In the Summer of 2016, something special happened at CWP-Fairfield and we all knew it. The magic happened, we achieved our goals, but we never got back together to reflect on it. It wasn't until preparing for the 2017 NCTE conference in St. Louis that I realized that what we did on our campus was somewhat miraculous. For two weeks, 15 teachers and 24 immigrant and refugee youth wrote together in collaboration with the Fairfield University Art Museum and artist Rick Shaefer. With knowledge that his charcoal tryptic was premiering on our campus, we had much smaller replicas made and, together, began to deconstruct his artistry to make sense of the global refugee crisis, relocation, and the human struggle. From the art work, a reading of Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave and Lopez Lomong's Running for My Life, and the music of Emmanuel Jal, we discussed scars, war, poverty, migration, immigration, democracy and the hope for peace. Each student and every teacher wrote in response to his art work and, as a culmination, we recorded our stories into podcasts to be heard as visitors saw Shaefer's work.My mother makes a newbornwith tears and pain,I wish it could be painless.I wish I didn’t crywhen I came into the world,I wish the world would know the reason,the newborn comes with tears.I wish sad people would not lament;Happiness would wrap their heart,repair their broken pieces.I wish equality and justice would be for all,Then every man would know that we are created in parallel.I wish there were no poor nor wealthy,no worker nor boss,Then we could all possess the same.I wish one religion would run the world,And all people would pass in one way.I wish we had one single day of deathand noone would miss his loverI make a wish,My wish should touch only the ones it concerns,I wish only you and I would heal the world.I wish we should be wise and worldly,That no one could be wounded.
That was way over a year ago, but in preparation for the NCTE conference, we resurrected our collaboration. We presented on Saturday morning as a team with a tremendous audience of devoted, interested, passionate, and motivated educators.
I didn't plan for the tears to come when a male participant, Rich, read Akbar's poem and, with genuine emotion, began to cry as a result. I knew that I wanted to go from the reading to the music of Frederick Johnson who turned the young poet's words into song. What I didn't know was that the song was going to spark emotion in the rest of us, especially with images of the collaboration, writing, artwork, and work with Ubuntu Academy (CWP-Fairfield's Young Adult Literacy Lab for immigrant and refugee youth). Some of the members in the project were also in the montage set to the song. When it ended with an Ubuntu circle I got choked up. I later wrote Yolanda Sealy-Ruis (who is all about love) and said, "Well, I just had my first emotional outpouring during a presentation. The literacy of tears."
That is the work that matters. To get control of myself, I simply turned to anger. I shouldn't be emotional, I admitted. I need to get political (it was my attempt to introduce the rap song written by teacher extraordinaire Dave Wooley from Westhill High School). It was an awkward transition because, well, Dave was emotional, too...and his verse was written with heart and fight.
The entire presentation was unlike any I've ever done before because of the heart and soul that went into the work, a collaboration of youth, teachers, artists, museums, CWP-Fairfield, literacy research, performance, and the investment we are making to summer immigrant and refugee-background youth. Rick Shaefer's artistry beget the artistry of us all..
Later, presenting in another session on POW! The Power of Words! I looked through our yearly publication and noticed numerous examples of writing that resulted from the collaboration. It touched us all, and sharing this with educators from across the United States helped me to realize how important this work was.
I did cry. I will cry again. It's too amazing not to.