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Poetic Justice

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An award-winning poet is speaking out in defense of two teachers in Los Angeles who were fired in connection with a planned recital of one of her poems.

Earlier this month, administrators at the Celerity Nascent Charter School dismissed teachers Marisol Alba and Sean Strauss for signing a student’s letter protesting the school’s decision to cancel a reading of Marilyn Nelson’s poem “A Wreath for Emmett Till” during a Black History Month program.

Now Nelson, a former National Book Award finalist, is urging that the teachers be reinstated. “It’s a terrible injustice,” she said. “I wanted them to know that they’re not alone. They raised their voices and that took courage.”

In canceling the reading, school officials had argued that the story of Emmett Till, the teenager whose brutal 1955 murder in Mississippi helped set off the civil rights movement, was inappropriate for younger students and sent the wrong message for the event. “We don’t want to focus on how the history of the country has been checkered but on how we dress for success, walk proud, and celebrate all the accomplishments we’ve made,” said Vielka McFarland, Celerity’s executive director.

According to Strauss’s termination letter, he was dismissed in part for “authorizing by physical signature a nonsupportive message to the administrative staff.”

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