Bronx Teacher Uses Theater To Talk About Race

Sentell Harper, a Bronx teacher used the production of “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” to show how acutely small boys are aware of race in their world.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today we’re gonna talk about race,’” Sentell Harper, who is Black, tells. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

“With the killings of Black men and boys being in the media, it was really just scary in my world,” the Bronx teacher adds. “I thought about the boys I was teaching. … Society won’t see them like I see them. Society will only see them as Black men.”

According to Fox40, an actor and playwright, Harper crafted a five-part performance that includes, in order: a poem by rapper Tupac Shakur called, “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?”; a few lines from Langston Hughes’ “Poplar Tree”; Danez Smith’s “Alternative Names for Black Boys; a litany of names of Black men and boys “who have been senselessly killed”; and a monologue that speaks to the future of young black boys.

Six Black boys in grey hoodies line up in a classroom in the South Bronx. One by one, they speak.

“Do you see me?” the first boy asks, his voice heralding the middle octave of youth.

“Do you see me?” his classmates intone, one after the next after the next. “Do you see me? … “Do you see me?”

With heads still covered, the performers — all fourth-graders at Success Academy Bronx 2 — take turns naming, with honor, the Black teens and men, some not very much older than themselves, who in recent years have been killed in high-profile incidents by police or others.

“Freddie … Michael … Philando … Tamir,” they say. “Eric … Alton … Trayvon … Jordan.”

“When I do this piece, I’m, like, proving everybody wrong, that I could get an education, and I could go somewhere in my life,” performer Tysean Wheeler said.

“We want to prove people wrong about what Black men and boys can do, because we might be the future men would could get shot or killed,” Gregory Hannah, another performer, said.

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