An Advocate for Literature in the Classroom and Beyond
AFH Photo // Tristin Heap
Myles McNamara teaches advanced placement literature at New Mission High School in Hyde Park. After eight years of teaching transformative wilderness education with Outward Bound, he began working in the classroom for the Boston Public School system. McNamara likes to surf on his free time, but when he is not hitting the waves, he likes to read and write.
McNamara is passionate about the value of literature. His reflections on literature, career-paths, and education are below. Content has been edited for length.

Q. What made you fall in love with literature?
A. What made me fall in love with literature is that I could explore something in an entirely personal way. I discovered books when I was really young. The reason why books were so powerful to me was because when I came into a book, it was entirely on my terms, and it was an unspoken kind of relationship between me and ghosts - and by ghosts I mean - the author was not present, other than what they left behind. When I picked up a book, it felt like I was being visited by ghosts and it was not a dialogue. I was exploring something that had been invented for me to discover. The visualization has not been done for you, all the clues are laid out, but unlike television and film, we have to create a picture in our minds. One of the great things about literature and books is that the reader has to add what’s not there to complete it, so the reader becomes an active participant. I bring some of my world to the world of the book. I go on a personal journey that begins anytime I open that book and closes anytime I choose to close the book, until I’m ready again. To me, there is something intensely personal about that and very beautiful.
Q. Do you have a favorite book?
A. There was a series as a kid called Dragonlance and it was developed for Dungeons and Dragons. It was a fantasy trilogy. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman were a strong team of authors and I don’t think I could ever write something with other people. I always do it alone. There was something about the characters and their plausibility that was really powerful. It was like 1987-88 when these books were being written. I fell in love with those books. At that time I was ready to be swept up by characters like those, so that was my first huge love for books. 
Q. Who was an author that deeply influenced who are you now?
A. The author that influenced me most when I was younger was Ernest Hemingway. I loved him and his writing when I was young. The more I learned about him, the more I learned that there were things I liked about his writing and things I profoundly disliked about his character. I think he was a broken man. Toni Morrison is someone whose books I’ve read multiple times. I’ve read everything she has written in terms of nonfiction and expository writing. She is incredibly powerful, incredibly passionate, incredibly humble. Not only worthy as a writer, but as a person.
Q. Have you always wanted to become a teacher?
A. When I was 17 or 18, I took the SAT exam. There was a form handed out before the exam and you had to bubble in what you wanted to do as your career and I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only thing that made sense to me was a business person because that’s what my dad did. I was not satisfied with that response. I think - with respect and love for teachers - I only had a couple of teachers who were profound in being a mentor and a great teacher to me. I didn’t have in mind to be a teacher until I began working with Outward Bound. I loved being out in the wilderness and never thought of the possibility of becoming a teacher. I spent eight years working with Outward Bound; working with young people, going crazy places, doing crazy team challenges and working together. I fell in love with what happens in groups with the fierce optimism of young people that fades as we age and I’d rather be around young people than old, and that was what drew me into teaching. 
Q. Why do you think BPS students should pay more attention to literature?
A. I think embodied with the word ‘fiction’ is the bias that fiction means false, fake, or made up. We think of fairytales and folktales as being unnecessary and unessential. I think we’re a profit driven society and we’re pressured to pursue profit in the interest of taking care of ourselves and our families. Nevertheless, we all love stories. We love them because they tease us and make us question the power of debate. We talk about these characters and we almost live through their mistakes, their tragedies and their victories, so we test life through them. To me, being able to test life’s possibilities at no risk to self through imagination is so powerful.
Q. Why do you think people underestimate the power of literature?
A. Literature is underestimated because I don’t think there is a consensus to its value and its impact. Literature’s benefits are not quantifiable at all. What it does for us is entirely qualitative not quantitative. There’s a highly individual experience, you can have entirely different experiences at different age spans. If you want a big money maker, you go for something that’s guaranteed or a sure bet. And there’s nothing guaranteed or a sure bet about literature. There’s a risk involved in asking people to consider a piece of literature at any given time in their experience and it can be a hit or a miss. Part of the reason why it’s underestimated is because there’s no guarantee that there will be a wanted result. What comes is invited, not guaranteed.
Q. Can you tell me the advantages of literature?
A. The greatest advantage of literature that I’ve thought about lately is the ability of a reader to consider possibilities on a rich level and consider characters and see things that he or she did not see before, without risk to self. I can put myself in situations and places where I can indulge and not get burned or hurt. Most of us have dealt with pain and suffering, it’s an inevitable part of our life. The more guarded we become, the more we close ourselves off. There’s no such thing as a book that can take advantage of us unless we let it, so there is an incredible opportunity for us to learn in a beautiful and profound, sometimes chaotic - but ultimately safe - life affirming way through literature. The steps you take into literature are so individual and a book never asks something of you, all it does is offer. There’s no provisional trade off or sacrifice. Life is all about sacrifice, but it allows us this extraordinary luxury and is generally so cheap and available and if we want to find our way to it we will. 
Q. What is the one thing about literature that stands out to you
A. The aspect of time in literature becomes very strange and elastic. What happens with time, is that I could be reading a book and I wouldn’t know how long I’ve been reading. I go somewhere else. I somehow step out of the constraint of time. It makes me feel very appreciative as we consider our short lives. 
Q. If there is one piece of advice on literature you would give students, what would it be? 
A. Find your passion. Find the books that call you. There are books we may study at school, there are books that we may have to read. Continue to test, audit, try and look around, until you find stories. You want to go out and open yourself to stories that almost magnetically want to attract to you.

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Close up on a Boston filmmaker: Shamir Williams Q&A
Day and Evening Academy Student // Shamir Williams
Shamir Williams, 18, from Dorchester is a rising filmmaker. With his unique, energetic personality, Williams is hard to miss. The junior at Day and Evening Academy participates in Fast Forward, a program of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Fast Forward is an accelerated program where students conceive, produce and edit original work in various film genres. Apart from this program, he’s also involved with a local clothing line called PSYCHO. Williams is not your ordinary teen. His deep roots in creativity distinguish him from other teens and will take him far. 

Q. What inspired you to start making films?
A. I saw people around me making films. I remember helping out my brother with one of his films, and a little while after that, I thought maybe I could do something productive to take my mind off of a lot of the things I was going through. I was always good at creating stories so I thought maybe I can make these awesome stories that I had into films. Also, with a lot of the major films I was seeing on television, I felt like I could do it better or change them up a bit.
Q. What specific genres do you typically write about?
A. As far as genres for my films, it really depends on how I feel. My films are just reactions to my feelings. With my film Groovie Blu, I was going through a lot during the time the movie was coming out. I was frustrated and trying to get the film out for the screening at Fast Forward. I put together this short film that was a reflection of myself and how I was feeling at the time. That is how a majority of my films are conducted.
Q. What are some Hollywood films you feel like you can remake ?
A. Dear White People. Back to the Future. And, She’s Gotta Have It.  
Q. What struggles do you face as a filmmaker? 
A. A lot of the struggles I face all correlate to having patience. You have to realize this stuff doesn't come overnight and a lot of times your films won’t turn out exactly how you envisioned them and that’s okay. You also have to be your biggest critic, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to receive criticism from other people.
Q. How does Fast Forward help you with what you are doing? 
A.They allow me to borrow the equipment for my films and if it wasn't for them I would probably just be making videos on my phone. They’re also a great support team. Whenever I’m willing to talk about my scripts, the teachers are always honest and provide me with suggestions that will help make my films better. Before I arrived to the program I wasn't really familiar with a lot of the aspects that came with filmmaking, like vocabulary words and certain techniques, but they were very understanding to the fact that I was a beginner and were still willing to help me. Another big help is being in that environment where the people around you have the same passion as you and that’s a very big help because you’re able to exchange ideas with other filmmakers.
Q. Where do you see yourself/ your films in the next five years?
A. In five years years I want to branch out and try different things with my films. I would reach out to other upcoming filmmakers and help them get up to the level of confidence they want to reach. As for myself, I’ll probably get into music production which is something I do now for my films, but maybe I’ll start producing music for others.
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AFH Photo // Elson Fortes
I consider myself  fortunate to attend a school where diversity exists among the students, staff and teachers. From an exterior view, the John D. O’Bryant High School looks like a school that accepts all individuals no matter their race. If you look around, most students are friends with a wide variety of people, rather than just maintaining relationships within their own race or ethnicity. 
However, other schools are not as diverse as the O’Bryant. In these schools, students who are not part of the majority often feel left out both socially and academically, and are not treated as equals by their peers and teachers.  This was a major issue at Boston Latin School where headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta eventually resigned following allegations that student complaints of racism were not taken seriously enough.
Do teachers hold bias and preconceived ideas about a student because of their race? How does this affect the way students learn? These are questions that unfortunately are relevant to today’s educational society. Below are the opinions of Sara Valencia, Maria Nova and Love Victor,  three juniors  at the O’Bryant on their experiences: 

Q: From the students to the staff, our school is very diverse. How do you feel about such diversity?
SV: Over the course of three years at this school, I’ve met many different and new people from different cultural backgrounds. I think it’s  good to be able to expose yourself to new things.
MN: I like the fact that there is diversity among teachers and students. I feel like that gives students a feeling of comfort and a chance to connect with their teachers.
LV: I do not think there are not enough white students at our school. However, we are diverse and have a great community.
Q: Do you enjoy learning in an environment where so much culture exists? How have you learned to adapt to that, or what have you learned from your peers?
SV: I personally enjoy surrounding myself with different cultural backgrounds because I get a sense of how their culture influences them. Students also learn a lot from one another and that sometimes contributes to the vibes in the classroom. I have always respected cultural differences, and at the OB, I have associated myself and made friends with different people. I think it’s a good and important skill to have, to be able to accept, respect and make friends with all people, without race or culture being a barrier.
MN: I enjoy learning in an environment with such diversity because I learn more and more from my peers around me. They have different experiences and backgrounds, and that enriches the learning that occurs in school. In my opinion, it’s easy to adapt to diversity because it’s so interesting to learn and form relationships with students different in cultures.
LV: I enjoy it because I am able to learn new things. I have been able to understand different cultures and how they shaped that person.
Q: Do you believe teachers hold any prejudiced ideas? Do you think they treat students differently based on their race because it may be different than their own? Have you personally encountered this from your teachers?
SV: I feel as though some teachers may hold these thoughts because of racial backgrounds. I’ve noticed how some students are treated differently by both their teachers and their peers because of their accent. In all the schools that I have attended, including this one, I have not personally encountered this because the teachers that I’ve had focus more on the student’s behavior than their race.
MN: Honestly, I do think that some teachers treat students differently based on their race or ethnicity. Some teachers prefer students of their race and treat students that aren't [their race] negatively. From personal experience, I haven't been treated differently by teachers. However, I have heard of instances where students experience different behaviors from teachers, such as one student being favored and being expected to do more than the other students.
LV: Teachers do not hold any prejudice thoughts. Maybe sometimes, when it comes to gender. Some teachers tend to be nicer to girls than boys.
Q: What changes do you think the school needs to make to create a more tolerant environment between students and teachers?
SV: Students and teachers need to always maintain an open mind. This sounds simple, but this is sometimes forgotten. This would ensure that students receive the same education.
MN: I don't think there is much that schools could do to create a more tolerate environment between students and teachers. It is very difficult to try to improve the problem because we can't take actions that may lead back to segregated schools. And even if rules are placed on schools, they may not always be enforced; teachers and students may not always follow through with rules.
LV: To create a more tolerant environment between teachers and the students, schools must ensure that everyone has a fair say.

One thing is clear from these conversations: schools should encourage environments where students and teachers are tolerant of one another. The value of diversity in schools is extremely important because it introduces students to other cultures that are not their own and helps them understand their surroundings. School is the beginning of a student’s career and if students feel excluded because of their race and culture, imagine how this would affect them in the long term once they enter the real world. 

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AFH Photo // Adam Nguyen
As a member of the Engaging Men Committee, I teach youth how masculinity plays out in our society and why masculinity is important to understand if we want to change ourselves and the social rules. As it is, many of the youth I teach too often ask, “Why can’t we just let everyone be who they want to be?” 
It’s more complicated than that. Society can seek to destroy you if you do not follow the rules of your gender. Being different can cause people to belittle your existence, wanting to change you as if something is naturally wrong with you. 
First of all, let’s talk about masculinity. According to Ayana Murakami-Freeberg, a gender, sexuality and women's studies major at University of California, Davis, masculinity is a societal understanding of characteristics that are usually associated to men. It is socially constructed and portrays what traits every male should have.
Let’s take the saying “to be a man,” as an example. Society says you have to act tough, strong, and  emotionless in order to be considered a man. Boston Latin Academy junior, Tyler Vantha, notes that men are generally characterized as “Strong, large, and violent. They usually take action [rather than] speak words and are biologically stronger.”
But, not all of us can act “like a man.” Not everyone who identifies as a man has these traits or characteristics. On the other hand, others take this idea of masculinity to a toxic level. 
What is toxic masculinity? Murakami-Freeberg describes toxic masculinity as when “masculine traits are used to control and gain power over others.” Women can be mistreated due to toxic masculinity. Often, the media portrays women as “sex objects,” lesser, or even submissive, while men are portrayed as superior and dominant. Both women and men are affected by toxic masculinity, as men are taught to stick with society's rules of what it means “to be a man.” Men have to show no emotion whatsoever, wearing a form of “mask.” As a result, men are less able to seek and receive emotional support. 
While gender in general is a very complicated idea, we should not let society control us. Decide what you want to be, rather than be shaped by what others think. Jonathan Duque, a junior at the John D. O’Bryant said, “We should treat everyone the same and incorporate everyone by who they are, instead of their gender roles.”
It is okay to follow the path of masculinity, but not to take on traits that are toxic and oppressive to others. If males do not act as they are expected, we should accept them for who they choose to be - not make assumptions based on the way they act. This is a new generation and we need to change the way that society views gender roles. We can make the change if we are willing and educated. 
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AFH Photo // Mariana Melara
Today, women all around the world are fighting for equal pay, promotion, and professional opportunities. The problem stems from a long history of women being perceived as being inferior to men. In the past, women were not allowed to vote, go to school in some areas, and their roles in society were limited.
In 2015, women in the United States were earning 80 cents for every dollar a man earned. Many acts and amendments have been proposed to ensure that men and women get equal pay for equal work. Due to limited enforcement and opposition to the idea, the acts and amendments were either never enforced or never passed. 
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which stated that it would be “illegal to pay women and men working in the same place different salaries for similar work,” didn’t achieve its goal due to limitations on enforcement.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), passed by Congress in 1972, was never ratified by enough states to become part of the Constitution. The amendment would have given women the right to equal pay for doing the same amount of work as men. 
The pay gap among women and men is due to many different reasons. In the Atlantic article “Why Are Women Paid Less?” Jordan Weissman cites a Cornell economist who argues that “Discrimination, the careers women choose, and the burdens of motherhood could all play a role [in creating the pay gap].” Historically, and even today, women often have to leave their jobs to take care of their children. This affects women when they return to work because they may get less work hours or even face demotion. 
Boston Voices and Experiences on Pay Inequality
Many people have distinct opinions on pay inequality. Jessie Gerson, Deputy Director of WriteBoston, says, “Our executive director takes feminism and gender equality seriously. But I know that is not always the case. I have friends who work in situations where their race, sexuality, or gender impacts the treatment they receive professionally.”
Gerson reflected that discrimination can come in many different forms. “I have a dear friend who is an African-American woman,” Gerson says. “She received a work evaluation stating that she was too ‘aggressive’ in the workplace and it made people uncomfortable. I firmly believe that had she been a white man she would not have received this feedback. Instead, she would have been perceived as a ‘go-getter.’ This kind of thing keeps minorities and women from rising to positions of power professionally and so the discrimination becomes self-perpetuating.” 
Gerson gives her opinion on why females get paid unequally and says, “I find it extremely distressing that in 2016 we still need to fight for equal pay for equal work. I also believe that we need to stop undervaluing traditionally female-dominated fields like nursing and education. Basically, I think that sexism and lack of respect for emotional labor create and perpetuate pay inequities.”
Motherhood can also be more burdensome on the female than the male. Gerson says from experience, “I have a two-year old daughter. When she was born, I was working for the Boston Public Schools. I only got 3 months, unpaid maternity leave. That’s not acceptable.”
Her solution to the problem would be to “organize society so that everyone, men and women, the affluent and the non-affluent, all have the ability to make choices around their family life that work for them.”
Mageney Omar, a junior from the John D. O’Bryant, says that she started working at the age of 15 and now works at “Turn It Around.” She comments, “My boss treats me equally like everyone else that I work with.” Omar believes “it’s unfair that women get paid less and unequally compared to men.” She thinks the reason for the problem is that “bosses and employers feel that men perform better in certain professions than women.”
Rayven Frierson, also a junior at the O’Bryant, says that she started working at 14 and is currently working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the Pathology department. Of her workplace, she says, “My boss does treat everyone equally. Everyone is considered a person in the workplace. We are not looked at based on our ethnicity or gender since my department is pretty diverse.” 
Frierson states that she has no idea why women get paid less than men. “I was raised in a female dominant environment,” she said. “My mother raised me on her own without my father. The world has changed from women being inferior to men, to women standing on their own two feet.”

*Full disclosure: WriteBoston is the parent organization of Teens in Print.

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