Shaker High School’s Project Lit club hosted author Dashka Slater for a community book talk on May 7, highlighting her book “The 57 Bus”. For the first year club, the night presented an opportunity for members of the school community to discuss discrimination, crime, and how we view both.
“The 57 Bus” is the true story of Sasha Fleischman, who identifies as agender, and was riding home on the 57 bus in Oakland, CA on November 4, 2013. They fell asleep and a group of teenage boys nearby flicked a lighter, setting Sasha’s skirt on fire. They spent weeks in the hospital, receiving treatment for second- and third-degree burns. 16-year-old Richard Thomas, who was black and had set Sasha on fire, was arrested and charged as adult with two felonies based on a hate-crime clause. The book tells their stories.
The group and community held small group discussions and a question and answer session with Ms. Slater. “I was impressed by how deep the discussions were,” said Slater. “People were thinking about the issues, and the Project Lit club crafted really good discussions.”
This is the first year for Project Lit. While the original organization was started by another teacher out of state in 2016 to combat book deserts, SHS Librarian Kelly Wetherbee says that Shaker is using Project Lit to introduce students to books that reflect who they are from different voices than classic literature.
“It’s important for kids to have books that are both mirrors and windows,” said SHS English teacher Thea MacFawn. “They help you build empathy for every person. You should care about issues even if they don’t directly impact you.”
Dashka Slater is a journalist by trade, and first heard about the story on the 57 bus because it happened in her community. “This case provided a perfect opportunity to dig deep into our justice system,” she said. “How important is intent, and that Richard was a juvenile? I don’t have the answer, but the answers are more complicated than first blush.”
She also said she was impressed by the Project Lit group, even in just their first year. “As I was walking around and listening to the kids leading the discussions with the adults, the kids were so poised and articulate and thoughtful,” she said. “It gives you hope, that these kids are going to be in charge someday and they are so well-equipped.”
Project Lit thanked the district and the English department for their support in bringing Ms. Slater for the event. The group also fundraised to raise the money to do so as well.