'Brave Ones' — These Kansas City Students Made Art From Arguments

Dec 20, 2017

"Where are the brave ones?" 

Academic coach Charlette Wafer looks out across an auditorium of students, administrators and community members at Central Academy of Excellence. She's reciting a poem. 

"Where are the brave ones? The ones who don't use guns to solve problems. The ones who are mentors and provide support before things get started. The ones who aren't afraid to snitch. The ones who are brave enough to stitch ... Our wounds, our community, our families, our city back together. Where are the brave ones?"

Charlette Wafer and Nathan Louis Jackson, leading the students at Central Academy through a team-building exercise.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

She wrote this for the creative writing class she's been teaching this semester, with the help of local playwright Nathan Louis Jackson, a writer for the popular Netflix series "Luke Cage" and "13 Reasons Why."

In that class of nine students, she found brave ones. 

The students spent this past semester composing short stories, plays and spoken word poetry about gun violence. The class was a collaboration between the Kansas City Public Schools and KCUR's reporting project, The Argument, a series that explores some of the causes behind the Kansas City area's high number of homicides.

The end product was a live performance. Each student took the stage to share the work they developed, channeling their experiences of gun violence, whether personal or indirect, into art.

Lashawna Bussey, junior; Ty-Ree Wilson, junior

Project: 'Somewhere in the World,' spoken word

Junior Lashawna Bussey
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Excerpt: 3,131

Ty-Ree: What does the number 3,131 mean to you?

Lashawna: Well I know a lot of you are probably wondering why we're asking you this.

Ty-Ree: Well I'll tell you what it means to me.

Junior Ty-Ree Wilson
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Lashawna: To me it means that 6,262 parents are grieving over the loss of their child. Their child who was killed due to gun violence.

Together: Somewhere in the world a young person's life has been taken.

Lashawna: They have destroyed someone's life forever.

...

Ty-Ree: Somewhere in the world people think it is okay to handle every argument with a little but powerful piece of steel we call bullets. 

Logan Bates, sophomore

Project: 'Why Kill,' spoken word

Sophomore Logan Bates
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Excerpt: Why kill? Sandy Hook, Columbine, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Those are mass shootings that will be heard about for ages. But why did they do it?

A mental illness is why they did this or at least that's what they say in the news. But there is fake news that tries to keep us confused. They never tell it like it is, trying to keep certain people innocent. Why does society wanna keep us ignorant, stupid, broke? That's why it's our job to stay woke.

Khia Washington, sophomore; Damon King, junior

Project: 'The Argument,' a play

Sophomore Khia Washington
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Junior Damon King
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Excerpt: Kareem: I felt a piercing pain in between my eyes. I was shot dead. Sirens are going off in the distance and I feel my eyes close. There was no one around to help, so I bled to death before the medics came. No one was there to help me get justice. My case goes unsolved along with hundreds of other homicide cases.

Now fast forward to a week later when they have my funeral. My family and friends are trying to comfort each other as they wonder who would do such a thing ... I would still be here on this earth if I wouldn't have got in some argument over something stupid and petty.

Narrator: This should be a lesson to everyone ... In Kansas City, MO, we have had more than 130 homicides in 2017 alone, counting the solved cases and the unsolved. Most of these cases are from gun violence. We need to put an end to this now ... The future is laying in our hands and we need to stop gun violence, before our children pay the price because of the actions that we make today.

Roben Pope, junior

Project: 'My piece,' a poem

Junior Roben Pope
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Excerpt: It's cloudy days and rainy days. I seen so much pain with these blackish eyes of mine, tears no longer flow.

All I hear is gunshots. It's like crickets at night, or the soothing sound of a lullaby. Crazy, right? The soothing sound of a lullaby.

They say fighting used to be the number one thing. Nowadays people pick up these guns too scared to throw hands. They'd rather kill a person over taking an L.

Nikia Porter, senior; Tanielle Ford, senior

Project: 'The Murder and the Murdered,' spoken word

Senior Kia Porter
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
Senior Tanielle Ford
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Excerpt: You!

The murderer. The additional problem to black statistics. A killer ripping souls out of families and friends. But... Quite the obvious, you didn't take the time to think of your mistakes. Nor see past your 22 semi-automatic pistol you held in your designer jeans and belt! Making you feel more powerful than anything and other the less the feeling of being a man!

You ain't no man. You's a coward.

A coward running the streets with a sag in da pants, slanging dope, tyrna pull ya name up, gain a couple friends... Smoking facial back to back on repeat, like a song corrupting your mind, making you feel bulletproof!

Tryna live a life that ain't set for you my nigga. Yea.

Yea you's a killer but the murderer of a kid, making our parents contradict if they're being overprotective or saving our lives. 

Jaden Nelson, freshman

Project: 'Hidden Talent,' a short story  

Excerpt: Dashawd was hit with two bullets ... Before Dashawd realized he was in the hospital, everyone was standing over him as he laid in the bed. The boy that he punched showed up and told him that he was sorry and that he didn't mean for him to get hurt.

Freshman Jaden Nelson
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Dashawd asked, 'You did this, Johnny?' 

Johnny said, "Yeah, I mean no. Just listen, I told my brothers to just scare you, not almost kill you."

"I'm sorry for the gun and for punching you," said Dashawd.

"You have a mean right hook," Johnny said, laughing.

Two weeks later, Dashawd returned to school on crutches. Everything was good and everyone was chillin'. Nothing could get Dashawd down.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Reach her on Twitter @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.org.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and connect with her on Twitter @_tudhope.