The Letter An English Teacher Wrote Her Students After Charlottesville Is A Must-Read

"Do not be afraid, do not let others tell you that you are not worthy simply because of your background or skin color."

Digesting the deadly events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend is difficult for anyone to do, and that difficulty is likely compounded for young people who may have a limited understanding of racism, politics, hate groups, and many of the other complicated forces that were and still are in play in our country today.

Since young people typically look to parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives for guidance in understanding complex issues, one high school English teacher named Sarah Osman took it upon herself to write a thoughtful letter to her students about Charlottesville.

The letter was published in full by HelloGiggles, where Osman serves as a contributor. It begins by detailing the story we've all come to know very well — several alt-right groups were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, and in a violent clash with counter protesters, Heather Heyer,  a young woman standing up against hate, was killed by the very thing she'd hoped to eradicate. 

However, it's what followed that makes Osman's letter a must-read. She doesn't tell her students how to feel or what to think, but she does acknowledge and validate a wide array of their feelings and says she has them too, especially in the wake of some officials' obvious reluctance to explicitly condemn white supremacists. 

"I know that many of you are angry, scared, disappointed, shocked, outraged, confused, and hurt by what happened. I know that many of you are angry, scared, disappointed, shocked, outraged, confused, and hurt by the fact that our president refused to condemn their actions, instead blaming it on 'both sides,'" she writes. "I too, am angry, scared, disappointed, shocked, outraged, confused, and hurt by the fact that these individuals roam our streets and feel that their actions are justifiable."

Like many of her students, Osman is a person of color. She also mentions her Muslim father and alludes to racism he's faced as well. Osman reinforces that being a person of color doesn't make you any less competent or worthy in any way, despite what some people believe, and encourages her students not to be discouraged by the hate they've witnessed.

"Even though we are of color, we should not forget that we are smart, capable, driven, and kind," she explains. "Even though there are those who would happily watch us vanish into thin air, we must not let their hate guide our actions."

The idea that hate must not dictate one's actions is a sentiment that was also expressed by former President Barack Obama, who denounced the events in Charlottesville with a moving quote from Nelson Mandela.

"We must remember that we are stronger than they are, kinder than they are, and braver than they are," Osman adds, reiterating to her students that periods of great creativity and action have come from times of great strife. "We must not cower down, and instead use our voices to be heard and make a change once and for all. Never forget that you are striving for a better future."

And, like any good teacher, Osman stresses the importance of education in the ability to enact change going forward and challenge "the values of our country, the systems in our country, and how they came to be."

"You are gaining the wisdom, courage, and kindness needed to make a difference. Education doesn't simply end with a textbook or begin with a standardized test — it begins with a thirst to better oneself, to gain knowledge, and to eventually use your education to make a positive change for people of every culture," she explains. "Do not be afraid, do not let others tell you that you are not worthy simply because of your background or skin color. Continue to be the strongest version of yourself."

Stressing the importance of education and imploring young people to take action and make a difference in the wake of injustice is also what the actress Zendaya did during her August 13 acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards

"With all the injustice, and the hatred, and everything that is happening not only in the world but in our country, I need you guys to be educated. I need you to listen. I need you to pay attention," the 20-year-old told the crowd. "I need you to go ahead and understand that you have a voice, and it is OK to use it when you see something bad happening."

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