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Posts Tagged ‘marginalized’

Photo: Matthew Healey/Boston Globe.
Jeremy Garcia, 22, of Providence takes a break from working on a mural at “The Avenue Concept” in Providence, Rhode Island.

Kids love contributing to community murals. I know because Suzanne and John helped paint one in our town years ago. But that mural — about local history — was bland compared with the passionate work of self-expression and healing by urban youth in Providence.

Alexa Gagosz writes at the Boston Globe, “After setting down her paint brush, Deborah Ndayisaba gazed up at the purple-colored protestors who spread across a section of a new large-scale mural on the exterior of The Avenue Concept’s headquarters.

“A senior at La Salle Academy in Providence, Ndayisaba, 17, said she had her own ‘advocacy awakening’ when the Black Lives Matter movement took off in 2020. She joined the diversity club at school, became involved in PVD World Music, which looks to celebrate and enrich traditional African music and arts, and researched how many of the racial injustices of the Civil Rights era are now still relevant today.

“The protestors, for her, are symbolic. ‘It’s unfair how racial discrimination can touch everything. And activism isn’t just marching on the streets,’ said Ndayisaba, who is applying to colleges to eventually go into the medical field where she hopes to help women of color.

“It’s those kind of personal elements that scatter this newly finished collage mural by local youth who are involved with the Nonviolence InstituteRhode Island Latino ArtsHaus of Codec, and PVD World Music — all Providence-based organizations. The effort was led by The Avenue Concept, a public arts organization, and international community-based public art organization Artolution. …

“The Avenue Concept, which is the state’s leading public art program, was founded in Providence in 2012. Since then, artists from around the world have been commissioned to paint mammoth-sized murals across downtown that are part of the city’s skyline today. …

“A few of the Concept’s most notable works address longstanding community issues, such as ‘Still Here‘ by muralist Gaia, which depicts Lynsea Montanari, a member of the Narragansett tribe and an educator at the Tomaquag Museum, as they hold a picture of Princess Red Wing, a Narragansett elder who founded the museum. In September, Boston-based artists Josie Morway painted a new mural in Warren that addresses sea level rise.

“This new project, which was completed after 10 painting days on Sept. 30, is a pilot for a larger community participation program that was identified in The Avenue Concept’s latest strategic plan. The goal of the program, Thorne explained, was to address representation, neighborhood voice, unique cultural perspectives, and community needs in their upcoming projects.

“ ‘Over the last year, we’ve really tried to listen and better understand the stories that are intersecting in our own neighborhood,’ [Yarrow Thorne, executive director and founder of The Avenue Concept] said. ‘We are looking to do more than just the giant pieces of beautiful art in downtown, but to serve the community that surrounds us.’

“Thorne said the Concept, which is based in the Upper South neighborhood of Providence, selected the four local organizations because of how their work makes an impact across a diverse set of communities. Each organization brought four to five members of their youth communities to learn, connect, co-create themes, and eventually execute the mural with the help of Artolution’s co-founder Dr. Max Frieder.

“Frieder, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and former classmate of Thorne’s, brings public art projects around the world — including in refugee camps. Frieder said he trains refugee-artists on how they can work with kids who have been through trauma and teach them to express what’s most important to them through art.

“ ‘With this project, we brought four very different community groups together and it has been remarkable to see them come together and reflect on their similarities,’ said Frieder, who has participated in public art installations on all seven continents. …

“Each participant painted a scene in a ‘memory ball,’ which looked like a golden orb with a scene of their choice inside. Some painted themselves playing basketball, another read ‘stop drug abuse,’ and one painted themselves playing a trumpet.

“One memory ball said, ‘You only get one life. It’s your duty to live it as fully as possible.’ It’s a quote inspired by Jojo Moyes, an English journalist and novelist.

“Each participant talked about the issues they and their families face in South Providence today: their communities getting priced out as the cost of living increases. Others have faced racism and homophobia in school. Some say their family’s generational trauma has prevented their own parents from healing.

“For example, Jeremy Garcia, 22, a self-described ‘proud, Black-Latino,’ described the stereotypes of South Providence being considered an ‘urban hood’ where residents are predominantly people of color. Garcia said many of their neighbors have watched cases of police brutality, such as the killing of George Floyd, and are afraid to call the police.

“ ‘These are the people who are supposed to save us and who we should be able to turn to when we are in danger,’ Garcia said. ‘If you can’t turn to the police, where do you turn?’

“Expressing themselves ‘and letting go of their past is the only way we can can heal and move forward,’ said Cedric Huntley, the executive director of the Nonviolence Institute. ‘We need more of this — in Providence and around the world. We all focus so much on the negative, which certainly impacts all of us, but there’s more to it in these young people’s lives.’ ”

More at the Globe, here. Nice photos. For a no-firewall article on the mural “Still Here,” check the Brown University newspaper.

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Image: Thumy Phan for
Gastro Obscura.
Among Valentin Vodnik’s efforts to build up the Slovene language in the 18th century was publishing a cookbook, though he couldn’t cook.

The need to preserve languages and cultures grows more urgent as the world becomes more interconnected. But from today’s article we learn that even before we were all connected, there were creative efforts to keep local languages from dying out.

Kaja Seruga has the report at Atlas Obscura.

“Straddling the imaginary border between the Balkans and Central Europe, Slovenia is home to two million citizens united by a common language. But this wasn’t always the case. For about six hundred years, the Slovene lands were the domain of the Habsburgs, with the occasional appearance by the French, Italians, Hungarians, and Serbs.

“The Slovene language — and with it the core of Slovene identity — should by all rights have disappeared long ago, subsumed by the much stronger languages and political powers surrounding it. The language survived thanks to the efforts of many people, from the 16th-century protestants who first wrote it down to the 18th- and 19th-century intellectuals who coaxed it out of the church and spread it among the people. Among their arsenal of weapons: a cookbook, wielded by one relentlessly determined priest.

“Valentin Vodnik was born in 1758 near Ljubljana, today the capital of Slovenia and then part of the Habsburg empire. He was a man of boundless energy, curiosity, and drive: Besides his work as a priest and later a high-school teacher and headmaster, he was fluent in half a dozen languages, wrote some of the first Slovene poetry, published the first Slovene newspaper, and began corresponding with intellectuals in Slovene. Vodnik’s mission was popularizing and elevating the reputation of the language at a time when educated Slovenes mostly spoke German, considering their native tongue to be the vernacular of poor illiterate farmers, unfit for polite society and incapable of expressing complex ideas.

“ ‘I see him as a quixotic figure, someone who didn’t let reality get in the way of his idealism,’ says Dr. Andreja Legan Ravnikar, a linguist focusing on the history of Slovene. ‘He never gave up — the newspaper almost bankrupted him, but he went on to write technical books on everything from mining to midwifery, the first grammar book in Slovene, and the first dictionary.’

“Vodnik was part of the Zois Circle, a group of intellectuals gathered around baron Žiga Zois, a central figure of the Slovene Enlightenment period who poured his wealth into the fostering of Slovene language and national identity.

“After the first book in the Slovene language, a catechism, was published in 1550, written Slovene remained bound to religious writing and was completely disconnected from the spoken language by Vodnik’s time. He saw the dominance of German and strong influences of Italian, Hungarian, and Serbian in various regions as forces that threatened to disintegrate the language into mutually intelligible dialects. …

“As compulsory public education was introduced in the Habsburg empire, the Zois Circle saw their opportunity to modernize and expand written Slovene into other genres.

They were trying to break out of a Catch-22: There was no secular writing in Slovene due to the dearth of Slovene readership, but there could be no Slovene readership until they had something to read.

“And so they wrote — everything from plays and poetry to textbooks and technical manuals — conquering new linguistic territories along the way. Much of this work fell to Vodnik, whose command of the language made him a linguistic role model for his contemporaries.

“Although he was a man of many talents, Vodnik had probably never cooked a meal in his life. Yet, in 1799, he published the first cookbook in the Slovene language, creatively titled The Cookbook. …

“ ‘There isn’t a single traditional Slovene recipe in there,’ says Dr. Janez Bogataj, a leading Slovene food ethnologist. ‘He wanted to educate people and offer them a better sort of cuisine, while also proving that the Slovene language is capable of expressing everything that other languages can.’

“The cookbook’s foreword is half a lecture on the importance of healthy food and half a linguistic manifesto. Vodnik makes an impassioned plea for finding common ground among Slovenia’s disparate dialects: ‘We must find the Slovene words scattered around the land and assemble a pure Slovene language. Experience has taught me that few things don’t have a proper Slovene name somewhere … Why beg words from others when I can find them at home? Are we never going to mend our own language?’

“Vodnik was true to his word: He was a purist, mercilessly hacking away at Germanisms that Slovenes had relied on for centuries and replacing them with local expressions collected with the help of informants from different regions. Failing that, he would turn to old Slovene expressions, or appropriate one from another Slavic language. This was not a case of making up a language — though he did also create a number of words from scratch as a last resort — but of carefully collecting and curating a vocabulary out of an abundance of dialectical words, creating a standard language that all Slovenes could understand. …

“Today, Slovenes speak around 50 local dialects. … But standard Slovene gives us shared words to fall back on, as well as a language used in politics, academia, and literary art. A long lineage of intellectuals worked through the centuries to protect and nurture the fledgling Slovene language, but few were as prolific or as prescient as Vodnik. Not one for false modesty, he signed the foreword to his cookbook, as well as other works, as Vodník, the added accent mark transforming his name to mean ‘leader.’ After his death in 1819 Vodnik became the patron saint of the Slovene language and a hero to the nascent national movement that gained momentum after the Spring of Nations swept through Europe in 1848.”

It’s true that when efforts like this increase nationalism, the results are not always peaceful. Ideally, preserving languages means that marginalized cultures existing in dominant ones can have a rich life of their own and create not friction but appreciation among others.

More at Atlas Obscura, here.

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high20five

Photo: AVID
AVID is a program that gives extra attention to students who might otherwise be marginalized. The acronym stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

My friends Ann and AJ had a fun time this past summer helping to chaperone their Colorado niece’s students on a trip to New York City. That’s how I learned about an enrichment program called AVID, which gives an extra boost to students who might need it and incorporates life skills with academic learning.

According to the AVID website, “75% of AVID students are from a low socioeconomic status background, and 80% are underrepresented students. Nevertheless, they outperform their peers in crucial metrics nationwide.”

Ann tells me, “It’s a curriculum that districts can purchase. Emalea has worked with these same AVID program students for four years and they are now making college plans.  Most will be first generation college students. Emalea has helped the kids with everything from social skills to completing their college applications to prepping for ACTs.” (ACTs are standardized tests similar to the SATs.)

Ann and AJ had a blast hanging out with the Colorado teens in New York and feel a lot of hope for these kids’ futures.

AVID’s approach is described on the website: “AVID students reflect and question while mastering content. … Our students work together to problem solve and to change the level of discourse in the classroom as they prepare for success. Students are taught to articulate what they don’t understand and learn how to seek out the resources they need. By teaching critical thinking, inquiry, and self-advocacy, AVID educators empower students to own their learning. …

“This student-centered approach ensures that the people doing the most talking learn the most. This engages students and creates content mastery through inquiry and collaboration. …

“All students need to learn how to learn. Note-taking, studying, and organizing assignments are all skills that must be taught and practiced to perfect, but are not explicitly taught in schools. … Educators can teach students how to master these and other academic behaviors that will help them succeed in school and life.

“Students would rather talk, move around, and ask questions than sit still and be quiet. Humans are wired to construct knowledge through action. AVID classrooms promote motion, communication, and team building through activities such as Socratic Seminars, Collaborative Study Groups, [and] peer tutoring.”

I’ve culled a few testimonials from the AVID website.

“The AVID program not only pushes students, but teachers to set these goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them.”
–Victor, High School student

“I completely changed the way I teach. It’s just amazing the difference it’s made in my teaching and students’ learning.”
–Cynthia Lee, Teacher

“AVID has really increased our graduation rates and also our success rates for students who choose to go to college.”
–Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent

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Photo: True Story Theater
An Arlington, Mass., theater troupe performs the stories of ordinary people.

Recently, John told me about an unusual improvisational theater group that will perform your story. Called True Story Theater, it is affiliated with the worldwide Playback Theatre movement, which seeks to right wrongs experienced by minorities and marginalized groups by putting their actual words into plays to build understanding.

From the website: “True Story Theater is a nonprofit theater company that offers 50-75 improvisational performances and workshops a year for community groups, businesses, and individuals mostly in the greater Boston area. We work with hospitals, universities, corporations, religious communities, with teen leaders, cancer survivors, activists, philanthropists, business leaders …

“Our mission is to build empathy and respect in community through honoring all of our true stories.

“In performances, volunteers from the audience are helped to share what’s important in their lives. On the spot, actors then portray the heart of what they heard using music, movement, and dialogue. From this simple interaction, people laugh, cry, share fresh insights, and bond. … True Story Theater offers audiences fresh perspectives, deeper connections, and a renewed appreciation for our common humanity.”

The troupe says it employs many dramatic styles but is especially indebted to the technique of Playback Theatre, which “was founded in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas in New Paltz, NY. …

“Globally, Playback is often used to reach disenfranchised people and to build understanding where conflict had driven people apart. A few examples:

“Southern India: Groups of Dalit people have used Playback Theatre to assert their rights. Western Australia: Playback has helped landowners and Aboriginal people find common ground. Burundi: Hutu and Tutsi actors work together in a Playback troupe in a country healing civil war.”

Watch samples from performances here.

True Story Theater is also available to draw people out at weddings and other such events.

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Roma families (also called gypsies, tinkers or travelers) have a hard life in Europe. Recently, Elisabetta Povoledo wrote at the New York Times about some Roma women who are hoping to build a better life for their families by starting food businesses.

“On a muggy July evening, a handful of Italian hipsters milled around a food stand at an alternative music festival in Rome, trying to decipher some of the exotic offerings: mici, sarmale and dolma.

“These Balkan delicacies — barbecued meatballs, cabbage wraps and stuffed peppers — are the basic ingredients of an entrepreneurial scheme cooked up by a group of Roma women looking to better their lives and leave the overcrowded and insalubrious camp in Rome where they currently live.

“They call themselves the Gipsy Queens.

“ ‘Cooking? I’ve been cooking practically since I was born,’ said one of the chefs, Florentina Darmas, 33, a mother of three, who is originally from Romania. …

“Nowadays she is trying to break down some of the barriers faced by her traditionally marginalized group using the universal language of food. …

“ ‘We realized there was unexpressed potential in the community, especially on the part of women,’ said Mariangela De Blasi, a social worker with Arci Solidarietà Onlus, a Rome-based nonprofit organization that works with marginalized people and manages the burgeoning catering business. …

“If their entrepreneurial plans pan out, the Gipsy Queens hope to buy a food truck or rent a kitchen on a more permanent basis — foundations for steady work that will bring in rent money.

“ ‘Getting out [of the camp] is my first priority,’ said Hanifa Hokic, 31, a divorced mother of five children between 8 and 12 years old, who is originally from Bosnia. …

“Maria Miclescu, a 20-year-old mother of two, agreed that to give her children ‘a better future,’ she had to leave. Her husband is trying to establish a small-appliance repair business …

“The oldest member of the group, Mihaela Miclescu, 49, who is a grandmother, was happy to join the Gipsy Queens.

‘I wanted to show Italians that we are not bad people, that we want to work, not to beg.’

More here.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for the New York Times
Maria Miclescu, left, and Codruca Balteanu at a food stand run by the Gipsy Queens during a music festival in Rome. 

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