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