Middle Tennessee Worldviews Youth Program

With a grant from Humanities Tennessee, for example, VFOA led a two-year educational outreach program for economically disadvantaged youth. The purpose of this collaborative program was to provide these participants with opportunities to learn about, critically engage in, contextualize, and develop well-grounded perspectives on the history of their community by interacting with living primary sources (elders in their community), print primary sources, as well as distinguished humanities scholars, educators, and creative writers. In addition to conducting weekly workshops for youth aged 6-16 intended to teach them how to gather and document their family and communities histories through literature, oral history, video, photography, journalism, visual art, and music. a photography exhibit at Patterson Park Community Center mounted by humanities scholar , professional photographer, and workshop leader Professor Lucius Outlaw, Jr. and an intergenerational Sock Hop featuring professional dance instructor Craig Watkins of CAT Choreography, which can be seen here. 

As part of this program, VFOA also invited Southern Word (formerly Youth Speaks Nashville) Executive Director Benjamin Smith to conduct a series of workshops through which participants would learn how to create poetry drawn from their own stories as well as those of the community elders they had interviewed. 

American Worldviews Explored Youth Program at the Boys and Girls Club

Thanks to a grant from the American Studies Association Community Partnership program, the Voices From Our America team paired with members of the local community to put together a summer intensive geared toward teaching middle school age children about interview techniques and the importance of family lineage. The program met daily for one hour during which the participants completed a range of different activities exploring both their own family histories as well as key aspects of American and world history. Sample activities included drafting of interview questions which participants then used to interview their own family members, extensive family tree searches using online research aides, group projects creating scripts depicting key historical moments and haiku writing. At the end of the two-week period each participant's work was compiled into a bound book containing all of the progress they'd made during the course of the program. Other highlights of the program included a trip to a prominent local museum (the Bradley Academy Museum) focusing on African American involvement in the Civil War as well as a lesson on photography and the importance of preservation of media.

Me Facing Life Screening and Discussion Panels 

As part of the Community Take Back Initiative and in cooperation with the Bishop Joseph Johnson Cultural Center and the International Lens Film Series of Vanderbilt University, Voices From Our America held a screening of the independent film Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story at Vanderbilt's Sarratt Cinema on Saturday, September 24, 2011. The film recounts how in 2004 Cyntoia Brown committed murder and contextualizes that act by documenting her family history, her trial and subsequent incarceration. In helping Cyntoia tell her story, director and producer Daniel Birman urges viewers to consider how rarely we stop to question our assumptions about the nature of crimes perpetrated by youth.  

Birman travelled from California to speak and field questions about the film during a panel discussion following the screening. In addition to Birman, the panel included other key players in Cyntoia's life and in the making of the film, like forensic psychiatrist Dr. William Bernet, Cyntoia's adoptive mother Ellanette Brown, Cyntoia's first/juvenile court attorney Kathy Evans, her professor (and the director of Lipscomb University's LIFE program) and Dr. Richard Goode. CTBI board members Shawna Harrison and Ronald Douglas also shared their insights. The attending youth involved with the Community Take Back Initiative mediated the discussion by collecting questions from the audience and directing them to the panel. When the discussion ended, the youth held a panel of their own to discuss the nature of Cyntoia's crime and to what extent they identified and sympathized with Cyntoia. Further, they speculated on what choices youth can and should make to avoid situations in which crime emerges as the potential outcome.