Smile Politely

Appeals to commemoration and reflection

These op-eds were written by Education Justice Project students. Education Justice Project offers upper-division college courses for credit at Danville Correctional Center. Its mission is to build a model college-in-prison program that demonstrates the positive impacts of higher education upon incarcerated people, their families, the communities from which they come, the host institution, and society as a whole. 


Difficult Discussions to Alleviate Racial Angst in America

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

In the wake of the election of President Obama, the media has portrayed a myth that America has transcended racial divisions. It is my contention that the difficult work needed to end racial divisions has never been attempted, and until we as a nation engage in this difficult act, we will never truly achieve solidarity as a nation.

Part of what allowed Germany and other European nations to confront and move past the atrocity of the Holocaust was building of national museums used to inform the populace. I feel that what is desperately needed is a national slavery museum that would confront many deep-seated issues within race relations in America.

As the present moment, there are over 150 African American museums in the United States, with the largest located in Detroit. A National Museum of African American History and Culture by the Smithsonian Institute will be completed in 2015. This diaspora of information does not allow for the coalescing of a national conversation that would allow us to move past stereotypes and grievances.

It is only through confrontation that one can truly address the problems that one seeks to alleviate. Too long have we skirted this issue and felt that we have done the difficult work necessary to achieve, if not racial harmony, then at least a tense co-existence.

— Shawn Llewellyn Ross


The Dying Art of Letter Writing

We live in a world reliant on instant gratification: instant meals; instant coffee; instant messaging; texting; mobile phones. What would your life be without these items? Would you feel lost and helpless without them? How would you survive and cope with this loss?

In this age of endless electronic technology and gadgetry, I assume most people no longer have a need for letter writing. This arcane method of communication seems as appealing (and passé) as standing in line at a bank, especially to those doing their banking electronically.

Although you are no longer relegated to writing letters by hand, there is still something to be said for writing them. It takes thought and consideration to draft a memorable missive; it takes patience to wait for a few days, or, in my case, a couple of weeks or a month or more, for a return letter to arrive. At times, the anticipation of that arrival makes the letter that much more enjoyable to read.

I know that it’s great to receive information instantly, but no one can argue that at times, it is great to simply disconnect, decompress, and opt out of electronic communication when writing a letter.

I view a letter as akin to a message in a bottle dropped into the ocean or a river. You hope to one day have someone read the message, have them respond and enclose said response in the bottle and send it back down river, and further hope that you will one day be reading the response.

Letters are for those that are in no hurry, with no pressure from deadlines or responding to a text or an e-mail. Can you disconnect for a day?

— Otilio E. Rosas

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