"My passion for social justice ignited when I was studying education at Ohio State University and grew stronger as I started my career teaching Cultural Studies in Literature. As an English teacher, I’ve always found beauty in the way literature can enable people to understand and make sense of experiences they haven’t lived. There’s the tried and true teaching philosophy to “read texts both with a mirror and through a window” — that a book is either reflective of your lived experiences, or a book offers a new view into someone else’s perspective.
"After George Floyd's death ignited Black Lives Matter protests in all 50 states, I was cognizant that as a white woman, it was my turn to read through the window. I will never understand the pain, fear and anger that Black people feel when they read the same headline with a new name: “A Black Man/Woman/Child Murdered by Police.” But I was filled with anger and fear reading of George Floyd’s death. I immediately thought of my students of color. Were they safe? How did they feel? What would this do to their mental health?
"But then, I heard from one of my students. A senior from my cultural studies class reached out to tell me that she would be attending a peaceful BLM protest that was organized and led by students. She mentioned she learned a lot about the world from our in-class discussions on racism because she “got to see things from a different perspective after growing up in a predominantly white community.” These young people are ready to make the change our world needs.
"I was inspired by my student that if I were going to “talk the talk” in our classroom, I had to “walk the walk” outside of it. I decided that for the rest of the summer, I would only read books written by Black authors that tell about Black experiences so that I could continue “reading through the window.” So far, I’ve read (and will recommend to all) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi, How We Fight for Our Lives by Saaed Jones and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I’m currently reading The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. And don't get me started on Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I plan on incorporating the novel's young reader’s adaptation in my class to ensure that social justice is taught through the lens of the oppressed. I signed up for webinars by two amazing authors, Jason Reynolds and Clint Smith, as they discussed racism. My sister and I watched Ken Burns’s documentary “The Central Park Five,'' along with Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” and had FaceTime sessions as we discussed racism through history. I’m also listening to The New York Times podcast 1619. But I was able to literally “walk the walk” when I attended a BLM protest organized by colleagues. I was moved to walk alongside hundreds of fellow teachers as we promised to do our part to end systemic racism by starting in the classroom.
"While I believe wholeheartedly as an English teacher that words matter, this time, words just are not enough. We can’t continue to say “racism is bad” without doing the work that is needed to make it right. But I have hope; seeing the way social media transformed overnight as people supported the BLM movement, hearing that my students are taking a stand, and chanting with fellow colleagues, “Black Lives Matter” makes me feel like change is coming. But there is still a lot of work to be done, so let’s read, let’s listen and let’s learn so we can make history."
The portraits of Kelly and her words are part of my project to show how Columbus is responding to and working through the current national protests in support of Black Lives Matter.
In addition to creating the portraits for the project, I have asked participants to “donate what you can” for each portrait sitting. Donations will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative, a national organization directed by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.
(If you’re interested in donating directly to the organization, you can donate here.)
Thank you, Kelly, and everyone who has joined the project. To join my project, please send me a private message or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to tell your story next.
To read more about the project and to see a list of all the sessions, please click this link.