Sunday, February 14, 2010

Go, Tell It! Students Perform their own version of “Go, Tell Michelle”

Peggy and I often talk about “unintended consequences” related to the Uncrowned Queens Institute. Unintended consequences are those seemingly random and un-anticipated outcomes which result from a project in addition to the “intended” outcomes. As an example, a decade ago when we designed the Uncrowned Queens Project, we expected that we would gather, document and preserve the histories of many “unheralded” African American community builders. We anticipated that our website, which makes this archive of Uncrowned Queens’ histories accessible to the World Wide Web, would create a dynamic, first-of-its kind “techno-pedia” for enrichment of educational curriculum, historical research, oral history research, for example. It has done that and much more. But, we could not have guessed, ten years ago, that thanks to the website, we would also become an “information referral service” uniting long lost relatives or connecting academics; or an informational source for those constructing obituaries, testimonials or personal dossiers and curriculum vitae.

I offer this backdrop to preface my assertion that we’ve learned a few things over the last decade about the creativity and inventiveness of people that usually prepares us (or so we think) for the “unintended consequences” that accompany the work we’ve been engaged in for so long. Over the last year, we have certainly explored, discussed and written about the diverse and powerful lessons that can be found in “Go, Tell Michelle”. We have not been alone in our assessment that the letters in “Go, Tell Michelle” capture and define the historic response of African American women to the election of our first African American President accompanied by our First African American First Lady. Several colleges and professors have incorporated the book into courses that explore issues that impact the lives of Black women and about which we feel passionately. But we also believe that there are other venues by which these issues can be taught, debated and related to current and historic themes.

We took the first step, we think, of collaborating on the creation of a dramatic vehicle (an unintended consequence) so that we could expand the limits of discourse about the significance of “Go, Tell Michelle”. We are just at the beginning of that endeavor but can envision the potential for another exciting educational vehicle as an accompaniment to the text. In fact, this past Friday this belief was re-enforced by a group of high school students, who surprised the hell out of us, took our breath away and “one-upped” us by putting some of our words to music! (another unintended consequence) In a short production they called, “Go, Tell It”, students from the Canisius College Talent Search Program reflected on the lessons of “Go, Tell Michelle” and kept their peers, approximately 125 male and female, spellbound by their performance. The 50 adults in the room were also captivated by the talent and creativity of these junior and senior high school students.

Peggy and I are delighted that these students are reading and finding a way to interpret the messages from “Go, Tell Michelle” in a way that has meaning for them. Peggy and I will be following up with the staff to set up some discussion group sessions as we believe that when a door is open, one should go through it. This group may not be the only group of high school students who have developed a unique way to learn from “Go, Tell Michelle”. If you know of other adaptations of the book, please let us know. We’re interested in adding to list of outcomes for “Go, Tell Michelle” – intended and unintended!

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