Virginia teens help publish graphic novel about police-involved shooting

“Rest in Peace RaShawn” is more than the story of an accidental shooting. It’s the vivid story of a young man’s life snuffed out too soon by police bullets – a narrative that, sadly, has become all too familiar in America.

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Rest in Peace RaShawn is more than the story of an accidental shooting. It’s the vivid story of a young man’s life snuffed out too soon by police bullets – a narrative that, sadly, has become all too familiar in America.

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, works as a therapist for court-involved youth in Warsaw, Virginia. Rest in Peace RaShawn completes a quaternity of quality young adult literature by Sidney, including the first books in his series Nelson Beats The OddsTameka’s New Dress, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. All four inspire confidence in children, especially children of color, and encourage a fondness for reading and a heightened level of social awareness; Sidney’s stories equip kids with a broader understanding of America’s current culture and climate.

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Sidney partnered with children’s book illustrator Traci Van Wagoner  for their fourth book together. Rest in Peace RaShawn is a bleak story aimed at teenage readers. “I really wanted Traci to illustrate the grief, the anger and the rage that people of color are feeling,” Sidney says. And, he adds, “I really think that this book can keep that conversation going.”

Rest in Peace RaShawn tells the story of a star football player, the golden child of his family, who dies in a police-involved shooting. His younger brother, Jeremy, finds an outlet for his anger in joining a local gang.

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“I was inspired to write Rest in Peace RaShawn in the aftermath of Tamir Rice’s death,” says Sidney. He adds, “I love children, so to see one gunned down like that made me sick to my stomach.”

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Sidney is well aware of the racial disparities that exist in the criminal justice system. In 2013, Sidney presented “Liberty and Justice for All? Examining the Untold Trayvon Martin Stories” at Virginia Commonwealth University. The presentation examined the lives of nearly a dozen unarmed African-American and Hispanic teenagers who were killed by vigilantes or police officers.

Rest in Peace RaShawn captures the emotional upheaval suffered by families and communities nationwide following the sudden, violent demise of black teens. Sidney presents the violence and suffering in a sensitive, easy-to-understand and age-appropriate format for kids. This book is a good way to broach the painful but necessary conversations families across the nation are having with their children.

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Sidney’s latest book provides thoughtful discussion points on how to heal the legacy of distrust between African- American communities and the police. Over the summer Sidney met with a diverse group of young men at a Virginia academy and asked them to answer the following questions: What solutions do you think will bridge the divide between communities of color and the criminal justice system? What are your opinions on the recent officer-involved shootings? What is it like to be Black or Hispanic today? The answers to those questions are littered throughout Rest in Peace RaShawn and give a real voice to a fictional story.

“It was really important for me to give young people a platform to process what they’ve been experiencing and seeing on the news,” says Sidney. Last year the Tappahannock native offered a workshop to a group of teenagers in Portsmouth, Virginia. The city was grieving the death of William L. Chapman II, an 18-year-old man, who was shot and killed in a Walmart parking lot by Officer Stephen D. Rankin. During the workshop, 16-year-old Lawrence Jones penned an essay that Sidney included in Rest in Peace Rashawn. Below is a snippet from Lawrence’s essay:

“It’s a cold world. Where are the love and peace? It seems like life is on repeat. Dude had a toy gun and they still shot him. It seems like what Dr. King fought for doesn’t even matter, they still want to see our blood splattered. It seems like if we talk, we get a bullet. It makes me think about what to do in life. Do I need to carry a gun?”

Junior editors Dion Allen, Jamal Ball, Christian Brown, Diojé Ellis, Tiojé Ellis, Ricardo Henson, Terrell Hundley, Tamaje Jones, and Isaiah Taylor helped Sidney tell a story that young people would relate to. Sidney partnered with Essex High School principal Patrick Doyle to assemble the group. “Being able to work with students who attend the same school I did as a teenager made it a very special experience,” says Sidney.

“My hope is for readers to have courageous conversations around trauma, gun violence and the racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system,” says Sidney. He adds, “People of all races standing together and providing substantive interventions is the only way we can prevent the untimely deaths of Black and Hispanic teens”.

Rest in Peace RaShawn is currently available on Amazon, Createspace and Kindle.

About the Author: Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is an author (Nelson Beats The OddsTameka’s New Dress, Rest in Peace RaShawn, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One), publisher, therapist, app developer , philanthropist and literary activist. Sidney also created a free mobile app, the “Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator” that allows users to add their face to the illustrations, create photo collages with accessories like a cap and gown, and share their own stories. For inquiries email us at ronnie@creative-medicine.com or visit http://www.creative-medicine.com.

Author: Ronnie Sidney II, MSW

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, is a father, therapist, author, app developer, professional speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He received a Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014. Ronnie was raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, and attended Essex County Public Schools (ECPS). While attending ECPS, he spent several years in Special Education after being diagnosed with a learning disability. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, he decided to enroll in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. The following year, he transferred to Old Dominion University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services in 2006. Sidney has since published two books, "Nelson Beats the Odds" and "Tameka's New Dress". He also developed the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator.

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