"Maybe they didn't get our letter," Cobay says. He is concerned about a newscast he saw last night: "I saw a drive-by shooting last night. I was at my grandma's store on Girard and then it happened 'cross the street. I seen the whole thing." And then later, he saw it on the news and he thought, he thought, about what we've been talking about in class and decided, "they're still showing too much of this stuff." Showing too much information, too much violence, too much that has no bearing on anyone's lives and will not actually help to make our communities safer. I feel that is a valuable lesson - to watch something happen in real life, be where a story takes place, and then to see it reinterpreted in the news media. I should have asked him, "What differed between the news' telling of that story and your own expereince of it? If you were writing that story, what would you have done differently?" But I was so moved by his statement, so confounded by his need to have his voice heard and my inability to have made that happen yet, that I just stood there with this voice pounding in my head: "Maybe they didn't get our letter."

And maybe they didn't. I am sure that someone has received it. Someone at each of the four or five stations to which we sent our letter has surely received it. Someone has surely read it and maybe even watched the video, thought it was all interesting, thought for a few seconds about who to forward the email to but then the phone rang because a robbery broke out in Northeast Philly or in Kensington and whoever was reading the email had to run before the other stations picked up the breaking story and the email looked out onto the world from the screen of a sleeping computer that shrouded my students' voices in a power-saving black...

So they didn't get it, Cobay. They didn't get what you're saying and seeing. They didn't get that they've bifurcated our worlds into the world we feel safe in and the world in whcih we don't. They don't get that they are a part of creating that unsafe world, so much so that your classmates wrote a line in our letter to say, "In this country, we are fighting ourselves and it's like we are in a war." They don't get that they have some hand to play in bringing this war to an end or at least in opening up to hearing from the people most affected by this war. They don't even get that as their messages stream through the television every night, while they may think they are empowering us to better our communities, all they are doing is reminding us of why we can't play outside as often as we would like, reminding us of how neglected some of our streets are, reminding us of how little changes over the years.

As a teacher, as a role model, as a person intensely, wholeheartedly, achingly committed to these students' well-being, empowerment, ultimate success and victory over that fine line that separates their lives from the fulfillment of their potential and the perpetuation of their confinement, I have not idea how to explain to them that perhaps things will not change from this letter. That perhaps the news read their letter and did not think it was worthy material for them to respond to, that a robbery or shooting down the street would be more interesting to audiences than what the students have to say. These kids, whose voices are outnumbered, who see things in their communities they feel they cannot change, who see things around them that they know should not be happening but have to accept as part of life, these kids who are too young to be resigned, these kids who are supposed to be filled with magical and fantastical hopes and desires for a completely re-imainged world, seem to be more adult in their thinking, more realistic, more aware of the possiblities and impossibilities of their lives than I am. Learning about the Civil Rights Movement, they huff and puff their way through the history lesson because they think it makes no difference. One girl says, 'you know those black ghetto girls ain't gonna change from learnin nothin." I try to explain about the Movement's strengths in educating people about their lives, that perhaps everybody in a community can change if educated enough. I talk about Malcolm X and all the people he helped by teaching them about their history. I talk about historical legacies, about how things are not easy to change and much of what we're seeing today has much to do with what has come before. But the students don't buy it. They know what might await and rather than fight it, they prepare themselves for it.

And if I were to do this lesson again in the future, I would do as my students do and prepare them for what awaits. We would certainly talk about what would happen if the news were to refrain from responding. I did not do that here because I was sure we'd get somebody to listen. But now, I realize that we were up against forces much stronger than we can touch. So next time, I will preface our letter writing campaign with a discussion about all the forces that constrain whether a lead is followed, how a story is made, which kinds of stories are made, and why some emails go unanswered. I would explain to the students that the news is responding to audience demand and they are not going to change how they do news just because 9 or 10 people don't like what's happening. Instead, they need 90 or 100 thousand people to raise their voices. And maybe if the news does not hear us this time, perhaps we can use our letter to persuade others to join our cause. Perhaps we can take the lessons we've learned and speak with other students and family members about the news and teach them to write letters too! If we want the news to change what it pays attention to, we have to tell them that we won't pay attention until things change. And "we" have to be large, very large, in number, so if we can learn to use our powerful voices to make arguments effectively, to offer evidence for our case, if we can speak to other students about our work, then we may one day create the world we want - in some small part of ourselves that still allows us to dream - to see rather than the world we do see outside our grandmothers' stores.

(After writing this reflection, I thought more about this and realized that perhaps I can still teach the students now that the news media has not really responded as we had hoped. I can teach them that when things like this happen, you have to use the power of citizen journalism and new media technologies. Let's take our letters to Facebook and to Twitter and to youtube and send links to everyone we know so that we can create a stir and as soon as we do so, WE have the power b/c the news will come looking for us. If we can prove that we have people's attention, then the news will be following us around like a lonely puppy.)