The roots of “All American Boys,” a novel that tells the story of two teenage boys — one white, one African American leading parallel lives — lay in the tough discussions its authors had about race.
Jason Reynolds, a Washington, D.C., area native, and Brendan Kiely, who grew up around Boston, visited St. Charles High School Sept. 28 to talk about the book they co-wrote. High school students in Southern Maryland, along with community members, attended the event, hosted by the Maryland Humanities Council’s One Maryland One Book program.
The authors met while rooming together during a book tour in 2013. During the tour, George Zimmerman was on trial in Florida for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted. Reynolds, who is black, and Kiely, who is white, began a conversation about race, social injustice, police brutality and institutional racism.
“I’m traveling with this person, feeling crazy about Trayvon Martin, but I can’t talk to [Kiely] about it,” Reynolds said. “Because I’m scared that if I say something and he responds in a way I desperately don’t want him to respond, we’re going to have static.”
It turns out, Kiely was just as upset about the Martin case as Reynolds. “We allowed ourselves to have a seriously human moment and have a conversation. Every day we went further down the rabbit hole to have really, really uncomfortable conversations about race and culture, privilege,” Reynolds said. “We did that up to August 2014, and that’s when Michael Brown died. ‘All American Boys,’ that’s when it began.”
The book is about Rashad, an African American teen who is beaten by a white police officer who falsely suspect the boy shoplifted and assaulted a white woman, and Quinn, a white teen, who witnessed the beating but pretends he didn’t see anything. The story is even more complicated by Quinn knowing the police officer and Rashad being the son of a police officer.
“White cops killing black kids … it’s easy to push that narrative,” Reynolds said. “But it’s not quite that simple. We have to get into the nuisances, but if you take the easiest way, it’s the most unhealthy.”
A question-and-answer session was held and the line for the book signing snaked around the St. Charles gym. Jonathon Moss, a St. Charles junior, read “All American Boys.”
“It gave me a perspective on life,” he said.
Dvontre Simmons, a Thomas Stone High School freshman, said he never really thought about racism and never really talked about it. “But I guess today is the day,” he said.
Reynolds and Kiely visited libraries, Salisbury University, high schools and the Baltimore Book Festival during their One Maryland One Book tour.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.