When I think of space, I typically think of a physical space, or room. A location with space is a place with enough room for you to spread out. But when you tell someone you “need space,” the message is that you need time away from that individual, most likely be able to process your feelings on your own.
When it comes to being an educator, my goal is to have a classroom space that is welcoming and allows kids to be their true selves. But, kids cannot be their full selves if they are not given the space to discuss their lived experiences. This requires intentionality on the part of the educator, and I have found that the results can be truly extraordinary.
When I think back to some of the spaces I have attempted to build and foster student growth over the course of the last four years, two particular groups come to mind: the boys basketball team I coached in Providence my third year there, and the youth media program I ran with a group of young women that same academic year. In both groups, I was aiming to create spaces where kids felt safe and loved, but also pushed to achieve a certain goal. The goals, of course, were very different. In the first space, the goal was to help the team improve as basketball players and learn valuable skills needed on and off the court, such as time management, teamwork, and owning up to mistakes. In the other space, the goal was to provide young women with a place to discuss what it is like to be a female living in a patriarchal society. And, even more importantly, I wanted the space to be a place where the girls were lifted up and encouraged to be themselves by both myself, and each other.
Now, being that all of the girls in this youth media group were young women of color, I knew that while we could connect in many ways as females, it was essential for me to not ignore their racial identities. I needed help from a person who could speak to her lived experience as a black woman. So, I instilled the help of my former City Year Corps Member turned best friend, and phenomenal female, Drine. She became my co-facilitator, and could speak to her experiences as a woman of color, which deepened the conversations and encouraged the girls to share their perspectives as well. The two of us decided to name the program Renegades For Change, for we hoped our young ladies would be inspired to fight for equality and justice through the process of documentary creation.
For those that don’t know, youth media programs intend to provide teens from historically marginalized groups with a space to discuss issues plaguing communities of color, and think through possible solutions that young people can attempt to lead the charge in overcoming. Historically speaking, in most cases, young people, particularly youth of color, have been viewed as problematic members of a community, rather than ones that have the potential to spark positive change. Well, if there is one thing I have learned from working with young people in this capacity, it’s that adults should be turning to teens for help in generating ideas of how to better a community, for the thoughts expressed by the young women I had the opportunity to work with were insightful, and consistently challenged me to think in a new way.
Traditionally, in a youth media program, the format of documentary creation is as follows: first, the teens brainstorm possible documentary topics on issues of social change, then they conduct research, and finally, they interview community members and other teens to ensure that a diverse group of voices are represented in the film. Over the course of the second half of the school year, the girls created three documentaries. The one you will find linked below is called: “Womanhood Defined,” and is a little bit different from the traditional format, as it only features the members of our group. But, it is definitely a reflection of what can be accomplished when we give our students the space to discuss identity.
I’m committed to doing a better job of affording my seventh graders more space to discuss who they are, and who they want to be next year. Space matters. What can you do to give someone you care for the space to speak their truth?