The Samohi class of 2020 may have had an unexpected end to their senior year, but a special group of seniors will leave a lasting legacy. Samantha Breuer, Maya Lauer, Guilia Trevellin, Ansel Garcia-Langley and Anna Doñata said goodbye to their high school alma mater this year with a generous parting gift- a $15,400 donation to be used for the purchase of this year’s summer reading book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.
Anna, Maya and Guilia were taking an African American Literature class their senior year, while Samantha and Ansel were enrolled in the Spanish and Latinx Literature class. Both classes integrate literature written by minorities to promote a wider variety of authors from different economic and racial backgrounds and their impact in the world of literature.
This is where Anna, Maya and Guilia were first exposed to “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. The book is a memoir about Stevenson founding the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. The story details his fight to protect the basic human rights of the vulnerable, poor, marginalized and wrongfully accused. Their class discussed the impact of the book, while relating it to current issues, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Their African American Studies teacher, Mr. Fulcher began explaining to the class that this year’s summer reading book was “Just Mercy,” although Samohi needed to provide every student with their own copy of the book and did not have the funds available to do so.
The seniors began discussing their class topics with one another and became “really upset about the lack of representation in the literature,” says Samantha Breuer and decided to write an open letter to their English department “encouraging them to broaden the literature that they use.”
After they released the letter, it felt natural that the next step was to create a fundraiser to raise enough money to provide every student with a copy of the book. Guilia Trevellin explains how they all believe that “ ‘Just Mercy’ is such an important book for people to read” and quickly made their GoFundMe page in early June to raise the money as soon as possible.
The GoFundMe page started to gain traction, and the seniors decided to reach out to their local Kiwanis Club which donates thousands of dollars every year to a variety of local charities and organizations, including the Santa Monica Public Library and Samohi. The Kiwanis Club members wanted to support their endeavors and got them in contact with the Santa Monica Public Library-SMPL.
The SMPL partners with Samohi every year to provide lists of all the summer reading books in the district, as well as copies of those books for students to check out. Dana Bartbell, an SMPL librarian explains that a mandate from SMMUSD made it a requirement for Samohi to provide each student with their own copy. Dana and her peers quickly began trying to find affordable copies of the book wherever they could to comply with the mandate, but were falling short on their search, with a looming deadline approaching. This is when the Kiwanis club reached out to SMPL and told them about the students initiative.
“These phenomenal kids believed in the importance of the book and believed in fighting for materials to support social justice” says Bartbell. Which is why The Kiwanis Club along with the Cal-Nev-Ha Children’s Foundation donated $1,000 to the SMPL to assist the students with their endeavor.
In a matter of two weeks, the GoFundMe page passed their $15,000 goal, raising $15,400 that the seniors donated to the Samohi Associated Student Body-ASB club- which will be given to Samohi principal Dr. Antonio Shelton.
Copies of “Just Mercy” will be distributed to students during registration week and will give students approximately two-weeks to finish the title before the start of school on August 24. Samohi plans on using the copies as a learning tool in the future to continue the discussion of racial and social justice.