At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in March 2015, 10 D.C. teen girls began writing a novel.
The group of 11- to 14-year-olds began with one central question: What really happens in a community when a black youth is the victim of violence by police? In other words, the students explored the idea of what it would look like if the incendiary events in Ferguson took place in their own Northeast Edgewood neighborhood.
Released in late May, the near 200-page book, titled “The Day Tajon Got Shot,” explores the issue of race and justice in a community torn apart by violence. Shout Mouse Press, a publishing house that aims to assist authors from marginalized communities amplify their voices through writing, helped the teens write the book through its nonprofit Shout Mouse writing program at the Beacon House in Northeast.
“The book tells other teenagers like us that you have a voice in things — you have a voice in what’s going on in society right now,” said one of the authors, Najae, during a panel at the American Writers and Writing Programs Conference.
The book’s other authors, all teen participants at the Beacon House, are T’Asia, J’Yona, Reiyanna, Jonae, Makiya, Rose, Serenity, Jeanet and Temil.
Surrounded by real-world instances of police violence, including the deaths of black males Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, the teens wanted to unravel the complex matter of police violence against African-American youth.
In order to undertake the large task of writing about the highly divisive events, and moving beyond social media hashtags, each of the authors took on the role of characters from all sides of the event.
“This book was a really big undertaking,” said Director of Beacon House Programs and Operations Danielle Schmultz. “It is really powerful [that] the girls could take on so many different perspectives.”
The writers stepped into the shoes of the black boy who is always assumed to be up to no good; the friends and family members of the dead boy who grieve and either become activists or slip into despair; the police officer who commits the violence out of fear or bias and must deal with the repercussions of his actions; the family member of the officer who may have complicated reactions to what happened and witnesses directly and indirectly affected by the event.
“They spent a lot of time listening to the things that happen around them and used it to develop full and complex characters,” Schmultz said.
The teens worked with writing coaches on Friday afternoons to individually develop their parts of the book and then bring them together as a collective storyline.
“This book can make a powerful statement in a unique and compelling way, and it gives both these writers and their readers a chance to explore hot-button issues of race and violence in a way that is sophisticated and necessarily complex,” said a statement on the Shout Mouse Press website. “These stories go beyond the headlines to explore the perspectives of people on all sides of the discussion.”
The book follows the group’s 2014 release of “Trinitoga,” a portmanteau of the middle- and high-schoolers’ neighborhoods of Trinidad and Saratoga. The smaller, 50-page fiction novel explores the relationships between family members.