Helping to Change the Narrative on Race

Speaking with Middle School Students About Being a 12 Year Old in 1959

Wilma Jones at Swanson Middle School

This week I had the privilege of presenting my newest workshop for middle school students at Thomas Jefferson and Swanson Middle Schools. I am partnering with Arlington Humanities to help the students discuss life as a 12 year old African American in Arlington in 1959. These workshops are a part of the Changing the Narrative on Race project provided through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Virginia Humanities, who have funded projects in six localities in Virginia.

The purpose of the grant program is to develop “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation initiatives across the Commonwealth. In collaboration with community partners, educators, and librarians, Virginia Humanities is developing programs that use stories to empower Virginians in underserved communities in Arlington, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke, and Harrisonburg. These programs will focus on fostering safe opportunities for all to tell their stories and engage with the experiences of others. “

The workshops are based on the experiences of my sibling interviews and periodical research I completed for my book, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood.” I had a such a great time interacting and engaging these young minds. Many were surprised by the information. But I was surprised and also moved by some areas of the discussion. Every one of the three sessions were different because of the dynamic of energy between the kids and I.

These workshops and keynotes are so important because it helps the stories come alive. We can delve into the details that matter to them. I make sure to prep so I know what is important. Like how? Well, I knew I’d have a good number of pre-teens boys. So most of my geography references were to the fast food spots. They “got” every one. There’s more to come from this engagement with the students next month. I am so looking forward to it!

The purpose of the book is to share these stories with people, both young and old. This is Arlington history. Virginia history. U.S history. Black history. And yes, even Women’s History.

Thanks for the opportunity, Arlington Humanities. Stay turned for more of events in 2019 . I think everyone enjoyed themselves this week. And I know the ancestors were pleased.

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