An Open Letter to My Students: Black Lives Matter

Dear Students:

It’s June 3, 2020, and believe it or not, I’m at a loss for words.

It’s been an impossibly stressful few months when we’ve moved from getting to hang out in class to isolation at home with people, especially people of color, getting sick and dying all around us. It feels like the end of the world.

On May 13, 2020, in a town I used to call my home, Breonna Taylor a 26 year old emergency room tech, barely older than any of you, was drug from her apartment and shot to death by Louisville Police. They shot her eight times.

And then on Memorial Day, it got much worse when four police officers arrested and murdered George Floyd in eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

It recalls for me the dark days of March 1991 when I was in school working on my Master’s degree. Then the verdict of not guilty was released after the whole world watched as three LAPD policemen savagely beat Rodney King in South Los Angeles.

It recalls for me the countless times between when black men, black women, and god help us, even black babies just playing in a park, have been gunned down by the very people we expect to protect us.

There just aren’t words for my rage when I think, this could be, and dammit probably will be, one of my students.

And so while there aren’t words for this, I cannot stay silent. I will not stay silent.

I am a middle-aged white man who has been born and raised in the South. I have benefited from our racist society for far too long. I have cried at the sights on TV but done far too little to stop the racism.

I’m sorry for my part, both direct and indirect, in allowing our world to be the way it is.

It ends today.

I love my students. Even those of you I’ve just met, I love you. It has been a privilege to teach and learn with you at our Historically Black College for the past 17 years. I’ve dedicated my life to helping you improve yours by helping you master communicating the ideas that are in your head. I’ve done this because I believe those ideas need to be heard.

I need to hear your thoughts. This is why I teach writing.

And so I promise you this:

  1. I will shut up and listen to you. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color in America, but you do. And I will shut up and listen to what you have to say. And I will believe you.
  2. I will speak out on your behalf to those of my color who attempt to demean, debase, and abuse you.
  3. I will embrace you as my brothers and sisters and fight with you against the injustice that is rotting our world and killing our children.
  4. I will stand with you.

It’s a horrible world where something like this needs to be written and spoken aloud, but I will, with your help and guidance, reject the position of privilege that is afforded me by my skin color, and I will work with you to make our world a place where my children and yours can walk freely, drive freely, live freely without fear of flashing blue lights.

Black Lives Matter.

My students matter. And I refuse to allow a racist society to continue to abuse you.

We are going to change this world. Together.


Russell Winn
Humanities Instructor

Thanksgiving To Pixar

And so it is Thanksgiving.

Despite my reputation as a curmudgeon, I do actually appreciate the idea of a holiday centered around giving thanks (although the history behind the holiday does tend to put a damper on the season.)

But I like the food, and I like the weather, and having a break when I get to hang with my kiddos is always the best.

So today, after the food, we went to see the new Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur.

You’ve got a friend . . .

Most of the readers of this little spot on the internet should be completely aware of the boy’s love of Pixar films. When the bouncing lamp clicks on the screen, like flipping on a switch, his happiness meter jumps to eleven.

Today was no different. From the opening scenes of the short, “Sanjay’s Super Team” through the switching out of the Pixar lamp to close the film, the boy was completely engrossed.

In may ways, The Good Dinosaur is not Pixar’s best, but after just one viewing, it has vaulted to nearly the top of my list. When Arlo’s Poppa takes Arlo out to a field of fireflies to face his fears, the boy came over to sit on his poppa’s lap. And there he stayed for most of the film which was surprisingly scary at times.

Often the boy’s favorite parts of a movie start when the credits roll. No, I have no idea why. It’s just part of who he is (and it seems, a common trait among those on the spectrum). He likes other parts of the movies we attend as well. Movies with a rollercoaster scene (like the door scene from Monster’s Inc., or the same scene in Inside/Out) bring him endless joy.

And that’s why we go to movies together: it gives me insight into his world.

But occasionally the movie brings us together in other ways. Today was one of those days.

When the pierodactyls attacked the T-rex cowboys, in a surpisingly scary scene, the boy was terrified.

While we work on emotions and expressing them in socially appropriate ways, fear is one that I—like most parents—try to protect him from. But protecting him isn’t always possible or even good for him.

Fear, on the spectrum, tends to result in a meltdown. And meltdowns tend to turn into a negative feedback loop. The fear often grows into terror; debilitating, disruptive, disabling terror.

Like most spectrum parents, like most parents in general, there’s little I fear more than my child’s terror knowing that I am often powerless to help him.

And so as frightened as he was by the surprise attack, he controlled his fear. He bounced on dad’s lap. He yelled at the screen. He patted himself on the chest, and he grabbed my hand and squeezed it to his chest seeking out his dad’s reasurrance.

And so there in the dark, on a row to ourselves (thankfully), we both faced our fears together.

And the negative feedback loop was disrupted.

Sometimes facing fears is necessary to see the beauty in life, like the firefiles in the field.

So, again, thank you Pixar. Your films have a way of connecting with my son like few others. And that connection is everything.

It’s been a good Thanksgiving.

The Good Dinosaur