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Martin Luther King Commemorative March


Martin Luther King Commemorative March

A Brief History

The Martin Luther King, Jr. March is a tradition at Manhattan Country School that demonstrates the passion and leadership of its students. Since its founding in 1966, MCS has strived to fulfill Dr. King’s dream of unity, peace and equality. In memory of Dr. King and his legacy, the eighth grade students are in charge of planning a march every year. The students are asked to ponder, “If Dr. King were alive today, what would he consider to be a social justice issue worth fighting for and raising awareness about?” Students engage in healthy debate, discussion and work toward group consensus on one theme for their march.

MLK March Themes Through the Years 2014: “21 Voices: Letters of Support, Protest and Hope” 2013: “In 25 Years: Reflecting on the Civil Rights Struggles of Today, Looking Toward Justice for Tomorrow”

2012: “Equality in Every Language” 2011: “We Have Another Dream: Civil Rights in the 21st Century” 2010: “A Peace of the Dream: Living MLK’s Dream in a Turbulent World” 2009: “Dear Barack: Letters to the Leader of Today From the Leaders of Tomorrow”

2008: “The Colors of Rainbows: Gay Rights and Civil Rights” 2007: “Walk the Talk of Peace”

Guest Speakers Alumna Alicia Glen ’80 is the newly-appointed NYC Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development. She wrote a letter to students which was read during the march:

“I’m so proud of my alma mater and all its current students for organizing today’s march and for carrying on this tradition for the 26th year. We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy not only by marching, but also by being active and passionate members of our community.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer met with marchers outside of the Harlem YMCA. After hearing Brandon’s speech on income equality, she spoke about her latest cause: airport workers seeking fair wages. “We’re headed right now to fight for airport workers because many of them barely make minimum wage, just as you mentioned in your speech,” she said. She also encouraged the students to “keep fighting the good fight.”

Much has changed in the past 50 years, but there is still so much work to do. I know that my commitment to fighting against racial and economic inequality in this and other cities was nurtured at Manhattan Country School. It is a special place, and you don’t realize how much the teachers, the teachings and the relationships you are forming now with your fellow students will influence your lives. I thank you for being part of the MCS community and the larger community of New Yorkers who will grow up to be part of our efforts to make this city a better place.”


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tate. York S w e N n i ce church social servi aptist , B n mic o n o i e t a n a p c o i mer educ d ec nd Ho A n n a a ng a n t i l t s a a s e i c i t hr worki soc Afri , Pro care, C onfronting is also e first pp or t l h h u t a c r S s r o f a t u o c s h s to ec ch w , pa Le t t e r mitted t Chur ess. Th gelism Baptis rough evan s been com r the homel n a i n th fo ssi ha y, Aby Christ tist Church d programs centur re souls for p n a a h t B , 9 s n 1 ia o am rly byssin rship progr win m the ea is to “ opment.” A ed in de n nd. d a o a e n i l l s u e s l h i o t e F , you al hom ch’s m munity dev r g r t n s u i e s h c c u The com ble ho ch’s an ry, and ing afforda ia, the chur d delive i p v o i by pro in Eth issues ate poverty to me. There is a program affiliated with Abyssinian called Blue n i to elim Nile Rights of Passage, which teaches young people how to be strong, powerful and independent. I took part in Blue Nile for nine months. It was a journey, a very important and beneficial one. And a common topic we discussed in Blue Nile was domestic violence. I have learned how to not get myself into situations of domestic Dear Aunt Althea, violence and if I am, how to get out. I passed through Blue Nile a Everybody has a story, something they want to tell the world; few months ago but it will always be apart of my life because of a story they’ve kept bottled up because of the response it may all the things that I have learned from the program. Abyssinian will receive. Why keep a story to yourself? With every story comes always be home for me because of Blue Nile. meaning and a lesson to be learned. Every story is unique and has Aunt Althea, as a young woman growing up, I have learned a lot its own message and your story deserves to be told. from your story. I learned the importance of listening to my inner I am here today to tell your story because you never got a chance voice and walking away when something feels wrong. I have to tell it. On November 23, 2010, you were taken from us, taken learned to value who I am and not to let anyone treat me with from this world. You were beaten to death and then drowned on a disrespect. Your killer, David Lynch, took you away from your two beach in Far Rockaway, by your boyfriend David Lynch, the man children at the young age of 45. He has since been convicted and you loved. Too often we hear about domestic violence, women is going to serve 25 years to life in prison. I wish I had been able getting beaten, sometimes to death, by the people who say they to help you. I wish you had reached out.   love them, right here in the United States. Domestic violence has caused more injury to women than car accidents, muggings, and I remember your beauty both inside and out. I remember your rapes combined. In the U.S., three to four million women are sense of style and elegance. You were so proud and independent. beaten in their homes every year. One woman is beaten by her You were confident and courageous. I remember you, every day. husband every 15 seconds. Yet, for many people this still does not I’m writing this speech to you Althea in honor of you and all other seem like a pressing issue. There are 1,500 shelters for victims of victims of domestic violence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched domestic violence in the U.S. but there are 3,800 animal shelters. against injustice; spoke against what is wrong and I hope to do Considering the millions of women abused in this country each the same today. He stood against violence; but unfortunately year, these statistics are bizarre. The small number of shelters violence is what took your life.  I want to make a change in the for women nationwide provides battered women with very little way people think about domestic violence. This speech is just the access. Women who are in abusive relationships tend to stay beginning of it. I want everyone to hear your story and to learn in the relationship and many people ask why. Why don’t they from it, to learn to speak out. I miss you so much Althea. Know leave? Who would want to stay in an abusive household? Well that you are always in my heart. Your story is important and I am my question to you is why aren’t there more shelters for battered your voice here today to tell it. I will continue to tell your story women? Why are there more shelters for animals? The small in hopes that other young women will not have to suffer silently number of shelters show how little most Americans think about and ultimately pay the price with their lives. I know you are the issue of domestic violence. Why is the world so unjust? watching down on me from heaven on this day as I tell your story. Often, when I hear conversations about domestic violence people I know that with every word you are able to breathe a little easier tend to blame the victims. They ask questions like, what did she because your story is finally being told. Your story brings to light do to deserve it? Why did she stay? People say that it’s a woman’s the pressing issue of domestic violence in hopes to save the lives problem. They say women need to do things to protect themselves of others. I love you, Aunt Althea. from getting abused, and when they experience this abuse it’s May you rest in peace. their fault. Would you blame the victim of a robbery or assault? Would you blame someone suffering from cancer? So why blame Your niece, the victim of domestic violence. When will people understand Desirae how complicated domestic violence is? When will fathers sit down with their sons and talk to them about how to treat their partners and sit down with their daughters and teach them to value themselves no matter what? That is why I am here today. I want to tell everyone how important it is to have these conversations. As well as how important the issue of domestic violence is in our world today.



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Dear Students Left Behind,

I guess you can say I am a normal boy, who hasn’t had to really struggle for anything in life. I live in Harlem with my mother, stepfather, and two brothers. Necessities have always been easy for me to access. I have working hot water, food, shelter, and an above average educational experience. Give or take a few things, my life has gone without hassle. But, I used to believe I was better than people who had less than I did. I don’t want to look back at myself as a spoiled boy who only thought about himself. Writer Charles Caleb Colton stated that “ignorance lies at the bottom of all human knowledge, and the deeper we penetrate, the nearer we arrive unto it.” I decided it was time to eliminate that ignorance. I decided it was a time to be an activist, to speak out for what I believe in, and develop a drive for change. Men like activists Fred Hampton and Malcolm X had that drive and would withstand any obstacle in the way of positive change, even taking a bullet to the chest if necessary.                                                            Malcolm X once said something that spoke to me: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” But, America has turned quality education into a privilege. Students in poor neighborhoods aren’t offered the resources needed to create more rigorous learning environment. After watching films and studying about educational inequality, I have learned that instead of helping the students that are put to a disadvantage, schools are expelling and suspending them in order to boost their success record. New York City public schools are graded based on students’ state test results. So if a student is struggling, schools give up on them. Alternatively, they overly enforce the “no tolerance” rule in pursuit of receiving a better track record. This tactic is mostly aimed to male students of color. According to, a youth-led action research project to understand the school-to-prison pipeline, 70% of students involved in “in-school” arrests or referred to law enforcement are black or Latino and 40% of students expelled from U.S schools each year are black. In addition to that, black and Latino students are twice as likely to not graduate high school as whites. The school system that supports poor urban students of color is corrupt, with schools set up for students to fail. Imagine not getting a shot in life before it even began, based on a legacy of discrimination and stereotypes you aren’t in control of. Every year, more than 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the U.S. alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds, or 7,000 a day and 62% of those people are students of color. After being suspended or expelled, many students are forced to live life on the streets. Many of these kids decide not to go back


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to school and instead join neighborhood gangs, leading to prison time and occasionally death. Instead of using government funding to improve the quality of schools in our nation, it is used to incarcerate young boys who have given up on themselves. I was talking to one of my friends, and he told me something that made this reality clear to me. He said that, when he goes to school he feels like all of his teachers are out to get him. He hates school and everyone in it; it’s almost like he can visualize the judge giving him a life sentence for something stupid he did when he should have been in school. He continued to make remarks about how the government probably has his jail cell laid out for him, that it was waiting on him to ruin his life. He is one of the millions of boys who feel the same way.

According to a PBS NewsHour report “states spend more than $50 billion annually on government-run correction programs. In the last 20 years, state spending on prisons has grown at six times the rate of spending on higher education. One in 31 Americans is under some form of corrections control.” When President Barack Obama was elected to govern our country, I heard many assumptions as to why he had won. “Obama just won because he is black” or “Obama isn’t that special; they just wanted a black man in office.” These different assumptions really caught my attention because I realized the truth in them. Some of the kids in my neighborhood said that they felt President Obama was the better candidate because he was black and educated, when in fact, Obama hasn’t done anything to help them directly. Our educational system doesn’t teach students to become informed citizens. It doesn’t encourage them to think critically. As a result, I am forced to believe that past elections have been decided based on appearance rather than political reality. Young Americans can’t evaluate the candidate’s ideas because they don’t know what to make of their promises. Instead, they mythologize a man because he looks just like them. I don’t want my friend in a jail cell. I don’t want kids who are just like me to end up in the criminal justice system. I don’t want the kids I see walking down the street every day with no books in their bags to feel ashamed. That’s why I will be the first to say, “I am sorry.” I am sorry that your lives have been destroyed due to decisions made by so-called political leaders. Nobody will ever understand the excessive challenges you face each day. Nobody will ever understand the emptiness you have felt, almost to the point where you have no hope. I hope that this speech not only notified you of this issue, but also provoked you to take action in eliminating it. The reason I take such pride in this matter is because that could’ve been me. I could’ve been the one sitting in the back of that police car because I “threatened” an officer who wanted to search me. I could be the one being suspended for two weeks because my phone went off in class, even though it was my mom calling for an emergency. I fight because I could have been. … I fight because I am privileged. … I fight because I have a voice.    In all sincerity, Zedrek Farrell



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Dear Mayor Bill de Blasio,

than half a million people were stopped in NYC as a result of this program; 89% were innocent. Fifty six percent of those stopped were black, 29% were Hispanic, but only 11% were white. There were more than four million people stopped since 2002, and an average of 87% were innocent.

I would like to congratulate you for taking office in our great city. This city, as you know, is filled with many opportunities and an abundance of diversity. Though sweeping civil rights laws were passed 50 years ago, our nation is still far from equal.

Many people in neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan are being stopped and frisked every single day. Studies show that the highest amount of people stopped are male, black, and between ages 13 and 25, proof that this is discrimination.

Years ago a majority of black Americans were fighting for equal rights. In 1968, this long struggle of fighting for equality legally ended. Many people – black and white – celebrated the civil rights laws passed, which gave “everyone equal respect and opportunities,” but racial discrimination is still a problem today.

Today we are here in Harlem, which has been a prominent target to this discrimination. Harlem includes a large community of black and Latino people, and was an important place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. At that time Harlem brought black and Latinos together in a physical, spiritual, and musical way, making it a very strong community. Harlem residents often have to put up with stop-and-frisk tactics. This has been a real problem. Millions of people are scared to even walk on the street, just like they were afraid to do 50 years ago. For so long we have been fighting for equal rights. For so long there has been oppression. For so long we have only come so far.  

Over the years people of color have been discriminated against in many ways. People of color have tried to get jobs and the employer would refuse to hire them. The unemployment rate for blacks versus whites (non-Hispanic) is too large of a gap, with the unemployment rate for black Americans more than two times what it is for whites. This inequality is not just in the business spectrum of things either.   Between 1990-1993, former Mayor David Dinkins hired 8,000 new police officers to the New York Police Department and started the stop-and-frisk strategy. Stop-and-frisk allows an officer to stop anyone on the street if they look suspicious and frisk him or her, right then and there. Stop-and-frisk soon became controversial in NYC, mostly because the majority of people being stopped were black and Hispanic, turning this program into a tool for racial profiling. In 2012, a little more

Mayor de Blasio, please make a change. Fight for the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for, a place where people of all races and ethnicities are able to live in harmony and equality. Fight for abolishing discrimination, fight for what Malcolm X fought for, do it by any means necessary. You are our new mayor and I trust you to make amazing changes to our magnificent city. Sincerely, Matthew Alec de Souza Thaxton


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Dear Republicans of the House of Representatives,

Imagine yourself living in a small studio apartment. You work at McDonald’s where you are paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Every year, you make $18,154 before taxes. The rent for your small apartment is $875 per month, which amounts to $10,500 per year, leaving you with only $7,654 before taxes. After taxes and health care, you have about $3,000 to spend on groceries, taxis, MetroCards, and other necessities, and because you only make this tiny amount, these necessities will never be in your possession. If someone you know is far away, you could not afford to visit them. You cannot afford a car or its insurance, certainly not a plane ticket to get there and back. If you are a student, you are certainly not able to afford an education without being stuck with massive debt for years to come. In the long run, if you never find a job that pays more than $7.25 per hour, you will never retire. You will have to work your whole life without any peace at the end of it, except for your inevitable death, and when you die, you will not die happy. Would you want that? Would you want to die an unhappy man? I am sure you do not, nor do anybody else. But since you are voting against raising the minimum wage, you are turning this future into a reality for millions of Americans. Many people have tried to address this issue, like Representative George Miller, who proposed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. That would leave you with $21,008 before taxes, $10,508 after rent, and $4,688 after health care and taxes. One could afford food and have more money to spend towards his or her education. Senate President Therese Murray proposed a bill to raise it to $11 per hour, which is an even more affordable way to live. You and your fellow Republicans are not helping the situation; in fact you are making it worse. Every single Republican voted against Rep. Miller’s bill to raise the minimum wage. Why would you vote against helping another emerge from poverty? Why would you vote against helping another? Your excuse is most certainly not religious, for Jesus would want to help people. Why does a group of people such as yourselves proclaim that they follow Christianity, but when the time comes to prove how much you help the meek and the poor, just as the Bible tells you to, you turn your back on them? You can most definitely not call the bill a form of communism or socialism because $11 per hour is still absolutely nothing


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compared to what you make. People will still be economically unequal. It is just that the poor will be able to survive in this world. I recently saw a political cartoon drawn by Adam Zygus for The Buffalo News. The cartoon pictured a male employee wearing a shirt that said “Minimum Wage Worker.” The man said, “Thanks for the support!” to an elephant, a symbol of the Republican Party, while the elephant held up a sign saying “Increase it from 7 to 10! This is for magazine size,” the elephant clarifies, talking about guns. This cartoon shows that while there is still poverty in our country, it seems as though the only things the Republicans are focused are guns, war, and international relations. Do not get me wrong, those topics are also very important. But it is like water: It is good for you, but if you drink too much, you will have symptoms similar to those of drowning and die. Debating gun rights is important, but if it is all we focus on, we will blind ourselves from all of the other pressing issues our country faces.

Republicans are making life for millions of Americans worse because not only are you voting against bills to raise the minimum wage, but also your party is not suggesting alternatives. So, the next time someone like Miller or Murray comes along with a bill to raise the minimum wage, either vote for it, or propose an alternative. For example, you can create a bill that all parties will agree upon, such as one that raises the minimum wage but also makes it easier to create jobs, an issue that Republicans believe will be affected by raising the minimum wage. Everybody should have access to the best parts of life, and should have the ability to live it to its fullest. They should have the opportunity to get an education and a job that pays a livable wage. If we do not fix this now, the next generation of minimum wage workers will suffer and we will soon be considered “the most unhappy country.” Before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the Poor People’s Campaign, created to eliminate economic injustice. Today, Dr. King would be fighting beside me to destroy the darkness of economic inequality in our country because he, along with the rest of this community, fought against inequality in all shapes and forms. It is up to you, Republicans, to either finally agree with the Democrats on raising the minimum wage, or disagree, and have our country plunge into an even greater darkness than already exists.

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Dear Lawrence King, It’s been almost six years since you were killed. On the morning of February 12, 2008 in Oxnard, California, you were in class listening to the teacher. All of a sudden a loud noise filled the room. The teacher turned around, franticly searching for the source of the sound until her eyes landed on Brandon McInerney. He was standing with the gun held tightly in his hand. That sound had been a bullet he’d just shot you with. The teacher shouted, “What the hell are you doing?” Then he shot you a second time. You were only 15 and a proud, gay teenaged boy. You were strong enough to be open and honest with yourself and those around you. You were often bullied for flaunting your sexuality, but these taunts did not drive you back into the closet. You strutted down the halls of your school in makeup and high heels, because you liked the feeling of looking beautiful. You also clearly expressed your feelings toward other boys. One of these boys was Brandon McInerney. Sometimes your openness made people feel uncomfortable. But you refused to hide your true self from the world. Does this mean you deserved to die? Brandon McInerney was only 14 when he pulled the trigger of that gun. He did not come from a close, loving family. His mother had been a drug addict and the victim of abuse from her husband, Brandon’s father. Brandon witnessed violence in his own home and probably learned that that was a normal way to handle disagreements. Brandon did not like the unwanted attention he got from you and could not cope with being teased about it by other kids at school. Why wasn’t Brandon taught to use his words and let you know that your attention was bothering him? If only he had given you the chance to talk, you might still be alive today. You were not the first to be a victim of a hate crime against people who are LGBTQ, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning. Many like you have tried to walk the halls of their schools or workplaces, showing pride in who they are and in whom they love. Not everyone has accepted that. Some are threatened by it and driven to hate. Harvey Milk was murdered on November 27, 1978 in his office in San Francisco. Brandon Teena, a transgendered teenager, was killed in 1993, as was Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming on October 7, 1998. Sakia Gun, a 15-year-old lesbian, was killed May 11, 2003 in Newark, New Jersey. Many have been murdered trying to live their lives openly. As I recall your struggle and the struggle of many others, I stand here outside of the Harlem YMCA. This place was a bastion in the fight against racism and poverty during the Civil Rights

Movement. Throughout the years, this organization has influenced the community to help young people become leaders. Through the Youth Enrichment and basketball programs, the Harlem YMCA provide support and encouragement and give children the tools necessary to succeed in life. Just as the YMCA helped to support and educate Harlem’s children, there are several organizations that help create connections and understanding between straight and LGBTQ youth.

GLSEN, The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is an organization that “seeks to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in K-12 schools.” GLSEN encourages students to form alliances between LGBTQ and straight teens at schools across the country as well. Larry, if you were here today perhaps you could have been a role model for LGBTQ youth and if there had been a Gay Straight Alliance at your school, maybe Brandon would have had a better understanding of who you were. The two of you could have had compassion toward each other and helped change the discriminatory attitudes of others at your school. The LGBTQ community is speaking out and taking action and, since you were taken away from us, things have gotten better. They continue to express their pride and fight to be recognized and accepted in our country. In 2012, President Barack Obama spoke out publicly in support of gay marriage. It was the first time a president spoke out for us and our rights to be treated equally to all other Americans. And last summer, Edie Windsor brought her case to the Supreme Court and she won. The Defense of Marriage Act was knocked down, and the federal government now recognizes all same sex marriages in states where gay marriage is legal. See, Larry, we are making progress. But the struggle isn’t over yet. Many people still see LGBTQ individuals as wrong or sinful. We must keep moving forward, showing the world that we are proud of who we are. We will hold our heads high for you, Lawrence King, to keep your memory alive. Yours truly, Anya



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Dear John Boehner,

I am sending you this letter to talk about income inequality, an issue that is a real problem in America. The gap between the rich and the poor is unacceptable. In 2010, the incomes of the top 1% grew by 11.6% while the incomes of the bottom 99% grew only 0.2%. This means the top 1% captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery after the 2007 recession. The majority of workers in America are struggling to support their families while a small number of people are getting wealthier. In 1983, the wealthiest 20% of Americans held 81% of the wealth. By 2009, they held 87%. President Barack Obama called income inequality “the defining issue of our time” and said: “No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important.” Our president is very passionate about this topic, and it is up to you and the House of Representatives to work with President Obama on fixing this issue. There are several ways to help bridge this gap. 1. Improve public schools and access to college education. Education is very important to a person’s life. Unfortunately, not every child has access to a quality education. Schools in one neighborhood can have a huge difference in resources. For example, a zoned school in one neighborhood in Harlem may not get the same funding and resources as a zoned school on the Upper East Side. Quality teachers, books, supplies and afterschool programs can vary greatly, and directly affects the education a student receives. Today a college degree is necessary to get a good paying job. College tuition in America has skyrocketed forcing people of lower and moderate incomes to take out a number of student loans to go to college. Once a student graduates college, they are usually tens thousands of dollars in debt or more. The work force today is more technology and knowledge based, requiring highly skilled workers. With costs of education rising, less educated families are unable to gain access to these growing opportunities and the gap of income inequality is widened. 2. Raise the minimum wage to 1960s levels. The minimum wage is $7.25 an hour in New York. In the 1960s the minimum wage was around $2. The minimum wage should have reached at least $8.37 per hour in 2012 taking into account inflation. People should get paid the appropriate amount that goes along with rising prices. So far, there have been 19 states that have raised their minimum wage to $8.25, which is higher than the current federal level of $7.25 per hour and as of January 1, 2014 that number rises to 21 states. Meanwhile, raising the minimum wage did not directly affect those who already make more than the minimum wage. The cost of raising the minimum wage could lessen the cost of subsidies paid out to poor people in need of assistance.

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3. Tax the rich at a reasonable rate. Billionaire Warren Buffet said that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Our current tax code has a big effect on income distribution. A majority of millionaires only pay 15% in taxes, while most people pay an average of 25% to 31%. This is mostly due to various deductions, loopholes and tax credits usually afforded to the wealthy. The income inequality in our country is steadily rising and is more severe in the U.S. than it is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe and Asia. The countries that are in line with our level of income inequality include Nigeria, Russia and Turkey, which have horrible political corruption or regularly experience political unrest. I believe that if other countries can successfully achieve smaller ratios of income equality America can too.

The 2010 census shows that only 20.8% of U.S. households make $100,000 or more a year and only 4.3% make more the $200,000. The median household income is $50,500 a year that’s 50% of the country making only $4,208 or less a month that’s just enough to pay for rent, the bills, food and clothes for a family. I am hoping that you and President Obama can come together for the good and growth of our country, and work together on a solution to fix the problem and make the American dream attainable for all. Sincerely, Brandon R. Silva



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Dear Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa),

As a leader of the House Republicans who have banded together to oppose many new laws regarding immigration reform and improving the country’s immigration system, I write this letter to you. I write asking you to reconsider your position on the matter of the United States’ immigration process and that you promote citizenship for immigrants who have come to the country without a visa looking for work to provide for themselves and their families. This letter is for the people who do the same honest and hard work Americans do, but are not thoroughly recognized or compensated for it.

This is what goes on in the country you supposedly have in your best interest. Many undocumented immigrants, mostly uneducated and from impoverished countries, are coming to the U.S. They labor under conditions American citizens have the privilege to speak out against. Their plight includes unsafe working conditions, wage theft violations, insecure health care and other forms of suppressed employment rights. How is this fair when these workers are doing the jobs many Americans do not want to do – such as physical labor and potentially dangerous work in construction and manufacturing – but still need to be done for our country? These workers are significant to the running of the country, but are not entitled to the rights they work just has hard as American citizens for only because they were born on another piece of Earth, a place outside some border? As the one who “once compared immigrants to dogs,” you must feel very passionate about not passing the bill to let 11 million undocumented immigrants become citizens. However, I believe it is in your and more importantly this country’s best interest to sign that bill into a law. While this broken immigration system affects the employment rights of immigrant laborers, it also significantly impacts the rights of American workers. If an undocumented immigrant is hired at a cheaper cost than an American worker, fewer jobs will be handed to Americans. Immigrants have absolutely no say on their payment because of the lack of employment rights given to them. This can cause a decrease in the American work force an increase in immigrant work force or “dogs” as you like to portray them. These illegal immigrant workers will remain underpaid, but will get hired over American citizens who actually have the right to speak up for themselves. Legalizing these immigrants will actually make everyone equal in terms of workers’ rights, and create balance between immigrant and American workers.

You are a Congressman for the United States of America, a country founded by immigrants. From 1777-1783, this country fought for its independence from Great Britain and won. The same principles our ancestors fought for, being able to leave a country and start anew in another with opportunity and rights, is what you are currently fighting against. The Americans were technically illegal; they intruded on the natives and took their lands. However, the immigrants of the past were vital in the success of the country, as are the immigrants we debate about today. History repeats itself. Here at the Harlem YMCA, people for countless years have been aiding and supporting immigrants in all kinds of communities. They have taught English to immigrants, giving them better chances of succeeding in this country. The Harlem Y is “committed to promoting the well-being of immigrants in our five boroughs and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of our city.” The Harlem Y supports the immigrant population and community; it is time Congress did so as well. Our country’s immigration system is in a horrendous state. It is inexcusable for us to refuse to search for a viable solution. Something must be done to improve the process and make it safe and fair for the immigrants coming to work in our country. They deserve more quality resources and aid from the government; they do jobs just as significant as ours and work just as hard. They should be granted citizenships to the U.S. along with the rights and opportunities that come with it. So, Rep. King and other members of Congress standing in the way of immigration reform, it is not just me, but millions and millions of people out there, Americans like you who are imploring you to reconsider your position on this topic. Congress can no longer put off the problems of America’s immigration system. The time to act is now. Sincerely, Jalen Checo

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Dear Rebecca,

You were still a child and did not deserve to go the way you did, on that chilly September day. I can only imagine the pain you must have endured all those years, for you to react in such a shocking way. They always found a way to get to you no matter how hard you tried and how much you fought to get rid of the pain. I have been fortunate enough not to have encountered people with such meanness in their hearts, but you weren’t so lucky. While I can assure you that what you did was not the only option, I hope you are happy, now, up in the sky. Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old, was bullied and tormented by a group of girls in her middle school, all led by a 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw. This started when Guadalupe began dating Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend. Guadalupe then convinced several girls in the school, including Rebecca’s “best friend,” Katelyn Roman, to turn against her. They stalked her and called her names every day, and even beat her, not once, but five times. When Rebecca’s mother heard about this, she reported it to the school, but nothing was done. So she took matters into her own hands and began to homeschool her. Eventually, Rebecca was put into a new school, but this didn’t stop Guadalupe and her “clique.” They started to bully her online. Rebecca had had too much and felt the only option was to kill herself. She committed suicide September 9, 2013. The two main girls responsible for Rebecca’s actions – Katelyn Roman and Guadalupe Shaw – were charged with a third degree felony of aggravated stalking, but the charges were dropped on account of their age and insufficient evidence.


What makes me most upset about all of this is not that the parents failed to keep watch over their children’s behavior, or even the bullying itself, but the lack of remorse shown by the main girl harassing her. After Rebecca committed suicide, Guadalupe wrote a post on Facebook stating that she did not care about Rebecca’s death and knows that she is the reason why Rebecca died. It infuriated me to know that not only does this girl not care about what happened to Rebecca, but also does not feel the least bit responsible. There was a quote said by Atticus Finch in the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” that caught my attention. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Seeing things from Rebecca’s

point of view and stopping to think about how she might have felt being bullied for all that time is something Guadalupe clearly did not do. How someone can be so vicious and cruelhearted is a mystery I wish to never uncover in myself. Life is a precious gift everyone is given the day they come into this world. And for that gift to be taken away from someone at such a young age is not acceptable. Everybody deserves a chance to live his or her life and experience all the great things that come along with it: Growing up and getting married, having your first house, becoming a parent, meeting new people and going on adventures. All of these experiences were taken away from Rebecca. They took away her happiness, peace of mind, safety, and most terrifying of all, her desire to live. As I stand here today at the Harlem YMCA, I think of all the work they have done toward helping African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, creating a place of shelter and enjoyment away from the lynchings, riots, abuse, and continuous hate spat at them every time they walked onto the streets of urban war. The YMCA helped African-Americans through their struggle for political equality and gave them a place that could feel like their own; a place of peace. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” The heinous words that came out of those girls mouth for that year was not illegal, just like Hitler’s actions, but that doesn’t make them acceptable. As the man we stand here for today once said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Sincerely, Atiya




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Just the other day, I saw you pushed out of the way when trying to get on the bus. In the moment, I was upset, but when I really sat down and passed it around in my head, I asked myself: “Why did so many people protest and get the government to pass a law when they are ignored?” For this man to ignore a law and disrespect you just because you are in a wheelchair and might be making his trip a little longer is unjust. Beginning in the 1960s, with inspiration from the women’s rights movement and Civil Rights Movement, the disability rights movement began. People with both mental and physical disabilities gathered and protested for days at a time. More recently, organizations like AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities) joined in the fight to promote equal opportunities and equal rights for the disabled. Of the nearly two million disabled people who never leave their homes, 560,000 don’t leave home because of transportation difficulties. Because of this, the Rehabilitation Act became the law in 1973 making transportation easier for those with disabilities. Key language in the Rehabilitation Act, found in Section 504, states: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” This was the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities. But since people like this man who pushed you out of his way ignored this law, it was necessary to create yet another act, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It once again reinforced that discrimination towards people with disabilities is illegal and punishable by law. Many people respected the law, but there were some unwilling to change. Maybe the man who disrespected you was just in a real hurry to get somewhere or maybe he disrespected you because you’re different from him. Still, he broke a law that many people fought for and to me that is the ultimate disrespect. His actions make the assumption that you have a privilege that he resents, when in reality, he is the one with the advantage. All he cares about is getting on the bus. Plus the fact that this man can’t show some empathy for you is crazy. As Nelson Mandela said, “our human compassion binds us the one to another.” How we function as a community relies on how we treat each other. I’m sure this man on the bus has someone he loves and if someone


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All people are born equal. Providing support and access to people with disabilities is another form of civil rights and just as important as racial equality. Dr. King fought for equality for all; today he would fight for this cause. Everyone deserves equal treatment and access, regardless of how they look, how they sound or what abilities they may or may not possess. On this day, we remember Dr. King and all that he stood for. My experience seeing you on the bus reminded me that we still have much left to fight for. The fact that someone would ignore decades of protests boggles my mind. Even though it enrages me, I try not to let my anger get the better of me because sometimes, the best way to rebel is to forgive. Sincerely Edward LeMoine

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Dear Philomena Lee, You currently live in the outlying districts of London, in a semidetached house, where images of your beloved grandchildren and children overwhelm your home. We all empathize and sympathize with your truly unfortunate and unjust experience, which no one should undergo. Your story illustrates the unnecessary struggles that women encounter every day. You grew up in Roscrea, Ireland, where your father abandoned you at a Roman Catholic home for unwed women, where the devout nuns imposed stringent rules and expectations. You endured treacherous years as a faithful Roman Catholic teenager – including chores, limited free time, constant prayers, and practically slave work – due to something you did that the Reverend Mothers viewed as a sin. You once said, “It is hard to believe what it was like back then ... what we had done was seen as so shameful. Society did not want to know you.”

This particular act was simply having a child. You became pregnant at the age of 18. As punishment, your little boy, Anthony, was ripped from your arms and forced to adoption by the nuns in 1952, at the age of three. He was sold for 1,000 pounds to an American family, along with your best friend’s daughter. You never even got to say farewell to your baby, yet you made an earnest attempt to. Dashing to a window, you were able to see your child’s face for the last time. You went through most of your life in blindness, unaware of where, how, and what Anthony was, and if he even was alive; years of searching for him accompanied by Martin Sixsmith, a radio/television presenter and journalist who previously worked for BBC. Together you made significant progress to tracing the vague footsteps of Anthony by traveling to America. You visited the Roman Catholic home constantly, asking them about his whereabouts and pleading for information; nevertheless each trip was unsuccessful and supposedly many documents were burnt in a fire, yet the papers of Anthony’s adoption weren’t. Later, you would discover that Anthony had visited the convent


multiple times in search of you, however the nuns had no interest in reconnecting you two, and told Anthony that they did not know, for it was God’s responsibility. “The nuns told him that I had abandoned him when he was two weeks old,” you said. “He believed that his whole life. I have to live with that.”

He was renamed Michael Hess, lived and was raised in Missouri, became a preeminent lawyer, and chief legal counsel to the first President George Bush. He unfortunately and tragically died of AIDS in 1995, and asked that his remains be buried at the nunnery, so his mother could find him one day, and so that he could go back home. “I can see him like it was yesterday,” You said recently. “I will carry that picture in my head always.”

Just as in the time of the Civil Rights Movement, AfricanAmericans were immorally denied their deserved and justified rights, and were treated as second-class citizens and were barely considered human. As we stand here, in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building – we reflect on how throughout the course of history, the larger power and government at times has failed to meet our bare necessities and help grant us our rights, in times of true yearn and need. Women throughout the world are abused and hurt daily, due to lack of support from the power that be. Every nine seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten. Every day in the U.S., more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Let us all hope that women and all people throughout the world will have the rights to their body, possessions, and children. May children live with their rightful parents, and not be the 2,200 infants and toddlers like Anthony, forcefully and immorally taken from their parents in Ireland, some even who were at an older age. “I just wanted to know that he was cared for,” you said. “That he was loved.”

and n e m o at w h t e p orld o h w l l e a h t s t hou Let u g u o eir r h h t t o e l t p s ight r all peo e h n. t e e r v d l a i h h dc will n a , N s n o i DMA s I s A e Z Eoss p , TOR y M d A o b AH Sincerely, Abraham



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Dear Senator Jon Huntsman,

I am writing to you on Martin Luther King Day. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who fought for what was right and who, if he were still with us, would make absolutely sure every American was safe and had equal rights. While thinking about Dr. King’s legacy, I decided to write to you about an issue that I have recently taken a position on. I am speaking of the debate over firearm legislation in our country. Roughly 16,272 murders were committed in the United States during 2008. Of these, 10,886 or 67% were committed with firearms. This number is staggering and proves that by tightening up on firearm restrictions we could prevent the deaths of thousands of Americans. Around 1,620 service men and women have died in Afghanistan and thousands more still serve. I find it hard to believe that more people die in our country due to gun violence than in a hostile war zone. In the U.S., people are protected by thousands of police, but somehow in combat, fewer Americans are being killed than those who believe they are safe inside our “walls.” But the fact is, this real threat is eating away at us from the inside and will soon consume us using fear, grief, and our ignorance to pick our nation apart, one body at a time. I believe I have a rather reasonable view on gun control. I believe that automatic weapons or assault rifles have no place outside of a war zone or in the hands of soldiers. I believe that Americans have the right to own a handgun for home and personal defense. I believe that before being able to own a gun, an individual needs to pass a series of background checks to make absolutely sure the person is mentally stable and does not have a criminal record. Lastly, I believe that the gun should be registered and its owner should have a license. Nearly every country in the European Union and many others around the globe has enacted laws that reasonably regulate the acquisition and use of firearms. Most of these countries require a gun license, a clean criminal record, and a psychological evaluation. In order to obtain a license, a person must demonstrate their competency with the use and safe handling of a firearm. I am speaking from the steps of the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building, which houses, among other state agencies, the New York State department of motor vehicles. Should not the licensing and registration of guns and gun owners be handled in a similar manner to the requirements for owning and driving a car? Owning and driving car is a responsibility that you gain when you are 16 years old. You need to pass a test that shows your competence with the

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way a car works and how it is to be handled in order to keep yourself and others safe. A firearm, which is a considerably more dangerous machine, was made for the instant death of a human being or animal, not to get from point A to point B. It should be as difficult or even harder to obtain a firearm capable of killing in a fraction of a second than it is to obtain a driver’s license. My purpose in writing this letter is to try to convince you, Sen. Huntsman, to support rational gun control laws. By doing this you can give hope to the thousands who have lost a loved one to gun violence, the thousands who had to stare down a gun barrel and face death headfirst. In the 2012 election, I watched you in the presidential debates and gained an understanding that you are a rational man. I listened intently to your views until you were eliminated in the primaries. But I do disagree with you one on of your statements: “I would absolutely veto the ban. (The Assault Weapons Ban) I have always stood firmly for Second Amendment rights, and my record in Utah reflects it.” I strongly support the fact that every American has the right to own a firearm as it says in the Constitution, but I do believe that assault weapons have no place outside of our military. All I am asking for is your help. Every little bit of support can make a difference and in the end, we can experience something beautiful, the smiling faces of thousands, even millions staring up at God and wondering if this is a miracle. As astronaut Neil Armstrong famously said, “That’s one step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Sincerely, Evan George Robinson


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Dear Tyler Smalley,

You were born on June 16, 1998 and on May 13, 2010 you took your own life. It has been three and a half years since you left the world, yet your story still touches people’s hearts. You loved hunting and helping others. But you were being bullied for approximately a year. One of the reasons you were being bullied was because you stuck up for another boy at school. You would rather have the bullies beat you up than the other boy. You were also easy to victimize because of your size; your vulnerability put a big red target on your back. When you tried to stand up for yourself you were punished, suspended from school. The one scratch you put on his arm was nothing compared to the bruises, punches and kicks he must have left on you. The tormenting was too much to bear any longer, so the same day you were suspended you ended your life with one swift pull of a trigger. I cannot help but feel that if you were helped that day for defending yourself that you would still be here. The reason that I write this letter is to help bring awareness to the subject of bullying so that no other child has to feel the way you did. People all over the world get bullied for different reasons and in different ways, including emotionally and over the Internet. Nowadays with technology someone can get anonymously bullied. In 2010, the year you passed on, one in seven kids had been bullied. Fifteen percent of kids missing school said it was because they were scared to go. They did not want to continue to be harassed. Now it only seems like it has gotten worse. That’s why it needs to be addressed; this past year 77% of kids in the United States report being bullied verbally or mentally and 14% of those people cannot deal with the fact of being bullied. Things are getting out of hand and need to be stopped before its unstoppable.


Bullies often harm others because they have been bullied once themselves. Even if the people they bully are not the ones who bullied them, it still makes them feel good. People bully in response to issues such as brutality that takes place at home or personal insecurities. If at home they don’t feel good or welcome, to get some satisfaction they might impose the feelings they endured at home on others. If a bully feels insecure he or she makes others feel worse so that they look better in comparison. Tyler, what was very interesting to me about your bully is that after he heard of your suicide, he went up to a little girl and told her that you died because of her. She then attempted to kill herself. The following year he went up to your friend and

said: “I took care of one of you. Now let me see what I can do about you.” The reasons people bully range from personal problems to the greed for power. I don’t know what your bully’s reason was, but I hope one day he will realize that what he is doing is cruel. I hope that one day, he will realize what he is doing is inexcusable. I hope that one day he will stop. Many bullying organizations have been formed since your passing, including the one your peers made: Stand for the Silent, which is where your father now works. Though a lot of organizations have been formed trying to stop bullying, it is not enough. More zero bullying tolerance programs could be set up in schools. Support groups in and out of schools encouraging kids to speak up should be created and expanded. If there are still kids feeling unwelcomed in school and if there are still kids who do not feel like they have anyone to go to, if there are still kids who feel like the only way out of the torment is death, then there is not enough being done. I am currently standing in front of a statue dedicated to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. He stood up for those who were being degraded. He stood up for the employment rights of minorities. He fought for people’s rights so that everyone felt like they had a place in the community. He stuck up for himself and others, just like you once did. This is a perfect place to commemorate you because you were picked on so you would feel like less. You were bullied into feeling that you did not belong in the world. You are someone that Powell would have fought for. I write this letter to say how sorry I am for your death, but I also feel out of my place because I have been bullied before, but not to the extremes you were; I did not feel the way you felt. I know you felt like the only way out was death, yet I cannot imagine the intensity of it. Yet I have a strong need to say something. So I write this letter to call attention to this issue. I write this letter to help other kids so they never feel like there is no way out. I write this letter so that bullies know the true impact of their words and actions. I write this letter as one step closer to the termination of bullying.

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Sincerely, Emily Dupervil

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ir all the ted to re for c a c n S ID con e safe HIV/A nts remain a y t n i i l e s a p e u e to q ervic ir cli s s nd Ho e s a h e e t t atened r c s f e a c e r o c t ach and 0% a nd th e t , Pro , 0 a r t g 1 o a h n t p i e h i s t p d ou gw ovi ure s of Su tion, h “to pr to ens le livin Le t t e r preven of all peop nter is ation; t e V n I C e i H S r al o AID eds ality unity r sexu the ne de qu Comm ic status, o es; to provi nd address lly.” d e t i a Un sa om nom spiritu unitie arlem o-eco health outc comm ocially, and n of H f race, soci o e e i l s s r b s i i e s s iv The m egardless o he best pos em’s d motionally, ,r st e e Harl clients and obtain ent; to unit physically, ent nm ients treatm ring enviro our cl rtu ower u p n m e d an ; to are often not accepted in their own communities. As a person /AIDS by HIV with a non-traditional gender, you are faced with bullying in your school’s community, abuse from the public — whether it is verbal or physical — and even the possibility of not being accepted by your family. Harlem United provides people with compassionate and a supporting family that guides them through their journey of Dear Sasha Fleischman, discovering their real identity.


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On November 4, 2013, you were an ordinary citizen; riding a transit bus, minding your own business. You decided to close your eyes after your hard and stressful day in school as an 18-year-old senior. But you were abruptly woken up to the pain of fire burning through your skirt and onto your bare skin. You used your hands to fan out the increasing fire, but the flames just became larger. You dropped to the floor and started rolling on the ground, a tactic that you were taught in kindergarten, in hopes of stopping it. The ambulance came and took you to the emergency room at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco where three surgeries were required, along with a week in the burn unit. You, your family, neighbors, friends and the community wondered why you were targeted. You were a victim of a hate crime committed by a teenager, later identified as a 16-year-old, Richard Thomas, who did not appreciate your choice to become your true identity.

ia d n I o ig ñ I n a v E y l i m E w a rd

Sasha, you do not deserve to be discriminated against. What Richard Thomas did to you was not acceptable and is baffling. Although I understand why you are choosing not to press charges against Richard, a teenager, as an adult, I also believe that if you let him off the hook, he could possibly hurt someone else. What he did was a crime. This was no prank or accident or even a joke. Therefore he should face the consequences of his discriminatory act by being brought to justice. Sasha, you are preventing possibly another person’s injury that could even turn out fatal. Please take a stand. You have the power to make a change. Sincerely, Camille Mercado

You were born Luke Fleischman. But as you participated in your school’s cross-dressing theme day to show school spirit, you wore a skirt along with many other friends; except your outcome was different. Every time that you wore those skirts, you began to question your gender. You started wearing skirts more and more — to school, to the supermarket and the park. The people who knew you began to question your gender identity, too. Some were willing to simply accept who you are but there are others, like Thomas, that cannot realize that who you are is based on what you think of yourself, not what society forces you to be. You, Sasha Fleischman, have chosen to become agender. Agender is when you do not feel that you are neither male nor female but rather not anything at all. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that no one should ever be discriminated because of skin tone, race or nationality. The same applies to peoples’ gender identity. “I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he famously said. I believe that Thomas should not have resorted to violence just because you classify yourself differently than the majority of the world. You are different and that is okay. But being different does not mean that the rights of people with the traditional genders are different from your own. Like author and physician Paul Tournier said, “Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes.” Harlem United is an organization that provides support to people of non-traditional genders who

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Dear Dharan Ravi, I am sure that you have received many letters of hate, many that have labeled you a murderer. This is not one of them. I understand how many people today suffer from being uncomfortable in their own skin. On September 19-20, 2010, after your roommate Tyler Clementi asked if you would leave the room for a little while, you made a thoughtless decision to set up a webcam, direct it to his bed and reveal Tyler and his boyfriend to the world.  As Tyler and his boyfriend became more intimate, you sent out a Twitter message to all your friends to come and watch. This left Tyler feeling invaded and mortified. He knew that very few people had respect for gay individuals. I am sure he thought: “What happens now? People may never forget what happened. How can I live with myself?” Perhaps your thoughtless actions led him to think: “Well, maybe it’s just not worth being here.” Tell me this: Why was Tyler’s romantic life a joke to you? What is wrong with someone being gay? What is the difference between them and someone who is straight?  These questions baffle me every day. Sasha Fleischman, a girl at the age of 18, was riding a bus when she had her skirt burned to bits, nearly burning the rest of her body, too. Sasha was born a male, but made the choice to live as agender, and for doing so faced brutal discrimination. Tyler Clementi struggled in outing himself to his parents. A few days before starting at Rutgers University, he told them that he was gay. His dad was a rock for him to lean on, but Tyler needed two rocks to support him, his two favorite rocks. But his mother cracked, not giving Tyler the support he so desperately needed. Because his mother had strong beliefs and was taught that homosexuality was a sin, she felt “a little bit betrayed.” Sadly, in the years since Tyler came out to his family not much has changed. … People are still ignorant; they fail to realize that we are all equal. But in the last few years, people marched and laws were passed. Still, no matter what changes are made, kids still feel out of place and alone. They are left feeling useless and unworthy. There are many organizations out there that give crucial support to these kids. The Trevor project is an important organization that supports LGBTQI teens. It is a suicide hotline. You can call or text at anytime and there will be someone there to help you. The Trevor project has saved many lives and pulled kids from difficult situations. Many kids are incapable of communicating to their parents about their problems. Or like Tyler, those closest do not show support when they speak openly about their sexual identity. The Trevor project is an important organization that supports LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) teens whenever they need it. People will never understand the feelings these kids are left with after being victimized. The girl that kids pushed down the stairs at school; she is abused at home. The student people call fat, she is starving herself. That old man people made fun of because of his


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scars, well he fought for our country. We all have struggles and deserve compassion. But Dharan, you forgot that the day you set up that webcam. According to the American Foundation for Suicide prevention in 2010, there were 38,364 suicides were reported. That makes suicide the tenth leading cause of death for Americans. In our country, someone dies from suicide every 13.7 minutes. The suicide rate in 2009 was 6.3%, and in 2011 it climbed to 7.8%. Here we stand at Harlem United, another place where people in the community are supported, so that they do not feel alone. A place where medical and psychological services are provided to a community that is diverse in terms of race, socioeconomic status as well as sexual and gender identity. They offer a full range of medical, social and supportive services. Staff and volunteers here help people through problems, offering an abundance of services and supports for their clients. Billions of people are not nearly as lucky as we are. Children in different parts of the world do not get to stand up in front of a caring and powerful community and speak up for their beliefs. And millions of adults do not get the health care they need, and jobs to support themselves. People just like us, do not get to go home to a smiling family and a cup of hot chocolate that awaits us on the table. People unlike us do not get bright futures and an education. Harlem United supports people who have a life ahead of them and have potential. They believe everyone does. Harlem United helps people to get back on their feet. Dharan, exploiting Tyler must have been a way to receive attention from peers and make fun of someone who is different from you. Almost 14 years of age, I have knowledge of what occurs on social media networks. For example, the site allows people to ask questions anonymously to any one they desire. It is a perfect place for people to hide behind a wall of insecurities, a place where it is easy to spread hate. Those bullied on it are left wondering who hates you or if what they said is true. I know the impact social media and bullying has on teenage culture. I guarantee that you have been called a name before, one that is hurtful. Regardless of whether it had to do with your race or your religion, did it feel good? Why make someone else suffer from that pain? Dharan, you faced your consequences the hard way. I hope you have realized how one person can impact another; I am sure that you did. If you ever read this, thank you.     India Kerr

t; n a r o n till ig s e r a we People realize that il to last a e f h y t e n h t ut i B . l a u ched eq r l l a a m e e r l a eop p , s r ed. s a s e a y p w e fe wer s w ERR a l IA K D and N –I


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Dear Matthew Shepard Foundation,  

My name is Messiah Lee. I am a member of the Manhattan Country School community and have read the story of the 21-year-old man named Matthew Shepard. The young man who was teased, tortured, and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 for having romantic feelings for people of his gender and expressing those feelings. He was murdered by three men who found out he was gay. His story reflects how stereotypes cloud our understanding of those who are gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual. Statistics show that nine out of 10 LGBTQ boys and girls have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation. Out of those numbers, almost half have reported being physically harassed. Another quarter report actual physical assault. Unfortunately, most teens that experience bullying are reluctant to share their experience or report it to a teacher or adult. Even more unfortunate are the statistics that report a lack of response among teachers and school administrators in responding to bullying of LGBTQ students. According to recent statistics, out of the students that did report harassment or bullying because of their sexuality, about onethird of the school staff did not do anything to resolve the issue. These statistics show both how LGBTQ teens are affected by poor treatment, and what people think of them for expressing their sexual identity. Today, when children try to look for help, they sometimes get indifference rather than support. Some teachers and friends are barely making an effort to care for those who do not feel comfortable speaking about how they feel out in the open. People just do not understand how badly LGBTQ teens are being treated and teased. If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive today, I guarantee that he would be a part of efforts to help LGBTQ teens. He might even deliver a new “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King would do everything in his power to make this world an equal place, and that is why we honor him so greatly decades after his death. I believe that Matthew Shepard is looking down at all of us at this very moment, as we carry on a Manhattan Country School tradition where we remember the life of our beloved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marching and fighting on for his dream of equal civil rights. I believe Matthew Shepard would want us to

ard p e h S hew t t a M ad e e v r e i p l s e b o I us t t n a w was e h t would a h rd t o w be e h o t t h g nou e e v a r nd b a f l e s him o t e u r t oice h c t h g e ri h t t a h oud. t l t u o ve is to li S S I A H L E E –ME

spread the word that he was brave enough to be true to himself and that the right choice is to live out loud. He loved who he wanted to love, and did not listen to those people who told him that he was wrong. Whoever has teased or bullied a child for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered does not truly understand what Dr. King was trying to say. His entire message focused on equal rights for all human beings. Aren’t we all humans? Do we all live on Earth? I do not understand why LGBTQ teens are being treated differently than other humans if we are all the same. Black, gay, lesbian, disabled – people are made to be unique in their hearts and minds, but all people need to be treated the same in terms of civil rights.  Dr. King had to die for people to truly understand his dreams for a world, where equality became a reality. But for someone to still be mistreated decades after Dr. King’s death only shows how the struggle he fought for continues. Matthew Shepard Foundation, I am a supporter of your organization. Your work helps LGBTQ teens. You truly cared about Matthew and about the LGBTQ teens in the world. Please continue your hard work. It will make the millions of people feel more comfortable about being openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Your work supports and cares for millions of people worldwide, and the Matthew Shepards of the future. Thank You. One day, I hope Dr. King’s dream will come true and LGBTQ teens will no longer be teased or mistreated, but respected for their bravery. Sincerely, Messiah Lee




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erto om Pu ll as fr ical e w s a ad Rico, here r into Puerto tion w fire station ope a m t H o s r f d e r t n r fi a e a t h y art a t s r n i s e a d t erte lizes m wa mpor v t , Pro a e u r i n t e c o o s e o p c t u p p rtiz em 9, s de. It tion s of Su in 196 he site of th Montañez O um. In addi gs Day para d Le t t e r e d t n u in se nt, fael and fo hree K s a mu oveme of artist Ra well a he annual T Harlem il Rights M s p t a l s e a n h E t o s iv in uti the such a cated t instit g the C tivists with nal ar l programs, rrio, lo City. Durin c o i a a t B a y t l c i e u un na ed York seo d nd. ucatio Comm rves as an El Mu ists in New ooks. and ed m and beyo se b s t o l r i d a r a e r iv n a t n r s le B Rica res bu o del any fe st Har al figu ay, El Muse sponsors m lture for Ea politic u d o c o ri eum. T el Bar ucation and a mus El Museo d ed f o e , s c t Omar Castillo is an undocumented immigrant currently living exhibi s to be a pla ue n i in Chicago. He is facing life-threatening illnesses and is living t n o c without help for long-term medical expenses. He had a kidney transplant in 2008. Due to that, he needs regular medical care and expensive medicine. The good news is he did receive medication for his illness, but Omar now has gigantic medical Dear President Barack Obama, bills that are causing huge financial hardship for him and his family. Omar does not have the ability to pay for his ongoing Here we stand, at the El Museo del Barrio Museum, in East medical treatment. Harlem, on Martin Luther King Day. The museum celebrates


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New York’s Latino history including the immigration stories that have shaped its community. In New York City, about 36% of the city’s population are “foreign born.” A substantial percentage of the immigrants in the city face struggles in terms of income, education, and housing. They have also faced challenges in terms of access to health care. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights and the equal treatment of all people (Dr. King wanted people not to judge one another by the color of their skin.) If people immigrate to the United States from a foreign country, and they are denied health care solely because they are undocumented immigrants, that is not acceptable! Health care should be considered a basic human right, just like freedom of speech, the right to vote, and the right to be treated fairly in a court of law. Right now, it is a privilege given to those with money and those with a voice.

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President Obama, I strongly think that you should support legislation that provides access to health care for undocumented immigrants. If we provide insurance to all those living within our borders, they will live healthier lives. It is time to take a step forward to give health care to all people. Sincerely yours, David Durcan

Today in America, there are more than 12 million undocumented immigrants, and 59% of those individuals do not receive health insurance. Additionally, 25% of legal immigrants do not have access to health insurance. That is a percentage that has to be changed. In Canada, everybody is assured health care through the government. Also, many countries such as Ghana, South Africa, and Morocco provide health insurance to their residents. If other countries provide health insurance for everybody, America should do the same. The U.S. has made some progress in covering medical care for undocumented immigrants. In 2004, California spent 1.4 billion dollars to cover medical costs for undocumented immigrants; that is a step in the right direction. In California, 27% of the population are “foreign born” and 45% of them are living there legally. That means that the majority of the immigrants are undocumented. Even though California has worked hard to provide health care for immigrants, regardless of their status, many other states with a large percentage of documented and undocumented immigrants do not provide health benefits for those undocumented individuals. Additionally, several states in the U.S. do not spend any money on providing health care for immigrants. Many undocumented individuals seek health care at hospital emergency rooms because they have nowhere else to go, and they cannot be turned away. This can add to overcrowding of emergency rooms.


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Dear President Barack Obama,

I write this letter to address a vital issue in the world as well as in my heart; please read this letter as a plea for action. The issue that has been paining me for the past six years is the war on drugs. I first became aware of it when I was young, visiting my grandma in Mexico. On the long summer days that we got stuck in traffic coming home I would always see armored trucks and Humvees driving by on the road. I would glance out the window and stare at the tall soldiers proudly displaying their uniforms. At the stoplights I admired every single detail. I memorized each and every shade of green on their uniforms and the way that they stood proudly. I saw them as heroes defending the country that I love so very much. One day I got curious when I saw an especially large caravan of men: “Where are they going?” I asked as I jumped out of my seat to get a better view of the trucks. “To go help,” my mom said from the passenger seat. That is when I noticed that these soldiers were wearing masks on their faces. What could they possibly be doing that they needed their faces to be covered? Why were they not safe? I never truly found out the answer until I grew much older, as I had never seen the brutal war that had been raging. Sadly this war not only claims the life of soldiers but ordinary civilians as well. How can it be that most of the people who are dying in this war are civilians? They did not sign up for this. That is why when talking about the drug war; my instinct is to write about the outrage of the more than 100,000 men, women and children who have been slaughtered in the struggle against drugs. However, dwelling on the deaths of these victims will help neither them nor the people who are currently in danger because of the violence the drug war has created. We must be constructive and realize that it is time to stop the deaths of innocent people and change the way we are dealing with the matter at hand. I hope that we can agree the United States can no longer stand by and pretend that the drug war is “the Mexican drug war,” because the U.S. has had quite a large role in it. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” So I beg you to no longer accept this evil, and use your massive influence in the world for good and stop it. Enough evil has already been perpetrated. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ “Fast and Furious” operation motivated gun dealers to sell weapons to cartel affiliates and gun smugglers in Mexico. These men were then allowed to traffic the guns as the ATF was supposed to be tracking them to larger syndicates. This was meant to help the government track down and destroy the drug industry infrastructure. However, most of the time the ATF lost track of the guns. To top it all off the FBI had been paying for all these weapons because they were in the middle of a different operation with the smugglers’ bosses, so because of miscommunication drug dealers were armed and guns were funneled into Mexico, paid and provided by our government. The point being that if you took the U.S. government out of this story no guns would have been sold. As the ATF was persuading the gun dealers to sell to criminals, FBI money was being used to buy the guns. Then there is the issue of national security; there are stories of women going over to Mexico, where they are being kidnapped and gifted to drug lords. Lastly, drug cartels want to expand their empire into the U.S. since it is a very lucrative market. It would be best to end the problem before it begins.

This is not to say that the Mexican government has been doing a perfect job, but they have put in a lot of effort into stopping the cartels. In 2006, Felipe Calderón began the war on drugs with a crackdown on cartels throughout Mexico. The Felipe Calderón administration successfully captured 25 of the 37 kingpins. However, there was a large downside to Felipe Calderón’s strategy, which is the number of civilian deaths is unacceptably high. As former president of France Charles De Gaulle once said: “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” We cannot afford to have this many people die; we cannot stand this level of injustice. It is inhumane. When Enrique Peña Nieto came into office he pointed out that the cost of this drug war is too high. That is why he proposed a change of strategy, one that instead of focusing on capturing the drug lords aided the people of Mexico. Yet, there has been little to no change in his drug war strategy. I believe that the best solution to the drug war is communication. A large amount of mistakes that were made were because of lack of communication. For example, the whole reason why the “Fast and Furious” operation was a failure is because the FBI and the ATF were not coordinated. So I would propose that the U.S. and Mexico create a coalition. This coalition could share intelligence. Having all the evidence in the same place would make it easier to capture and prosecute them. I also hope that you, President Barack Obama, use the massive influence and power that has been given to you by the people of the United States of America for good. You can motivate leaders to denounce drugs, drug trafficking and the evils that come along with it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. valiantly fought for the civil rights of African-Americans, but ultimately he was fighting to improve the quality of life for humans who had been undervalued. Those with access to decent jobs, adequate housing, education and health care can afford to focus on shaping their lives in meaningful ways. However, if you are struggling to get by from day to day, you and deprived of this privilege, because you must worry about feeding yourself and surviving the night. No one deserves a life of hardship and cruelty. Tragically many people end up living this way. The fact is that it is simply not their fault, but the time and place in which they live. Many people who live in Mexico are forced to live a life of constant struggle. Even though some of them are not part of the cartels they still live in communities that are run by drug cartels. Which means that they “belong” to the drug cartels. The citizens of these communities live in fear; they are charged a monthly quota and the cartels run rampant through their streets. Improving the standard of living in these communities will actually decrease drug cartel power and activity. This is because people who have nothing are given food and a place to live by cartels forcing them to live in eternal debt. So I call you to aid these men and women who are currently struggling. Because as the former prime minister of England William Gladstone said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” And these people can no longer be denied of justice. Sincerely, Iñigo Caballero



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here hool w tion. More c s t n nde uca n’s ed ndepe zed as te an i s for childre S is recogni lass ope a H e r d c n si C t to st a rst c the ba day, M set ou , Prote th a fi ridge pp or t d form ery year. To ot only wi standing l b u S u w f o o o r w n T s n ev Le t t e r under Marty s leave d piratio 0 students a deep uilding an us and ing, Jr.’s ins 0 aduate r h 2 G t i G s y r l . w r e b y t a o d K i y e s s t n r l r i n u e a e n r o h t u f t iv o d l u d m ty f ele s bu Schoo artin L ethnic of com parall t reali ollege ountry y, and Dr. M e a vibran al, and hools and c ool’s beliefs ides and un C i c n a a r t t t , m sc rov ersi nha eco sch mic and p 6, Ma ce, div ream has b socioecono n’s top high ilds on the rt life In 196 social justi o d o u i p d t t b a p n a s a h u n u t p on at s the ty, ter, try cam ducati sses th equali decades la me of ssive e ation for so 0-acre coun tural proce r e u r o g f o r than ’s 18 oth p repar the na el of b ation and p e MCS Farm dents with a mod c u h t u T s . d es mic e tural world engag acade ogram icul those spoken in your own household. As your dad used to tell you t r l p u m m r of our ility. The fa ity. when you came home with stories filled with hatred for another ab un sustain e of comm person: “Hating a person is like taking poison and waiting for the c en experi other person to die.” And as your mom used to tell you countless


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nM o d n a r A t i ya B

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Although you are older and this memory is most likely lost in the sea of thoughts swimming around erratically in your head, I am writing this letter because it is important that you remember the day that one of the world’s greatest leaders was put to rest in Qunu, South Africa. When you heard about it, it was December 6, the day after he had passed; you were 13 years old, sitting in a green plastic chair next to your friends laughing about something that had happened over the weekend. Your initial reaction, though not personal, was to wonder whether or not your dad had heard about it. You knew that this news would hit him hard because of how significant Nelson Mandela had been and still is to him. This was evident in the words that your dad spoke as the loss settled in. “Although he is gone, I wish for part of him and his greatness to live through me and make me a better person.” It is then that you realized that even though many of his admirers had never actually met Mandela, his work, his mission, and his message have impacted thousands of people all over the world; one of those people was your dad. The saying, “life is unfair,” can surely be used in many different contexts. This is the term that many parents turn to when no other explanation seems to fit. But it is true; life is unfair. But it is also very fair in the contradictory sense that it all depends on your perspective. In the world we live in, innocent people have sometimes been punished while the true culprits have gone to live out their lives without repercussions. If anybody did not deserve to be arrested and thrown in jail, it was Nelson Mandela. Not only was he an anti-apartheid revolutionary, but he was also an activist, a politician, a lawyer, and a president. But most of all he was a driving force, a motivation, for people, for your family, then and now. He spent 27 years of his life stuck in a jail cell the size of half a bathroom because he wanted to abolish the very thing that was created to dehumanize an entire population of people. Mandela was trapped in a place where his only place of escape was his own mind. I want you to remember that it is people like Mandela, who sacrificed part of his well-being for the greater good, it is Mandela that should be a model of hope and peace for you in difficult times. Even after being held captive and tortured, after not being permitted to write to his family for 27 years, he still found the power within himself to forgive; he once said, “as I walked out the door that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” This made you realize that what he is trying to teach is not as far away from you as you initially thought. His words go hand in hand with



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times: “You give what you receive; you cannot hate another person and believe that you are exempt from that hatred.” I want you to remember Nelson Mandela as the great man he was and not let him become muddled in your memory, just as many other memories will. If you ever need a reminder just reach for this letter, whether it is under your pillowcase, in a jewelry box or even, just reach far back into your mind and remember.

is t i t a h er t b m e m ed c re fi o i t r c u a o y ho s w , a I want l e the d r n a o f M g e n lik ei people of his well-b dela that an M part s i t i , and d o e o p g o h r l of e d greate o s. e m m a i t e b t should ou in difficul M I S T O N ED ry o f INA e N c – a pe With compassion, sincerity, and love, Nina Edmiston

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Ze a n i m Yas r e v i l na O

Dear Andrea,

When I was little, my favorite color in the whole world was pink. I liked pink because that was the color of Sleeping Beauty’s dress and little girls were supposed to like it. I wanted to buy only pink clothes and pink toys. I wanted to paint my nails pink (even though I was not allowed to). Anything and everything had to be pink. When I was in Pre-K I noticed that there was a little boy in my class whose favorite color was also pink. When he drew the sun it was pink and when he colored in his clothes they were pink, too. So one day I asked him: “Why do you like pink?” “I don’t know,” he answered. “You’re supposed to like blue,” I stated. “But I like pink.” “But you can’t like pink!” I exclaimed. “You are a boy, and boys are supposed to like blue!” “Nuh uh.” “Uh-huh.” This led to a full-blown argument and ended with us sticking our tongues at each other and both getting in trouble.  I was less than five years old and I had already adopted the ideals of society. I already knew that boys liked blue, girls like pink, and anyone who defied that rule was strange and wrong. We are taught from a young age what is right and what is wrong. Human society has always defined a right way and wrong way to dress, act, look, speak, and even eat. We are taught that your image and status are everything. I’ve been told: “Your image isn’t important, it’s what’s on the inside,” and that the only person’s opinion that matters is yours. But that’s not entirely true. While you are not always what people see, what people see you as affects how they treat you. If you show up to a job interview in sweats and a T-shirt, you’re most likely not going to get that job. It is the boss’ opinion that matters there. We are taught that it’s OK to be the way that we are and to express ourselves, as long as they stay within the rules. That is not true freedom. I know that you don’t want to hear this and I know that you don’t believe me when I say you’re beautiful, but you are. You are smart, amazing, talented, kind, and a little bit of a wonderful weirdo. You are an individual with your own style. I’ve told you a million times now that you need to learn to be comfortable in your own skin. You stood by me through everything and I am forever grateful for that. People tell us to get over bullying. But you and I understand that unlike broken bones that heal, words are arrows that wedge themselves deep inside. Each arrow seems to be loaded with poison that seeps throughout your body until you tell yourself that you’re nothing. They tell us that kids will be kids. And it’s true. There will always be people who disagree with each other. But before the third grade, I had never heard of

ha a r b A d re k

suicide, a terrible word that people tend to say more and more often. It is a word that leaves a sour taste in your mouth and a hollowed space in your heart. Each year in the U.S., about two million adolescents attempt suicide. Words don’t just hurt. They kill. Every name, every shove, every rumor, leads some kid closer and closer to the edge until they fall. Most of us don’t understand that there is a mother or a father or a sister or a brother that’s lost a part of them. Most of us don’t take it in that a child just ended their own life because they felt it was better to die than hear the endless insults. It shouldn’t be that way. We move on and forget them entirely, as if they were never here. Then we continue with the same words that just keep getting more people hurt. Andrea, I’m writing to you because I’m scared for you. You’re the strongest person I know but that doesn’t make anything that people say and have said to you any less painful. I’m scared about the things that you say to yourself when you say that no boys will ever love you or that you’re no beauty. I can try to make you see the beauty in yourself but the truth is that it’s up to you. It’s your decision whether you want to keep looking at your flaws or you want to move forward. You can travel the world and run as far away as you can but you always bring yourself with you. You can speak different and feel different and even think different but the old you is still there. You can’t forget it. People don’t change; they grow and learn. If you think you’re bad person only you can choose to grow and learn from bad mistakes. You are going to be Andrea for a long time so you might as well enjoy it.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was that everyone would be treated equally no matter the differences between them. His dream was for the world to recognize individuality and to celebrate unity. I thank you, Dr. King, as well as my school, for helping me to understand exactly what it means to be free in this day and age. You and Manhattan Country School have given me a space where I can just be. You have helped me understand that I don’t need to like the color pink and that boy doesn’t need to like blue. My grandmother once said never to hate people; it takes too much of your energy and too much of your time. I believe the bravest people are the ones who choose to keep smiling, even when the whole world tells them not to. It’s extremely difficult to find a voice in yourself that says that you are amazing the way you are when other people tell you that you are not. Yet you, Andrea, have found that voice. Maybe you don’t feel that way right now, but that’s why I’m here, to stand by you. I’ve looked up to you when I was in my worst moments because I knew that no matter what people said, I always had you. I hope you know that you have me too. I hope you know that you are not one of the victims. You are one of the survivors. Sincerely, Naomi Christiansen



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Dear Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, In 2013, on the soil of the supposed “land of the free,” more than 11,000 men, women and children were murdered by guns. Most of these people were absolutely innocent, exercising their right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Each day citizens are killed with guns and you, the leaders of this country, still fall asleep every night knowing you could have done something to change a law and stop a tragedy. Instead you defend a constitutional amendment that was created when a gun took 20 seconds to reload and had the capability to shoot accurately for an extremely limited distance. Across the United States, citizens own mass killing machines made for combat. The founding fathers never imagined a citizen owning an AR-15 capable of awful feats. They certainly never imagined a nation where weapons would be used by psychopaths to wipe out entire schools. The clear answer to this pressing issue is to ban all assault weapons, handguns and any other gun that is not a one-shot loaded weapon registered for hunting or personal defense. In 1780s America, when our constitution was created, many Americans depended on hunting as a primary source of food. Now due to advances in commercial hunting, fishing, farming and agriculture, hunting has become a rare sport enjoyed by a small percent of our population. It is the right of these sportsmen and sportswomen to enjoy shooting animals. It is the right of any citizen to own a gun to protect themselves and their family. But it is no one’s right to own a gun that is capable of killing tens or even hundreds of people in a matter of seconds. These weapons must be reserved for the deserts of Afghanistan, not the streets of America. What would one of our nations greatest non-violent civil rights leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have asked for? As a nation how can we celebrate and elevate Dr. King’s message? If you believe the U.S. does not have a gun issue look at the rate firearm deaths in other developed nations. For every 100,000 people, 10.3 Americans died as a result of a gun. In the United Kingdom, one of our greatest allies, only .25 people died per hundred thousand. That is one person out of every 400,000. Now tell me we should have more guns. Opponents of gun control claim that owning a gun is a right backed up in the U.S. Constitution. They are correct. But what


these men and women do not recognize is the extreme varying in capabilities of ballistic weapons. Opponents of gun control do not realize we have no place for automatic weapons in our modern society. The U.S. constitution is outdated. We realize that, but when outdated to the point where it allows acts of crime, it must be altered. Sen. Ted Cruz directly called the National Rifle Association “an army.” If this is the kind of army you want holding power in America our current gun violence statistics will skyrocket. Regardless of your gun control positions, it is absolutely the act of a tyrant to prop up a group that directly or indirectly supports terrorists. It is our role as activists to fight for what we believe in, stopping another tragedy.

America is a gun-crazed nation; you know that and I know that. Behind me, stands a building [Manhattan Country School] committed to upholding the civil rights of everyone while also maintaining a safe environment for its students. Schools are truly a symbol for the fight against automatic weapons. As you know last year at Sandy Hook Elementary, the mass murderer Adam Lanza killed 26 people in an approximately five-minute span until law enforcement were contacted and entered the school. Lanza fired 156 rounds of ammunition from 30 round magazines, meaning he only had to reload five times. If Lanza had been a skilled gunman carrying a single-shot weapon it would’ve taken Lanza on average 10 seconds to reload his gun for only one shot, meaning he would have only fired 30 shots. Meaning if Lanza was using a single-shot gun he probably would have killed only five people. I will not downplay how tragic the murder of five people is, it is awful: but it is certainly not on the level of the Sandy Hook massacre. My point is that with gun control laws allowing guns for hunting and single-shot weapons for defense we would save countless lives. If the gun industry must abide by these stringent rules, where could Adam Lanza get a weapon capable of taking the lives of 26 people in five minutes? I write to you today understanding your positions on this topic, and asking you reconsider. Do I expect this letter to change our country? No. Do I even expect it to change your minds? No. But I do hope once you read this you will consider not ruining gun control’s chance at success. Hopefully many others and myself will eventually change your minds. Addressing President Barack Obama’s ongoing conversation about gun control Sen. Ted Cruz said, “It is saddening to see the president today, once again, try to take advantage of this tragic murder to promote an agenda that will do nothing to stop violent crime, but will undermine the constitutional rights of all law-abiding Americans.” Put yourself in the shoes of another person for a second. Imagine if your child was attending kindergarten at Sandy Hook. Would you want more or less guns then? How would you feel about the topic after that? Best Wishes, Oliver Ritter

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Dear Amanda Todd,

You were a beautiful, talented young woman growing up in British Columbia, Canada. You loved to sing, and at one time you were a happy cheerleader who had lots of friends and dreams of doing something great with your life. Perhaps you wanted to get married and have children of your own. But sadly, you found a tragic and permanent solution to what you could never believe at the time was a temporary problem. On October 10, 2012 when you were just 15 years old, you ended your life to escape the pain that you were in as a result of the relentless bullying that you were subjected to. If I could speak to you today, Amanda, I would tell you that the world heard your cry for help. It came in the form of a black and white YouTube video that you posted. You remember, the one in which you shared with us the horrible experiences you were forced to endure because those who were supposed to be your friends never took a moment to consider the pain that the rude comments that they posted on Facebook caused you. Nor did they stop to think that some wounds have no scars and that you were suffering mentally and physically as a result of their bullying. If I could speak to you today, Amanda, I would share with you the fact that you’re not alone. I would tell you that – 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, Billy Lucas and John Carmichael are others who fell victim to bullying. They too believed that they had found a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And like you, they probably felt alone, humiliated and helpless. This is the effect that bullying has on the people experience it. Bullying in whatever form it comes in makes the bullied feel socially isolated and rejected by their peers. You, Amanda, were able to reach out for help, but didn’t, like many other victims of bullying. They fail to do so for several reasons. Many don’t because they feel that they will be thought of as weak or labeled a snitch by their peers. Others don’t ask for help because they fear that adults will judge or punish them for being unable to stick up for themselves. Finally, many kids don’t seek out help because they believe that no one cares or will be able to understand what they are going thorough. It is understandable because most bullying is not done in private but rather in crowed school hallways and on packed school busses. Bullying is not only conducted in dark secret places but also on the Internet, where anyone who has access to a computer or smartphone can see it happen in the speed of a click. In fact, bullying draws its power from those who stand by and passively witness it occurring and do nothing to stop it. Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Bullying is one instance when a bystander is not innocent. Today in New York City, we are told that when we see something questionable we need to say something. This is a message that needs to be passed on to everyone. If we see bullying taking place we need to speak out against it. Amanda, you were in eleventh grade when you ended your life. Sadly there are so many other eleventh graders throughout America that have to contend with bullying on a daily basis. According to a study conducted by The National Center for Education, 24% of eleventh grade students are reportedly bullied each day. This means that almost one out of every four

juniors in high school is bullied. Moreover, a study conducted by Yale University found that bullying victims are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. Another study conducted in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. Dear Amanda, as we step back and examine the pervasiveness of the bullying problem in our society, it seems as though it is an impossible mountain to summit. However, there is a solution to the bullying crisis that plagues our schools and social media. The solution can be found in the hearts and minds of the people. As I look around I ask you all to do the same. Beside us are our friends and family. Let’s imagine them going through the pain that Amanda had to endure. Now, think about what you could do to help prevent them from feeling that way. I wonder if Amanda’s life could have been saved if just one of her peers had extended a hand in friendship. I wonder whether she would have lived if others had spoken out in her defense or had condemned the horrible acts of emotional and physical violence that were committed against her. And although it is too late for Amanda Todd, other bullying victims can be helped. It is important to recognize that some children are at greater risk of being bullied than others. Depending on the environment, children who belong to certain groups such as the LGBT community are more likely to be targeted. Also, youth with disabilities and children who are socially isolated have a higher chance of being bullied. We can also help victims by recognizing the signs of bullying. For example, if a child has unexplainable injuries or has lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry, if a child changes their eating habits or has difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares, they may be being targeted. Other warning signs include: a sudden loss of friends, a desire to stay home from school or engaging in self-destructive behavior such as running away from home or harming themselves. The greatest danger to bullying victims is the isolation that they experience. Just talking to them could save many young lives. A simple conversation or a trip to the therapist could do so much more than letting the person feel like a nuisance that no one cares about. Simply letting someone share their burden with you can make all the difference in the world. When they’re done don’t tell them it will be okay because in their minds that may not be a possibility. However, the things you should say are “I’m here for you” and “it’s okay to be sad sometimes; the only thing that matters is that you can become happy in the end.” Dear Amanda, I’m not going to tell you to stay strong. I’m not going to tell you that you were put on this Earth for a reason, because those are all cliché and overused. But I will say, I know that you believed your world to be barren and empty. It seemed to be plagued with hate and polluted with sadness. The hope that I can offer you now is that the world did hear your plea for help and now the problem of bullying is being addressed and taken seriously. The sky for other bullying victims is brighter because you helped give them a voice to speak their truth. Because of you may new anti-bullying laws have been enacted, schools are adopting tough zero tolerance anti-bullying policies, cyber-bullying is also being treated more seriously and the public is being educated about how to stop bullying from continuing. If I could talk to you today Amanda, I would say to you that the best permanent solution to this temporary problem is to know that in the end it does get better and that the most important things that can ever be said about you, are the things that you say about yourself. Sincerely, Yasmina Ketly-Bulatovic


Thank you

to all who marched as a community with us, to all the students, staff members, families, alumni, and spontaneous participants.

Also, a very special thanks to: Michèle Solá, Tom Grattan, Maiya Jackson, Corris Little, Jermaine Lloyd, Gloria Brown, Zenobia White, Zedrek Farrell, Naomi Graham, Kyle Bartos, NYC Deputy Mayor for Housing and  Economic Development Alicia Glen ‘80, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Todd and Veronica Thaxton, Abyssinian Baptist Church, Harlem YMCA, Museo del Barrio, Harlem United, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building, DNAInfo and Extra TV.

Thank you for living the dream 7 East 96th Street, New York, NY 10128

21 Voices: Letter of Support, Protest and Hope  

Manhattan Country School's 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March Newsletter

21 Voices: Letter of Support, Protest and Hope  

Manhattan Country School's 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March Newsletter