girls on the corner, who are best friends and really care about each other. Do you see the smile on the cashier's face when the kids walk in? Why - because the neighborhood is filled with love. This isn't Chi-raq. This is home. This is us.

SIMON: That's a very fine piece of work that you guys did. Thank you for reading it.

SANDERS: Thank you.

SIMON: What made you write it - Rondayle?

SANDERS: It wasn't really hard to write it 'cause I always try to see the good things out of the bad. So as a class we wrote it, in spite of a lot of people. So I'm really proud of myself.

SIMON: (Laughing) Well, I bet your family and your friends - everybody's proud of you. Damiontaye, why did you think it was important to do this?

ROGERS: I thought about, like, if we write this - like, usually a lot of people read the newspaper. So, like, maybe we'll write it to try to change, like, where we live at.

SIMON: Ms. Rose - but I understand when this essay came out, you had a hard time finding a copy of the paper.

ROSE: Yeah, I was so excited on Monday and I had called couple of students on Friday to tell them it was going to be published. And I said, oh, you can go to the gas station and get a copy of the Tribune. And that's a gas station that we all go to all the time. I went - got there and went in and there's no Tribune. And I said to the gas station guys there's no Tribune? They said, no, they don't bring it down there. So I ended up having to drive several blocks to find a copy to take to them.

SIMON: So, you know, without trying to make this into too much of a metaphor, it seems to me, both reading this essay and hearing that, that you're kind of saying that the news media will come to South Shore and Woodlawn for a murder. But they won't see the folks who live there as part of their audience and bring in their newspaper?

SANDERS: I think you're absolutely right because in the newspaper that was positive things - us writing that article.

SIMON: Yeah.

SANDERS: But it's sad to see that they won't send out copies for us to see the positive parts of life. But they'll send out news trucks to see the negative parts of life.

SIMON: Ms. Rose, is this hard for your students?

ROSE: To write it?

SIMON: To write it, to live it.

ROSE: Yeah, it was hard when we started because when we started working on that first part of the essay - you know, what you think people know about you? The students were able to rattle off lots of the stereotypes they know about their neighborhood. But when we got to the second part, it took us a while to think of like, what are the great things? And I think that's a testament to the narrative that we hear so often and furthermore, a testament to the need for the counter-narrative that they wrote, so that they can tell a different story of their lives and their experience.

SIMON: Rondayle, what do you want to do in the next few years or when you grow up?

SANDERS: I think I want to be more public, so I can make a bigger change or a bigger impact on our neighborhood - like to give back to the neighborhood.

SIMON: Yeah, you want to help your community?

SANDERS: Yes.

SIMON: How do you think you can do that?

SANDERS: I think I can help my community by - keep writing - keep writing what I feel, keep writing the good things about where I live.

SIMON: From the Bradwell School of Excellence on Chicago's South Shore. Rondayle Sanders, thanks very much.

SANDERS: You're welcome.

SIMON: Damiontaye Rogers, thank you.

ROGERS: You're welcome.

SIMON: And Linsey Rose - Ms. Rose, thank you very much.

ROSE: Thank you for having us and hearing their voices.

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