James Ragan: Be Aware and Be There

Kasey Lettrich, Editor in Chief

James Ragan can be described by many words, an activist, a poet, a screenwriter, an optimist, a dreamer.  Ragan has made many changes in this world and he begins by saying “yes” to anything. Ragan spoke at GLHS on March 22, 2018 and inspired many students and writers to just say “yes”.  He believes whatever has been placed in front of him is an opportunity he must take. This lifestyle has allowed him to bring change worldwide.

Ragan traveled to a communist country with a false bottom in his suitcase carrying ten Time magazines.  He performed a reading in a candlelit basement here, and everybody seemed to be grabbing for the magazines as if they were the only truth they’d ever read.  He describes this experience as “dangerous times”.

Ragan is a “truth-seeker”.  He believes that the job of any journalist, writer, or poet is to find the truth.  

Mrs. Stallings always says the job of a  journalists is to “bring voice to the voiceless” and Ragan agreed.  Ragan said, “If you’re going to write you should want to be the greatest voice of your generation.”  

He has a very empowering voice and allowed me, as a journalist, to see my writing in a different light.  He encouraged me to help my generation to be the one that brings change to this world.

Ragan told me he is “very excited” about our generation and the power we will have to be the difference.  He even compared us to the generation of the 60s, the generation of revolution. Those in the 60s stood up for many different causes and minorities.  Ragan described this time saying, “We just believed we were supposed to be doing that.” He was just doing his job as a human being saying, “I like to bring people together, I don’t care what politics you are.”

I believe our generation will be the same way, standing up for feminism, gay rights, and even against gun violence.  Ragan believes this generation is going to clean up the mess made, in spite of and including the fact that we are the generation of the internet.  He calls the internet “the Gutenberg of our time”, but feels differently about social media.

He describes social media as “narco-narcissism”, in other words, social media is a drug, an addiction, an obsession.  Ragan was in London when he was sitting in a circle of eleven people who were all sitting there staring at their phones.  One girl walked up and smiled at him and they laughed at the people only paying attention to their phones. This girl then asked if her and her family could come and listen to his reading. Ragan learned later that she was studying at Oxford and bought 5 of his books to put in the library. Ragan said, “It just takes one smile, one moment of communication.”

This is the time where we need that little bit of human communication.  We have reached a point of dumbing down in this country, when we are in denial of the problems that aren’t directly our problems.  Ragan believes we need to be more altruistic, more giving than taking. The current problem of gun-violence has been dumbed down, until now.  We, as an American Society, are finally fighting against the problem even if it doesn’t directly affect us.

Ragan did a reading in Sarasota, Florida just a few weeks ago.  All of the people of Sarasota as well as the victims of Parkland were invited to hear him read.  Reading to the people of Parkland was very challenging for him, but he was able to bring humor into his reading that helped the listeners to trust him.  He later said these victims are “teenagers- not even teenagers, who have been pushed into adulthood.”

Ragan read a poem titled “A Good Sky”.  This poem really hit home for the victims of the attack saying, “I show you a good sky. Its broad blue ribbon will wrap its mind around your eyes’ imagination and tease you into smiles— Now, be patient, let your grieving rest awhile.”

Emma Gonzalez, a victim of the Parkland shooting, started saying things that made so much sense. These teenagers have suffered and they will make the change in this world.  Ragan said, “It’s your generation I really do believe in because the people in florida seemed so engaged they really wanted to change things.”

He followed this statement by telling me that he received the same kind of articulation and intelligence from the students at Greater Latrobe High School.  Tate McElhaney, a student at GLHS, spoke to Ragan about the importance of poetry and how it gives people the chance to speak up against the wrong in the world.  McElhaney said, “We touched on the Parkland, Florida incident and how the survivors are acting out as a voice in society and really setting an example. He (Ragan) expressed how our words have so much value, and how we use them can change the world.”  Ragan felt that the students of Latrobe really listened to him; and he received nearly 100 emails after he spoke at Latrobe just a few weeks ago, including some from Bailey Siko, Anne Dalton, McKenzie Shafron, and Caleb Domenick. In his thank you email to Ragan, Domenick said, “‘I’m going to change the world for the better’, I’m going continue to write and give my writing as a gift because the words we choose to say should be cherished and remembered.”  Latrobe is the only high school in the country that he has seen with an art collection like ours and it is the reason he keeps coming back.  Art is a way for humans to communicate and speak the truth.

Ragan feels that his greatest accomplishments in his life are his three children.  Both of James’ daughters have masters degrees, and his son created the music for the documentary on Ragan’s life.  After his experience in Sarasota, Ragan and his daughters attended the March for Our Lives in California.

At the march, Ragan carried a sign that he carried in his rallies in the 60’s and 70’s.  The sign reads “Be aware, and be there”. This statement is one that james, and all citizens should live by every day.  It tells us to stop being in denial of the problems we are facing. We have to be aware of them and stand up to defend ourselves against the problems.

Ragan said, “Right now young boys and girls are dying in classrooms and its got to change,” and “I fear for everybody’s children.”  A place where students go to get an education should not be a feared place, but nowadays guns are so easy to get.

Today, guns are sold in gun shows where there is no supervision.  Anybody, criminal or civilian, can walk out of a gun show with any type of firearm.  70-80% of people feel there should not be AK rifles out on the streets.

We should be coming together in these hard times, not fighting.  Our leadership is not doing anything to bring people together. Ragan said, “I’m a great believer of bringing people together and finding the ways to do it.”  Ragan recently lost somebody he knew in the Las Vegas shooting, bringing the matter close to home for him.

This march was started for young teens to show they are suffering and they want a change.  They are standing up against the leadership that isn’t bringing them together and they will not vote them back into office.

Robert Kennedy once said, “If you want to be the best, you have to surround yourself with the best.”  As a country, we are fighting for something better and brighter. As we unify and surround ourselves with good people who are fighting for the same cause, good things will happen. Ragan believes “every little step counts”.

As a country we finally see the cause we must fight for, our lives.  Ragan said, “Be optimistic, it can change, we have done it, it starts with leadership and you can change that too.”