Ron Charles Reviews “We Matter”

Ron Charles, Book Critic at The Washington Post, reviewed “We Matter: Notes from Generation Z,” 826DC’s new essay collection by local seventh-grade scholars…


We hear so much about young people, but so little from them. 

That’s just one of the gifts in “We Matter,” a collection of 19 essays written by students in the Brookland Middle School in Washington, D.C. This sharply designed book, featuring photo portraits of each of the authors, offers rare insight into the joys and concerns of preteens. 

Here is the nation’s capital from the perspective of students who have known it all their lives — not just as the seat of our government but as the neighborhood of their home. They’re proud of the District, and they’re deeply concerned about it, too. Blending factual research with their own lived experience, they describe Washington as a place still struggling to consistently provide a safe space for families to thrive. In one insistent, intelligent essay after another, they cut through years of adults stalling, bickering and obfuscating to call out the problems that weigh on this city. And they demand action. 

Samantha and Jazzi offer complex examinations of the causes and problems of gentrification, which steadily pushes low-income people out of the city. 

Bernaiah draws our attention to pollution in the Anacostia River and offers advice on what we can do as individuals to help.

Zasia, Nasir and Leif write about the cycle of violence perpetrated by police who use excessive, even deadly force. 

Janiyah won’t let her generation off the hook. She notes that some teens commit crimes that make D.C. a more dangerous place. “How are we ever gonna get respect,” she asks, “if we don’t give it?”

Again and again, one is struck by the clear moral outrage of these fearless kids who see the District’s problems and refuse to accept cynicism or delay as a response. They’re a well-informed generation determined to be hopeful. 

And their joy is evident in other essays that celebrate Washington’s triumphs. “It’s been good growing up in D.C.,” writes Robert, “where all I see is Black people showing love for each other and our city.”

Justin describes the venerable history of Howard University, which he hopes to attend someday. Other students praise Washington’s music, food and athletes, making an irresistible case for the city’s rich culture. 

At a time when our national rhetoric sounds hopelessly angry and incoherent, these middle schoolers offer a model of how to speak to a wider audience, how to urge action based on evidence, how to honor what we appreciate. To the extent they diagnose difficult challenges, they also exhibit fierce optimism. These are the future’s artists, entrepreneurs, teachers, lawyers and politicians.

We need to listen up. They matter. 


You can purchase your $15 copy of “We Matter: Notes from DC’s Generation Z” here. All sales will help 826DC publish and celebrate more young people across the District!