Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Race in America: Finding the Gold Within

By Sam Piha

We first met Karina Epperlein years ago at a screening of her film, Finding the Gold Within. This documentary chronicled the transition of young black men from high school to college, the issues of racism they encountered, and the role of Alchemy Inc., an afterschool program in supporting this transition. We were so taken by the film, that we sponsored several screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area. (To watch or stream Karina's documentary, Finding the Gold Within, click here.)
Karina Epperlein and Kwami Jerry Williams at HKL

We also invited some of the young men to talk about their experiences. Later, we featured Karina, a drummer from Alchemy Inc., Kwami Williams, and Darius Simpson (a young poet featured in the documentary) at our How Kids Learn Conferences.

Karina was recently in the news about a Black Lives Matter mural that she is painting on her garage in Berkeley, Ca. To view the news report on this, click here. We caught up with Karina to ask her a few questions as issues of race are back in the news. Below are Karina’s responses to our interview questions.
Source: Goldthefilm.com

Q: Why did you choose the topic of race and racial identity as a theme in your film, Finding the Gold Within?
A: In the fall of 2010, almost 10 years ago, my first visions for Finding the Gold Within took hold of me. Of course I knew that the film would unavoidably have to do with racism in America, even though Alchemy is not overtly addressing those issues in their highly sophisticated, astonishingly effective and unique work. The theme of racial injustice weaves itself throughout the film because that has been and is the everyday reality for African Americans. Not just now, but for 400 years. Racism is America’s biggest "story."

Once I witnessed in person Alchemy’s work, it became clear to me that it was unavoidably highlighting a wound in American society. Getting close to the “Alchemy family” and my six chosen protagonists for the film (and their families), we constantly discussed things “invisible” to many white Americans – like the Black man, feared and reviled, and the long history of that. Trust was built in part because I was German, with an accent, had not grown up in this country, and I naturally possess enthusiasm and passion for deep inquiry, authentic expression, and justice. I knew African American history and literature. The bloody history of slavery, oppression, criminalization – and so much denial and whitewashing. I knew about the ongoing murdering of Black people by state violence and hate. I had studied Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s work. So, I saw Kwame Shrugg’s (ED, Alchemy Inc.) work in the context of mythology, racism, injustice, and history. And in my interviews over the years, the protagonists kept confiding with stories about their ongoing struggle with racism, their confusion and fury.

Coming to this country in 1981, my background allowed me to see America’s racism early on. In the early nineties, I taught creative expression for five years as a volunteer in prison and three years in drug rehabs. This community work and critical reading, taught me about American society, culture, history, and its “two worlds or realities.” I knew that a country not dealing with its genocidal history is a dangerous country. Racism kills people’s ability to find the ‘gold within’ themselves and others. This is true for victim and perpetrator (and bystander) alike, whose hearts must whither.

Throughout the film, words quoting Ralph Elison and Langston Hughes fading in slowly turn to gold. Toward the end it says: “Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed – I, too, am America.”
Source: www.berkeleyside.com

Q: In what way did the experience of growing up in Germany effect your own views of race, racial identity and the need to confront America's issues of slavery?
A: Maybe this question I should have answered first because my background and upbringing has been crucial in my life and work. It is the red thread in my art. It has highly sensitized me to injustice anywhere. Everything I am and stand for, I owe to my parents’ incredible resilience, integrity, and goodness.

As a post-war German, I was born into moral and literal rubble, and into poverty. I grew up in an unusual family and a devastated culture where it was important to make sure that "never again" was a serious way of life – understanding and fighting fascism, anti-Semitism, racism and authoritarianism. Everyone was guilty. Shame and denial were pervasive, as well as great sorrow. In order to redeem ourselves many of us critically looked into our country’s history, society, institutions, and our inner selves so as not to repeat the horrors of the past. (Not all, but enough did this work.) This marked me for life. As a young person, I was rebellious and impatient, but 50 - 60 years later, Germany's society and culture finally had started to change palpably, almost unrecognizably so. The lessons are still alive. They are actively kept alive.

Now, six years since the world premiere of Finding the Gold Within, I would say a revolution is underway. Thanks to years of work by the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement there is growing awareness, reckoning and awakening is in progress. Eloquent truth telling is happening, old and new demands are being made. The voices of Black people are increasingly televised, seen, heard, printed, and listened to. But there is hope. White America’s innocence has been pierced, and denial exposed. Nevertheless, it will be a long road to bring about the needed change and true transformation.

Q: Can you provide an update on the protagonists in your documentary? Where are they now? 
A: To read the full update and see where they are now, click here

(Note: In a future post we will interview Alchemy Inc.'s, Executive Director, Kwame Scruggs).


Karina Epperlein is an independent filmmaker with over 45 years of experience as a theater artist, teacher and filmmaker. Her films have consistently looked into society’s dark corners, finding the light, and addressing themes of justice, transformation and healing. Her award-winning documentary work of twenty-two years spans themes from women in prison (Voices from Inside, 1996), the Armenian genocide, to dance and disability. Her short film Phoenix Dance (2006) screened in more than 120 festivals and theatres all over the world. It was “short-listed” for the 2006 Oscar Nomination for Short Documentary, and won numerous awards internationally, including a Golden Gate Award from the San Francisco Int’l Film Festival.
 
Finding the Gold Within, her tenth film, had its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2014. The feature length documentary has been and is screening at numerous film festivals, theatres, conferences, think tanks, colleges, Black Male Summit, hospitals, public school districts, etc. – often with the film’s protagonists present for Q&A’s and/or workshops. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Social Emotional Learning During COVID-19 With A Virtual Comfort Dog?

By Sam Piha


We know that the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting stay-at-home orders, and school and youth program closures or distance learning, have been very difficult for young people. This is the perfect time to promote social emotional learning in response to the negative impacts of these events.

Visits by or the presence of a comfort dog would ease these impacts for young people, both in school and afterschool programs. However, COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to schedule visits by a comfort dog. Thus, we are working to create videos with a virtual talking comfort dog that young people can access online.

My Pal, Luke is designed for youth program leaders, educators and parents. It addresses many social emotional elements through Luke's words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books with kids and educates them on how they make sense of current events. 

Is there anything more comforting than the reassuring touch of a dog? Scientists have discovered that interacting with animals boosts levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in our brains, and can even improve our immune system. These findings prove that dogs bring comfort to the people they interact with. - American Kennel Club

Please help youth access My Pal, Luke. You can do this by including this in your in-person program or embedding this resource into your distance learning. You can also help by sharing this with educators, parents and parent groups. Follow the My Pal, Luke instagram here or to watch episode 1 on YouTube, click here

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Issues of COVID-19, Distance Learning and Racial Equity: Conversations for Afterschool Providers

By Sam Piha

The last few months have been very challenging for afterschool program providers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for distance learning and national reflection on racial equity. To assist afterschool program leaders, we have sponsored several webinars on these topics. We have linked these resources below, which can be accessed online for free.

"Check-In" With Youth Remotely? There's An App For That- This Speaker's Forum webinar (90 mins) features HelloYello, which is a web-based app that students use to "check- in" with their teachers to express their thoughts and feelings and share their daily experiences. Teachers, educators, counselors, and afterschool staff can use HelloYello to understand all of their students from a "whole child" perspective, monitor their students' emotional wellness, and sustain trusting relationships.


COVID-19 Era- Afterschool's Whole Child Approach- This Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) features Katie Brackenridge (Turnaround for Children) and Dr. Deborah Moroney (AIR) presenting on the topic of Afterschool's Whole Child Approach. This webinar covers many strategies including exploring the science of learning and development, and the practices that are most essential in this COVID-19 era.


Not Business as Usual: The Needs of Low-Income Youth of Color in the Era of COVID-19- In this Speaker's Forum Webinar (55 mins) Dr. Pedro Noguera (USC) presents on the topic of the needs of low-income youth of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard in terms of number of cases and deaths, as well as the negative impacts on youth due to school and program closures and poor internet access.


The Art of Distance Learning in Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (66 mins) Autrilla Gillis of ISANA Academies and EduCare Foundation staff share their distance learning models and discuss how they prepared/ supported staff, recruited participants and their lessons learned navigating this new model.


Healing the Impact of Racial Injustice and Inequity: The Role of Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (80 mins) Dr. Shawn Ginwright (SFSU) examines how the COVID-19 pandemic and the long list of African Americans killed by police has laid bare the racial injustice and inequity in our society. Should we urge/ support youth to engage in civic action? And, is there a way to do some of this work remotely, as programs may not re-open in the Fall? Dr. Ginwright addresses some of these questions in his presentation and later answers participants' questions.



Pause: Cultivate Grace for Yourself and Your Community- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) Stacey Daraio (Temescal Associates) and Laurie Grossman (Inner Explorer) lead a webinar on Mindfulness in afterschool. Grace is most easily found in the present moment. Journey with them to learn mindfulness practices that you can share with your community to live in the present. You will leave calmer and with resources to use and share.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Youth Voice and Self-Expression in Afterschool: Journaling, Poetry and Spoken Word

By Sam Piha
Source: Greater Good Science Center

Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially those who have experienced trauma. Strategies and activities include sharing circles, poetry and spoken word, journaling, videography, art and the theater arts.

We interviewed Daniel Summerhill (poet, performance artist and Assistant Professor of Poetry/ Social Action & Composition, School of Humanities & Communication, CSUMB) on the importance of using journaling and poetry/ spoken word to promote young people’s self- expression. Below are some of his responses.

Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and/or express themselves and their feelings?

Daniel Summerhill
A: Because they HAVE them and don't always have space to express them. Often outburst or "disruptive behavior" are a sign that a child isn't receiving the proper space to express or reflect. However, many times, us as adults and teachers etc write children off as just being "bad" or "misbehaving."  Misbehavior is merely an expression that goes against whatever construct or rule you have in place. You have to allow space for humans to express. That is why the uprising of black people and allies these days is so healthy. It provides a sense of liberation and expression. Youth are no different.

Q: Do you think that journal writing is a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?

A: Absolutely, even if it's just a stream of consciousness writing. In each of my creating courses at CSUMB, students spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each class dedicated to journaling. The only rule is that they write. They can write, "i hate writing" for 10 minute as long as the pen doesn't stop. Usually, they don't. Even if they begin writing something like "I hate writing," typically their mind is still going and ends up on the page. This is the idea of stream of conscious journaling. Allowing the mind, thoughts and feelings to drive the writing, rather than something external. Journaling allows you to slow down and notice yourself and your thoughts, which is greatly therapeutic!

(From Temescal Associates- Check out this article from the National Afterschool Association, Finding Their Voice: Why Kids Should Journal and the Pandemic Project).


Source: www.soundcloud.com/witf
Q: Do you think that poetry writing/ spoken word are good ways to provide these opportunities? Why?

A: Poetry allows the writer to discover things about himself and spoken word often allows others (listeners/readers) to see things about themselves. So in many ways, poetry is very conversational, whether it be with the self or with others. This idea in its purest form is expression, communication is simply expression. There are very few mediums that allow a person to converse with themselves the way poetry does. You are able to use images and language that you aren't typically allowed to in conventional discourse, that is liberating and allows you as a writer to tap into all of your senses the best way you can.

Q: Do staff need special training?

A: Staff don't need "training," but to need to acclimate themselves with the history, orality and the culture of spoken word. Specifically, the roots in African storytelling and more recently, the beat poets, last poets are now the plethora of good poets out there performing. These are base level things to be learned in order to yield good understanding and teaching of performance poetry. There are some good resources for this, including Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X and Dr. Joshua Bennet has a work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History.

Source: www.medium.com

Q: Can you provide one example of a writing project that you did that provided youth with good opportunities for self- expression? What age were the kids?

A: I used to be a teaching artist and would frequently teach poetry workshops to teens mostly, middle school as well. It wasn't so much me having a prescription for expression. Humans are hardwired to express, but oftentimes don't have the platform or medium to do so. My role wasn't to teach them how to express, they already knew how. They did it by talking, walking, eating, listening to music etc. My role was to figure out how to create the safest and most rewarding space for them to express as fully and as authentically as possible.

For example, Black Joy workshop, headed by Chapter 510 and published by Nomadic Press, had a diversity of young men a part of it. I didn't tell them how to express their interest in skateboarding, activism, sports and food. That is what they were into; however, in that particular workshop, my role was to connect those expressions to "black joy" and to help them understand their expressions as "joy." Joy is an expression. A good one.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources/ websites for afterschool programs that want to learn more?

A: Spoken word is still a growing and semi-new art form, in the modern sense. So there isn't a lot of literature about it other than the two books I mentioned above. Saul Williams has an older film called "Slam" that is worth checking out and the Poetry Foundation might have some good resources. Otherwise, it is best to just get to know the spoken word artist out there. follow them, support their work and immerse yourself in their world. There are a lot of really good spoken word artists out there.

.........................................
Daniel B. Summerhill is an assistant professor of poetry/social action and composition studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of Divine, Devine, Devine (forthcoming), a semifinalist for the Charles B. Wheeler poetry prize. Summerhill holds an MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College (Solstice). He has received the Sharon Olds Fellowship and was nominated to Everipedia’s 30 under 30 list.

Daniel has performed alongside greats such as Jasmine Mans, Abiodun Oyewole, Lebogang Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe and others. He co-headlined a European tour and was invited by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the U.S. Embassy to teach and perform at the annual International Poetry Africa Festival in 2018. He is the 2015 NY Empire State Poetry Slam Champion and a 2015 Nitty Gritty Grand Slam Champion. His poems are published or forthcoming in the Lilly Review, Califragle, Button, Blavity and elsewhere. A chapter of his research, Black Voice: Cultivating Authentic Voice in Black Writers is forthcoming by the Massachusetts Reading Association.

Race in America: Finding the Gold Within

By Sam Piha We first met Karina Epperlein years ago at a screening of her film, Finding the Gold Within . This documentary chronicled the ...