Author Jason Reynolds visits LSE and shares message: Madness made him magic


Ellyn King, Staff Writer & Opinion Editor

Many students at LSE know Jason Reynolds as the author of “Long Way Down,” which is a reading requirement covered by sophomore English classes. But this last Friday, students got to know Reynolds on a more personal level.

Reynolds came to LSE to speak to the student body about his life growing up in Washington D.C.  As he grew up in the 1980s, his neighborhood was torn apart by a drug epidemic. He was a kid that knew what it meant to be fighting for his life. 

He grew up around superheroes that many of us may have not even heard of. At the age of 9 years old, Reynolds was inspired by Queen Latifa’s 1993 album, “Black Reign” to start writing poetry. He was also majorly influenced by rap artists such as 2Pac, whose real name was Tupac Shakur, and Biggie Smalls, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, growing up.

“I start reading the lyrics, and when [‘Black Reign’] was over, I went back and read all the lyrics over again. I realized that Latifa, MC Lyte, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie, Jay Z, all of my heroes, were writing poetry. No coach, no counselor, no parents. No one ever said this to us. They told us rap was going to be the death of our generation,” Reynolds said.

His poems helped him through all the struggles of growing up. From watching his friends die at 14 years old, to his brother and mother suffering from drug addictions. Now, at the age of 35, he is a successful writer with various published and well-known pieces of work.

“Long Way Down” is based off the true story of the murder of Reynolds’s friend. Reynolds speaks on the bigger picture when it comes to gun violence.

“You hear these stories about gun violence. But nobody ever asks about the other parts of the story that led to it. I wonder if poverty, politics, education, food and housing have any effect on this,” Reynolds said. “We look at the 16-year-old kid that picks up the gun. But in all reality, it’s the adults who have failed these kids.”

Throughout his presentation, Reynolds urged students to step out of their comfort zone and not listen to what others have to say. To not let society limit us and tell us who we can and can’t be.

“As you guys get older, outside of these walls, there’s going to be people everyday of their life, doing their best to convince you who you are, isn’t enough. Too big, too small. Too black, too white. You have glasses, or braces. You’re from the wrong neighborhood. You practice the wrong religion. You have too much money, or not enough. You think differently. You have emotional and physical differences. Take it from me. I was a kid that they said would be dead by 21. Back then they would say my tattoos wouldn’t allow me to get any type of job,” Reynolds said.

Through all Reynolds’ challenges in life, he found himself through writing. He showed students here at Southeast that they are so much more than what others have to say about them.

“The greatest gift I could have given myself was myself. Everything that made others mad, were the very things that made me magic,” Reynolds said.