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Creating Peace: SRJC students write letters to future generations in new book

Sydney Norris, Contributing Writer

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American journalist and educator writing about race and politics. In response to Coates’ 2016 National Book Award winner “Between the World and Me,” more than 60 Santa Rosa Junior College students from college skills and English 100 classes produced their own letters to future generations. The work of these student authors were collected in the recently published book, “Creating Peace.”

Students and university officials gathered at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa Feb. 23 for a reading of selections from “Creating Peace.” It was a poignant night as the student authors expressed emotion and honesty in their personal narratives.

College skills instructor Leslie Mancillas, who spearheaded the project, helped her students’ voices be heard through their letters. Mancillas encouraged students to write from the heart and share their personal experiences and ideas for how to end racism, prejudice and discrimination.

SRJC student Maria Luna shared a profound personal story. “I was one of those people who wouldn’t talk until I met a teacher,” she said. “I told her how I felt. She told me, ‘you gotta speak up,’ and I started speaking up. I feel like a lot of people and students, everybody, start to feel like nobody’s gonna care.”

Even though Luna experienced discrimination in the past, she works to move forward by treating everyone with respect and remaining positive.

Mancillas’ concept allows students to connect to literary work, of art in a different way, and celebrate their knowledge and opinions. The student authors stripped down to a realistic and raw form of writing other students can relate to. It also brings very important subjects to the surface to remind readers they are not alone.

“The book is very powerful. If you haven’t read it, you need to,” said Wanda Burzycki, chair of the college skills department, in a congratulatory speech at the event. “That probably applies to 99 percent of the United States. This is your step into that world; so instead of ‘Between the World and Me,’ I see the book as a way of connecting me and you with the world so change can happen.”

Robert Holcomb, dean of language arts and academic foundations, thinks discrimination and prejudice need to be discussed.

“Progress isn’t linear; you take a few steps forward, sometimes a few steps back,” Holcomb said. “But we have to continue to engage and have to continue to stand up for what is right. I’m very proud of what we are doing. We’re doing the right thing.”

Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Jack Tibbetts attended the event and said the letters carried a valuable message. He connected with one letter in particular. “I’m going to leave here tonight trying to make this my motivating force, the paragraph that guides me over the course of the next four years on city council, because I think it’s beautiful,” Tibbetts said. “I think it’s something we should all strive for as a community and as a group of people in this world.”

Tibbetts expressed his hope that people can overcome their fears. He brought the night’s events to an end by empowering the audience to channel the power and strength they have inside themselves and rise above the challenges that stand in their way.

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Creating Peace: SRJC students write letters to future generations in new book