I Am Alfonso Jones is a children’s fictional graphic novel published in 2017 addressing police brutality and the importance of Black Lives Matter. The narrator is 14 year old, Alfonzo Jones, who is shot by a police office who mistook the clothes hanger Alfonso was holding for a gun. Alfonzo then arrives on an “ghost train” full of other dead police brutality victims. Alfonzo must see his life and death play out while riding on this train. he must confront the harsh realities of racism in America and his living loved ones must learn how to fight for justice.
Throughout the novel there were two themes that really stood out to me: memory and justice. I think the book really emphasizes the point that you can’t have justice without remembering the injustice. These themes interact with each other in a couple really cool ways. First, immediately after Alfonso is shot and killed he joins the ghost train. Here he meets real life victims of police brutality like Eleanor Bumpurs and Amadou Diallo. On the Train, Amadou tells Alfonzo that, “The living do as the dead tell them…”. The memory of the dead push the living to seek justice. We see that narrative literally play out on the page, but the author, Tony Medina, is also using the memory of real life victims to teach the importance of justice to others in his book.
The death of Alfonso sparked outrage in his community and other communities throughout the world. Alfonso’s mother, Cynthia, and other family members use Alfonso’s memory to organize fundraisers, protests, and more. Cynthia uses the memory of Alfonso to push her into being an active voice in social change. The stories of victims will only ever be able to be told through the voice of the living. Cynthia wants to make sure her son’s death is more than just a death: it’s an outcry for change. In the page below, Cynthia has organized a meeting with some of the outspoken people in the community to come up with a protest plan.
The novel also explores the way memory can be distorted and manipulated to criminalize the victim or justify the behavior of police brutality. The news, supporters of the officer who shot Alfonso, the police department, and lawyers find ways to, in a way, prove the validity of Alfonso’s death. These were the hardest scenes for me to read through. The frustration Alfonso feels towards how his reputation, life, and namesake are being tarnished in the media jumps off the page. His mother and father have to live with the inaccuracies and false narratives the media has created.
This was a heavy read, especially for a children’s book, but I think it’s a really important narrative that more people need to hear. It’s a bold and loud book because it’s important, it matters, it’s REAL, and it needs to hit deep into everyone’s hearts. I would recommend this book for anyone to read, even though it’s marketed for children. I am currently studying to become a secondary education (6-12) English teacher. I think this is an awesome, culturally relevant, and culturally responsive text. I found this neat resource for teaching the book in a classroom setting, which I immediately printed out and stuck into the front cover of my copy of the book. Besides being a good classroom resource, The teacher’s guide to reading I Am Alfonso Jones, is also a great read along guide for anyone reading the book.