Mr. President, June 1, 2017, will go down in history as a national embarrassment. You began with silence, no acknowledgement of LGBT Pride Month. You ended by turning your back on the Paris Agreement. Through the day, I thought of your voice during the campaign: Make America Great Again. But you’re working against your own slogan, and when you step down, our country will have a spectacular mess to clean up. For now, I wish I could introduce you to some friends of mine. They’re all in high school. They’re talented, scrappy, wonderful, flawed. They’re gay and straight, established citizens and first-generation immigrants, several racial heritages. They’re our past and our future, the heart and soul of our country.
Smart, intuitive, lives too much in her head. Caucasian, Jewish. Transfers from a wealthy college prep academy to Hollywood High. Discovers a gift for helping others find inner strength they never knew they had.
Black, tall, muscular, leader of a gang. Impulsive, charismatic. Repeating his senior year of high school. To his (and Caroline’s) horror, she is assigned to tutor him. To their great surprise (since he flunked his classes and couldn’t graduate the previous year), The Duke turns out to be quite intelligent. To their even greater surprise, he and Caroline become friends.
Irish immigrant, Catholic, Caucasian. Tall, blond, muscular, broad-shouldered, a total klutz. On Hollywood High’s football team (due to his size rather than any athletic ability). Academically brilliant. Strong LGBT ally.
Japanese American, parents lived in the internment camps as young children. Paints and writes poetry. And in case a stereotype is brewing — he’s straight. Two years ahead of Caroline and Gary in high school.
Red hair, tall and lanky, captain of Hollywood High’s basketball team. Enraged by injustice, impatient to change the world. Always ready to stand up for the underdog, speak for the voiceless.
Black, gifted singer and academically smart. Caroline’s first friend at her new school. Bright, loyal, polite, brave. A petite girl with a huge soprano.
Debutante, social queen at Laurel Academy For Girls, the prep school Caroline left. Gorgeous. Lives in a Beverly Hills mansion. Talented artist — oil paintings and metal sculptures. Watched her father die of a heart attack at the family dinner table. Hides a big secret.
Caucasian. Undocumented. A student at Hollywood High, and a prostitute to survive. His dream is to pursue his education.
Mr. President, my young friends would like to know you. They’re full of fire, stepping forward to meet the world. Actually, they’re not exactly real people. They’re characters in my first novel. As adolescents, their paths intertwine and they change the course of each other’s lives. Together, they empower each other by building each other up, never by tearing each other down. Mr. President, I wish that one night, instead of posting hatred on Twitter, you’d read the novel and meet my friends. You’d see that in spite of and because of their diversity, they make America great.
Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The plot follows a group of friends and their dawning awareness of homophobia. The story tracks each student’s path to becoming an LGBT ally, and includes one family’s journey after a family member comes out.
Click on the link to read the first few chapters, see reviews, purchase the novel.