The class gave a group presentation, then divided into nine groups, each of which covered the story of an African-American citizen killed at the hands of law enforcement.
Over 230 attendees rotated through the students’ mini-presentations, then gathered again to reflect.
Cone decided racial issues would be the class focus this year due to the prevalence of the issue.
“Racism is all around us, but we don’t talk about it much,” Cone said. “People say we talk about race too much — but if you ask them what they mean, they don’t really know.”
In addition to extensive research, students conducted their own interviews. The group that studied Eric Garner — whose chokehold death by a Staten Island, New York, police officer prompted national outrage in July 2014 — interviewed his mother, among others involved.
CHS junior Lily Ervin was part of the group who researched Terence Crutcher, an African-American man fatally shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in September. Ervin said talking to lawyers from the prosecution and defense enhanced her understanding.
“It really helped us throughout our research,” she said. “Through the disputes the lawyers had, we could get a sense of what was really happening and why the trial was taking so long. It also helped us sense the role race played in the case.”
Ervin’s group member, CHS junior Amado Ruiz-Perez, said the class taught him about racism’s evolution throughout history, from Jim Crow laws, to segregation, to lynching, to mass incarceration.
“I got a deeper understanding of how rooted racism is and how this isn’t just a problem now — it’s in our history books and a case that’s stayed around today,” Ruiz-Perez said.
CHS senior Jack Himmel said researching Keith Lamont Scott’s death helped him to understand the role media plays in framing cases of violence against black men.
Scott was a 43-year-old African-American man who was fatally shot in Charlotte this September.
The students began the year by reading “Just Mercy,” lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s account of racial inequities in the justice system. They later met Stevenson on a trip to Montgomery, Alabama. They also visited Tuskegee University, a historically black university, and scenes of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Cone said an especially poignant moment occurred at Tuskegee, when a chaperoning P.E. teacher, John Alcox, told the students that if HBCUs didn’t exist, he wouldn’t have attended college or been with the students on the trip.
“It was a moment where the kids realized that racism wasn’t something that happens out there, that they’re seeing someone they know who has a story deeply impacted by race, too,” Cone said.
Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe teacher Barbie Garayua-Tudryn, who attended the event, challenged students to take what they’ve learned out into the world.
“The challenge for you is living in a generation where everything is like that,” she said. “What are you going to do now after facing the reality that things are complex?”