Erin Wall: Through the thorns, remembering Antwon Rose II |
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Erin Wall: Through the thorns, remembering Antwon Rose II

Members of the class of 2018 returned to the high school in May to engage in restorative circles with the class of 2020. Antwon Rose II was their friend and classmate. Alumni: James McCoy, Katie Hanchett, Kyal Massie, Ms. Erin Wall, Claire Bachtell, Riley O’neil, Kevin Tinsley.
Antwon Rose II
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A memorial to Antwon Rose II sits outside of the Allegheny County Courthouse during the March homicide trial of former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld.
With the help of local community leader, Leonard Hammonds, current Woodland Hills students formed a group that intends to institute positive change in their communities. 12 Deep: Mactaysia Hoots, Alexis Freeman, Micah Dean, Ms. Erin Wall, Meghan Reichert, Mr. Leonard Hammonds, Essence Turner, Muhliq Mosley, Dahlia Sanders. Absent from photo: Taylor Moore, Rodney Stubbs, Josh Rawlings, Tyresse Tibbs, Melissa Foster

The Woodland Hills School District is not unique in the problems we face. Yet, we are uniquely forged from the steel-making roots of our past.

Like all districts, we strive to provide a top-notch educational institution for our student body. We also seek to lay the foundation of a brick-and-mortar building that can serve as a safe haven for our children. Here they can grow, sing, play, laugh and strive for greatness.

In the midst of the rash of gun violence that has riddled our community, we as educators, administrators, school nurses, coaches and paraprofessionals hope not only to heal our collective wounds, but also to institute effective preventative measures.

In the year since Antwon Rose II’s passing, the Woodland Hills staff and administration have worked tirelessly with community leaders and families to implement resources for our students to grieve and to heal.

Antwon was my student in an advanced placement language and composition course, a course that seeks to prepare students to write at a collegiate level. The course also focuses on analyzing our world and the historical lens of our ancestors. Students complete timed writings that force them to organize, synthesize and compose pieces under the pressure of a ticking clock — a clock which for some runs out far too soon.

In my classroom, students have expressed their grief in various forms, having lost six of their classmates since 2016. It was vital to continue with an academic rigor that allowed them to feel a sense of normalcy. They read, they wrote and they discussed both classic and current multicultural authors. Yet, old texts at times felt as if they were written moments ago.

And with these academically driven opportunities, we would break into both Socratic seminars and restorative circles. In these circles, the conversation was both textually and personally driven.

My students have openly and heroically discussed issues of race relations, educational hurdles, mechanisms in which to cope with their grief and outlets to institute change in a culturally divided society. They have realized their role as a microcosm of a larger societal climate.

With the assistance of our high school principal, Dr. Woods, and community leader Mr. Leonard Hammonds, we created a group whose members named themselves 12 Deep after the 12 diverse communities that comprise our district. This group’s plans for change and healing were born from their own experiences and the roots of Antwon’s words and his volunteer involvement. They imprinted their footsteps on the State Capitol hungry for their voices and stories to be heard.

Personally, Antwon was at the center of my pulse. He was a child whose smile lifted and brightened the entire classroom, an empathetic individual who sought to bring joy and laughter to his classmates and teachers. I cope by doing what I know with certainty he would want me to do. I teach. I get up each morning and re-enter the building where I see his ghost sitting next to my desk, in the lunchroom and in the hallways. Like so many of my colleagues, I work tirelessly to give my students the strength to add their voices into the cultural narrative. I seek the support of families, community members and staff to work united for our student body.

A year ago, Antwon’s classmates and alumni stood in solidarity behind me as I uttered his eulogy, many of them openly prepared to finish my words if I were unable to vocalize them.

They proudly went on to finish their first year of college at universities all over the country. Many took pictures and tokens of their dear friend with them as they stepped foot on the foreign soil of secondary academia. We spoke at times daily, weekly or monthly as the images of Antwon continued to bombard our social media and television screens. We were united in the knowledge that for us, Antwon was not simply a statistic or a hashtag, but a child whom we loved. In May, they re-entered my classroom to engage in restorative circles with my current students to provide guidance, laughter and a window into a child many personally did not know.

On June 19, 2018, we lost Antwon Michael Rose II. This year feels like a very long minute — ticking and ticking away, with every passing second, hoping his memory will not be forgotten. Today, the students surrounding my desk can use each tick of the clock as one more utterance of their voices, their stories, their legacies. We forge forward, composed of steel, brick and mortar — a community of hope, strength and mutability.

Erin Wall has been teaching with the Woodland Hills School District since 2005. The essay’s title “Through the Thorns” came from Woodland Hills High School student Essence Turner.

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