'Challenge yourself. Reach out to people who don’t look like you.’

Many seventh-graders at Schoo Middle School have been reading the book “Ghost Boys” this year. It tells the story of Jerome, a 12-year-old African-American boy killed by a white police officer after displaying what turns out to be a toy gun. The book, written by Jewell Parker Rhodes, grapples with tough questions and pushes readers to examine their biases.

On Friday, Schoo seventh-graders gathered for an assembly and heard from a current Lincoln Police Department officer and a retired LPD captain, both of whom read the book and talked about how it relates to their lives.

Genelle Moore retired from the police department as a captain in 2017. She joined the department in 1982 and was its first African-American female officer. Officer Luke Bonkiewicz has been with the Lincoln Police Department for 10 years. He attended Irving Middle School and Lincoln High School.

They both hope their discussion on Friday inspires students and others to have similar conversations about race, injustice, kindness and community.

“With life you don’t get any do-overs,” said Moore, who now works for the Lincoln Public Schools Human Resources Department. “Step out of your comfort zones. Challenge yourself. Reach out to people who don’t look like you.”

“One of the main messages I got from Jerome in the book is to listen - but not just listen, listen to understand,” said Bonkiewicz, who also pushed students to live lives of “heroic virtue.”

One of the students, Marcus, said afterwards he felt “emotionally attached” to the book and believed Friday’s event was beneficial.

“I think it’s really cool so young people can get this in their minds before they’re adults and form those unconscious biases,” he said.

At the end of the assembly, Moore had the students repeat after her that they would promise, “To do better! To be better! To live better!”

Published: January 31, 2020, Updated: January 31, 2020