“What’s the point of having a voice,” Starr Carter asks, “if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” Starr is the protagonist of Angie Thomas’s stunning young adult novel, The Hate U Give. The book approaches real-world issues such as racism, police violence, injustice, and inequity from the perspective of a 16-year-old Black high school student.
A movie adaptation of The Hate U Give was released last October, and the students at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls were eager to read the novel. Hawthorn is a unique learning environment that combines a rigorous academic curriculum with a focus on holistic learning and growth. As part of the University’s institutional sponsorship of Hawthorn, the Gephardt Institute’s Each One Teach One program partners with the school through the Hawthorn InvestiGirls program. Hawthorn InvestiGirls provides additional one-on-one academic support during the school day to students as well as enrichment activities to spark curiosity and spur inquiry.
Thwisha Sabloak, class of 2019, serves as the Gephardt Institute’s Hawthorn InvestiGirls Coordinator. She plans to attend medical school after graduation and sees her interest in healthcare and her passion for education reform as inextricably linked. “Understanding systematic failings in the healthcare system helps me understand the education system and vice versa,” she shared. “We silo off issues, but the core of the problem is the same. We continue giving resources to the privileged and deprive those who are marginalized.” When Thwisha and her leadership team discovered the students’ interest in The Hate U Give, they immediately recognized its importance in sparking the students’ interest in literature and representing the experiences of young Black women.
Jeffrey and Pamela Blair, owners of EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore and founders of the EyeSeeMe Foundation, have been working since 2015 to increase access to diverse children’s literature, attempting to expand the representation of African-American narratives and characters. The mission of EyeSeeMe is “to be a resource to parents, teachers, and schools in providing the very best children’s books on the market that promote positive images and stories about African American culture and history.” EyeSeeMe, which has partnered with Hawthorn in the past, donated 35 copies of The Hate U Give to Hawthorn, enabling every student who wanted to read the book to have access to a copy.
Shortly after the donation, the book’s author, Angie Thomas, happened to be travelling to St. Louis to speak at nearby McKendree University. Gephardt Institute staff members collaborated to make the necessary connections and arrangements, and McKendree subsidized tickets for the InvestiGirls students to attend the event where Thomas spoke on “Finding Your Activism and Turning the Political into the Personal.” The students’ experience of the book expanded beyond its pages, as they learned from the author and identified in her a valuable role model.
As with all good books, The Hate U Give has sparked continued conversation among students, and the InvestiGirls program hopes to continue fostering these conversations. “We want to get their perspective and give them a space to talk about this,” Thwisha said. EyeSeeMe will continue the foundation’s partnership with Hawthorn by leading discussions on what it means to be reading this book as a middle school student in St. Louis today. “This book brought real-life issues to a young adult lens, which doesn’t happen so often,” Thwisha said. “We sometimes forget that these issues are impacting everyone.”
Thanks to partnership and collaboration within the Gephardt Institute and within the broader community, the impacts for students were expanded far beyond what any single person or organization could have affected alone. Learn more about the Gephardt Institute’s K-12 and Youth Initiatives and our community partners, the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls and EyeSeeMe Bookstore.