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Gasping for Air: Letters on Race and Injustice

Seven American University journalism students in a bookstore

American University students published "Gasping for Air" a book of letters to victims of racially-charged crimes.

Book Cover
Gasping for Air

Gasping for Air: The Project

Associate Professor Angie Chuang had her class research and write to individuals who lost their lives in racially charged killings as part an impromptu exercise to teach about social injustices. The project turned into a student-published book, Gasping for Air: Letters About Race and Social Injustices in America.

“AU and society in general have a tendency to look at race issues with color blindness,” said McKinnon de Kuyper, a student of SOC’s Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting class last fall. “This assignment was the first time that a professor ever brought up these instances in a class and asked us to write about it personally.”

Starting with the Black Lives Matter movement, students’ writings evolved to include letters to shooting victims of all races, police officers, students' own family members, and even perpetrators of racial violence. “When I saw how powerful the letters were I felt they needed to be seen by more people than me,” said Chuang.

Below are selected entries from the book, republished with permission of the authors.

Letter from Dyáni Brown to Allen Locke 

"And each day we must show and say to our children:

Your life is valuable.

You are worthy of recognition.

You are worthy of respect—despite what the world around us teaches."

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Letter from Sarah Edwards to Michael Brown

"Your death freed me from fear. I no longer shy away from my own prejudice or the prejudice of others. I want to confront, own and overcome bias—and its destructions— with effort and honesty."

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Letter from Nicole Webb to Vincent Chin

"Vincent, I am sorry.

I am sorry that, on this soil, the words, “liberty and justice for all,” have yet to apply to us."

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Letter from Devan Kaney to Kathryn Steinle

"I want you to know that your death wasn’t for nothing. Your death did not go unnoticed like so many before you. Your death, though horrible and unfair, has sparked a national conversation."

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Letter from Samantha Hogan to Paul Castaway

"If my white brother, who is bipolar, had approached officers the same way, with the knife pressed to his throat, would they have aimed and fired? He so easily could have been you: He is 32 and you are 35 years old, his daughters are 1 and 2 and your son is 3, he gets angry and you get angry. It’s a family affair—until someone calls the police."

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Letter from Edward Graham to Sandra Bland

"So what happened? Was it frustration that boiled over into a confrontation that escalated into depression and then suicide? Or was it something more nefarious? In three days you went from a young woman with a new job she loved to someone who took her own life. What happened?"

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Letter from Devan Kaney to Baltimore

"I heard about Freddie Gray’s death on the news, I read contemptuous social media posts and I watched as the riots ensued. I didn’t put the full weight of the situation into perspective until my friend called me. She told me it wasn’t safe for me to come anymore.  

I was angry."

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Letter from Nicole Webb to Her Mother

"Mommy, I can’t help but to fear for my life, too. Every time I’m driving, I think of Sandra Bland when I forget to put my turn signals on—afraid that if I don’t, a cop may pull me over and shoot me because I’m black."

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