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Gordon Parks/Community-Inspired

July 4, 2017
gordon parks photo

As part of Westport Academy’s “People of the Word Showcase,” eighth-grade students photographed classmates at the Boys and Girls Club in the same spirit of Gordon Parks’ iconic photograph, “American Gothic,” of Ella Watson. Carole Boston Weatherford’s book, “Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America” was one of the 10 books chosen by school community to build arts activities around, pictured above.

As I reflect on my first year of teaching in New Orleans, I think about what brought me back to education: Baltimore. During the year I spent in Baltimore, I had the privilege of partnering with educators in Baltimore City Public Schools as part of the arts-based literacy program I was coordinating called People of the Word.

The program was based on the idea that we are stronger together. The community – including parents, teachers, school and community partners – would choose a culturally-responsive book set that would be utilized through arts activities in that variety of settings, from the classrooms to spaces in the community.

This pilot program illuminated, to me, not only my ardent desire to get back into the classroom, but how much family and community engagement is a part of a school’s success. I brought this lesson into my first year in New Orleans, and struggled to implement consistent systems for involving families at a school that faced deep problems beyond low family engagement. Starting this upcoming year at a new school with better systems in the same community, I am determined to serve our families better.

instagram westport showcase

The Westport Gordon Parks-inspired Black Lives Matter portrait series was created by two eighth-grade students at the Boys and Girls Club, Wanya, Jalyn and one ninth-grade student, Daishell. Using a book from the Westport Academy book set by Carole Boston Weatherford, “Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America,” as a springboard, the students explored both Gordon Parks and other significant contributors to the rich history of African-American photographers. After a scaffolded learning process around technical knowledge of cameras, elements of photography, and Gordon Parks’ mission of social justice that drove his work, they explored local photographers doing similar work today, such as Devin Allen. The students then came up with the project idea to photograph all of the students at the Westport Boys and Girls Club in the spirit of Gordon Parks’ “American Gothic,” photograph of Emma Watson to tell the stories of Westport’s children. At the end of the year People of the Word art showcase, they created a Black Lives Matter exhibit, displaying not only their own photography but also Gordon Parks’, as well as collages of African-American victims of police brutality.

As I continue to educate myself on best practices and inspiring stories of teachers and schools doing it right, I ended up looking back at our People of the Word, Gordon-Parks inspired photography project in Baltimore, and feel even more motivated to find opportunities to bring arts, literacy and community mindsets together. There are many more beautiful photographs the students shot, but this is a small sample of the work they did. Never doubt the vision and power of America’s youth!

wesport BLM cover



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