Angie Thomas and The Hate U Give

On Monday, April 8th, I was very lucky to hear author Angie Thomas speak in Plachta Auditorium. Thomas was brought to CMU through the CMU Speaker Series. The CMU Speaker Series is an annual set of events run by a committee made up of 8 faculty members, 3 students, the Director of University Events and a Program Board Representative. The series has a mission to bring “a diverse group of speakers to educate, entertain, and inspire the campus and community”, which was a goal well met with Thomas. Thomas was an engaging speaker who shared her background growing up in Mississippi and the empowerment she got from rapper and writer Tupac Shakur. Thomas not only talked about her life but also what led to her writing The Hate U Give, a best selling novel and major motion picture that originally started as a short story for a class in college.

Thomas started off her speech by sharing her love of Tupac and how his lyrics made her feel seen for one of the first times in her life. She felt like a rose growing in concrete, much like Tupac in one of his early poems.

Tupac wasn’t the only person to inspire Thomas though. Emmet Till also served as motivation when writing The Hate U Give.  Till was a 14-year-old boy who was killed in Thomas’ own home state of Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman (which the woman later admitted was a lie).  At a young age, Thomas learned the story of Emmet Till and the injustice done to him, and it stuck with her.

Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man shot by police in 2009, was the person that finally pushed Thomas into writing the first outline of the book. A mix of Thomas’ own experience living in a poorer neighborhood while also being enrolled in a predominantly white, upper-class private college served as the background for her main character Starr. Oscar Grant’s story, however, is mirrored in another character, one of Starr’s best friends.

The final product of The Hate U Give was something Thomas was unsure that publishers would even want to put out for young adult readers, but luckily that wasn’t the case. Thomas receives letters from readers who finally see themselves in a book and letters from other readers who, for the first time, really thought about what life is like for some minority groups. Audiences worldwide responded to Thomas’ story ranging from personal to political.

Image Credit: Julia Lammy

And for anyone wondering why the title uses “U” instead of “you”, it was a purposeful choice for the first letter of each word to spell “THUG”. As in Tupac’s “THUG LIFE” concept which stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”, meaning that the hate given out in society only comes back to haunt us all by creating anger and division.

While Thomas made many important points, what struck me most was “Empathy is far more powerful than sympathy”. Empathy is what brings us together even when we can’t know what it feels like to be someone else. Having empathy takes more work than having sympathy, but it’s so worthwhile to make that extra effort. Listening to people whose story is different from your own is extremely important and can be so rewarding. I am so glad that I was able to listen to Thomas’ story.

Make the most of college and experience other’s stories.  Also, take advantage of the (free) opportunities CMU gives us.