In 2009, Voices From Our America began conducting interviews with Ms. Annie Zachery cataloguing her life experiences as an African American woman growing up and eventually teaching in Murfreesboro, TN. Team members Teresa Flores and Sam Gannon carried out the interviews and scanned the photos, newspaper articles, and other historical documents Ms. Zachery had in her collection. In 2011 Rebecca Bernard joined the project to work closely with Ms. Zachery to turn the transcribed interviews into a narrative version of her auto-biography. The final version of the auto-biography took the form of a book, 72 pages in length, complete with photographs from Ms. Zachery's life and design work by Sharese Jackson. The first copy of the finished product was presented to Ms. Zachery on the occasion of her 95th birthday party. The book, Annie Zachery: Part of My Life, is now available to the public. The following summary is presented on the back cover of the book.
Ninety-five years after her birth in 1916, Annie Zachery gives a first person account of her life and the lessons she has learned along the way. Using her decades of teaching experience as well as the wisdom gained from her own path to education—being the first person in her family to graduate from college—Annie explains both the struggle to persevere through a segregated world as well as the challenges and shortcomings that desegregation has brought with it. From fond memories to painful life experiences, her story is one of strength, compassion and the desire to address the problems that the future holds for young African Americans and the education system itself.
As part of the Community Take Back Initiative and in cooperation with the Bishop Joseph Johnson Cultural Center and the International Lens Film Series of Vanderbilt University, Voices From Our America held a screening of the independent film Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story at Vanderbilt's Sarratt Cinema on Saturday, September 24, 2011. The film recounts how in 2004 Cyntoia Brown committed murder and contextualizes that act by documenting her family history, her trial and subsequent incarceration. In helping Cyntoia tell her story, director and producer Daniel Birman urges viewers to consider how rarely we stop to question our assumptions about the nature of crimes perpetrated by youth. http://www.itvs.org/films/me-facing-life
Birman travelled from California to speak and field questions about the film during a panel discussion following the screening. In addition to Birman, the panel included other key players in Cyntoia's life and in the making of the film, like forensic psychiatrist Dr. William Bernet, Cyntoia's adoptive mother Ellanette Brown, Cyntoia's first/juvenile court attorney Kathy Evans, her professor (and the director of Lipscomb University's LIFE program) and Dr. Richard Goode. CTBI board members Shawna Harrison and Ronald Douglas also shared their insights. The attending youth involved with the Community Take Back Initiative mediated the discussion by collecting questions from the audience and directing them to the panel. When the discussion ended, the youth held a panel of their own to discuss the nature of Cyntoia's crime and to what extent they identified and sympathized with Cyntoia. Further, they speculated on what choices youth can and should make to avoid situations in which crime emerges as the potential outcome.
In Summer 2011, thanks to a grant from the American Studies Association Community Partnership program, the Voices From Our America team paired with members of the local community to put together a two-week intensive program geared toward teaching middle school age children about interview techniques and the importance of family lineage. The program met daily for one hour during which the participants completed a range of different activities exploring both their own family histories as well as key aspect of American and world history. Sample activities included drafting of interview questions which participants then used to interview their own family members, extensive family tree searches using online research aides, group projects creating scripts depicting key historical moments and haiku writing. At the end of the two-week period each participant's work was compiled into a bound book containing all of the progress they'd made during the course of the program. Other highlights of the program included a trip to a local museum (the Bradley Academy Museum) focusing on African American involvement in the Civil War as well as a lesson on photography and the importance of preservation of media.
On Friday, August 26th 2011, the VFOA team travelled to Almirante, Bocas del Toro (Panama) to do an English workshop with children from the community. Ethel Record, VFOA contact in Almirante, had expressed a need for programs to help children there learn or improve their English to meet the demands of current times, and to have a link with their West Indian ancestry.
The workshop took place at Colegio Parroquial San Jose´s library with participation of the school´s 5th grade class. We also had students from the Escuela Metodista, Escuela Almirante and Escuela Berta Lopez. Children, all between ages 9 through 12, were divided into 4 groups of 15 kids each in order to maximize participation. Students were able to practice and learn new vocabulary and language structures using the Rosetta Stone software (which was also donated to the community) through educational activities with recreational components.
All participants had fun while learning and improving the language in a way they had not experienced before. Local teachers, who accompanied their classes to the workshop, learned new ways to engage with their students in the classroom including ways to add simple games to everyday language lessons.
The VFOA Educators' Blog is an online resource for educators to access VFOA educational materials and share their experiences teaching and learning about Afro Panamanian history and culture and the African Diaspora.
»» Contact us if you wish to subscribe.
With a grant from Humanities Tennessee, VFOA is leading a year-long humanities educational outreach program for economically disadvantaged youth and their families. The purpose of this collaborative program is to provide these participants with opportunities to learn about, critically engage in, contextualize, and develop well-grounded perspectives on the history of their community by interacting with living primary sources, print primary sources, distinguished humanities scholars, educators, and creative writers.
The VFOA Digital Library features a searchable database of interview transcripts and new literary and historical writings by interview respondents.