I can’t breathe. Black Lives Matter. I Am Alfonso Jones. Tony Medina’s graphic novel ‘I Am Alfonso Jones’ tells the story of a teenage, black boy who doesn’t get the chance to become a man. It’s a tale that will make you feel hopeless for American society because of the all the truths it’s filled with. At one point Alfonso’s class debates on the issues surrounding his death. With one girl repeatedly saying that not all cops are reckless killers, there is a need to examine what that phrase means. The students go back and forth in this school for the gifted, when at last their teacher poses an important idea. No, you can’t paint all cops with the same brush, then you become what you are protesting, the stereotyping of a collective, based on the behavior of a few. At the same time there needs to be a serious dialogue where authorities cannot go unchecked. It’s an ongoing conversation in this narrative which focuses not solely on Alfonso’s death, but the impact on his community, friends and family. In a sense, at any given time, Medina reminds the reader that Alfonso Jones can be any person of color, regardless of background.
While a community attempts to cope with his death, Alfonso, in the afterlife begins to understand that he is part of a mosaic of stories emphasizing the necessity for people of all backgrounds to pay attention to what’s happening in society right now. It’s a well-researched journey as Medina has Alfonso interact with black men and women unjustly murdered, through their interactions with law enforcement. They each get a chance to tell their story, unfiltered, through their own lens. Still, what may be the most heartbreaking part of this graphic novel is the ‘Ancestor’s Wall.’ It’s filled with the real names of people of color who have been violently, unjustly and untimely killed. And they span over a matter of decades. The over 70 names will make you wonder when will it end?
Strikingly, this story is told in black and white. Illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, the choice to set a modern day story in a setting stripped of color, emphasizes the timelessness of this work. A mother’s tears no matter, if it’s devoid of color still, makes an impression on your soul. You will cry and get angry, but you’ll feel hopeful too. In the foreword, writer Bryan Stevenson writes about the difficult conversation parents must have with their children of color. And though this story is geared to the young adult genre, it’s helpful for anyone who needs to have this discussion. Unfortunately, like the kids in this story everyone needs to speak frankly and openly about racial inequality and the modern day slavery of the prison system. Medina, restates this in his note at the end of ‘I Am Alfonso Jones.’ As he speaks about his own experience and the magical realism of fiction, Medina is able make Jones’ death an act of resistance. In doing so he’s given his readers an invaluable resource in surviving the current times we live in.