8th Grade Capstone Project – Entire Collection

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Dia Cohen

Dia Cohen

8th Grade
As part of her Capstone Project on the topic of journalism, 8th grader Dia Cohen published a series of articles on a variety of topics in the course of the 2020-21 school year.

Waldorf School of Louisville Article for 8th Grade Capstone Project

THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC

COVID-19 is an infectious disease. From its community of origin, the virus spread quickly and widely and soon reached the epidemic stage. By March 11, 2020, the disease had spread throughout our entire country and the world. The difference between pandemic and epidemic is fluid and changes as diseases or viruses become more or less prevalent over time. The whole world recognized that COVID-19 had reached pandemic proportions.  

   Coronavirus is the general name for a group of viruses that appear similar. The protein coating that surrounds the virus, called the virion, looks like a halo or a ‘corona’; which means crown in Spanish. 

   There are seven known kinds of coronavirus, some of them cause a common cold in people but aren’t dangerous to those who are healthy. Other coronaviruses infect animals such as bats, camels, and cattle. Some coronaviruses cause significant infection with viral pneumonia known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus; MERS. Most patients who get this virus develop a severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever and shortness of breath. The MERS was caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome referred to as SARS, which is a respiratory illness.    

    A coronavirus similar to the one that causes SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) started as an epidemic in southern China in 2002. That virus quickly spread to 28 other countries. By July 2003 more than 8,000 people were infected, and 774 died. The virus died down by 2004 leaving a lesser amount of deaths anywhere it went. 

    Information from the CDC tells Americans that the Coronavirus causing our current pandemic, COVID-19, is one of these seven known Coronaviruses, similar to the one that caused SARS 2002-2004. SARS-Cov-2 is a disease that can cause a great threat to the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, sinuses) and the lower respiratory tract (trachea and lungs). In the outbreak of 2002- 2004, it never reached the pandemic phase as COVID-19 has. 

    COVID-19 can cause lung complications such as pneumonia and, in the most severe cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Sepsis, other possible complications of COVID-19 can also cause lasting harm to the lungs and other organs, (Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S. expert of pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine from a John Hopkins Medical Center’s article, “What Coronavirus Does to the Lungs”).  

     The COVID-19 virus was first detected on Dec 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China when there was a cluster of pneumonia cases. With the help of epidemiologists (a person who studies or is an expert in medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases) Chinese officials gathered information about the virus by surveying the community in Wuhan where the first cases were detected. They took nose and mouth secretions for lab experiments. These tests helped them know who was infected and who was not. According to a ‘WEB MD’ article, epidemiologists determined that the SARS-Cov-2 may have come from animals sold at ‘wet markets’. From these markets, people buy and eat fresh meat from fish and other animals that are slaughtered there.    

   One of the most crucial questions about an emerging infectious disease, such as the new coronavirus is how deadly it is. Researchers use a metric called Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) to calculate the severity of a disease. It is the proportion of infected people who will die as a result, including those who don’t get tested or show symptoms.     

   The fatality rate of the virus is hard to pinpoint considering the numbers of people with mild or no symptoms that go undetected. It is further complicated because the time between showing symptoms and death can be as long as two months. Many countries are struggling with calculating their death counts that are COVID-19 related and the ones that are not. (Smriti MallapatyNature Magazine“How Deadly is the Coronavirus,” June 16, 2020). An article written by Shin Jie Yong, editor of Microbial Instincts, Medium.com, estimated that the fatality rate of COVID-19 for those who show symptoms is 1%, ten times worse than the flu. The percentage of COVID-19 changed to 2-3% when taking into account people that don’t show symptoms (symptomless).     

   Scientists are working on more than one vaccine designed to end this virus. A Washington Post team has tracked 200 experimental vaccines. As of September 2020 scientists in the United States haven’t found a vaccine that can stop the virus. (Gabriel Florit, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Aaron Steckelberg, and Chris Alcatraz, reporters of the ‘THE WASHINGTON POST’“These Are the Top Coronavirus Vaccines to Watch,”).    

   All vaccines must pass through three phases and testing. Phase 1 vaccines are tried on people to see if the vaccine is safe. During Phase 2 scientists study whether the vaccine can stop the disease. During Phase 3 scientists make sure that the vaccine works on everyone. Vaccine development usually takes years and unfolds step by step.  Experimental vaccine candidates are created in the laboratory and tested in animals before moving into progressively large human clinical trials. (Lydia RamseyApple News). The United States has 170 and more pre-clinical vaccines that are being tested in animals and lab experiments. Ten Phase 1 vaccines are being tested in a small number of healthy, young people to assess the safety and the correct dose. Fourteen Phase 2 vaccines are being broadened to a large number of people, including people at higher risk of illness. Seven Phase 3 vaccines are being tested in thousands of people to check their effectiveness and safety. But zero vaccines have been determined to provide benefits that outweigh known and potential risks. (The Washington Post, September 23, 2020).          

    On July 16, 2020, a Bloomberg article, written by James Paton and Suzi Ring reported that AstraZeneca, a healthcare facility in Australia, has been working with the United Kingdom to find a vaccine for the virus. Their work was progressing at record speed just like in the US, but everything stopped when an unexpected illness attacked one of their workers. 

   AstraZeneca is a global, science-led, biopharmaceutical company. They are engaged in research, development, manufacture, and supply of medicines that aim to make a difference in the lives of Australians. Their first trial test of a working COVID-19 vaccine started in April. More than one hundred trials were given to adult volunteers. 

   On September 9, 2020, Apple News gave an update on AstraZeneca informing that this healthcare facility had to pause in their hunt for a vaccine because one of the facility members got sick. AstraZeneca did not specify the nature of the study participant’s “unexplained illness”. We only know that they halted their work while they figured out the source of this unexplained illness. (L. Ramsey Apple News). Three days later, the international medical community resumed its phase three clinical trials in the United Kingdom. (Carlie Porterfield, Forbes staff). 

   More information about the coronavirus fills the news every day. The need for a vaccine occupies our minds every day. Scientists are working diligently to develop a cure. The pandemic has affected the entire world population. It has gradually been changing our lives as time passes by. As we wait for a vaccine the best we can do is to follow the coronavirus safety guidelines. A trusted source is the National Center for Disease Control.  CLICK HERE to visit their website.

FOUR UNIQUE FATES

THEY WERE REGULAR PEOPLE. HOW DID THEY REACT TO THE RACISM IN AMERICA? WHAT CAN WE DO TODAY?

As an African American from Colombia, I arrived in the United States recognizing prejudice and enduring it first hand. Racism in the United States is not as bad as what I experienced in Colombia, yet I have always wondered if there will be a time of equality for all races. I never did anything about the unfairness in our world because I assumed that regular people like me couldn’t improve the inequity in the world. However, after the recent events in Louisville involving police brutality, I was inspired to consider… What happens if I do want to address prejudice in this world? Why was this ongoing discrimination passed down by my parents, teachers, and other adults? Was I destined to live with the tyranny that the African American race suffers? I don’t want to live in a world where racism is everywhere I turn.  I looked for people who inspired me to work for a change, who helped me understand why there needs to be a change. I did some research on the Civil Rights movement. My goal was to understand what it was about and what it represented for African American history. I discovered four Civil Rights participators and was able to personally interview one of them. These four people were not famous Civil Rights leaders. They were regular people like me and probably you. They were good people and lived by the law of justice and compassion. They blessed their communities with their small but courageous acts. For me, they have shown me that a regular person like me and you do have the power to speak and act as our way of reflecting that a future charged with prejudice and ignorance is not what we want. 

Septima Poinsette Clark

Septima Poinsette Clark

“The air has finally gotten to the place where we can breathe it together.”

Septima Clark was a black American educator. Septima saw that African Americans were not able to vote or enter voting polls because they could not read or write, so she made it her responsibility to guide illiterate people on how to exercise their voting rights to engage themselves in the act of empowering African Americans. To vote, a voter had to be able to read the ballot and write their signature themselves, which was a barrier for many African Americans who were sometimes former slaves and had been forbidden to learn to read and write.  Clark was born on May 3, 1898, in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1916, she graduated from secondary school and taught as a teacher throughout South Carolina for more than thirty years, including eighteen years in Columbia, and nine in Charleston. Around the 1930s’, Clark studied under W.E.B.Du Bois, an American sociologist, socialist, historian, and civil rights activist who taught economics at Atlanta University. In 1946, Clark received a Master of Arts degree from the Benedict College in Columbia, SC. 

 Throughout the 1940s, Clark worked as an educator but was also associated with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), which is one of the largest, non-profit, multicultural organizations dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and fighting for justice (https://www.ywca.org/about/). Clark also participated in a class-action lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that influenced equal wages between black and white educators. Clark participated by attending their meetings and leading her students to protest along with her. In 1956, South Carolina established a law forbidding city and state employees from working with Civil Rights associations or else they could be fired from their jobs. Unfortunately for Clark, after forty years of teaching, she lost her job as an educator because she refused to leave the NAACP. 

 By the time of her firing in 1956, Clark had begun to lead classes during the summer at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, a grassroots education center dedicated to social justice. In 1954, Myles Horton, founder of Highlander Folk School, hired Clark full-time as Highlander’s director of workshops. Clark believed that “knowledge could empower marginalized groups in ways that formal legal equality couldn’t”- (Wikipedia). Clark taught people basic literacy skills, as well as their rights and responsibilities as US citizens. She also taught African Americans how to fill out voter registration forms, acknowledging that many black people didn’t know how to write. 

 Clark worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to coordinate and support nonviolent protests. Clark continued to serve as an educator and leader of civil rights until she died in 1987. She left a life-long legacy as both a civil rights activist and admired educator. Clark’s way of addressing racism was through education. She taught people how to use their voices to participate in the ongoing fight against racism. 

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

“Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.”

Bayard Rustin was an American leader in the civil rights movement, an adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the main organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. He also participated in marches that supported socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. 

Bayard Rustin was born on March 17, 1912, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was raised by his maternal grandparents, Julia and Janifer Rustin. Growing up, he was led to believe his mother to be his sister to shield his family from the embarrassment of a young, unwed mother. His grandparents were local caterers who raised Rustin in a large house. Rustin’s grandmother, Julia, was a member of the Quakers, now known as the Religious Society of Friends or Friends’ Church. Julia was also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she was well connected to leaders of the NAACP, such as W.E.B. Du Bois. She often brought them to visit her household. Rustin grew up surrounded by people who were fighting for equality and justice. 

 Bayard Rustin began opposing racial segregation in high school through peaceful, nonviolent protests organized by different civil rights organizations. He was jailed in 1944 as a conscientious objector to World War II, which meant that for personal reasons, he refused to serve in the military. During his two years of prison time, he protested against the segregated facilities. Even from inside the walls of the prison he continued the fight for justice and equality.  In 1948, after his release from prison, Rustin traveled to India to learn the peaceful strategies of civil disobedience that Mahatma Gandhi so effectively used. However, Gandhi had been recently killed so Rustin used his time in India to visit other independent leaders from Ghana and Nigeria still hoping to have a deep understanding of the nonviolent tactics Gandhi taught the people in India. 

 Rustin started working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1955. He shared his ideas of peaceful protest with him. Eventually, Rustin became King’s advisor, as well as a key strategist in the broader civil rights movement. Rustin was sought out by many throughout the Civil Rights Era because of his high degree of knowledge about pacific protests. However, his biggest contribution to the movement was on August 28th, 1963, when all that he learned about peaceful protest came together and formed itself into the March on Washington. All the violence that could enfold this day concerned Bayard, hence he worked with the hospital and police to prepare everything at the March in case of any brutality (TEDTalks). He was successful and the March on Washington was a peaceful, non-violent event. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous, ‘I have a dream’ speech. That day nearly a million people gathered in front of the National Mall demanding an end to prejudice, segregation, violence, and the economic boycott that black people faced. None of this would have been possible without the guidance of Bayard Rustin.  Despite all his knowledge, insights, and utility as an advisor to King other organizers of the movement did not like the idea of Rustin at the forefront of The Civil Rights Movement because he was homosexual (though many outside the inner circle did not know). In the 1980s, Rustin publicly came out as homosexual and was effective at drawing attention to the AIDS crisis. Rustin continued to speak out and organize protests that fought against injustice until he died in 1987.

In 2013, President Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award given by the president to someone who has contributed to the security or national interest of the United States, world peace, and other public or private things performed out of generosity for the interest of America. Bayard Rustin’s life’s commitment was fighting for equality through peaceful means, persistence in the face of resistance, and learning the non-violent ways of others who also fought for equality helped move the Civil Rights Movement forward. His reaction towards racism reminds us today to take action, to learn, and to peacefully fight for what we believe is right. 

John Lewis

John Robert Lewis

“One person with a dream, with a vision, can change things.”

John Lewis was an American statesman and civil rights leader who fought for African American equality and justice until his death in 2020. Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, in a rural area of Troy, Alabama. As a child, he picked cotton on his family’s farm. He hated working on the farm, enduring the long hours under the sun and he didn’t want that future. Lewis aspired to go to school and become a minister. 

 Lewis had hopes that he would be able to attend Troy State College (now Troy State University) which was close to his home but where only white students could attend. Although this meant that Lewis couldn’t work on the family farm, his mother encouraged him to apply. Lewis submitted his high school application but never heard back from the school. Frustrated but not defeated, he wrote a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King asking for his help to desegregate Troy University. 

 While waiting for King’s reply, he was accepted to a small college in Nashville, Tennessee, where he went to school. To Lewis’s surprise, King later invited him to Montgomery, Alabama to meet in person. When he met up with King, he was advised to return home and ask his parents for approval to join Martin Luther King in filing a suit against Troy State to allow him to be admitted to the school. Lewis’s parents disapproved of this lawsuit so he continued to study in Nashville, TN. 

 In Nashville, John Lewis got involved in many movements whose goals were to desegregate places around the South. As he protested he was able to see Martin Luther King many times. King taught him the discipline of non-violent, peaceful protesting, that every human being is valued, and to love your enemies as your friends (TEDTalks) In Montgomery, listening to Dr. Kings’ speeches, hearing about Rosa Parks’ actions, and working with other leaders in the movements Lewis was inspired to do what he called ‘good trouble’. 

 John Lewis accompanied Dr. King to many places where they could make people aware of the injustices towards black people. In an interview with Bryan Stevenson (founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system) Lewis explained how he was the youngest speaker at the Washington, DC Freedom Riders protest on May 4, 1964. This was the massive political protest where people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to advocate for the civil, economic rights of African Americans.

“I was determined to inspire young people, another generation. And, when I looked out and saw that sea of humanity, I said to myself, this is it. I must go forward.” 

When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, Lewis was despondent but moved forward. John Lewis first ran for public office in the 1970s because he thought that this was the best way to advocate for black people and work for change. He also became the director of the Voter Education Project (VEP), which was an organization throughout the Southern states that administered voter education programs and voter registration drives. ​Lewis held his position as director of the VEP until 1977. In 1986 Lewis was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Georgia’s fifth congressional district and served with distinction until his death. 

 “How do you want to be thought of? How do you want to be talked about?” asked Bryan Stevenson. Lewis replied, “I don’t think I would have much to say about it; but it would be– He tried to make a better society, a better world, helping to liberate and free people, helping to save people, to move people to a different and better sense of humanity.” 

 John Robert Lewis died on July 17, 2020, in Atlanta, at the age of 80, from pancreatic cancer. Throughout his life, Lewis demonstrated how to fight for equity through nonviolent protest. His actions were portrayed by his powerful ethical code: Love unreservedly. A few weeks before his death, mustering all his strength, Lewis was able to walk with protestors as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, his last walk for racial justice. He was proud and very hopeful that they would continue to make ‘good trouble’. 

 John Lewis’s way of protesting against racism was to acknowledge every person’s worth, to respect all people, to never give up on anyone because you are trying to teach them what love and kindness are with your actions. His forgiving soul reminds us today that love and mercy are possible, just like he forgave those who physically and mentally hurt him because of his race. Despite everything he had witnessed and experienced Lewis was capable of anticipating a brighter future. 

“I’m very hopeful. I’m very optimistic about the future.”

- John Lewis
Dallas Thorton

Dallas Thornton

“If you believe in something and you see it going on then you participate.”

I had the opportunity to interview Dallas Thornton and gained many insights from our conversation. Thornton is one of the few Civil Rights fighters who are still with us today. He was one of the many Civil Rights fighters whose participation and devotion to the movement opened the world’s eyes to the ongoing discrimination and apathetic attitude toward the suffering of African Americans. 

 Dallas Thornton was born on September 1, 1946, in Louisville, Kentucky. He attended Male High School in Louisville, Kentucky. He recalls that schools in Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi were segregated, meaning that black and white students could not attend the same schools. 

 Thornton cherishes the memory of the countless times when the people who joined the Civil Rights Movement marched in front of his house, demanding justice and equality. Around 1960, when he was in ninth grade, his family got involved in the movement. At that age, Thornton thought it was all scary but he continued protesting for what believed to be right. 

“It was a hard decision. Me and all my friends were out there together, we were all going to march together and protest together.”

- Dallas Thornton

By 1968, the movement was able to end racial segregation. Although the continuing bias did not end, Thornton felt triumphant and proud of the power and influence a mass of people could bring to the country. Thornton never thought that there would be a time where there wasn’t racism because there would always be people with different opinions of how the world and its inhabitants should look. He is hopeful that racism can be eradicated in the future.  When Thornton graduated from Male High School he played basketball at Kentucky Wesleyan College. In 1968, Thornton was chosen by the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA basketball draft. He was also selected in the 1968 draft by the Miami Floridians, another professional basketball league called the American Basketball Association (ABA). 

 From 1969-1970, Thornton played for the Harlem Globetrotters, an American exhibition basketball team. They used comedy and basketball to entertain crowds. The Harlem Globetrotters have played more than 26,000 games in 124 countries. 

 When asked about what it is like to be judged by the color of your skin, Thorton said, “You have to overcome it. Dr. Martin Luther King taught us and preached to us that people will always think that you are not as good as other people, but you are. So you have to believe in yourself, and the color of your skin shouldn’t have anything to do with your beliefs.”

Today, Dallas Thornton at the age of 74, is recently retired from his job as a Career Planner for the Kentucky Youth Career Center, a program that provides educational and career opportunities, as well as job-search assistance for young people, ages 16- 24. Growing up, Thornton felt he was judged inferior and prevented from doing things because of his race but he overcame it by 

ignoring other people’s malicious words directed towards his race. After all, he knew he deserved respect because he doesn’t view people as black and white. He views people as humans who are all equal. Thornton was one of the many people whose way to fight against racism was to join the Civil Rights Movement and demand equity for all. Thornton’s courageous move of joining the movement during those scary times reminds us today that “if you believe in something and see it going on then you participate” just like Dallas Thornton has throughout his life. 

 There are numerous African Americans who freed their lives from the resentment, the brutality, and the hypocrisy that their race lived through for decades. Dallas Thorton, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, and Septima Poinsette Clark are just four of the many courageous men and women who have fought for equality and the civil rights of African Americans from the early 1900s to now. These four African Americans all took unique paths as their way of reacting to the prejudice in America. 

 When I was done interviewing Dallas Thornton I asked him if he saw a future without racism. He said, “Well, tell you the truth, I never thought that there wouldn’t be any racism. I wish there wouldn’t be. But there will be racism because there will always be people that are going to say that you are less because of the color of your skin. And, that’s not a white thing, racism is something that is practiced by many races.” 

 A day later I thought about what he said to me and noticed that I agreed with him. I know this ongoing prejudice is awful and something I don’t want anyone experiencing anymore. But, the hatred towards African American’s has been going on for so long that I do not know if we can change it. Septima, Bayard, John, and Dallas taught me about compassion, dreams, and the power of simple acts. With this article, I hope you remember everything these four people said and did in the name of their community’s benefit and maybe discover how you can take action against the discrimination and racism in America.

THE LIFE OF ZITKALA-SA

Why Should We Remember Zitkala-Sa?

“There is no great; there is no small; in the mind that causeth all”

A while ago I became aware of my Native American heritage. I have never encountered discrimination aimed at me for being a Native. However, I know that there are people that do. I know that there was a time when Natives were thought of as “savages”. I wasn’t aware of the cruelty that Natives endured through history until I heard of Zitkala- Sa. Then once again I questioned people’s behavior. What is the rationality in this belief? How do I learn from it so I can take action? Is it ever going to change? 

There are many other things I need to learn about the injustice in our world before I can decide what to do about it. My teacher introduced me to Zitkala- Sa, a Native American woman. Although she was taught to be ashamed of her heritage, Zitkala- Sa spent her life attempting to show that natives aren’t savages because their skin is different as well as their beliefs. 

Zitkala- Sa (Red Bird), also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin was a Native American educator, justice fighter, and artist. She worked to improve education, health care, and legal recognition of Natives until her death. Zitkala-Sa was born on February 22, 1876, on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The Yankton Indian Reservation is a federally recognized tribe. Their name is Ihanktonwto an Dakota Oyate, meaning “People of the End Village.”(Wikipedia.org) 

She was born to a Native American woman and a Frenchman who soon left after Zitkala-Sa was born. As a child, Zitkala-Sa spent her time hearing legends from the tribe members and fearing nothing but intruding on others as her mother taught her.

In early Spring, when she was eight years old, she was lured by Quaker missionaries to attend White’s Indiana Manual Labor school. Zitkala- Sa wanted to go to the school with the missionaries but her mom didn’t want her to go. After much beseeching and crying Zitkala- Sa’s mom reluctantly relented. 

The school was founded in 1852 in Wabash, Indiana. The school’s purpose was to strip the natives of their “animal ways” and educate them by making them blacksmiths, carpenters, farmers, cooks, and housekeepers. (newspaper.com). At the school, she was introduced to Christianity. She was forbidden to speak her language and she was set a schedule for manual labor. She was given the missionary name Gertrude Simmons. 

Zitkala-Sa attended the school until 1887 when she dropped out. She returned home to live with her mother. Upon her return, she felt conflicted about her feelings. A part of her had enjoyed learning how to read and write at the school. The other part of her felt deep grief when she was stripped of her heritage by being forced to pray as a Quaker and cut her hair. She felt like she had betrayed her people and culture. Later on, when she began writing, she revealed the deep sadness she felt when she returned home. She didn’t fit in anymore. The Institute had changed her. In 1891, at the age of fifteen Zitkala-Sa returned to White’s Indian Manual Labor school. 

At school, she planned to become more than a housekeeper which was what was expected of her. She studied piano and violin and occasionally taught music to children. The decision she made to leave her mother was a big step towards independence. This was the turn in her life. She graduated in 1895. When she received her diploma she gave a speech about the necessity of granting equal rights to women. “Half of humanity cannot rise while the other half is in subjugation.” Her speech was thought of as a “masterpiece, never surpassed in eloquence or literary perfection by any girl in the country”. While her ability to write and the literary perfection of her speech were acknowledged the profound meaning was ignored. 

Deciding not to return home Zitkala-Sa accepted a scholarship at Earlham College in Richmond Indiana. Here she was one of few Native Americans. During college, she began to accumulate stories from Native tribes. She collected stories to show white people what the Native culture was about. She wanted them to see the virtue and merit of native beliefs. She translated the stories into Latin and English. 

While she was at Earlham her ability for literacy didn’t go unnoticed. She was chosen to represent the school at the statewide oratory competition held at one of Indianapolis’s grandest structures, the English Hotel and Opera House. The people she competed against were not impressed. They held banners to explain why she was a humiliation to the competition. Many of the signs displayed rude words intending to hurt her. However, they did nothing but fan the flame of her desire to share her opinions. She delivered her speech and with it, she revealed to the public her profound rage at the prejudice towards natives. She also shared her deep commitment to her people’s safety. She spoke of the life natives had before Europeans arrived in America. She referred to the horror of American slavery. “She asked the wardens of religion and civilization why they attacked, instead of aided, Indian peoples, and whether more violence was all that would follow.”(-Tadeusz Lewandowski) People were awed by her speech. She had captured her audience like no other person had that day. However, a judge from the south, outraged by her audacity to say such things about the white people, prevented her from winning. It was the opinion of the Indianapolis News and others that she was the true winner of the oratory. Her speech was published in newspapers and shared across America although it was edited to the press’s liking. Similar to her previous oratory, people focused on how beautiful she was, how pleasing her voice was, and how much different she was from other savages, rather than her message. 

Unfortunately, Zitkala-Sa wasn’t able to finish her college degree due to sickness. She had six weeks left before she graduated. In 1899 she began teaching a music class at Carlisle Industrial Training School in Pennsylvania, a school for native children. “It is this nature in our red brother that is better dead than alive, and when we agree with the oft-repeated sentiment that the only good Indian is a dead one, we mean this characteristic of the Indian. Carlisle’s mission is to kill this Indian as we build up the better man.”- (Carlisle’s school narrative). The school’s goal was to eradicate all empathy native children had for their culture by ridiculing it. Zitkala-Sa enjoyed teaching kids how to play piano and violin but she strongly believed that Carlisle was teaching Indian children the wrong thing, hence she began to write. 

She started writing about her life as a Native American. She wrote about what it felt like to be stripped of her mother’s culture. “In this fashion, many have passed idly through the Indian school during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indian. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.” In 1900 her work was published in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Monthly, and other English magazines. 

Many people, including Carlisle, believed that Zitkala-Sa was ungrateful for not treasuring how the white people led her out of a life of poverty and pettiness to a world full of opportunities. Captain Richard Henry Pratt considered Zitkala-Sa’s stories “trash” and her as “worse than Pagan”. Pratt’s commentary was supposed to stop her from writing but Zitkala-Sa felt more convicted to continue. She was fired from her position as a teacher. 

Zitkala-Sa went back home and continued gathering stories from her people. She interviewed the elders of her reservation for what would later become one of the articles for the Atlantic Monthly, “Old Indian Stories”. 

She also started working with the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA is a government office whose mission is to promote economic opportunity and to improve the trust assets of Native American tribes in the USA. While working at the BIA she met Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin who she later married in 1902. Raymond was a native who had been working with the BIA since 1898. The couple moved to Uintah- Ouray Reservation in Utah where they lived and worked as teachers and participants of Indian Services for the next fourteen years. The Uintah- Ouray Reservation is one of the three largest Indian reservations inhabited by members of the Ute tribe. However, many of the native Utes lived in poverty because the U.S government pushed many of them to give up their lands to white settlers. “The BIA punished those who refused to adopt white lifestyles or send their children to school by withholding rations.” (- Tadeusz Lewandowski)

On May 28, 1903, she gave birth to her first and only child who she named Raymond Ohiya Bonnin. Soon after she sought work as a music teacher at the Uintah Boarding School of Whiterocks run by the government. However, the school was reluctant to accept her because of her published criticism of Native American schools in the Atlantic Monthly. In 1905, she was a substitute teacher. In 1906 the school hired her as a music teacher because they were out of teachers and needed new ones. 

Many times Zitkala-Sa attended to the younger and older public by giving lectures on sanitation. She also taught children who wanted to learn music and formed a children’s band. “Zitkala-Sa’s stay in Uintah was a difficult trial.” Her family had a hard time keeping jobs and keeping their land because of the U.S government. The payment Zitkala-Sa received from the government wasn’t as much as other teachers received because she was native. Zitkala-Sa quit her job in 1909. 

Zitkala-Sa and her family moved to Standing Rock Reservation in North and South Dakota. Here she became involved with the Benedictine Catholic Mission. Participating with the church changed Zitkala-Sa’s view of Christianity. She started to see that not all Christians were bad. She believed that the light of spirit that Christianity talked about wasn’t much different from what the natives believed. Therefore, she converted. After six months at Standing Rock, she went back to Utah. It was the Spring of 1910. To restore the spiritual light the Utes and whites had lost she sought to convert people she worked with to Catholicism. “The Utes show no interest in spiritual life. They are largely governed by superstitions. They are immoral. They waste all their time gambling. Some drink intoxicants. Even the school children, who should know better, after leaving school, are living lives of immorality.”(Quote from Zitkala-Sa). She prayed for the conversion of the Utes. She believed that they needed salvation and rescuing from the spiritual darkness plaguing them. 

While in Utah they met William F. Hanson, an opera composer. Together he and Zitkala-Sa created an opera which they named “The Sun Dance Opera”. With this opera Zitkala- Sa wanted to show the power and spirituality of nature that white and native people had forgotten. She wanted to change what the white people thought as heathen and savage into western high art. The opera featured twenty-three musical numbers in three acts. Many people admired her work and her music. As the Opera became widely known people started practicing the dance to strengthen their spiritual light and power. Today this is what she is most remembered for. The music has outlived her articles and speeches. 

In 1914 Zitkala-Sa joined the Society of American Indians (SAI), a group founded in 1911 with the purpose “to encourage Indian leadership, promote self-help, and foster the assimilation of Indians while encouraging them to exhibit pride in their race.” The society promoted traditional Native American culture while also lobbying for full American citizenship for Native Americans.

Zitkala-Sa continued to write. She advocated for things she felt needed to change. She wrote an article named “America, Home of the Red Man” in which she called for natives to be considered citizens of the United States. “America. Home of the Red Man, who has the preeminent right to the nation. But like his fellow Americans, the Red Man loves democracy and hates mutilated treaties.” She challenged her audience to regard the irony when white people call natives “foreigners” in the land where they were born. 

Zitkala-Sa became increasingly vocal in her criticism of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). She and the rest of the SAI believed that the BIA did the exact opposite of what they were supposed to do. Wanting to work more actively for the rights of natives, Zitkala-Sa and her family moved to Washington, DC. From 1918 to 1919 Zitkala-SA edited the American Indian Magazine. “She lectured across the country promoting the preservation of Native American cultural and tribal identities.” -(https://www.nps.gov/people/zitkala-sa.htm) She also gave speeches on why natives should be American citizens. On June 2, 1924, the Federal Native Citizenship Act was passed. It granted US citizenship to all Native Americans. However, their ability to vote relied on the state’s voting laws. Some states prevented natives from voting until 1957. 

After Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans, Zitkala-Sa continued her association with organizations that strived to improve the lives of the Natives. In 1926, Zitkala-Sa and her husband formed the National Council of American Indians (NCAI). Zitkala-Sa was president and her husband was the secretary. “The NCAI attempted to establish political power through voting blocs,” The couple held their positions as “president, fundraiser, and speaker” until they died. 

Zitkala-Sa died peacefully of old age in Washington DC. on January 26, 1928. She is now remembered as a Native American woman who worked to improve education, healthcare, and legal recognition of Native Americans. She was a woman who devoted her life to promoting her culture and demonstrating to white people that natives weren’t savages. She opened American eyes to the injustice natives were living. She showed us that because someone is not Christian, white, doesn’t have guns, that doesn’t mean he or she is a savage. 

A few months ago when people mentioned racism. I thought of African Americans as the only ones who had to go through that. I knew something about the injustice towards natives. Then I heard of ZItkala-Sa and her struggle to shield her culture from the spiritual darkness coming from her oppressors. Is it just because we weren’t white? Was it fear or hatred? Zitkala-Sa life’s story has taught me that small acts like a speech or a story can make a difference. She has taught us to not forget what makes us who we are today. She has taught us to fight for what is right and for what we love. Zitkala-Sa has shown us that the prejudice we hold against other races can change. Sometimes your attempts at resolution won’t be welcomed but we can all continue to try like she did.

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