GUEST POST: Sofie Wolthers, the International Panel on Social Progress: Let Injustice Drive Your Passion

Let Injustice Drive Your Passion

Whether you’re passionate about racial issues, gender equality, poverty, or working conditions, the fight for social justice always comes with moments of discouragement. Something as simple as watching the news after an already exhausting work day can make you feel empty, draining the motivation out of you  I have experienced this discouragement, and continue to regularly. This feeling remains part of the battle we fight as social activists. Not only are we fighting a battle for equality and justice within the world, but we are working to find inspiration around us and within ourselves that gives us the desire to pursue change.

Who am I? I am a young adult living in New York City. I was born in Brazil and am the youngest of four. When I was three, my parents moved my family to the United States with hopes to raise their children in a safer environment than our community in Brazil offered us. One afternoon, burglars broke into our home and robbed us of our valuables. I was too young to remember the incident but I know that the thieves stole more than just our things–they disrupted our peace of mind.

Brazil hasn’t changed much since we left. The gap between the rich and poor remains remarkably grand. Instead of changing public policies and creating programs to better life for the Brazilian people, the government, saturated with corruption, continues to enrich themselves.

Living in Plantation, Florida, I grew up going to school in a uniform. My parents no longer worried whether my siblings and I would get mugged on our way home from school. Sadly, in other area’s around the U.S., this fear is a reality.  

During holiday seasons, we would return to Brazil. My parents constantly reminded my older brothers to keep an eye on my sister and I when walking in the streets, and to never let us wander alone. The encounter I am about to describe has happened on multiple occasions and continues to happen every time I return to Brazil, but this particular instance remains with me.

I must have been about eight years old. At this point, I had been living in the U.S. for over half my life. I was with my aunt and little cousin in the car. I don’t remember where we were going, but I remember the heat and humidity that day was unbearable. The AC was blasting in the car. We came to a stop at a red light, and a group of three kids ran in front of our car. They were dressed in old, tattered circus costumes. I supposed they wanted to look like clowns, but the scene wasn’t comical at all.

One of the boys didn’t have shoes on. The eldest looked to be about 13, and the youngest was around five. In the minute and a half that my aunt, my cousin, and I waited for the light to change, these three children performed a perfectly choreographed routine. They were dancing and juggling pins with smiles on their faces. I was the same age as the boy in the middle. We made eye contact. I thought to myself, “My parents never let me play in the streets in Brazil.”

After the routine, they split up and walked around cars asking for some sort of donation. My aunt said she wished she had a spare sandwich or some crackers to give them (she often brings snacks around with her for situations like this). I asked her why she doesn’t give them some change, maybe just enough for the little boy without shoes to buy a cheap pair of flipflops. She explained that only a small portion of the money they collect is theirs to keep and that close by their “boss” is watching.

We were all around the same age, but the circumstances we were born into differentiated us. These little boys worked in order to survive. They wore clownish outfits and practiced under-appreciated routines instead of learning to read and write. They were exploited. This is the reality of children all over the world.

Every child deserves their innocence. Education, healthcare, clean drinking water–these are all human rights. Here are some facts provided by UNICEF: more than 85 million children are subjected to physical labor exploitation and trafficking, 57 million children are out of school worldwide, and the commercial sex trade exploits two million children worldwide.

So, why care about social justice? Why do we try to make a difference in the lives of others if we are not personally responsible for their fate? Because the responsibility is a moral obligation. By remaining ignorant to the realities of others, we sustain the problem.

I work for the International Panel on Social Progress, a recently-developed panel that seeks to solve societal issues using the research of sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and social activists from around the globe.

In a recent interview with an IPSP panel author, philosopher, and Columbia University Professor, Akeel Bilgrami, Bilgrami talks about how each one of us thinks in two individual frames of thought: our individual frame and our public frame. Psychologists call this “the frame problem.” It is a natural reaction for us to feel empathy towards an issue like child labor when faced with a direct encounter. In that moment, we may feel anger and a desire to change a societal reality.

Unfortunately, our individual frame of thought quickly disregards these feelings, accepting the situation as a fact of life. We go on with the rest of our day and the problem of child exploitation remains.

It doesn’t have to, though. How can you make an impact? Stay informed and aware of the societal problems around you, talk about them with friends and family. Get in contact with NGOs that aid the societal issues that you are passionate about. Take action. Are you taking part in societal progress, or are you complying with injustice?

Children are our future–get involved with UNICEF. Start a high school club or take initiative on campus: High School and College.

You can also check out some of the videos I shot and edited that feature the authors in the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP). Learn how they are taking action towards social change within their fields of research. Like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter

Informative Videos:

Sofie Wolthers is a social activist and journalist specializing in photography and videography. She is currently working for the International Panel on Social Progress. She is a senior at Loyola University of Chicago, where she is Vice President of her school’s UNICEF chapter. She was born in Brazil, but has lived in the United States most of her life. Sofie believes in social change, social progress, and equality for all. Contact: sofiewolthers@gmail.com

#WeStandWithQueerYouth

We Stand With Queer Youth (Short Documentary)

There is power in reading. Books take us places, introduce us to people, and uncover things. Reading literature can show us who we are or who we want to and can be. This documentary, brought to you by authors of young adult literature and faculty and students at the University of Colorado Boulder, reminds us about that power. Please take less than ten minutes to watch it.

Teaching Social Justice stands with queer youth.

Guest Post: Michelle Falter on Mental Illness & the Stigma of Difference

The Stigma of Difference: Empathy, Understanding, Dignity, and Justice for People with Mental Illness

Every day I wake up, I have a conversation with myself about whether or not to get out of bed. For most people, I would argue this conversation is more to do with needing a few more minutes of sleep. For me, while that might be the case sometimes, this internal conversation is a struggle to cope with life and stress. This feeling of struggle stems from a chemical imbalance that is truly out of my control. And, although I am hesitant to “out” myself as an academic and educator who suffers from mild to moderate depression due to the stigmas still related to this field, I think it is important that I do so. In fact, I think that part of the reason that mental illness is so stigmatized is that people are not brave enough to talk about these issues in public forums. Discussion about depression and other mental illness is considered awkward, uncomfortable, and people mostly just don’t get it. And things that make us uncomfortable are things that we tend to censor or ignore. For me, I consider talking about mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc. an issue of social justice.

Although social justice is an often bandied term that means different things to different people, I like to think of social justice as a concept regarding the creation of a society that is based on principles of equality and solidarity. This society not only understands the values of human rights but also recognizes the dignity of every human being. In addition, for me, social justice also carries with it the need for action, when one encounters injustice.

As I watched the news and listened to the details of Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine African American individuals at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, North Carolina, and the voices of people on social media, I felt an instant ache at the events that were unfolding and just how far we have NOT come on issues of race in America. But, I would also argue that we have not come very far on understanding mental illness in the United States, either. Many people were quick to call Dylann Roof mentally ill.

However, to equate mass murder and racist actions to mental illness is not only inaccurate but it also is deeply hurtful to people who deal with mental illness on a daily basis. Of course, some acts of violence can be equated with mental illness, but it is not the majority. I wholeheartedly concur with Arthur Chu in his recent Salon article on equating mass murder sprees to mental illness; he wrote: “mentally ill are far more likely to be the targets of violence than the perpetrators.” And this can be corroborated by a study in 2001 that looked at 34 adolescent mass murderers. Out of that group, slightly less than 1 in 4 of those studied had a documented psychiatric history–meaning that the vast majority did not, and causality of murder to mental illness couldn’t be directly linked in the cases that did.

What is important to think about as an educator is how mental illness is constructed in our society as a stigma, a modern day Scarlet Letter, for those who deal with the effects of mental illness. In fact, approximately 1 in 4 American adults and 1 in 5 American youth suffer from a mental disorder. As a former middle and high school teacher, I think the fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death in students age 10-24 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is terrifying and needs to be addressed. Mental illness is widely considered to be the most stigmatized human condition in the world, and when we create these socially constructed stigmas, we push people to the margins of our society. People fear what they don’t know and the stigma of mental illness exacerbates the misconceptions people have about who the person really is. Those who are labeled with a mental illness face oppression.

In 1990, Iris Marion Young, a professor of political science and gender studies, wrote about the five faces of oppression, believing that the presence of even one of these types was adequate to consider a social group oppressed. These five faces include:

  • Exploitation: using people’s labors to produce profit while not compensating them fairly, therefore creating a system that perpetuates class differences.
  • Marginalization: relegating or confining a group of people to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge of society; a process of exclusion.
  • Powerlessness: inhibiting a group of people’s development of one’s capacities, taking away decision making power, and exposing a group of people to disrespectful treatment because of lowered status, determined by the ruling class.
  • Cultural imperialism: taking the culture of the ruling class and establishing it as the norm.
  • Violence: subjecting members of a group to fear of random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property.

Based on these distinctions, I think we can make a very clear claim that people with mental illnesses are oppressed due to at least three, and maybe all of these faces of oppression. Clearly, as already indicated by the stigma, people with mental illness are marginalized. Those with mental illness can be fired from jobs and denied health services. They are targets of violence in the form of physical and verbal attacks and ridicule. People with mental illness are constructed as not “normal”–instead they are “other-ed” through stereotypes–images of mentally ill as violent, unreliable, or incompetent. As Young argues, “the culturally dominated undergo a paradoxical oppression, in that they are both marked out by stereotypes and at the same time rendered invisible…The stereotypes so permeate the society that they are not noticed as contestable” (p. 59).

As noted, people are uncomfortable talking about mental illness and therefore it is often just not even talked about, rendering it truly invisible, yet everywhere. Two high school students recently tried to talk about depression in their high schools only to be censored by their principal.

In addition, because people’s notions of the mentally ill are so ingrained, often those with mental illness have internalized the stereotypical notions, which in many cases leads to feelings of shame and lowered self-worth. As someone who suffers from depression, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the pressure to prove I am not “crazy,” unstable, or incompetent. I also think it is very important to note that mental illness is one of very few illnesses that people are encouraged in some ways to hide. Those diagnosed with cancer or diabetes are not discouraged from speaking about their illnesses. Yet, mental illness is often considered a family secret; something not to discuss with respectable company. But, we need to stop considering mental illness a weakness. It is a disorder, a flaw of biology and chemistry, not a flaw of a person’s character or ability.

So what should be done in order to be more socially just educators? First of all, start talking about mental illness. Unpack the stereotypes with other teachers and, of course, students. Discussing facts about mental illness is a good first step of reducing the shame that many youth feel. I personally recommend the Peabody award-winning documentary “Hearts and Minds: Teens and Mental Illness” which demystifies mental illness for teens through the stories of four teenagers.

A second recommendation is simply having empathy, not sympathy for people with mental illness. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have been told to perk up or just cheer up. Hmm … if only I had thought of that! While friends and family are well-intentioned with statements like this, it can come across as belittling and irreverent. Mental illness is not something that someone can snap out of. Instead, offer your listening services and moral support through daily or weekly check-ins.

Third and finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t advocate the use of literature to talk about mental illness. As a middle and high school English teacher, there are many wonderful books that could open up conversations about people with mental illnesses. I will offer a few of my suggestions, but there are many more great ones.

Depression and Suicide:

  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Anxiety Disorders:

  • I Don’t Want to be Crazy by Samantha Schutz
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Eating Disorders:

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena Dunkle

Bipolar Disorder:

  • Crazy by Amy Reed
  • Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught

Thought Disorders (e.g. Schizophrenia) :

  • Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
  • Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett

PTSD:

  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Self-Harm:

  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Reference

Young I. M. (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Michelle M. Falter is a doctoral candidate in the department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia, and former editor of the Journal of Language and Literacy Education. She has been a secondary English teacher for ten years, having the privilege of teaching in both the United States and abroad in countries such as The Dominican Republic and Germany. Michelle’s scholarship focuses on the role of emotion in the English classroom, and helping educators co-construct knowledge with their students using participatory, critical, and dialogical teaching practices. Michelle can be contacted at mfalter@uga.edu or on twitter @MFalterPhD.

Rise.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.00.00 PM

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

neutraloppressorDoes my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.06.26 PMJust like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.10.24 PMDid you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.12.08 PMDoes my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.14.58 PMYou may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

ac6qxuw3ogsc6chngc5oDoes my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

11193321_10101769550134147_1503411069760286507_nOut of the huts of history’s shame
I rise

martin_luther_king_arrestUp from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

MarchonWashington1963I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise

3034486-slide-s-1-hands-up-dont-shootInto a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

images

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

–Maya Angelou

Grappling with Social Justice

I find myself wondering if “social justice” is becoming a buzzword–a trending topic. On one hand, of course it is. Everyone wants social justice, right? How can a person argue against justice, especially in a country that defines its founding upon it, in a way? On the other hand, though, talking about it and living it are two different things–especially, in my opinion, when it comes to teaching for social justice.

Christine Sleeter (California State University, Monterey Bay) wrote a compelling piece for the Journal of Language and Literacy Education titled, Deepening Social Justice Teaching. In it, she addresses the very issue I am currently struggling to understand: what, in fact, does teaching for social justice look like now? How is it changing, and how can I evolve with it in order to best meet my students and my community? I don’t want this work to look like a trend; I want it to be my past, my present, and my future.

According to Sleeter (2015), “Teaching for social justice means developing democratic activism: preparing young people to analyze and challenge forms of discrimination that they, their families, and others face, on behalf of equity for everyone.” To me, that means meeting students where they are, asking them and getting them to ask questions about their world(s), and troubling the ideologies behind those questions and answers. Then, and most importantly, acting out in response to those thoughts.

Sleeter’s words (throughout this piece) encourage me to look past talking about issues, and toward talking back at them (hooks, 1988). Teaching for social justice is not just expressing one’s anger about the injustices found in our country, but acting out against them. As a teacher, I think “all of this” has more to do with how my classes are conducted–what we read, what we write, what we do, how we interact with our communities–and less about what is in my heart as a social justice educator. I can want the best for my students. I can hope for change, but I need to be social justice–be the change (as Jones mentioned in her TSJ guest post).

So, what can we do to make sure “social justice” isn’t trending, but is becomingbeingstaying?

Guest Post: Cody Charles on the Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People

Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People

by Cody Charles

This is a follow-up to my previous piece entitled, Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Social Justice Educators. The latter was written for folks who consider equity work as their core life purpose. I wrote Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People for the folks who consider themselves good people invested in social justice and conversations around equity, but who may show up in the ally role most often. Well-intentioned people make mistakes, lots of them. Mistakes must be expected, and being held accountable has to be expected as well. The points below outline some of the common behaviors that show up often in social justice conversations. I want to be clear that we all participate in some of the following counterproductive acts. We are not all privileged or all oppressed. We are complex people with complex identities that intersect in complex ways. Therefore, we all show up in problematic ways with our privilege. I own that my background is from the higher education setting, but I think the points below can be useful for all folks interested in creating dynamic change in the communities around them. Moreover, this piece was written in the midst of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner non-indictments (many more people could be listed), so some of it may feel specific to race. However, these rules apply beyond the identity of race; in fact these rules only exist in the dynamic of intersections. Below are ten counterproductive behaviors that people who want to do “good” commit and must actively work to correct:

  1. Quick to marginalize someone else’s experience

I was walking through a hotel lobby with colleagues. We were headed to a conference social, wearing business attire. There were quite a few conference attendees roaming around the lobby area at that time, all wearing business attire as well. It was a fairly loud, mingling setting. An older white woman walked up to me and asked if I knew where she could get fresh towels. I was puzzled for a moment, which then indicated to the woman that I probably could not help her.

After the exchange, I looked at my friend in disbelief. Not utter disbelief or shock, because it was not my first time experiencing this marginalized view on the identities that I hold, but it did catch me off guard at my professional organization’s national conference; a place where we exchange ideas on how to better serve, educate, and develop the students that we work with. I remember telling a few colleagues later at dinner and getting this response, “I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that.”

When someone shares an experience like this with you, please STOP yourself from analyzing the situation. Listen, observe, connect with the emotion and experience how real it is to the other person, which should in turn make it real to you. No questions, just listen and learn. Hold on to your questions, which are the manifestation of your wanting the world to be a kind, good-hearted place. It is because you see yourself in that older white woman. Get past that. Be there for your friend, colleague, and mentor/mentee. And maybe ask questions later.

  1. Choose not to speak up

You choosing not to speak up has either to do with the fear of your oppressed identity being pounced on or the presence of your blinding privilege. Regardless, too often, the courageous few are tasked alone with holding the integrity of inclusiveness in spaces. Too often, the oppressed have to make a dynamic choice to either speak or stay silent. To stay silent comes with making peace with your inferiority to dominate culture, self-hatred, and finding comfort in the status quo. To speak is to risk not being a team player, being identified as overly sensitive, pulling the race/gender/orientation card, to not be asked to Happy Hour, to not being considered for promotion, and to fall into a simplified caricature of your already watered-down self. Do your work! Consider perspective as you enter and claim space. Pay attention, observe, and always consider that the ideas being explored in any space you enter are based on whiteness, heteronormative, gender binary (specifically cis-male), able-bodied, middle-upper class perspective. Speak up. Do not allow your colleagues and friends to take on the sole responsibility of shifting culture from “normal” to dynamic.

  1. Respond poorly when held accountable or challenged

You are entitled to your feelings. Really, you are, and you are responsible for your self-development. Here is a secret: the oppressed often fear the response of the privileged around identity conflict. The oppressed often lose in these encounters and historically have lost their lives. You often respond without thinking critically about the information or feedback being given because of your privilege and ego. We all fall victim to this dynamic, generally around our salient identities. Acting purely out of emotion and in defense is not only dangerous to the livelihood of the oppressed, but directly conflicts with your goal of creating a more just and equitable world.

  1. Do not take the time to do your own research (Expect the oppressed to educate)

There is nothing worse than identifying as oppressed, and having to not only explain but convince people that your oppression is valid. Pick up a book! Google it. Read some Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Janet Mock, Malala Yousafzai and Gloria Anzaldua. Do your work. Do not expect all of your education to come from your Hispanic friend, friend with a mental illness, or favorite trans+ personality/activist (LaVerne Cox & Janet Mock). Take a true interest in this crucial conversation, beyond when it is convenient for you. This is not to say that you can never reach out to your “oppressed” relationships, but be prepared before you approach them. Be well read and make Google your friend. It will make the world of difference to your friend that you took the time to educate yourself. In the future, when you ask your friend questions, be prepared for a “no” or “not at this time.” The oppressed are continuously asked to defend their experience, so your question may be too much in that single moment.

  1. See themselves as either good or bad…

We often will not fess up to marginalizing someone else’s identity or creating a space that is exclusive in nature. For some reason, we have in our minds that if we take responsibility for this exclusion, then we are admitting to being a bad person. Instead, we must see ourselves as good people who will make mistakes. Good people create spaces of exclusion all the time. That is reality. Even if the intent was good-hearted, the impact is what matters most. Often, when challenged on their privilege, people love to default to their marginalized identities in hopes of subconsciously (or consciously) garnering sympathy. Stop giving yourself limited choices once a mistake is made. Let go of not wanting to be seen as a “bad person.” Take responsibility, apologize, learn, and do better in the future.

  1. Execute initiatives of change without the oppressed people at the table

In the wake of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, and countless other deaths of black youth, we are seeing more and more rallies, protest, panels, online activism by white people. This is mostly done by well-intentioned white folks that are not inviting or trying hard enough to get black people at the planning table. Generally, what we end up with is a poorly planned event that is offensive or excluding the people it was meant to serve. I chose the recent scenarios as examples, since they are on the forefront of everyone’s mind. This dynamic plays out with all other oppressed identities, which means that more of us than we would like to admit participate in poorly planned initiatives created from our privileged lens.

  1. Create “mystical negro” dynamics (insert any oppressed group)…

This is similar to number four, “expect the oppressed to educate.” However, for the well-intentioned and somewhat in the know group, this idea morphs into something a bit more intense. You utilize your one friend as the absolute expert on the said oppressed identity in addition to having them serve as your educator and moral compass. The conversation around said identity becomes less about making systemic change or a space of support for the oppressed; instead it moves towards helping the privileged figure out their lives around said identity. In turn, the oppressed friend becomes mystical in nature, where their only purpose is to be there to help move you along in a morally correct life. These folks have to carry your education and deal with their pain simultaneously. See number four as a way to improve this one-sided dangerous relationship.

  1. Crying

Your tears take up too much space. They very quickly turn the issue into an exchange about your feelings, your education, and making you feel comfortable in your privilege. Politely tell your tears to have a seat—several seats, a plethora really.

When your eye glands start to well up, STOP or get the hell up and excuse yourself. This point is not saying that your tears or your hurt feelings do not matter; they just do not have space here. Tears rarely worked for the oppressed in stopping the oppressor from beating them, selling them, lynching them, hanging them on a fence, dragging them behind their pick-up truck, shooting them outside their front doors in front of their families, publicly shaming them, and draining every ounce of worth from their souls…so it does not serve any use here!

  1. Giving advice from your place of privilege

I heard Melissa Harris-Perry speak about this point at a keynote and it stuck with me. I began to analyze the truth of it as it applies to me. I found that I indeed offer advice and solutions through my privileged lens. I moved with ease from conversation to conversation with friends, family, and students through my place of privilege. This is something that we all do, mostly without being cognizant of the person and identities that sit in front of us. Now we all can agree that the horrific abuse of Jenay Rice was unacceptable and Ray Rice deserved to be held accountable for his actions. However, we cannot make the leap that Jenay’s only choice in this situation is to leave Ray. Her decision and our decision can be drastically different pending the intersecting identities that we hold. To impose expectations on people through your experiences is to create exclusive and hostile environments that are potentially unsafe. It also places the people you are trying to help in a position to make decisions that are harmful to their interest.

When our privilege is involved, it is quite difficult to name it. I work at a university in support services with a multitude of students and this scenario plays out all the time. I am often not conscious to the inappropriate and sometimes destructive advice I am giving. We must interrogate our privilege to appropriately support the people in our lives.

  1. Believing that being loving and kind is enough…

No matter how kind you are or how much of your heart you share with others, systematic oppression will still exist. You cannot rest on being kind, encouraging, and loving. You have to commit yourself to learning more, becoming conscious of the system, and continually fighting for the cause of equity and justice—while allowing the oppressed to take the lead. Stay away from comments and sentiments that ask for passiveness and harmony, we are more concerned with equity and justice. It is easy to retweet or repost a social justice article on social media and stop there, but that does not mean you are doing anything to end systematic oppression. We have to move away from the niceties and do work.

Let’s break down “do work.” It has already been explored beautifully by Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh), so there is no need for me to find a creative way of saying the exact same thing. I am asking well-intentioned people to do work, such as understand your privilege, listen and do your homework, speak up but not over, apologize when you make mistakes, and remember that being an ally is a verb. Additionally, I have added a sixth point, courtesy of a good friend, which is you do not have to be an expert. While all points are crucial, below are two points I want to explore further.

You do not have to be an expert

Do not allow yourself to be immobilized by your lack of knowledge. You can still do something if you are willing to risk making mistakes. In fact, you will never know it all. How could you? Your privilege will not allow you to take in the full experience of the oppressed. Move past your fear and engage other privileged folk around you and listen to the voices of the oppressed.

Ally is a verb

You actually have to do something! Being an ally is not silently agreeing with the oppressed. You must constantly figure out ways to use your privilege to push forward the voice of the oppressed. The work of an ally should not be an easy journey. You no longer have the luxury of silence. You should feel pain, uncertainty, fear, frustration, and exhaustion. It takes risking yourself, transparency with the oppressed, and calculated action to be an effective ally.

Please know that being active in equity work takes stamina, humility, courage, tough love, a strategic mind, and a forgiving heart.

Cody Charles currently serves as an Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas. During his time at KU, he has led diversity and social justice trainings for much of the campus community, including student athletes, student executive boards, staff, faculty, and high school students. Cody was recognized by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) as the Outstanding New Professional in Residence Life in 2008.

Note: there is no need to contact Cody Charles for permission to use this content. Feel free to email it, share it, tweet it, Facebook it, pin it, and reprint it with credit. Visit www.consultcody.com for more information about him.

This piece was printed previously at The Body is not an Apology.

Guest Post: Oksana Lushchevska on International Children’s Literature

Following One’s Own Beliefs: The Story of a Ukrainian-English Bilingual Picturebook

by Oksana Lushchevska, the University of Georgia

As a reading child, growing up in both former Soviet Ukraine and independent Ukraine, I was kindled by children’s books that told stories from other countries. I read about many interesting places, and was open and excited to visit countries not only to see and learn about places and people, but also to share something from or about my country.

When I came to the U. S. for the first time, I brought souvenirs from Ukraine in order to represent a multifaceted culture of my country. I have been living in this country for about ten years now, and I am still bringing some souvenirs to and from Ukraine while going back and forth between here and there. However, these souvenirs have now turned into books—mostly children’s books to be exact.

As an adult PhD student, I grew even more interested in international books, but became puzzled when I found out that my country was represented only by Jan Brett’s interpretation of a Ukrainian folktale, The Mitten. I was surprised that many other countries are also underrepresented through a children’s literature perspective. While my academic focus is the inclusion of international children’s literature into U. S. classrooms, I also care about the representation of Ukrainian children’s literature in the U. S. But the question is: how can I bring it to U. S. readers?

The stepping stones that I envision to follow my beliefs include reviewing international books for children in both English and Ukrainian, translating children’s literature from Ukraine, writing about it for both IBBY and USBBY organizations, and finally trying to launch a joint project with a small private publishing house, Bratske Publishers, located in Ukraine. I am also sending samples of Ukrainian children’s books in translation to publishers in the U. S. Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.44.36 PMSince I came from Ukraine just a few months ago and brought a number of copies of a bilingual picturebook Скільки?/How many? by Halyna Kyrpa and Olha Havrylova, published by Bratske Publishers, I want to share its story, since the creation of a book always has a story behind its physical artifact.

The first motivation for this project was a graduate course, International Children’s Literature, taught by my academic adviser, Dr. Jennifer M. Graff. The second one was the question asked by my doctoral colleagues: what can we do to bring to young readers the books from the countries that are not widely represented or underrepresented in the U. S.?

The third, and by far the most important one, involves the turmoil and tragic events that are currently happening in my country. A year ago, Ukraine became a country in which huge strives for social justice and societal, cultural, and economic stability were vitally pulsing. In addition, Russia started the war in Ukraine soon after the Revolution of Dignity took place. At this time, we, the students of international children’s literature course, read Jella Lepman’s (1891-1970) book, Bridge of Children’s Books: The Inspiring Autobiography of a Remarkable Woman.

Oksana and others read Скільки?/How many?

Oksana and others read Скільки?/How many?

Lepman was the founder of the International Youth Library in Munich in 1949, and she strongly believed that children’s books are a key to “peaceful coexistence…all over the globe,” and children’s books might help us to raise renewed generations in the world by globally showing and emphasizing the best examples of humanity through the art of children’s books. Books can expand the understanding of global connections and evoke an interest to learn about each other in compassionate ways in order to become global citizens.

Put in Lepman’s words, children’s literature “affords a wide view of differences and similarities in the children’s literature of various nations, it also vividly shows the mutual influence they depend on” (p. 54). With this idea in mind, I considered ways of representing Ukrainian children’s literature beyond the borders of Ukraine. At the same time, I strived to bring another story of my country: the one that shows that despite the war and turmoil, the Ukrainian desire for change has a huge cultural impact. Yet, the news coverage, as we know, often represents only a tiny fraction of the things happening in a cultural and social life of a country. Thus, the creation of this bilingual picturebook was another story, a story with its own voice.

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An initial step of the creation of this picturebook was to formulate an idea and its format. I found out that Kickstarter provides a fairly simple, yet specialized enough platform to start such a project. My friend, Ian Boucher, helped me with the video, and my colleague, Stephanie Maria Short, helped me with editing the text of the promotion page.

My Ukrainian colleagues and friends, Yuliya Berezenko, a gifted editor and a founder of Bratske Publishers, and Valentyna Vzdulska, an unparalleled editor and children’s book writer, supported me with translation of the information and distribution of it among potential supporters. It was difficult to believe that we would reach a needed sum of money to start the project, but my colleagues, professors, and the members of Ukrainian communities both in Ukraine and in the U. S. supported this project with great enthusiasm. I am deeply thankful for their tremendous encouragement and support. They made the project possible.

When we saw that we were about to reach our goal, I started to work on the translation of the text. I have to admit that it was not an easy task to find a right text. We wanted to publish something that would represent an experienced voice on an author, provide fruitful elements for an illustrator, and finally serve as both globally and culturally-conscious literature.

We finally settled on a poem, Скільки?/How many?, written by a distinguished Ukrainian writer and translator, Halyna Kyrpa. I co-translated this poem with Professor Michael Naydan from the Pennsylvania State University. The text of this poem raises many philosophical questions, and might stimulate deep critical thinking. Here is an excerpt:

“Скільки у сонця промінчиків? / How many rays does the sun have?

А скільки хмарок у небі? / And how many clouds are in the sky?

А скільки піщинок на березі річки? / How many grains of sand are there on a riverbank?

А скільки хвиль у Дніпра? / And how many waves are in the Dnipro River?”

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The artist, Olha Havrylova, started to illustrate Скільки?/How Many? right after the translation was done and approved. It took approximately four months of daily work to finish the illustrations. During the process, we checked and discussed each illustration, commented on colors, and tried to document each important step on Kickstarter. It was a challenging and interesting process that might only be learned through experience.

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When the book was sent to the printing house, another situation emerged. The picturebook came out with some unexpected surprise: the colors turned out to be much darker than we anticipated. We needed to place an order again, to check each book and revisit our expectations.

Another story is a promotional campaign. First, the book was presented at the Lviv Book Forum, the largest literary forum in Ukraine, and finally found its way to the readers. While in Ukraine, I visited about four reading events, and upon my return to the U. S., I also had a chance to read the book to kids in one of the local schools and as a guest visitor at Avid, Athens, Georgia’s local bookstore.

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Oksana reads Скільки?/How many? with children and their families in Ukraine.

Based on my observations, children and adults responded to the book with great interest. They enjoyed listening to the poem, counting the objects in the illustrations. They picked up new words and phrases easily, and were ready to talk about the philosophical questions raised in the picturebook. They also participated in an interactive game, which I called “A Translator.” They tasted foreign words and repeated them with excitement.

In a nutshell, I am proud to inform our readers that due to the efforts of many children’s literature enthusiasts and supporters, the picturebook, Скільки?/How many? is now available in Avid Bookshop, Homeplace Gifts, and on Amazon in both picturebook and e-book formats.

While looking back at the path we took, I believe it showed me how to answer the question that was simmering in our classroom that day: what can we do to bring to young readers the books from countries not widely represented—or underrepresented—in the U. S.?

I think that we can show initiative, share our beliefs, and use all the possibilities that digital media provides to us. We can also devote our personal time to the ideas that fill us, and to the questions that don’t necessarily evoke right and straightforward answers. We need to experience and learn from that experience. We need to believe that we can do more than we think, and if even sometimes it sounds emotional, it still worth trying.

Now, as the picturebook How many?/ Скільки? has been out for several months, and we have already started to work on our second bilingual picturebook, I think that there are so many steps behind us and so many steps ahead.

I strive to introduce bilingual picturebooks to publishing houses that are interested in international titles for children because I believe that Ukrainian-English picturebooks might bring about many possibilities and provide advantages to learn from and about Ukrainian children’s literature in order to familiarize readers with the Ukrainian language, and to use this literature in worldwide educational academic and school settings. Additionally, such bilingual picturebooks will expand literary responses and discussions, as well as could help to develop and strengthen students’ identities, histories, and imaginations that are at the core of literacy practices.

I have hope that the bilingual picturebooks that we are working on will find their way to children’s literature enthusiasts, and will lead us to see more examples of children’s literature from Ukraine, as well as many countries that still need wider and deeper multifaceted representations for classroom reading and discussions, and for a great reading enjoyment.

References:  

Lepman, J. (2002). A bridge of children’s books: The inspiring autobiography of a remarkable woman. Dublin, Ireland: The O’Brien Press, Ltd.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.55.43 PMOksana Lushchevska completed a Master’s degree in Russian and Comparative Literature, and a Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature from the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, studying children’s literature. She is an author and translator of children’s books written in Ukrainian.