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Cross-Country Collaboration

During this year’s Summer Institute, in addition to wonderful participants from all over the country, Community-Word Project (CWP) had the pleasure to host staff members from the Memphis Music Initiative (MMI). Five staff members traveled all the way from Tennessee to not only partake in the rich social justice training provided during Summer Institute, but to explore how that work could impact their organization directly with an additional customized training day.

This collaboration has been months in the works, beginning in November, when MMI staff members Janet Thompson, Lecolion Washington, and Morgan Beckford traveled to New York to observe and participate in one of the Saturday trainings that are an essential part of the Teaching Artist Project (TAP).

After an in-depth session where the MMI staff viewed collaborative lesson plan presentations from our 2016-17 class, the partnership was sealed, with plans to customize a training day specifically tailored to the Memphis organization’s needs.

Program Director Patti Chilsen then began to work closely with MMI to structure a training series that would work for them. It included flying five MMI staff members to New York to take part in CWP’s annual three-day Summer Institute, with an additional customized day following immediately after. The additional training would focus on MMI’s Spheres of Influence within the organization and impact on the populations they serve.

In July, the five participants (Janet Thompson, Ty Boyland, Sabrina Hu, David Bassa, and Tonya Dyson) traveled to Harlem and took part in Summer Institute. They created collaborative performance pieces, poetry, contributed to meaningful discussions about social justice pedagogy, took social action, and were an essential part of this awe-inspiring community of artists and administrators from around the country.

“One of the most helpful aspects of day two was the privilege circle. My favorite moment happened during the unified understanding that we may not always agree, but we all fight for the same end result.” - Ty Boyland

After an intense three days, the MMI participants said goodbye to the rest of the Summer Institute community and met on Saturday with Patti, and Managing Director, Katie Rainey, for an additional fourth day at the Langston Hughes House in Harlem, thanks to Renée Watson and the I, Too Arts Collective.

Together, the group explored ways to bring what they had learned in the training back to their organizations, including making clear connections on what they know they can integrate, weaving other art forms into a lesson to enhance your own craft, interdisciplinary curriculum, interpretive exercises, inquiry-based learning, community-building games, reflection exercises, and so much more.

They also collaborated on ways to bring this training to the schools MMI works with and the populations they serve, specifically in terms of ownership and collaboration with administrators and classroom teachers. Organizations can face challenges when dealing with school partnerships, such as lack of buy-in from teachers and administrators, not trusting or seeing the shared vested interest in youth development, differences in school systems, and invested involvement by youth and parents. The MMI staff members, however, are committed to addressing these issues head-on and to bringing this kind of social justice work to the people they serve.

It was an amazing collaboration and the TAP staff are honored to have worked with such talented, dedicated, and inspiring Teaching Artist fellows. We hope this collaboration continues for many years to come.

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