Beginning over a month before the May 6th Supreme Court visit, the Cultures United group along with Denise Wahlin-Fiskum’s CIS Literature class read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, relating it back to the Meng Vang trial.
The book was set in the 1940s and was about an African American man, Jefferson, who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jefferson was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty by an all white jury.
“There was a cultural barrier with a jury of all white people,” said Senior Mysee Chang. “They don’t experience culture. For example, the gang culture; they don’t understand how it can be necessary for survival; the gang is their family.”
Comparing the trial to A Lesson Before Dying, the Cultures United group hosted Justice Page in class where he shared advice. Chang remembers the Justices being very human and willing to throw everything out the door as a way to talk about life.
“Justice Page gave insight to the boys in class,” said Sophomore Valencia Ingram. “Minority men have harder times with education and get discouraged, so for him to be there and have graduated from Notre Dame it showed how important it was to make use of your education. He told them that being a rapper or football player isn’t everything.”
The students found value in the Supreme Court visit realizing that it had purpose for each individual who was a part of it.
“The purpose of the day was to bridge gaps between minorities and prejudice. It was mainly to educate us about ourselves and our future, what to do to prevent us being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Senior Ariel Harris. “We all struggle differently. It’s fascinating to learn about different people and cultures.”
Cultures United and Wahlin-Fiskum’s CIS Literature class took time out of their school day, AAA, SSR and after school to discuss culture, which allowed them to form better relationships with students of different cultures.
“It was good to be with Wahlin-Fiskum’s class,” said Ingram. “We’re all used to being with the Cultures United group. At first it was intimidating because they look and act differently.”
Wrapping up the unit on Friday, May 15th, the two groups met again in the black box to present skits that related the book and Vang trial to their own lives.
“We did a skit about assumptions where we took real things that we had been called at lunch,” said Harris. “In the end we say who we really are and get rid of the assumptions.”
The lesson ended up being productive not only with accepting other cultures, but accepting our own as well.
“Learning to make good choices and understanding heritage is important,” said Chang. “I’ve always wanted to run away from my Hmong heritage and focus more on my American heritage, but now I realize that you can’t run away from who you are. It’s your responsibility to help your people because they are counting on you.”