Natalie Clifford is entering her senior year at University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, where her major field of study is gender, women, sexuality studies & her minor field of study is global studies. Since spring 2011, Natalie has been significantly involved in building the Whose University? campaign on her campus, which mobilizes around questions of access to higher education for students of color & low-income students. More recently, Natalie joined Rainbow Health Initiative’s campaign to work toward LGBTQ & allied communities free from corporate tobacco. Throughout her time as a political being, Natalie has been honored & humbled to work with & learn from inspiringly brave & passionate organizers for change. She enjoys sharing stories with people as a key step toward building political engagement.
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“What you know is good, but it’s how you listen [that matters] – so listen good.”
In his heartfelt, brilliant piece red, black, & GREEN: a blues (rbGb), Mark Bamuthi Joseph passionately implored us to recognize the key value which our own stories play in determining paths toward healthy social change. Appropriately entitled “Living Classroom” — as we all brought our own life experiences to the lovely outdoor green spaces — the Walker’s lively day-long event challenged us to consider how we can build ‘energetic reciprocity’ with our own communities and with others. Really, what we were asking was, “how do we collaborate toward sustaining ourselves through each other, on the ground, day to day?”
“What the players in the room make”
I had the joy of participating in a story circle with Leah Cooper and Anton Jones, in which we all brought pieces of our lives to learn more about those folks in the room. We reminisced about favorite dishes, why we adore particular seasons (in Minnesota — where we don’t have much of a chance to appreciate warm weather), and what our dream day off would be. The time dedicated to story-telling created space for considering what drives us, what wakes us up in the morning — a consciousness of our own needs and what the needs of others might be. In addition to the story circle, the collective collage and the Bomba dancing reminded me of the ways that our needs, desires, pain, and joy are intertwined, as different as they might be and as separate and isolated as society might condition us to be.
“We are interdependent through collaboration – the ritual is the work”
We have a responsibility to be honest with each other and with ourselves, to be humble in recognition that we do not know the experiences of others — and overall to sustain each other. Communities are deeply shaped by histories, stories, the people who live, breathe, work, cry, laugh, and die there with us — as well as the natural forces which may come across them. Whether it is through striving for education justice, health care access, or freedom to express one’s gender and openly love your lover, we must nurture each other through shared knowledge, skills, resources—to combat dominant forces which too often seek to keep us separate from each other, diminishing our collective strengths.
One of the young poets from Northeast spit, “put words past action, put action to word.” As Marc Bamuthi Joseph professed, “green is a really cool word, but life is an amazing value.” What we say has no meaning if ultimately we are unable to engage with others’ experiences — so we best pull up a chair, listen, and learn from each other.
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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.