Miles Corwin’s And Still We Rise is a memoir that follows the lives of intelligent students that live in the crime ridden area of South-Central Los Angeles. Corwin spent an entire year with twelve seniors that attend Crenshaw, South-Central’s gifted magnet program. He focused on the AP English Literature and Composition class because he felt the seniors would be free to express themselves. The book is centered on Affirmative Action, which students that attend Crenshaw fully rely on. Miles Corwin became part of the students’ lives, watching them face obstacles and prevail in spite of them.
Corwin tried to reach out to everyone that is oblivious to how unequal school systems are. Even the most gifted students in the magnet program could not succeed without financial assistance and emotional stability. The author gives specific examples of students who could never have graduated without the help of a positive discrimination. Although poverty stricken communities have a negative connotation, this book opens the readers’ eyes to the other side of the community. Everyone is more aware of how unequal the schools systems can be after reading this.
The author’s main motives in writing this book were to educate the audience on how truly diverse South Central really is. He showed that the neighborhood isn’t just a place full of gang activity, rather a place with hidden successes. Corwin says, “In this book, the student’s value education, sacrifice much to further their educations, and overcome many obstacles-including sometimes even their teachers-in order to obtain their educations” (Corwin 6). These students who avoid the temptations of the street, who strive for success, who, against all odds, in one of America most impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods, managed to endure, to prevail and to succeed are the stars of the story. “In this book the students are the heroes and heroines, the ones with the inspirational stories,” Corwin says (Corwin 6). The author wants to showcase all of the student’s achievements and not focus their usually tragic backstories. The author states, “Latisha wants to prove to everyone-and herself- that, despite the years of abuse, she can still be a success” (Corwin 157).
The stories of the students are told from a neutral ground, the author never takes a side. He gives the accounts as if the seniors themselves were writing the novel. Details are used throughout the entire book and they are what develops each character in a fantastic way. In the prologue it states, “The last words Olivia remembers her mother saying were, ‘I don’t want her!’”(Corwin 11). The author includes important details of every characters background. It is important to know how big of a role an education played in their lives. The author talks about when Princess decided to stay in school, “She realized that if she did not want to be living like this in ten years, she needed to attend college” (Corwin 296). The purpose is elaborated on through the details inscribed on every page. “Nalia, who grew up in the Oakwood section of Venice, is one of the few students in the school who does not live in South-Central,” the author says (Corwin 250).
And Still We Rise provokes many emotions and reads like a work of fiction. Corwin tells of Toya’s horrific childhood, “Toya returned to the house after school at 3:30 p.m. and found her mother sprawled on the bedroom floor. She thought her mother was drunk. Toya shook her. Her mother did not move. She shook her again. Finally, she crouched beside her mother and looked into her eyes. Then she knew” (Corwin 46). This is one of the most intense passages to me. The author’s use of the word “sprawled” gives the whole passage a negative connotation. The short and choppy sentences add to the dramatic effect and enhance the sting of the word “crouched.”
By looking at the educational inequality that still plagues America even now, Corwin gives the reader a small glimpse to the overlooked realm of prejudice and hardship that was thought to have disappeared by Brown vs. The Board of Education that supposedly ended segregation in schools. Corwin saw both sides of the argument and formed his opinion intelligently. He says, “Yes, some affirmative action programs are deeply flawed” (Corwin 359). The author quotes Barbara R. Bergmann, “The reasons for affirmative action are far more compelling: helping to cure the country’s racial cleavage, improving the parity of blacks in the job market, encouraging blacks and whites to know each other on campus and giving a hand up to many young black people who grew up in bad environments” (Corwin 132).
It is obvious how the author feels toward the subject matter. He keeps an unbiased attitude when talking about the students’ lives, but when he is talking as himself he is very in favor of Affirmative Action. President Johnson is quoted, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled in chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line in a race and then say, you are free to compete with all the others and still justly believe that you have been completely fair” (Corwin 356).
In the book the author focuses on one character per chapter. I think that this was a very effective way to format the novel. It kept the reader interested in each character without sacrificing important details. While writing about each senior he gave facts about their backgrounds and how it affected them academically. He presented the students’ lives in very clear and straightforward way.
I give this book a five rating because it gave me a new perspective of learning and opened my eyes to how important an education is. I was in awe at what these students had to go through on a daily basis and how they were able to push through some tough situations. I have a newfound respect for inner city teachers. Mrs. Little was the most interesting character to me and made the novel worth reading. And Still We Rise finds ways to connect to you through the twelve seniors.