The UChicago Charter School Woodlawn (UCW) Middle School is thrilled to be one of four schools selected by 16 Lyrics for their national initiative Representation Matters. 16 Lyrics is a nonprofit organization born out of conversations about difference among friends and colleagues while they experienced the pandemic and witnessed repeated incidents of racial violence in our nation over the past 18 months. The 16 Lyrics team created the organization after these conversations inspired them to affect change. They sought to create experiences for middle school students that would promote anti-racist critical thinking and action.

The first 16 Lyrics Initiative: Representation Matters elevates authors and characters from diverse backgrounds to encourage emerging adolescents to think critically about and practice empathy for the world and people around them. Through the initiative, four schools across Maine, Illinois, New Jersey, and Massachusetts — including UCW Middle School — have received hundreds of books from primarily Black-owned bookstores to facilitate learning and dialogue about the stories of identity formation and cultural understanding. 16 Lyrics has worked with each school to determine their individual student body’s needs around representation and subject matter.

In September, Peter Butler — a 16 Lyrics team member and former social worker at our Woodlawn campus — delivered more than 200 books to UCW Middle School that 16 Lyrics purchased from Semicolon Bookstore, a Black woman-owned business in Chicago. The books included Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood, Brown Girl Dreaming, and The Stars Beneath Our Feet. Later this school year, 16 Lyrics will bring an author or anti-racist speaker to give a virtual talk to all four schools across Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine at the same time for a common, anti-racist learning experience. 

Students will also have the opportunity to enter a nationwide competition coordinated and sponsored by 16 Lyrics for its partner schools. Students can submit an anti-racist presentation or write an anti-racist essay to demonstrate the ways in which they have intellectually engaged with their reading. 16 Lyrics will award gift cards to Black-owned businesses to the student winners and display the projects on their website.

UCW Middle School is delighted to have a new partner in our mission to provide our students with anti-racist education and experiences, and we thank 16 Lyrics for selecting our campus as an inaugural partner for their Representation Matters Initiative. In particular, the UChicago Charter School would like to thank 16 Lyrics team member Peter Butler for delivering hundreds of books to our campus in September — we loved having you back on campus!

UCW MS Campus Director Mr. Gordon reads a book with 16 Lyrics team member Peter Butler