In the spring of 2001, I began volunteering as a mentor to a Sudanese man relocated in Louisville, Kentucky. My friendship with him turned into a friendship with many. From 2001 – 2007, I worked with the Sudanese community of Louisville and the school where I taught to develop a high school English curriculum for a six-week unit on understanding Africa through literature and the changing demographics of our city. When moving to Syracuse University, I immediately met Dr. Felicia McMahon who invited me to a session of “cow making” at St. Vincent dePaul church – The Syracuse Lost Boys of Sudan Cow Project. The project was in its infantile stages. Since December of 2007 until now, I’ve volunteered on Saturday mornings with the group to assist cow-making. The men take donations for their artwork and the money goes to buy books, attend classes, and get supplies for their education. Letters of Support: Dr. Felicia McMahon, Dr. Dave Turkon, Attorney Carl Oropallo
Since I began working with the Sudanese community I’ve kept up with publications and video work that features their stories in America. In the Spring of my first semester at S.U., Dr. Elizabeth Payne allowed me to conduct a mini-field project with the Sudanese men. The following fall, Dr. Collin Brooke allowed me to do a video essay on this work, but also as it relates to the composing process. Before I left Louisville, a friend of mine, James A’Kech Mangui, was murdered. James was a Sudanese man trying to make a new life in America after the long journey he walked as a kid. His death made no sense to me and has impacted my thinking a great deal. I use him as inspiration for the work I currently do.
Public Relations Work:
While working with Cow Project, I’ve also volunteered my time to a brochure and contact cards to help with publicity. Because I feel that assisting immigrant populations in America is very important, I’ve enjoyed helping. In addition, Dr. Felicia McMahon also gave me an opportunity to create the Syracuse University Showcase Folk Arts brochure which I did with pride.
Syracuse University Mini-Grant:
In the second semester of coursework at Syracuse University, I applied for a “Scholarship inAction” mini-grant offered by Nancy Cantor at the Graduate School. I received this grant and was able to create additional materials for Central New York teachers who wished to teach about the Sudanese immigration story and also to pay men to visit a few classrooms. A few men visited young people at Liberty Partnerships Program at S.U. and for the New York State Humanities Council Togetherness program (news article). The mini-grant also allowed me to purchase resources about the men from Sudan to offer to educators in the area and to use in their own curriculum.
Public Scholarship Forum:
Because I received a mini-grant, I was asked to present at a poster session during a Forum on Public Scholarship. There, I was able to display several of the clay cows created by the men and also to show the video I created.
The National Writing Project for Urban Educators Conference:
In the Fall of 2008, I applied to present at the National Writing Project for Urban Educators Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted to find a way to bring all my passions together and, as luck would have it, this conference did it for me. I could re-unite with the men I worked with in Kentucky, meet with teachers and students at the school where I taught for ten years, see my friends in Jefferson County Public Schools and the Louisville Writing Project, and meet several leaders from the National Writing Project. My session, “In Memory of James A’kech Mangui,” allowed me a place to share this educational journey with others and to inspire teachers and academics across the nation to do similar work. The following is what was presented: “For the past ten years, first in Louisville and now in Syracuse, this presenter has interacted through and learned from volunteer work with several Sudanese refugees (commonly known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan”). Such “Scholarship in Action” began with a six-week unit on imperialism, African Literature, lessons to deconstruct violence in the lives of students and a quest to explore the power of literacy. Today, the Syracuse Lost Boys Cow Project raises scholarship money for men to take classes and to buy books. This is an interdisciplinary workshops requiring writing, thinking, and active participation.
Local Literacies, Global Visions project funded by Imagining America:
In the Spring of 2009, I had the honor of taking a class with Dr. Kristiina Montero from the Reading & Language Arts Center in the School of Education. Under her guidance, I was able to conduct three life histories of young men who have recently arrived to the Central New York area, including a senior at Nottingham High School named Sabit Buol. During Syracuse University’s Showcase, and when the Folk Arts tent had cows on display, as well as Dinka and Didinga dancers upon the Quad, I stood proudly with our young men and women who participated with the life history project. This “Scholarship in Action” opportunity has impacted my life immensely. Listening to, recording, transcribing and writing the life stories of other individuals is very enlightening and educational. Because this research coursework was funded as “Scholarship in Action,” I saw the potential for amazing connections to be made. Meeting Sabit, as well as a young man from Liberia and Bhutan, has been a part of the irreplaceable experience offered by Syracuse University.