Students engage in discussion on fear of violence

Bradyn Johnson | The Chronicle

I have read countless books in my high school career, however, very few have led to important discourse on relevant topics. 

During the second semester, my English teacher Beth Celenza introduced a book called Their Eyes Were Watching God. At first, I was skeptical since I thought it was just another boring English book. However, over time our class did not just read the book, we discussed and analyzed its contents about race and societal pressures that women face in a differing time period. 

Celenza decided to intertwine some of the book’s main issues into a student-led discussion on April 18, 2023. Celenza invited Intervention Specialist Hakim Oliver to aid conversation on subjects such as race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It truly was an eye-opening experience as I have never had the opportunity to discuss such matters in an English class.

Mason High School (MHS) senior Isaiah Rowe participated in the discussion, reflecting on the issues he faces as a young African American male. I felt for Isaiah as I listened to him express his greatest fears. Isaiah spoke about recent acts of violence against African American youth and how they have become the target of violence. I listened in as classmates became more comfortable sharing their concerns and expressing a sense of uncertainty in an uncertain world. 

I can see why they are concerned. Especially when their fears become a reality. A couple of weeks ago, 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, an African American high school junior in Kansas City, was shot in the head by a white homeowner simply for ringing the wrong doorbell. 

During the class discussion, Rowe mentioned the Yarl case. I instantly knew how the rest of the conversation was going to go. Unfortunately, this is how most of the black community feels when they see something like this. Rowe said that the incident forced him to think about his family and close friends, as it could have been any of them in that same situation. 

“It was frightening because of how simple the situation was and how quickly it turned dark,” Rowe said. “Such a simple mistake turned into a tragedy so fast. It could have been me or anyone else I know.”

I am just like a lot of other high school students, I play sports and have a part-time job. I relate to Rowe, not just because he is a black student but because he stresses about things like his day-to-day routine.

“It does make me question some of my daily activities,” Rowe said. “I enjoy hanging out with friends, [but] it’s been at the back of my mind before with other situations similar to this. If it happens to be dark outside, and I go to the wrong house by accident, what could happen to me?”

As our conversations concluded in Celenza’s class, I walked away deep in thought. In fact, in the days afterward I decided it would be the subject of my final commentary on these very pages. After a lot of thought, conversations and debates I started to feel like those who are supposed to serve as our mentors, examples and guardrails for our youth are sort of letting us down. 

For generations, adults have felt like the youth of this world are going awry. Teens are rebellious, lazy, ignore the rules of order and are simply going to be our society’s downfall. But a closer look reveals something more about the adults instead of the teens. 

I grew up in a sports-oriented household, and I often watched as referees would throw unruly parents out of games. Now referees and officials are quitting in droves because they fear for their lives due to out-of-control parents.  I read the headlines as business leaders conduct unethical business practices, and politicians publicly vilify one another and those who make them uncomfortable.  I think the downright outbursts of what we see from adults, you know the ones who are judging our youth, goes hand in hand with events like Yarl’s. Watching adults throw tantrums demonstrates an unsteadiness that, in my opinion, is leading to societal uncertainty which is giving rise to more violent outbursts. Rowe said that seeing constant acts of unruliness and cruelty towards teenagers makes him fearful of the society he lives in.

“It makes me lose trust,” Rowe said. “It gives me anxiety for whatever I do at this point. It has [gotten] to where it’s happening in neighborhoods, which is the scary part because schools and stores were bad enough, but now it’s right next to where [I] live.”

As I sat and listened to Rowe become vulnerable with the class, I remember that I have just recently started a new job at Liberty Towne Centre. When Rowe talks about his fearfulness in not being able to roam freely in good consciousness it made me nervous about what could happen while I am on the job. MHS junior Lucy Schmidt also said she works at a mall. Similar to me, she said she feels the weight of being threatened on her shoulders. Fortunately, Schmidt said that her specific workplace provides in-depth safety training for all of its incoming staff members.

“It’s always in the back of my mind when I’m working, and even at school,” Schmidt said. “The amount of places that shootings have been in is just terrifying. It’s actually everywhere and it feels like nowhere is really safe.”

As I listen closely to what Rowe really has to say, I cannot help but think about my little brother. He is a teenager that likes to hang out with his friends and go places too, and the thought of him getting hurt traumatizes me. Rowe said he has been worried about the safety of his younger relatives who do not yet understand the possible implications of their actions.

“I definitely fear for my family a lot, especially my two younger cousins,” Rowe said. “They’re very naive because they’re young. You don’t know what other people have or what they will do or want to do. That’s something that I will have to teach my little cousins later, and that’s something that I really wish I didn’t have to teach.”

Older generations seem to constantly nag and bully us teenagers, expressing their fears about the future. Rest assured those of the older generation, while you’re getting thrown out of games, and arguing over divisive political topics, we got this. In fact, at Mason High School there are groups that make it their mission to serve and give back. There are groups that also provide safe spaces where young people can talk and share. 

These groups serve as safe spaces for different religions, sexualities and races to gather. Junior Cameron Miller, who is the Black Student Union (BSU) President, said that she wants BSU to be a safe space for students who may need support on certain issues.

“We’re fostering a safer community,” Miller said. “We want to make sure that you feel welcome and safe. Knowing that there are people in your corner and that we’ll see you and stand up for you is our mission.”

After the conversation ended, I realized how skeptical I had been about the discussion. I thought it would be yet another identity talk that no one would participate in, but it was the opposite. It was intriguing to hear about other people’s perspectives of things. Rowe said that discussions like the one that occurred in Celenza’s class are beneficial because they provide perspective for those who may not experience or understand the struggles that other groups of people face.

“It’s a very important discussion to have because it exposes the fears of being black,” Rowe said. “I wouldn’t be having these fears if people weren’t thinking of people of color this way, every single day.”