Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis

Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.

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The Rev. Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. Her writing, preaching, and teaching explore how to be people of faith in this time and place. She is host and producer of The Holy Holy Podcast, an interfaith program on life’s large questions bringing together secular leaders with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian voices. She is the author of Bubble Girl: An Irreverent Journey of Faith (Chalice, 2013), which puts Christian systematic theology into an accessible, narrative form for personal and group reflection on how our stories are wrapped up in God’s story. Outside of St. Luke’s, Kat works in fundraising consulting for large non-profit organizations. She and her husband live in Chicago. Full disclosure: Kat and the Small Stones editors were college classmates.

Small Stones: We are picking people to talk to who are engaged in education at all sorts of different levels and worlds, and part of why you came up is because of the podcast work you were doing in the second half of last year, and because so much of what that podcast is, at least from my perspective, is very educational. And not in a way that’s didactic or anything like that, but it seems like it was educational for the participants, and it was educational for the people listening. It was a really great interfaith, intergeneration dialogue… and that feels very last-administration.

I’m curious, given that you recently had that role, how do you look at what we have happening now, in the civic world, that’s really invoking a lot of notes of conservative religious positions, too?

Kat Banakis: So Karl Barth is a mid-20th century theologian, and he talked about how when you preach, you always do so with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. And when I was putting together the first season of the podcast, I was really looking at, and to use a religious term, exegeting, my congregation, seeing that so many of the young families coming in had grown up in multi religious or non-religious households, and really for me to be a good pastor to my congregation, I needed to expand my aperture and purview of interfaith work. This was to be able to gain fluency, to be able to pastor to them, and also because I think that it is important in the public square to have interreligious dialogue.

But you also make a really good point that it was, to a certain extent, a situation of the time, in that there was this burgeoning—there’s always been interfaith work in the US, but particularly since 9/11, thinking about intra-Abrahamic initiatives has been very live. And so it was intentionally the sort of topics that bring people back to religion, broad topics, and then doing interfaith education around life issues, which as you point out, felt appropriate to the time, and creating a space for interfaith education around life topics.

Fast forward to the present, and—

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis”

Small Stones Interviews: LaQuisha Beckum

“Whether I’m working with the teens, or with the college students, I’m always trying to ensure they are kind to themselves in the process.”

We are thrilled to present the first in a series of Small Stones Interviews, a conversation with educator LaQuisha Beckum.

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LaQuisha Beckum

LaQuisha (they/them) is a community college Psychology/Child Development instructor, currently at American River College, and a Program Coordinator with the Sacramento Youth Commission. They are also the president of the Board of Directors for the nonprofit Generation Reformation. Full disclosure: LaQuisha and one of our editors, Emily, were colleagues for several years at De Anza College. We caught up with LaQuisha in April to find out what they’ve been up to since the election and how the new administration, and its policies, are impacting their students.

Small Stones: So, you are the first person we’re actually talking to–thanks so much! How did you get into education, if we can start from the very beginning?

LaQuisha Beckum: I began my career as a camp leader back in 1996. I worked my way up to assistant site director, then site director receiving certification to work with 5-9-year-olds and 10-14-year-olds. That work was with the YMCA and lasted 5 years. During this time, I was also working as a TA for a professor at SJSU. I spent one year working at a teen center after leaving the YMCA, then went into research. I didn’t start teaching college until winter 2006 at De Anza College.

SS: So what are things are like right now for you, as an educator? You’re at American River now? Teaching psychology?

LB: Yes, I’m at American River College now. Students are hanging in there. I think they feel similar to the rest of us, without them having the historical notes we have. They are feeling anxious, afraid at times, hopeful (one teen told me that he hopes this will be a phoenix phase…things crumble only to be reborn into something better). I work with youth ages fourteen to nineteen AND teach at the college. Nothing that either group has said is vastly different.

SS: What historical notes do you think are most important? Fourteen-year-olds in particular have only really known one administration…

LB: I think above everything, is understanding systems…that these things aren’t created by individuals, that it’s a group effort! We can talk about the idiocy of Drumpf all day, but it took a messed up system to even make it possible for him to reach this rank of government.

SS:  I remember being afraid about what would come next if he weren’t elected, wondering what the system would spit at us the next time.

LB: Exactly…they are familiar with Obama, but they probably didn’t realize he dropped three bombs an hour on the Mid-East in 2016.

I have been quite numb since he [Trump] won.

SS: The optics were way better, but bombs are bombs.

LB: Precisely!

SS: How does it affect how you teach? I’ve been your student before in professional settings, so I know you connect with students well. Is that easier? Harder? More urgent? None of the above?

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: LaQuisha Beckum”

The Voices Behind Studs Terkel’s “Working”

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If you’re like we are and you find oral histories fascinating, you’ve probably encountered Studs Terkel’s WorkingIf not, you have a major treat in store. Terkel went around the country in the early 1970s, interviewing people about what they did all day. The result was an incredible collection, one that gave insight into the lives of a wide range of ordinary people. We can attest that it’s excellent for high school or college classroom use, whether in full or as excerpts.

Radio Diaries, in partnership with Project&, has now done one better and made some of Terkel’s audio tapes (via  available for online listening. Check them out if you’ve ever been interested in hearing the voices that Terkel preserved so well.

You can find the feature, Working: Then & Now, at Radio Diaries.

Storytelling

We’ve been musing about the direction Small Stones should take and one avenue we’re pursuing and deepening is storytelling. By that, we mean first-person narratives with a focus on the topics and themes we’ve been blogging about: discrimination, bias, racism, prejudice, and also the tools available to confront these.

Frequent readers will remember some of our oral history posts, including Oral History: An Introduction and Oral History: A Community College Assignment.

As we start developing interviews, we’ll share some resources pertaining to the storytelling process.

Today’s are from The Moth, a storytelling program that’s one of our favorite podcasts. First, three values The Moth promotes, which we offer in the spirit of “food for thought”.

  • We believe that processing experience through narrative can provide insight and agency
  • We believe that listening to stories can widen our perspective and help us realize what we have in common.
  • We believe that a community is strengthened when its members share stories with one another.

And next, some concrete tips for storytelling from The Moth. Keep in mind that The Moth is interested in oral story telling with a particular format, so some of the tips are specific to the genre.

“What to do

“Have some stakes: Stakes are essential in live storytelling. What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage.
Start in the action.

“Have a great first line that sets up the stakes and grabs attention: No: “So I was thinking about climbing this mountain. But then I watched a little TV and made a snack and took a nap and my mom called and vented about her psoriasis then I did a little laundry (a whites load) (I lost another sock, darn it!) and then I thought about it again and decided I’d climb the mountain the next morning.” Yes: “The mountain loomed before me. I had my hunting knife, some trail mix and snow boots. I had to make it to the little cabin and start a fire before sundown or freeze to death for sure.”

“Know your story well enough so you can have fun!: Watching you panic to think of the next memorized line is harrowing for the audience. Make an outline, memorize your bullet points and play with the details. Enjoy yourself. Imagine you are at a dinner party, not a deposition.”

“…and what not to do

“Steer clear of meandering endings: They kill a story! Your last line should be clear in your head before you start. Yes, bring the audience along with you as you contemplate what transpires in your story, but remember, you are driving the story, and must know the final destination. Keep your hands on the wheel!

“No standup routines please: The Moth loves funny people but requires that all funny people tell funny stories.

“No rants: Take up this anger issue with your therapist, or skip therapy and shape your anger into a story with some sort of resolution. (Stories = therapy!)

“No essays: Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage.

“About that (fake) accent: If your story doesn’t work in your own voice, or that of your people of origin, please consider another story. In our experience, imitating accents from another culture or race rarely works and often offends.”

By way of a bonus, here’s a recent broadcast from The Moth: Pam Burrell’s “My Unlikely Brothers“. Click the story name to re-direct to the story, which doesn’t have embed capability.

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(P. Burrell image by Jessica Taves courtesy of The Moth; featured moth image from“[Planches enluminées d’histoire naturelle” (1765) via Flickr.)

Real Warm Fuzzies: Tiny Paper Wins Pulitzer

It’s as good a day as any for a straight-up, feel-good (re)post.

From Poynter.org, here’s a backgrounder and interview with a small-town newspaper editorialist, Art Cullen, who just won a Pulitzer prize. Tiny, family-run newspaper wins Pulitzer Prize for taking on big business.

First, the background:

If you know Art Cullen, it’s not exactly a surprise to learn his initial words upon watching the livestream of the Pulitzer announcements and learning he’d won for editorial writing.

“Holy shit,” he yelled out to his brother, John, the publisher of the family-run, 10-person Storm Lake (Iowa) Times.

The only surprise was that there wasn’t a longer string of un-family-like adjectives or adverbs.   …

[Cullen] won for editorials that confronted the state’s most powerful agricultural interests, which include the Koch Brothers, Cargill and Monsanto, and their secret funding of the government defense of a big environmental lawsuit. His “tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing” were quite self-evident if you’ve seen his labor (which actually spanned two years, though he won for last year’s efforts).

The paper in question is The Storm Lake Times, described in the Pulitzer citation as “a 3,000-circulation twice-weekly newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa, pop. 10,000, in rural Northwest Iowa.” Click here to link to the editorials for which the prize was awarded.

Here’s an excerpt of Poynter’s interview with Cullen, by James Warren. The take-away? Local journalism matters. It’s not a novel take, but the Pulitzer payoff drives it home. We hope it reminds you and your students that story-telling and journalism are worthwhile.

What would you like to think are the most important points you made in the editorials?

It’s all about transparency in the funding of the environmental lawsuit (defense). We took on the state’s biggest agricultural players and said their donations should be made public. The biggest players: the Koch brothers, Cargill, Monsanto were all conspiring to fund the defense of the (Buena Vista) county.

We found out they (elected officials) had met with Monsanto executives and Koch executives. My son, Tom, did most of the reporting. And he tracked down how the Agribusiness Association of Iowa was working with the Iowa Farm Bureau to funnel the secret donations to the country.

We cried foul and worked with the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. They wrote several letters saying these were public records under Iowa law. They wouldn’t release them, but they shut down the fund. It’s all a matter of transparency in government financing.

How has being in a small place fueled your passion? Is it easier or harder when arguably there’s greater accountability since, well, you may run into people whom you write about on the street?

I lost some friends, but some people don’t understand us, why we would badger county supervisors so that their sugar daddy went away. I said, “Because it wasn’t right.” We felt the public deserved to know who’s paying our bills. We did a lot of groundbreaking news reporting and my son (who’s 24) did most of the heavy lifting.

We’ve spoken before about your work on immigration, especially right after President Trump’s controversial executive order. Is the confusion and fear that we’ve talked about in the Storm Lake area when it comes to immigration still the same?

Things have calmed down. The police chief (Mark Prosser) has calmed things down. He arrives in his police uniform at public forums and says, “We’re not arresting you just because you are undocumented.”      …

What, at first blush, does this recognition say about the people like you, laboring in more isolated environs, busting their asses to survive and believing as you do in journalism?

Journalism really matters, and good journalism is being done all across the country.

Any final thoughts?

Yes. Put in a plug for the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. They are broke and have little support.

(Lady Liberty image courtesy of Pulitzer.org website)

Migra Watch

Witness, Accompany, and Advocate During ICE Raids

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This is a personal post. Yesterday, I, Eva, participated in the first post-election event that made me feel potentially useful — beyond marching, phoning, or attending a meeting. I am sharing in case you want to look for similar opportunities. The event was a 2-hour training to be a witness to ICE immigration raids.

Community groups in Santa Clara County, California, are setting up a rapid response network that will have its soft launch this week: a hotline for undocumented immigrants, and their family and friends, to call if ICE shows up at the door. A dispatcher will answer the phone, guide the caller through his/her rights, and text a network of citizen-witnesses who will come to the site of the raid to document it.

Here’s how my event was advertised:

Come learn how you can be a rapid responder so that we can respond to calls from community members concerned about immediate ICE actions throughout Santa Clara County.

The Rapid Response Network aims to expand the community’s capacity to monitor and document ICE operations in real time. We will support the process of gathering evidence used to free someone from ICE custody. We will expose the intimidating and unconstitutional tactics ICE uses to detain immigrants.

Please invite others to attend to help us build the Rapid Response Network we will launch very soon with many partners and volunteers, like you!

I’ve now been trained to be a citizen-witness, with basic knowledge of how to comply with ICE directives while recording the encounter on my phone and documenting the unfolding events. How many agents? What did they say? From which agencies did they come? Badge numbers. Vehicle license plates. And more.

The attorney who helped train us recommends US citizens serve as witnesses because we’re at lower legal risk than immigrants. It’s also something white people can usefully do, with more possible roles if you speak Spanish (I don’t).

I was trained through an event organized by PACT-San José. If you live in Santa Clara County, you can go to their events calendar to sign up for a training. In the event of a raid within 2-5 miles of your address, you’ll receive a text asking if you can come document it. Even if it takes you a while to arrive, it’s helpful. We learned that raids in the Bay Area have been 3 to 6 hours long.

I’m told San Mateo, San Francisco, and Alameda Counties have similar networks. I did some online searching and found the San Francisco Rapid Response Network and another in Brooklyn, NY. The PICO website appears to be a place to hunt for more area networks (I started on their press release page).

Oral History: Students Are Historians Too!

the-microphoneHere at Small Stones, we LOVE hearing about students collecting oral histories from people in their communities. For this second installment in our Oral Histories Series, here’s a quick who/what/where/when/why/how explainer to help students understand to how powerful oral history can be–and to see themselves as historians.

WHAT?

Oral histories are simply stories people tell about their own lives and experiences. They can be about subjects we typically think about when we think about history, like experiences of war and conflict, political events, and famous people. But they can also be about everyday experiences, like moving from one place to another, raising a child, learning a new skill, or even going to school.

Our understanding of history is shaped by what we choose to record. If we only focus on typical “historical” events, we miss big chunks of what life was actually like for people in a particular time and place.

WHO?

Anyone can take an oral history! And anyone can share their own experiences to be preserved. Some of the most fascinating stories that help us to understand the most about the past exist because somebody sat down with another person and simply asked her life.

One notable instance of people collecting oral histories in the United States came during The Great Depression in the 1930s, as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. Writers were sent around the country to document the lives and folklore of everyday Americans. You can learn more about this project here.

Sometimes the best person to collect a story isn’t an official historian; it’s someone the subject knows well and feels comfortable speaking with.

WHERE?

You can record an oral history anywhere the subject feels comfortable. Some people conduct formal interviews in conference rooms or classrooms. Others meet at a coffee shop and find a quiet corner. Still others prefer to tell their stories in their own homes.

Technology makes taking oral histories even easier today than in the past; distance doesn’t have to stop you! While it’s best to be in the same place, it’s now possible to interview people over video chat, a phone call, email, text messages, or even social media.

WHEN?

The most important aspect of recording an oral history is making sure the subject feels comfortable. For some people, this may be at a specific time of day. For others, it might be over the weekend. Some people feel more comfortable talking after a major life event is over–for example, if they are busy working towards earning a college degree, they may want to talk to you about it after graduation.

Others, however, may want to share their stories even as they continue living them. Many people are presently taking oral histories from refugees, for example, who still have yet to find a more permanent home. It may also be the case that stories like these, that are still ongoing, are especially powerful to preserve and share to help shape the eventual outcome for those living in difficult situations.

WHY?

It’s easy to think that history doesn’t have much of an impact on the present. But history is happening now, all around us, and it will be shaped by the stories that we choose to preserve and the voices we choose to amplify. The better we understand the stories of the people around us, the better we are able to work towards the kind of world that we ultimately want to have.

HOW?

There are SO many tools available for taking oral histories right now. A pen and paper will work just fine to record interview notes. Most of us walk around with recording devices in our pockets; smartphones can allow us to quickly and easily capture stories, whether with video or just voice, and share them with the world. And as we mentioned before, distance doesn’t have to be an issue. We can take oral histories of people who aren’t able to meet in person.

More and more, people are interested in learning about the lives of those around them, stories that might usually remain hidden. You can help shape the history of your own community, draw attention to critical issues, and create tools that foster better human understanding–all through the simple act of listening.

Coming up next: more details about how to plan, prepare for, conduct, debrief, and share an oral history yourself.

Oral History: An Introduction

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We often think of history as big events—think battles, coronations, explorations—that’s observed impartially, recorded faithfully, and carefully preserved in libraries and universities for later generations. But history is as much about the lives of every day people as so-called great events, and we all can play an important part in preserving our own, and our community’s, history.

And these days, it’s hard not to feel as though we are all in the process of making our own contributions to history.

Over several posts, we’re going to present materials for learning about oral history, great examples of oral history that students can easily access, and methods for incorporating oral histories into the classroom. We’ll even focus in on how students can take their own oral histories and preserve their communities’ stories.

To begin, two organizations doing incredible work in this field.

Storycorps, frequently featured on various NPR programs, has been helping people interview each other since the first story booth in New York City’s Grand Central Station in 2003.

Their mission is simple:

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

The site is beautifully organized, making it easy to find educational materials, locate a story booth and make a reservation to conduct your own interview, or simply listen to a curated selection of stories for the week. Right now the front page is filled with stories about love, and you can take your pick: two immigrant New Yorkers, one from the Dominican Republic, one from Pakistan, discussing how they first met twenty-five years ago while working together at a hotel; a woman who grew up in Georgia in the 1940s telling the story of her love for another woman that she could never fully experience; and two sets of identical twins reminiscing about how they met and fell in love, with each other.

There are also several thematic collections.

One of the things we love most about using Storycorps material in the classroom is the way students react to hearing people describing their own history, in their own voices. Since there are no visuals, listeners can focus in on the language people use and the way they describe their lives. There are few other ways we’ve found to make recent history so vivid.

Voice of Witness is another wonderful place to begin with oral histories. They seek out, record, and “amplify unheard voices” in a series of books that range from stories from a Chicago housing project to undocumented immigrants living in the United States to incarcerated women to survivors of Burma’s military regime.

OUR MISSION

Voice of Witness (VOW) is a non-profit that promotes human rights and dignity by amplifying the voices of people impacted by injustice. Through our oral history book series and education program, we foster a more nuanced, empathy-based understanding of human rights crises.

Our work is driven by a strong belief in the transformative power of the story, for both teller and listener.

OUR HISTORY

Voice of Witness was cofounded by author Dave Eggers, writer & educator Mimi Lok, and physician Lola Vollen. Eggers originated the VOW book series with Vollen in 2005. In 2008, Lok transitioned Voice of Witness to a 501(c)(3) organization and established its education program.

For over ten years, VOW has illuminated human rights crises in the U.S. and globally. Our oral history book series has amplified hundreds of seldom-heard voices, including those of wrongfully convicted Americans, undocumented immigrants, and people in Burma, Zimbabwe, and Colombia.

Our education program serves over 20,000 people annually. Our oral history pedagogy has been used to train a broad range of advocates for human rights and dignity, including educators, writers, journalists, attorneys, and medical doctors.

Take it from an educator; I’ve used VOW material in the community college classroom myself, and I can’t speak too highly of how students respond. And if you’re going to be at AWP this year, check out their panel (and then tell me how it was!):

PANEL: AMPLIFYING UNHEARD VOICES

When/Where: Thursday, February 9th, 2017 from 4:30-5:45 pm in Room 202B, Level Two
Moderator: Dave Eggers
Speakers: Mimi Lok (Executive Director, Voice of Witness), Jennifer Lentfer (Director of Communications, Thousand Currents), Lorena (VOW narrator, Underground America)

Dorothea Lange and Japanese Internment

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Anchor Editions has some wonderful primary source photographs of the process of Japanese American Internment, taken by none other than the photographer Dorothea Lange. Unlike many of Lange’s other images, these works are not well known–by design. Until 2006, they were quietly kept in the National Archives, unpublished.

This material makes an excellent companion to the curricular material highlighted in our previous post.

Particularly chilling are these words from General DeWitt, justifying the internment action. Emphasis ours:

…It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity.

The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.

— General John L. DeWitt, head of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command

Tracking Hate Crimes

Unfortunately, since the election there’s been an increase in both incidents of hate crimes and, therefore, the need to track them. Several groups and publications are doing this in formats that can be useful for educators in various ways.

A general note with these resources: the content is intense. Assume that there will be offensive language and disturbing scenarios. They may potentially be more useful as background material for educators, or, with some screening, as sources of scenarios to use in Forum Theatre or other similar exercises.

Jezebel has a running hate crime and racist incident tracker, updated weekly and open to input.

Each week we will update this post with information about the most recent hate crimes, racist incidents and harassment reported around the country under Donald Trump’s presidency. If you have an incident to report, please email tips@jezebel.com and include in the subject line: “Hate Crime Tracking.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatch has updates dating to November and a separate form, #ReportHate, for reporting an incident. Notable are the analyses of patterns, in particular that “nearly 40 percent of all incidents occurred in educational…settings.”

The SPLC collected reports from news articles, social media, and direct submissions from the #ReportHate intake page. The SPLC made efforts to verify each report but many included in the count remain anecdotal.

While the total number of incidents has risen, the trend line points to a steady drop-off. Around 65 percent of the incidents collected occurred in the first three days following the election.

Other patterns pointed out previously are holding too, notably that anti-immigrant incidents remain the top type of harassment reported and that nearly 40 percent of all incidents occurred in educational (K-12 schools and university/college) settings.