These Eyes Can See

Another $4,500 is needed to help fund this April's migration project. Please donate to these Lanier High School kids if you can. See LoungeBlog above for details.

Many people are fortunate to give one answer when asked who has provided the largest influence to their ideas and artistry: mom and dad. For many others, this is not a reality. "It just was not the norm to live with daddy back then, and still isn't," said poet Jolivette Anderson, the founder/originator of the D. Ciphers Workshop and My Mississippi Eyes Project, based at Lanier High School. Anderson can remember her years in elementary school talking about "daddy" to fellow classmates and their inability to relate to this experience. It was this missing component, along with many others, that inspired her to develop the D. Ciphers Workshop to supplement those missing elements for young people.

The purpose of this workshop is to teach high school students how to convert their ideas into action. "After completion of the program, students should possess the analytical and oratory skills, in addition to knowledge of self and environment necessary to apply to any aspect of life," said Anderson. By asking themselves questions such as "Who am I?" and "What does life mean to me?" these kids graduate with an elevated sense of responsibility toward themselves, their family and community.

One of the largest obstacles Anderson faced was finding someone within the school system to help implement the program. Anderson said: "Kids need more than just being told their heritage, they need a map for organization. We need people in the system to work as guides."

This "map" was provided by Ann Johnson, an English teacher at Lanier High School—and it's working. "Since we started implementing the D. Ciphers Workshop, it has had a drastic impact on our kids' English Proficiency scores; 95 percent of the students that passed came through D. Ciphers," Johnson said. The workshop involves students 9th through the 12th grade. The 9th and 10th graders work and discuss in-state issues. The 11th and 12th graders work on the national level, and are allowed to travel on the annual tour, the other component of the program.

The annual tour of the "Great Migration" cities allows students to network with other high school students across the U.S., and to learn about the migration of African Americans from the south to the north to escape Jim Crow segregation. In this segment of the program, students learn about "sharecropping education," a term coined by Jackson civil rights activist Bob Moses, who directs the Algebra Project at Lanier. "A majority of those that migrated to the north were sharecroppers. When they left, they took that lower level of education with them, going from field to factory. Their children were placed into the public school system which perpetuated low expectations," Anderson said. On this one-week annual tour, 25 students start in Jackson, travel to Chicago, then to New York and back to Jackson. This allows the students to view firsthand the places where "sharecropping education" lives on, and they create an anthology of poems and essays along the way. This year's tour is in April.

Anderson says she feels a responsibility to the students in Jackson. She believes the solutions to the problems facing Jackson's youth are right here. "These people (administrators) look everywhere else for help in the school system and curriculum when the answer is beneath their nose. Many teachers in a predominantly black district rarely incorporate and support their own resources."

I was given the opportunity to read the poetry from one of the anthologies and was very surprised at the ability of these high school students to relate their feelings and emotions in a poetic form. One student, Audrey Taylor, in her poem "The Plight of the Mulatto" wrote: "They call me black like I'm contaminated/ White cause I'm too educated/ Too ghetto to be in the Ivy League/ But too proper to be an Ebony queen." After going through a sample worksheet of D. Ciphers, I ended up learning answers to questions that I had never asked myself. There are definitely answers to Jackson's public school issues right here, and I challenge those in a position to make a change to look within your own communities for the solution.


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