Lately I’ve been tripping down memory lane, in part b/c I’m heading to Toronto soon and in part b/c I’ve been reviewing “the novel of my youth,” which was based on my experience as a teaching artist in Brooklyn back in the day. I started working with kids when I still was a kid myself—both my parents are schoolteachers, and I spent a fair amount of time helping out in my mother’s kindergarten classroom. I typed up her report cards, helped put up and take down displays, and always vowed I would never work with kids that age. When I was thirteen my father had a son with his partner; they had another child two years later, and so I got to find out about warming bottles, changing diapers, and all that baby stuff. In college I volunteered in the Big Sister program and tutored a local schoolgirl—looking back on it now, I wonder whether she was intrigued by having a young black woman for a tutor; there certainly weren’t many black people in that part of Quebec. I graduated from college and volunteered as a tutor in Toronto; my tutee, Richard, had recently arrived from Jamaica and he made me a wooden Canadian goose in shop class, which I still have. Then I moved to Brooklyn and joined the Nia Youth Collective; we provided tutoring and healthy snacks in our after-school program. We met on Saturdays as well and tried to instill pride in our students’ black heritage. The summer before I started graduate school we collaborated with a filmmaker and ran the Youth Media Leadership Project; our teen participants made a video about the community (Ft. Greene before gentrification) and we designed and painted a mural. I first met Cidra that summer—she was one of our brightest members and I worked with her again the following summer when a group of feminists started a program for girls: Sista II Sista. Now Cidra’s the Associate Director of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, an amazing organization that provides (among other things) tutoring and rites of passage programs for kids and teens here in NYC. They’ve traveled to Brazil and Ghana, they’ve been featured on Oprah—they’re amazing. Right now they’re gearing up for a fabulous event you don’t want to miss: Voices 7. If you can’t attend and mingle with the stars (Cornel West, Rosario Dawson, David Dinkins, Soledad O’Brien), then I hope you’ll consider making a donation to support the important work they do with and for our youth.
(photo credit: Valerie Caesar)