The boy chose the river. The river won.
As Dunn told the story of Howard — whom he has described as Florida’s Emmett Till — Marcus’s face rippled as he repeatedly clenched his jaw and furrowed his brow. Howard was then the same age as Marcus is now: 15. As he told me: “That could have been me.”
Dunn called the students forward to touch Howard’s gravestone, which they did, one at a time. Marcus held back, but eventually stepped forward, bent down and pressed his open palm to the stone. He held it there, then slowly released, later telling me that when he touched it, he “felt a sense of serenity.”
As the group made its way to the spot along the river where Howard leapt to his death, a local radio station replayed an interview between DeSantis and Sean Hannity in which DeSantis called the Advanced Placement course in African American studies that he has vocally opposed “garbage” and “neo-Marxist indoctrination.”
The message — like the message in several of DeSantis’s broadsides aimed at academic freedom and so-called wokeness — is a medley of buzz-wordy circumlocution.
Too much of the debate about DeSantis’s cynical censorship craze has centered the opinions of adults, the theories of politicians and the feelings of white children — feelings presumed to be hurt if they encounter, in class, some of our history’s bleakest episodes.
But what about the other children, the roughly 600,000 Black students in Florida’s public schools, like Marcus, searching for a history that includes them — a history of them — who now feel targeted and afraid? Do they not matter in this debate? What about their needs and their feelings?
My conversations with Marcus echo those I recently had with another 15-year-old student from Florida, Adrianna Gutierrez, who identifies as Afro-Latina and as a lesbian, and therefore feels the brunt of both DeSantis’s anti-Black studies and history push and his anti-L.G.B.T.Q. push, including his state’s Don’t Say Gay law.