Bringing the truth to children

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Curing racism with knowledge
By María V. R.
Rather than punishing a group of juveniles for a racist act of vandalism, a prosecutor in the state of Virginia (US) wanted them to understand the error of their ways by reading books - and it worked! In September of 2016 five teenagers were charged with painting graffiti on a historic old schoolhouse which had been used to teach black children during segregation. The school had been covered in swastikas and racist statements. The County Prosecutor, Alexandra Rueda, felt that there was a chance to turn this ugly incident into an educational opportunity. “None of the boys had any prior record, and they had never been in trouble. It was obvious that this was not racially motivated. It was more about them being completely ignorant about racism, and not understanding the seriousness of what they had done.” Alexandra thought back to what had opened her eyes to other cultures and religions when she was their age… it was reading.

So instead of simply putting the boys on criminal probation, she drew up a reading list of 35 different books that deal with the pain and tragedies of racial injustice. Khaled Hosseini, Elie Wiesel, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker were just a few of the iconic authors she included on the list. The teens were told to read one of the books each month for a year. For every book they read, they were to write a 3,500 word essay on the consequences of racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Rueda’s sentencing did exactly what she had hoped it would. The boys are sticking to their education, and based on their essays they are all regretful of their crime. An example from one of the boys’ essays sums up their rehabilitation: “Everybody should be treated with equality, no matter their race or religion or sexual orientation.”


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