This summer, CWP-Fairfield collaborated with Simply Smiles and a NWP SEED Camp grant to bring Lakota youth and one teacher to Connecticut for a two-week literacy lab we re-imagined (from one week of argumentative/political writing, to two). The program is called Project Citizen and we built off Shaun Mitchell's vision to encourage CT youth to write for social action. This year, however, we have 25 youth in attendance with 15 kids on scholarship, including 5 Lakota Sioux from S. Dakota and their teacher, Kelly.
I will get back to Kelly. I'm in awe. Phenomenal.
Right now, Ali (Somalia) is in my house trying to finish the last two pages of Matt de La Pena's We Were Here. Kanye, having just finished Kwame Alexander's Solo (frustrated by the ending) is filling out applications to continue to support relocated refugee families in Connecticut. (NOTE: Bryan is balancing between Ali's reading of We Were Here and Kanye's application process while trying to process his world right now in a blog).
Today, 26 relocated refugee youth worked with stellar educators on reading, writing, and understanding their place in the United States. Today, 15 educators through a College Ready Writers Program grant met with 26 students in a Project Citizen Lab (some funded through a Supporting Effective Educator Development Summer Camp grant) to discuss writing, citizenry, and the politics of storytelling. Today was hard/is hard to capture in words.
Back to Kelly.
As part of the funding, the Lakota youth were brought to Fairfield to participate in our summer work. Teachers and youth, separately, ready Tim Tingle's story in Flying Lessons & Other Stories about the storytelling-Uncle who shares knowledge/wit/embellishment of a big-foot creature. The goal for me, however, was ARGUMENT, and to unite several communities through the Project Citizen/CRWP framework we designed.
Boom. Back to Kelly.
As part of our challenge to the danger of the Single Story, we chose Ellen Oh's collection, which included Tim Tingle's story. Fairfield University will have an exhibit later this year on the art of Lakota Sioux and other Plains, as well (of which we have previews). Out of nowhere (Great Whatever?), though, Kelly mentions that her art-teacher background is totally aware of the art pieces, and she shares with teachers and students the history of the ledger drawings. The notebooks come out and everyone is learning...taking notes...enthralled and most importantly, educated.
My point was to discuss the Big Foot narrative from an argumentative stand point. I wanted to discuss how such a creature is universal, but storytelling (written, nor oral) has often been routed in a Western European traditions. Ah, but then Kelly outdid my expectations by offering her wisdom of the drawings we had on display, and making a larger case about the history of writing (which worked wonderfully with the wisdom of Henry Louis Gates - a quote I had in the presentation).
Who owns the story? It shouldn't be me. It should be the kids - and these are the kids united in our programs who represent many angles of the U.S. experience .... these are the kids working with our CRWP teachers to share their own flying lessons!
I am forever thankful to the knowledge Kelly delivered. I could write more, but I know this will cover the territory of my intentions for now. I'm happy to sit back and let history of this moment right many of the wrongs of our past.