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YMEJ Exhibition: Inquiry into Educational Justice (May 12th – June 2nd)

If you’re in NYC, come and visit our exhibition, “Inquiry into Educational Justice,” featuring multimodal publications produced by this year’s cohort of YMEJ Seminar graduate students. In these publications, the YMEJ students explore a variety of issues and topics related to educational justice and draw on a variety of media and multimodal resources to bring their yearlong inquiries to life for a broader audience.

The exhibition is part of YMEJ’s commitment to public pedagogy and was made possible by the material and technical resources and support of EdLab at Teachers College, who helped us bring our aesthetic visions into reality.

Details

Where: M. W. Offit Family Gallery, 3rd Floor, Teachers College (525 W. 120th St., 10027)
When: Monday, May 12th through Monday, June 2nd

Learn more about the exhibition here; and please let us know what you think if you do visit.

Note: We are also sponsoring a clothing drive as another element of public pedagogy and social action in conjunction with this exhibit. Click to learn more.

(photos from our opening reception soon to come!)

From Wait Time to Creative Time

In September 2013, the New York Probation Office published “Free Verse,” the first issue of a poetry journal that emerged from the thoughts of those waiting in the probation office at the Bronx Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON), a collaborative of community organizations, government agencies, local businesses, and community residents focused on connecting probation clients who live in the neighborhood with opportunities, resources and services.

As described in its opening pages,

Free Verse is a journal of poetry, prose, and song that promotes turning waiting time into creative time. Headquartered in the heart of the waiting room of the new South Bronx NeOn – where probation clients check-in with their probation officers – FreeVerse solicits new writing created while people wait.

As described in Gwen McClure’s article on the Juvenile Justice Exchange, “Free Verse” was the brainchild of Loni Tanner, Chief Change Officer for the NYC Department of Design and Construction and Executive Director of See ChangeNYC, as well as Dave Johnson, the Poet-in-Residence at South Bronx NeOn. Tanner informally named the program, in its existence since April 2013, “Not School”—an acknowledgment that learning for young people does not need to only be confined within classroom walls. Instead, learning opportunities exist in the most unexpected places.  For Johnson, the program was a movement with a larger purpose than literacy and learning. As he explains,

This is a lot more than poetry; this is an opportunity to be welcomed back into society.

Thankfully, this innovative program has continued, recently releasing its Winter 2014 edition . Below are a few of my favorites from the collection:

I believe

in justice for all,

though no one opens a door.

in opportunity,

though the best ones don’t reach me.

in freedom, in equality,

but mostly I believe

in me.

TAISHA WILLIAMS

———————————————–

The Good Fight

One day I will not have to fight you,

the partner I was given in this lottery of life

that looked so promising until the drawing

as each number was pulled, it was clear, it was not a winner,

just another one to go with the other ones

in a pile of must forget yesterdays.

One day I will not have to fight the voices in my head

of people’s words placed wrongly in my spirit,

the words that should have rolled off my back,

but somehow, were deposited in my future.

One day I will not have to fight the urge to write about the sorrows

that have been my tomorrows, before tomorrow has even gotten here.

One day I will fight the good fight of keeping

the roaring laughter from my belly, fighting to make it out like a raging lion.

One day I will fight to open the cocoon, to let the butterflies I protected, go free.

You’ll never know the pressure I endured, to be cut, into the diamond you see.

MARLITA DALTON

————————————————————-

Today,

I’m a life.

I’m not just passing by.

CRISTY BAPTISTE

home for the holidays.

home for the holidays.

there are songs about it.  hallmark makes a fortune selling cards either affirming the practice or lamenting ones ability to get there.  its something i look forward to with great anticipation.  however, this year, while i was sitting in my dad’s recliner that he never actually sits in when i’m home, eating a dinner lovingly and deliciously prepared by my mother, while enjoying silly conversation with my 6.5 year old niece and nephew, i thought back to the youth we have had the chance to talk about over the last semester.

what does it feel like to experience the holidays without a home? something i always take for granted.  something that seems to me to be as special a time in the year as any, that i have, for the first time stopped to think, that many do not enjoy.  learning too early that santa only brings presents to some people (perhaps not in the foster home or group home, certainly not in prison or juvenile detention centers).  or perhaps of being in a foster home, away from siblings, extended family and parents.  wishing you had such a luxury to go “home to the holidays”.  perhaps not even able to comprehend what that might look like.

and i enjoyed my time even more.  but with a hint of guilt, or sadness.  at the experiences, holidays being just one, that i have always known and take for granted which i am now keenly aware is not the case.  and i wonder what it is like to not be home for the holidays.  not have a home to go to, or even if you do, not be able to get there.

soon after the joy of christmas we welcome the new year.  hallmark sells more cards filling us with the rhetoric that it is a time of new chances, new opportunities, where anything we dream can be true.  yet, once again, that rhetoric is only true for a select few.  those who perhaps didn’t have many struggles in the previous year, or even if they did, were surrounded by the warmth of home, support and family needed to overcome.  but to add salt to a fresh wound, we celebrate new opportunities and new chances with people who have little to no control over their outcome.  who rely on other adults to make their future better and brighter.  and while the world celebrates opportunities and fresh starts, they are left with the same slate, the same past, the same obstacles as they had at 11:59.

happy holidays.

happy new year.

full of promise and opportunities and new beginnings.

for some.

Letters from Death Row

Many of my posts in the past have revolved largely around the foster care system, however, just tonight, I came across an interesting article on Gawker, “Letters From Death Row: Ray Jasper, Texas Inmate 999341“.  As it is said in the article, every year, Hamilton Nolan sends a letter to each person on death row set to be executed in the upcoming year.  The above linked letter is the first reply.  I don’t pretend to be able to add anything meaningful to Mr. Jasper’s response.  It is beautiful and poetic.  I also don’t plan to take a stance on the death penalty.  However, I do think that there are many, MANY important conversations that need to be happening that are not happening.  May I also recommend another book to follow your reading of Mr. Jasper’s letter: Autobiography of an Execution.  Learning more about the Death Penalty, setting aside even the question of guilt or innocence and instead engaging in a conversation about justice is something we cannot avoid in the new year, or any year.  It’s one I most certainly look forward to having.

Our top 10 posts of 2013

We started blogging late this summer and over the course of the past several months, the YMEJ Project Team has been joined by some members of the current cohort of YMEJ graduate students in contributing to this blog. They are:

  • Emily Bailin
  • Nicole Blandford
  • Emeline Brylinski
  • Katie Newhouse
  • Laura Vernikoff
  • Kelly Gavin Zuckerman

Click on their avatars (to the right, over there…) to read additional posts by them and stay tuned for more from us in 2014.

Collectively, we are educators, researchers, community members, adults in the lives of youth, and committed to the wellbeing of young people across multiple institutions; what has brought us together through the YMEJ Seminar, in particular, is our shared interest in better understanding the various contours and nuances of the lives, institutional navigations, challenges, possibilities, educational trajectories, dreams, and desires of young people involved with the foster care and/or juvenile justice system.

Below is a list of posts that seemed to catch your attention over the past several months. Check them out, pass them on, and feel free to suggest additional topics and resources for us to learn and blog about.

  • Engaging Youth as Active Participants In/For Social Change: a teaser for YMEJ Member Tara Conley’s presentation for the Racial Literacy Roundtable Series at Teachers College, Columbia University on the creative and socially engaged approach to participatory design in justice-focused work with youth.
  • Youth speaking about Stop and Frisk — Views from the reluctant experts: 2013 saw significant attention being given to the NYPD’s policy of “stop and frisk,” intended as a public safety measure but having serious consequences for the mostly Black and Latino male inhabitants of NYC who were disproportionately the focus of this practice. In a related post, Emeline depicts similar challenges that are ongoing in her native France surrounding racial profiling.
  • The treatment of children is the focus of this next post, titled Pondering Child Homelessness in the Wake of Dasani, that builds from Andrea Elliot’s widely read 5-part series in the New York Times last month and presents a series of additional resources and connections. We — meaning the YMEJ team — are continuing to ponder this narrative and all the author was able to reveal about child welfare, city policies, and the persistent challenges of poverty through her in-depth profile of this young, 11-year-old girl. We hope to have more to say in the coming weeks and months.
  • Another view of our nation’s treatment of children was profiled in the post focusing on child hunger: “Hunger hurts everyone” – A Place at the Table. We include information about the recent cuts to SNAP, links to a PBS special about child hunger and a related documentary, and highlight a university-community partnership headed by Mariana Chilton in an effort to interrupt the effects of poverty and hunger while also aiming to provide research that may catalyze changes to the policies that govern funding decisions at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • In addition to Dasani, our imaginations were captured by two young men who were in the news: Avonte Oquendo and Davion Navar Henry Only. In their respective posts, Katie and Nicole raise important questions about how we see and understand the stories of youth enmeshed into large, impersonal bureaucratic systems, and about the ways in which their lives are represented and mediated. Of Avonte, we continued to hear that he was an autistic child who had gone missing and about Davion, we continued to read about the public plea he made in search of a family. Check out both of these posts to learn more about the young men and the institutional structures their situations call into question:
  • We were grateful for a collaboration that sprung out of a twitter connection with @PrisonCulture, who, back in August, tweeted a series of youth-led change-making efforts going on nationwide. We compiled these resources into a handy list, and received additional recommendations via the blog and twitter that were also added: Youth Making Change Across the Country. This is just a drop in the bucket, and in 2014 we plan to profile several more organizations and groups who are working tirelessly to “be the change [they] wish to see in the world.”
  • In addition to the above list of youth-led efforts, we also learned of institutional and community-based efforts to strengthen the lives of youth across settings, in the form of mentoring, higher education, and arts-infused activism. Learn more about these efforts in these posts:
  • Finally, our attention was captivated by a book released earlier this year by author Cris Beam, who details the experiences of children and families ensnared in the child welfare and foster care system in her book “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.” Reading her book took our own inquiries about care, family, home, and institutions to a variety of places and resources, which we have gathered in our post: Neverending “June” — Or: The burden of care

There you have it — our top 10 (ok, if you were really counting, I snuck in a few more than 10…) posts from 2013. Thanks for being a great audience and we look forward to sharing more thoughts and dialogue with you in the year to come.

Wishing you a healthy, safe, and inspired 2014!

The YMEJ Team.

Honoring the simplicity of a moment

My fifth year working as a resource teacher I co-taught in a classroom with a Charles Mingus poster hanging at the back of the room.  The poster said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”.  At the time a large part of my job was modifying curriculum to support my students in accessing and participating in the instructional activities of a content area class.  I often felt undervalued, not by the young people I was working with, but the other teachers, and school staff at my site.  When I saw this poster something clicked for me.  I realized, I believed what my colleagues said to me: that I was dumbing down curriculum, or making things easier for the young people I was working with.  The poster helped me identify something I strong believed.  It was overwhelmingly awesome (in the true definition of the word) to support a student to access a new concept or idea.

I had a similar moment, that shifted my thinking, at the alternative to detention program (atdp) where I mentor.  In conjunction with the YMEJ grad seminar I have been mentoring with a group of women for the past six weeks.  My initial workshop I was shocked that my knee jerk teacher qualities came out.  I wanted students to learn, I wanted students to listen.  I was calling young people in the program students—even though the program is not affiliated with a school.  When I applied for the YMEJ seminar over the summer one question in my interview was about how I thought of mentorship, or defined a mentoring relationship.  My response was a traditional model of mentorship that is one on one, where one person is positioned as a knower, or mentor, and the other person holds the mentee or learner role.

Since that conversation I have come back to the idea of the fluidity of mentorship and how the roles of teacher and learner are interchangeable.  As a teacher, I often thought about how much I learned from my students, but I think it was in a trite way.  As in, “Wow, these kids have so much they can teach me.”  In this context I still positioned myself as the knower, and I while I was not shocked to learn from my students, I did treat the moments as a type of novelty.

As I continue my working with the young people and staff members at the alternative to detention center I hope to channel some Mingus and value the awesomeness of simplicity.  Going beyond making a concept simple but also honoring the moments of being human.  How can I come to a space and value each individual without imposing my own agenda?  How do I extend an authentic invitation that emphasizes a dualistic mentorship role with the young people at the ATDP?  To keep it simple, how do I be myself in a way the invites others (especially young people) to be themselves with me?  I hope to begin to think about answers to these questions but for now, here is some Mingus to enjoy.

Charles Mingus — Self Portrait in Three Colors

 

Who is Avonte Oquendo?

“Attempting to transform “our taken-for-granted frames of reference” into frames that are “more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective” (Mezirow, 2000, p. 8) is especially challenging when the transformation involves deeply held beliefs about one’s basic self-concept or identity” (European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness, 2005, p. 121).

“The NYPD is looking in previously searched areas for Avonte. Police have scoured train stations and subway tunnels to find the mute, autistic teen because he is fascinated by trains.” (abcnews.com)

I need to write about Avonte.  No, I need to write for Avonte.

Not because Avonte Oquendo has been missing for three weeks, though it troubles me. I need to write for Avonte because when I google his name all that pops up are news articles about the what and when.  What happened?  He ran away.  When? During school.  I need to write about Avonte because very few articles talk about who he is, what he thinks, what he feels.  He is a subject we talk about, instead of a person who is a valued member of society.  Oh yes, he is autistic, and mute.  We need to find this child who “suffers from autism” as I keep hearing on the recorded subway message every day.  I need to write for Avonte, because for me, he has become a symbol of the youth who remain silent in our city.

Perhaps it is because he represents the silent, those who cannot defend themselves, that if we find Avonte, we can sleep at night.  We saved him!  But saved him from who?  There is an implicit message is: Avonte cannot save himself.  He is running away because he doesn’t know any better.  Forget that he might have run away because his school was boring.  In the media, he is presumed incompetent.  His story becomes irrelevant because it has already been constructed by the news outlets who so desperately call for his return.

Yes, Avonte is labelled autistic, and yes, he does not use oral communication.  Still, how should we conceive of knowing Avonte?  One mode that we privilege in our society, verbal communication, is not his chosen mode of participation.  Some articles refer to him as mute, others says he is non-verbal (an often used term in New York City’s special education discourse).  No one writes about him.  As a fourteen year old boy, one with a story to tell, with preferences, with thoughts and feelings.  Since they cannot be communicated through speaking, they remain unknown—at least in the mass media.  I imagine if you spoke to Avonte’s family they would tell you quickly, his favorite food, the shows he watches on TV, what subject he likes in school.  There are many other modes of participation, different modalities for telling ones story.

I worked for three years as a teacher in District 75, the special education district in New York City.  My first year we received a grant that gave us materials and resources (Teaching Artists) to support our students in writing a musical.  The youth at my school wrote the play, music, lyrics, made the sets, designed the costumes.  The opening song:  No one wants to be forgotten, no one wants to be left behind.  Sad, lost, mad, frustrated.  I want to hit something.  I never forgot those words because that was the first time I realized how I was constructing the identity of the youth I was working with.  I would argue the same type of identity constructions happens with court involved youth.  I think as the quote at the beginning states that it is only through examining our own beliefs and identity that we can begin to transform.  Why do we allow Avonte (and other youth) to be constructed as silent?  How do we stop treating youth as subjects and develop capacity oriented models by which to re-imagine and understand youth.

I hope that more people write for Avonte and I hope that he finds his way home.  Mostly, I hope at some point in the not so distant future we get to hear his story.

Avonte Oquendo left his school is Rego Park, Queens, three weeks ago.  For more information about Avonte Oquendo please read the following article:  http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2013/oct/17/find-missing-autistic-teen-avonte-oquendo/    (Amsterdam News: The new Black view).   

 

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