Cultural Mosaic Inspires Eighth Intergenerational Workshop
March 16, 2017
Words of hope on 8 ½ by 11 inch cloth sheets ("Dream Flags") that wafted their messages in the breeze were the culmination of this year's Intergenerational Writing Workshop, a collaboration between senior volunteers at the Culver City Senior Center and Level 6 students at Turning Point School, an innovative learning environment in Culver City.
We met for six brief Wednesday morning sessions, each jammed with activity: Jan. 18 (center), Jan 25. (center), Feb. 1 (school), Feb. 8 (center), Feb. 15 (center), and March 1 (school).
At the first meeting the nine volunteers (Lillian June Davis, Marilyn Russell, Bernadene Coleman, Peggy Cullinane, Anita Jasko, Barbara Sosnowitz, Dorothy Lawshe, Janet Rohrbacher and myself) stationed ourselves at four tables as we awaited the arrival of this year's group of 35 students plus teachers Ryan Villaverde, Maria D'Amato, Stephanie Grissom and Diana Bender. My table included fellow volunteer Marilyn Russell and teacher Diana Bender.
We had received the first assignment in advance, to write four stanzas about our first name, its meaning, and why it was given to us. After we formed our table groups and had a moment to meet each other we read our assignments aloud and discussed aspects of what we had written, a pattern that would continue throughout the remaining sessions.
Homework was to write a short paragraph about how our family came to live in this area, and the stories we shared at our second meeting reflected a wealth of origins and diversity. For the remainder of that meeting our table split into two groups, each tasked with creating a Venn diagram depicting our similarities.
Venn was a mathematician born in England in 1834 who developed a method of using diagrams to illustrate set theory, typically overlapping circles representing groups of items or ideas that shared common properties.
Our third assignment was to write a paragraph regarding our thoughts about Jimmy Carter's quote: "We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams." We were also to create a mosaic reflecting the heritage of our group, using whatever method we wished: words, cutouts, drawings, etc.
As we shared our homework at the third meeting I was impressed by the group's insight and creativity. We then discussed the Langston Hughes poem, "I, Too," in which he proclaims his determination to belong and succeed despite racism. That segued into our fourth assignment, to write our version of that poem in which we describe our roots, our community and our hopes for it, and how we will feel when those hopes are realized.
When we read our poems at the fourth meeting I was stirred by the phrasing, imagery, emphasis on kindness, and appreciation of different cultures. Ms. Bender laid out a large sheet of paper and after each poem we had 30 seconds to write or draw something we found especially meaningful in it.
Discussion followed. She then shared a beautiful poem called "Arabic Coffee" about a family tradition written by Naomi Shihab Nye, an Arab-American poet whose works illuminate her heritage. Ms. Bender then flipped the sheet over and had us pick three images from that poem to draw and discuss. Our homework assignment was to write about a family tradition that's important to us.
As we shared our assignments at the fifth meeting I was struck by the range of traditions and the warm memories in which they were wrapped. After hearing each poem we picked a favorite word, phrase or image, inscribed it on a communal sheet of paper, and discussed our choices.
Our final homework assignment was to write a poem setting forth our dreams, in response to another wonderful Langston Hughes poem: "Bring me all of your dreams,/You dreamer,/Bring me all of your/Heart melodies/That I may wrap them/In a blue cloud-cloth/Away from the too-rough fingers/Of the world." We were also given a sheet bearing the outline of a heart which we were to fill with words and images relating to our dreams.
The sixth and last meeting, held at Turning Point the morning of March 1 was memorable and uplifting. After we read and discussed our poems we collaborated in selecting and sequencing a favorite line or phrase from each, assembling them into a new poem that we copied onto a small cloth sheet as our table's Dream Flag.
The Dream Flag Project was inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes and the tradition of Nepalese Buddhist prayer flags, and is meant to share positive hopes with the world. It originated in 2003 in a Pennsylvania school and has become an annual poetry/art/community-connection project for K-12 students in the U.S. and many other countries.
The speed with which we created our composite Dream Flag amazed me. I think shared dreams are the fuel that propels us, and it's revelatory what caring and mutual respect can accomplish when the clock is ticking.
The entire group then assembled in a circle on the grassy area in front of the school's entrance. One student from each table displayed their Dream Flag and read the poem it contained, with lines that ran the gamut from lyrical and philosophical to practical and specific.
My table's Dream Flag:
Take these dreams, dream keeper, and wrap them in the sky, the sky (KATE)
They are delicate, they can shatter easily if someone is too rough. Handle with care (KIRA)
Oh dream keeper, lift the souls of all in despair (HENRY)
Hunger is like a ball of paper thrown into a fire (DARCEY)
Get rid of mosquitoes (CARLO)
Keep my heart melody of music, and give it to everyone (ALLISON)
Count how many people accomplish their dreams. Nine out of 10 don't, be the one out of 10 (FRANCES)
Please imbue everyone with kindness, let it saturate each thought and deed (SANDRA)
Now dream keeper, thoroughly, thoughtfully protect these dreams (IAN)
All will succeed. Dream keeper, please speed (MARILYN)
My dream was for kindness to prevail. Having been involved in the Intergenerational Writing Workshop since its 2010 inception, I believe kindness already predominates at Turning Point School. If the true measure of an education is the character of the students it produces, I bestow an A+.