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Your Story and Mine

As part of a good practice we often keep in mind “who” we are, what is our story, and how it influences our perception on the research field and the practice. This has been a long debate: should our personal story inform our practice? Maybe in some contexts the answer is a clear yes. Nonetheless, in my native France, mixing the personal story and the professional practice is negatively perceived. Being a true professional is to be able to deny our personal story.

Being raised and mostly educated in France, I am now studying in the USA; sometimes, it feels like walking on a wire. Which part of myself, of my personal story, could inform my practice? How can I question my personal stories to better reflect my posture, my reaction and my subjectivities in my professional practice? How have my personal narratives created potential stereotypes and misconceptions about the field I study?

I grew up as a teenager in the suburbs of Paris, witnessing the unfairness of the system towards populations who do not conform to the model of a standard citizen. This issue is, of course, not restricted to France. Whether you are White or not, Black or North-African, whether you are wealthy or not, whether you are labeled disabled or not, whether you could afford private school or not; the intersection of these elements considerably influences your educational experience and eventually has dramatic consequences on your future.

During my childhood and teenage-hood, I have been a witness and an activist. Today, I am the lucky one, part of a thoughtful cohort at Teachers College; we do not have to worry much about our future, so we gather our efforts for the future of others, for a better society and for social justice.

Therefore, I would like today to engage my peers, my professors, the audience, to further the reflection that might sound futile, but that is crucial to our practice: How can we understand the context we are working in? Where does our personal story fit in our research and practice? Lastly, how can I ensure that the words I am typing are not fulfilling new stereotypes?

Engaging Youth as Active Participants In/For Social Change

What do texting, hanging out, breaking bread, and laughter have in common? They are all practices central to Tara Conley‘s thoughtful and pathbreaking work in embracing a participatory design approach to the critical engagement of youth in the creation of a digital artifact that is meant to support their wellbeing. This is participatory prototyping at its best. (Wanna know more? Check out Tara’s talk — details below.)

Tara, a doctoral candidate at Teachers College and founder of Media Make Change (and YMEJ project team member), kicked off this year’s Racial Literacy Roundtable (RLR) Series (founded by Prof. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz)– this year’s focus: The Year of the Youth — on Monday night with an interactive and highly participatory presentation in which she explored for the audience the affordances and challenges of pursuing this form of action-oriented research.

Central to Tara’s mission is finding innovative ways to leverage everyday media and technology resources to create opportunities to interrupt and transform geographies of dislocation, particularly among young people who experience social and institutional marginalization on a regular basis. (Multiple forms of dislocation are especially evident in the lives of court-involved youth with whom she and we work on a regular basis.) She pursues this goal — what she called her life’s work — not only seeking out young people’s input, but by co-constructing the research and design contexts, direction, and intention with them (not a seamless, but definitely worthwhile undertaking).

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Watch an excerpt and read more about Tara’s talk — “Possibilities of Designing with and for Underrepresented Communities: A Conversation about Participation, Court-involved Youth, and Humility” — in which she provides an overview of her socially engaged social action project, TxtConnect. You’ll also find a link to her slides, which are chock full of useful and important information.

Please share widely!

(Congrats, Tara!)

New Books on Youth, Justice, & Institutions

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 5.26.06 PMTo the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care is the recently published book by Cris Beam that offers a layered, multi-faceted, and poignant exploration of New York City’s Foster Care System by focusing on the lives of the children and their families — both bio and foster — who are deeply affected by institutional and system-wide policies and practices. Beam writes based on her research — for this book, she spent five years interviewing and spending time with foster families — and from personal experience and positions the texts as an attempt to better understand why, despite the “more than a million adults [who] are directly or indirectly employed to ensure [foster children’s] well-being, and $15 to $20 billion a year [that] are poured into overseeing their health and management,” no one thinks the system is working. Beam’s book does not offer neat solutions. Instead, her rich descriptions and thoughtful prose offer different points of entry into the seemingly entrenched set of challenges that affect the people caught in the system at every level. Read the first chapter of the book here.

 Arts, Media, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth is a volume edited by YMEJ member Lalitha Vasudevan and Tiffany DeJaynes and brings together a collection of chapters authored by practitioners and researchers who worked with youth in a variety of arts-based and media settings. Central to all of the chapters is an emphasis on how, through exploration with the arts and media, young people involved with the juvenile justice system may be engaged as agentive partners in reimagining education in their lives. Ranging from photography and theater to media making and creative writing, the contexts depicted in this volume hold important implications for educators, the field of youth development, and policy makers in how we might better support young people who find themselves embroiled court-involved — the thoughtful and illustrative writings of the authors suggests that rather than emphasizing punitive measures, we might create conditions in which exploration of self and world may occur in meaningful, collaborative, and potentially transformative ways.

(**All proceeds from book sales go to supporting the work of alternative to detention and alternative to incarceration programs in New York City. ***)

“Hunger hurts everyone” – A Place at the Table

After a sweltering July, I took pleasure in the breezy feel of an unlikely August Sunday afternoon. I switched on the tv as background noise, but quickly became drawn into the stories being shared by two women as they sat and talked with the always astute Bill Moyers. The topic being discussed, among other things, was the film “A Place at the Table,” and Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers, and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, were Moyers’ guests. Their argument was relatively simple: hunger hurts everyone.

I found myself nodding along, but was unprepared for the footage they shared from the film, which also documents the efforts of Chilton and her Center against the backdrop of the federal funding cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One loving mother eats a bologna sandwich in the kitchen after serving her two small children a portion of pasta each. She does not “look hungry” as the argument sometimes goes, says Chilton, who notes in a comment to Moyers after this scene is shown that the mother even hides her nutritional sacrifice from her children.

We have seen this narrative many times: parents who care deeply for their children, but who are still unable to provide the necessary basics. Where are they meant to turn? What supports exist for adults who are working full time, often more than one job, and whose wages keep them perpetually “food insecure” — the term used throughout the film to signal an all too common phenomenon: not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.

Moyers’ guests talk policy, change, action, and urgency, and yet the parting words have to do with the struggle to get noticed by legislators for long enough of a period to actually effect change. Too mired in uninformed definitions of dependency and misguided notions of socialism are the political arguments that seem to surface any time issues of great urgency — and this includes hunger as well as shelter, safety, and wellbeing of children — are brought into the realm of legislation.

It’s enough to make one ask what else can be done at the local, community, neighborhood level. This is one of the reasons I appreciate the multi-tiered efforts of Chilton’s Center at Drexel University that seems to bring together families — who they are calling “Witnesses to Hunger” — with a shared focus on community-based projects, actions, research, and policy.

Here’s another link to PBS Newshour footage about the film, featuring clips and additional interviews:

And in case you were wondering… yes, this is where YMEJ is headed. And we are thrilled to have learned about the Center for Hunger-Free Communities as inspiration. Universities, too, can be part of the work and not only in the business of posing problems and solutions.

Link to Moyers’ broadcast – or watch the complete program here:

Click for more resources connected with hunger, nutrition, and poverty.

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