When I decided to take the plunge and to bring my first ethnodrama to students, I wanted them to have as much ownership as possible in their learning. So I brought a host of physical copies of ethnodramas and let them hold them and browse through them and told them what they were about and asked them which one they would like to read together.
The answer? None. As I had feared, the post-conflict topics were too real and too intense to consider.
I went home that day deflated, marveling once again at the highs and lows of being a teacher. When all the planning works well, it’s the best profession ever. When all the planning falls flat, it’s hard to feel like a success.
But I listened to the obvious in what they were teaching me instead of my fear of failure, and I took another stab at it.
I went through every ethnodrama and pulled out powerful passages and put them onto a handout.
When I went in the next day, I let them perform the different passages. Then I asked them again – which one would you like to read together?
To my delight, they got into a good discussion about which best aligned with their collective interests. They picked one, and our journey into ethnodrama began.
Our St. Louis Immigration Stories
A Nation of Immigrants
The American dream is a national ethos that anyone can rise and become financially stable through hard work and perseverance. Immigrants bring a little more than their ambition to succeed; they open businesses, buy homes, and even get elected into offices where their voices echo even beyond their communities (Clark, 2003).
“We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better” (Romney, 2012) said Mitt Romney during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2012
There are other reasons as well that people have immigrated to America and to St. Louis.
The 5 largest ethnic groups in St. Louis city, MO are Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) (44.9%), White (Non-Hispanic) (44.5%), Asian (Non-Hispanic) (3.44%), Two+ (Non-Hispanic) (2.54%), and White (Hispanic) (2.33%) (Data, USA). In 2010, 75,000 or 4.5% of the St. Louis Metropolitan Region was Latinx (St. Louis Public Radio). 0.5% of the Missouri state population is Native American (Kathryn Buder Center, Washington University, 2014). Around 66 Osage live in St. Louis City (Rice, 2014). 0% of the households in St. Louis city, MO speak a non-English language at home as their primary language. 95.5% of the residents in St. Louis city, MO are U.S. citizens (Data USA).
All ethnic groups immigrated to America, by choice, necessity or by force. All ethnicities experienced similar and different resistance to their presence in this country. In the midst of that resistance, they formed wonderful non-profits, cultural centers, schools and institutions to build and sustain community and a home in our region. Here are a few of our local ethnic stories.
Native Americans in St. Louis
Native Americans started out as a larger population who lived across the entire state of Missouri. The tribes included the Oto, Ioway, Missouria, Illini, Osage, Quapaw, and Chickasaw (Karen House). Due to periods of displacement and relocation, Native American were moved on and off reservations, starting with their relocation to Oklahoma (Buder Center, 2019).
As World War II ended, policies shifted away from supporting Native American tribes and reservations and towards integration into cities. In 1944, more than 20% of land around the Missouri River that belonged to Native Americans was taken by the Corps of Engineers (Buder Center, 2019). Thus, Native Americans in St. Louis became more physically separated from their tribes.
The Kathryn Buder Center housed in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work was started with the leadership of local Native Americans. This center helps support St. Louis Native American scholarship and draws Native American scholars and healers to St. Louis. “We prepare future American Indian leaders to practice in tribal and urban settings, making significant contributions to the health, wellness and the sustained future of Indian Country” (Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies).
Latin Americans in St. Louis
Daniel Gonzalez captures some of the Latinx St. Louis history. “The earliest Mexican immigrants to St. Louis came in the 1830s and '40s as Hispano traders along the Santa Fe Trail. They studied at Saint Louis University and Christian Brothers College, and married into several prominent St. Louis families.3”(Gonzalez, D, 2017).
This trading relationship continued into the late 19th Century, and members of the Mexican Liberal Party found refuge in St. Louis starting in 1905. During the Great Depression, an onslaught of violence and deportation efforts cut the St. Louis Latinx population in half.
During World War II, labor shortages and immigration laws that limited Europeans from coming to America led states to pursue Latinx labor. Between 1942 and 1964, the federal government created a guest worker program bringing many more Latinx people to St. Louis. During World War II, St. Louis became a major hub from which employers recruited Latinx people to fill jobs.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1982 to increase opportunities for Latinx business owners. Latinx populations in St. Louis are one of the fastest growing demographics in St. Louis. Cherokee Street is one location where Latinx stores, bakeries, restaurants, and cultural centers have thrived.
Chinese Americans in St. Louis
Huping Ling captures the history of Chinese Americans in St. Louis. In 1857, Alla Lee came from China to St. Louis, opened a coffee and tea shop, and married an Irish woman. Ten years later, several hundred Chinese moved to St. Louis from New York and San Francisco, seeking work in mines and factories. Many lived in boarding houses near Hop Alley, which later became Chinatown.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act kept Chinese out of the US and out of work if they lived in the US. Despite this exclusion act, Chinatown provided laundries, merchandise stores, herb shops, restaurants and cultural meeting spaces. Chinese businesses were successful and contributed 60% of services throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, even though the Chinese were only 0.01% of the population.
Brownlee, Dains, and Goodrich (The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1977) capture the treatment of the Chinese during the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair. Prince Pu Lun was given red carpet treatment. John Barrett, U.S. Minister to Siam and World’s Fair Commissioner to Asia, Australia and the Phillippines advocated for American trade with Asia and invited Asian nations to display their products by way of increasing trade.
Prince Pu Lin brought a host of family members, servants and skilled artisans and provided lectures on Chinese Art and philosophy. The Chinese Pavilion was a central attraction, and he and his entourage were known for their splendid parties and beautiful dresses.
However, Chinese people who came to work at the fair had an entirely different experience. They were detained for weeks and were restricted in movement such that they could only work at the fair. If they didn’t show up to work within 48 hours, they were registered as a fugitive.
Huping Ling explains how the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 as a post-World War II economic boom began to set in, and local St. Louis companies recruited Chinese employees.
People in Chinatown faced ethnic discrimination and police raids. In 1966, during a wave of urban renewal, Chinatown was destroyed and turned into parking lots for Busch Stadium.
The Chinese population in St. Louis has steadily increased. As of the 2000 census, the Chinese constitute 1% of the suburban metropolitan area, somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000.
St. Louis has three Chinese-language schools, twelve Chinese religious institutions, and more than forty community organizations sponsoring a wide array of community activities. St. Louis has three hundred Chinese restaurants.
Japanese Americans in St. Louis
Through the Japan America Society of St. Louis, Dr. Chikako Usui shares the history of Japanese Americans in St. Louis. Yukinobu Yamamoto was the first Japanese person to come to St. Louis via the World’s Fair and to stay. His presence helped establish a good relationship between St. Louis and Japan, and over the next 40 years, 47 more Japanese settled in St. Louis.
In 1913, the Alien Land Law passed in California made Asian Americans ineligible for citizenship and forbid Asian Americans from owning or holding longer term leases on land (Kandil, 2019). Japanese immigrants could not become citizens until 1952. And in 1924, The Immigration Act forbid Japanese immigration.
As the Japanese experienced these and other Asian exclusionary policies, they formed Nihonmachis, often adjacent to Chinatowns, which were social and cultural hubs and places Japanese immigrants could find community and resources.
During the forced removal of Japanese from their homes in World War II, Japanese rentals were leased to new tenants, Nihonmachis shut down, and Japanese were moved from the West Coast to a number of different internment camps, one in Arkansas. Upon release from internment, the Japanese had no homes to return to.
Washington University and Saint Louis University had set a precedent for welcoming the Japanese to St. Louis.
They accepted Japanese students during World War II, and the students were welcomed to campus and did not experience the restrictions of their interned families. Over 30 Japanese students came to St. Louis to attend Washington University.
Dr. Chikako Usui shares how as trains of formerly interned Japanese came from Arkansas, headed to Chicago, members of St. Louis greeted them with donuts and coffee at the St. Louis train station and encouraged them to stay in St. Louis. Sugar had been forbidden in the internment camps, and 140-150 of the Japanese felt so welcomed that they got off the train and stayed in St. Louis.
The YWCA helped organize resettlement possibilities. An “Inter-American House” took place in Bishop Tuttle Memorial Building in Christ Church Cathedral, which provided social opportunities for Japanese settlers to meet with other St. Louis families.
The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) formed a St. Louis chapter in 1946 to help Japanese people find community and to provide opportunities for teens and community projects. They also began the annual Japanese festival in partnership with the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
In 1972, Japanese Americans in St. Louis gave St. Louis the gift of The Japanese Garden in the Missouri Botanical Gardens as a token of appreciation for having been welcomed so well by St. Louis.
African Americans in St. Louis
Many African Americans came to St. Louis from the South in hopes of access to safety and to better healthcare and housing resources.
For generations, while segregated and limited in access to mortgages and other sustainable resources, St. Louis African American families have built thriving entrepreneurial communities and an entertainment district (that produced Chuck Berry and Tina Turner, among others) on Grand Avenue (Fagerstrom, 2010). Their creative collective organizing and leadership has helped families navigate and advocate for one another and our region amidst every exclusion faced from employment, healthcare, education, housing and more.
In 1956, 20,000 people, 95% African American were displaced by the expansion of highway 40 and the takeover of the land they had secured for the new Grand Avenue entertainment district, known at the time as Mill Creek Valley. African American families then faced even more limited options for where they could live and moved into inner ring suburbs like University City and North County.
A host of African American led non-profits and community organizations have helped develop African American leaders and have been filling in the resources systematically removed from once thriving African American neighborhoods.
For example, our region has many African-American led non-profits and community development corporations who are building and preserving affordable housing and providing housing and financial literacy education and other wrap around services to support families in accessing everything they need. Healthcare. Technology. Education. Healthy food.
Bosnians in St. Louis
The largest population of Bosnians in the United States and outside of Europe can be found in St. Louis, Missouri. The Bosnian population is about 70,000 and is located in Bevo Mill, which has earned the affectionate name of ‘Little Bosnia.’ The vast majority arrived in the 1990’s fleeing a bloody civil war in their home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Zurcher, 2016).
Amer Iriskic, 28, moved to ST. Louis as a seven-year-old in 1998 (Delkic, 2019). He said that people were outside all the time, and he and his friends would play basketball in the alley behind their house. His family opened a butcher shop where they sold cuts of lamb and veal that gave a taste of home for their Bosnian customers. Other residents welcomed the idea and became customers as well. The community recreated their favorite parts about their homes in Bevo Mill as a way to maintain their heritage and pass on their culture to younger generations.
The migration of Bosnians breathed new life into the hurting St. Louis neighborhood of Bevo Hill. This neighborhood was hurting from the federal housing policies that allocated grades to neighborhoods along racial lines to demarcate which neighborhoods should receive mortgages. Drawing on federal guidance from the Homeowners Loan Corporation, banks drew red lines around black and brown communities to exclude them from homeownership. Landlords followed suit and didn’t fix up properties if they were lived in by African American families (Gordon, 2018).
These same federal and local policies incentivized homeownership for white people by providing them mortgages for homes in the suburbs. Realtors helped move white people out of the city by forming associations like the St. Louis Realtors Exchange. They created neighborhood restrictive covenant policies to write into the deeds of homes which ethnicities were excluded from purchasing the homes. Among others, African, Asian, and Latinx were excluded. (Gordon, 2008).
Realtors told white people their property values would decrease because they lived near African American families. The realtors also encouraged white people to move out of the city into the suburbs. Thus, the city population had begun to decline, and the arrival of the Bosnians helped establish more community in Bevo Mills. The Bosnians gave new life by opening flourishing businesses and setting up a very vibrant community.
Africans in St. Louis
Africa has also carved a niche for itself in the St Louis community. People from various countries in Africa have played an essential role in the city’s economy, culture, and politics. They have established themselves as part of the city’s fastest-growing foreign-born population. They are prominent entrepreneurs, university star athletes, artists, musicians, and community leaders (Devermont, 2020). Akon, a famous Senegalese-American musician, has never shied away from sharing his story about growing up in St Louis. Africa is a top investment destination for the city’s most promising industries, contributing to economic growth and opportunities.
How St. Louisans Fit Together
St. Louis is a city made up of different small parts that form and drive the big machine that creates its society. Organizations and schools come together to create a nurturing environment that welcomes and allows immigrants and refugees to grow in their new country.
St. Louis is a mosaic that incorporates immigrants from all over the world who invigorate and bring innovative ideas into the area. We are fragments of love, war, and history that glue us together through the parts of our lives and experiences that interconnect and shape one another. As we continue to learn from one another how our lives, histories, struggles, and forms of collective organizing interconnect, we tap into many regional possibilities for innovation and change.
St. Louis Non-Profits and Schools That Welcome Immigrants
The St. Louis Mosaic Project is a regional non-profit initiative professionally managed by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, World Trade Center St. Louis, and a 32-member committee (Louis, 2012). The project aims at transforming St. Louis into the fastest growing metropolis for immigration by 2025.
In partnership with the area’s colleges and universities, the project aims to educate international students and prepare them for life in St. Louis after graduation. Mosaic leaders hold productive talks with the local and federal government to reduce barriers for foreign workers and their families. The St. Louis Mosaic Project aims at fitting all the pieces into the giant jigsaw puzzle that is St. Louis.
Oasis International is another community-driven initiative that seeks to integrate refugees into St. Louis. This organization provides medical assistance to refugees by organizing health fairs and eye clinics, hosting job fairs, and organizing summer camps for refugee children. They provide a guiding hand to the refugees as they explore life in their new country.
The International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL) is in its 100th year. In their own words, “the International Institute helps build a more connected and productive society for immigrants, their families, and the St. Louis community. From its headquarters in Tower Grove East, IISTL provides essential immigrant integration services to more than six thousand foreign-born people from eighty countries. Nearly one thousand volunteers and ninety staff members offer English and citizenship classes, career path assistance, job placement, and counseling, as well as small-business development and microloans. More than one hundred thousand visitors attend the International Institute’s annual Festival of Nations and other events it hosts throughout the year.” (International Institute St. Louis, https://www.iistl.org/our-history/).
Nahed Chapman New American Academy is a public school in St Louis that provides multilingual education to immigrants and refugees. Students and their families receive a number or wrap around supports and trauma-informed instruction and services. The school creates a safe space and a nurturing environment for immigrant students with limited English and little formal education. The school has helped immigrant students settle in St. Louis and adjust to a new life for nearly a decade (Steinhoff, 2018).
Brownlee, R., Dains, M., & Goodrich, J. (1977). The State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia MO. Retrieved from https://digital.shsmo.org/digital/collection/mhr/id/37659
Clark, W. A. (2003). Remaking the Middle Class. In Immigrants and the American Dream (p. xiv). New York: THE GUILFORD PRESS.
Data USA https://datausa.io/profile/geo/st-louis-city-mo
Delkic, M. (2019, August 18). It’s Not the Same’: Why War Refugees Who Helped Revive St. Louis Are Leaving. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/18/us/bosnian-refugees-st-louis-midwest.html
Devermont, J. (2020, March 4). Why Africa Matters to St. Louis. Retrieved from Center for Strategic and International Studies: https://www.csis.org/analysis/why-africa-matters-st-louis
Fagerstrom, R. (2010). Mill Creek Valley: A Soul of St. Louis. St. Louis, MO.
Hemphill, E. (2018, March 1). Remembering Mill Creek Valley, once home to 20,000 black St. Louisans. Retrieved from NPR St. Louis on the Air: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/show/st-louis-on-the-air/2018-03-01/remembering-mill-creek-valley-once-home-to-20-000-black-st-louisans
House, K. Early Displacements St. Louis and the Osage Nation. http://newsite.karenhousecw.org/early-displacements-st-louis-and-the-osage-nation
Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies. https://sites.wustl.edu/budercenter/history-2/
Kandil, C.Y. (2019). How 1800s racism birthed Chinatown, Japantown and other ethnic enclaves. Retrieved from NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/how-1800s-racism-birthed-chinatown-japantown-other-ethnic-enclaves-n997296
Ling, Huping. “Reconceptualizing Chinese American Community in St. Louis: from Chinatown to Cultural Community.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 24, no. 2, 2005, pp. 65–101. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27501563.
Louis, S. (2012). About Us. Retrieved from ST LOUIS MOSAIC: https://www.stlmosaicproject.org/about-us.html
Rice, P. (2014). Osage Nation Leaders Help Explain St. Louis' Earliest Days. St. Louis Public Radio. Retrieved from https://news.stlpublicradio.org/arts/2014-03-31/osage-nation-leaders-help-explain-st-louis-earliest-days#stream/0
Romney, M. (2012, August 30). Mitt Romney's Acceptance Speech.
Steinhoff, D. (2018, October 22). A St. Louis School Teaches Only Refugees and Immigrants. Day One Tells Its Story. Retrieved from RIVERFRONT TIMES: https://www.riverfronttimes.com/artsblog/2018/10/22/a-st-louis-school-teaches-only-refugees-and-immigrants-day-one-tells-its-story
Usui, C. (2021). Home: Japanese Americans in St. Louis. Retrieved from https://jasstl.org
Zurcher, A. (2016, October 30). America's 'invisible' Muslims. Retrieved from BBC NEWS: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37663226
"The right to quality education is, I believe, the perfect path to bridge the gap between different cultures and to reconcile various civilizations. Without such a right, the values of liberty, justice, and equality will have no meaning. Ignorance is by far the biggest danger and threat to humankind." (Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned).
The quest to eliminate educational disparities for a country's populace is paramount if the nation is to achieve its goals. Eliminating educational disparities is both a moral and civic imperative that requires collaboration among schools and organizations to ensure that all and sundry have the opportunity to learn and succeed (Department, 2019).
Equality would mean that students have the same access to resources and to opportunities (Diffen). However, because of histories of inequalities set in motion through histories of segregation of people and resources, students often don't have equal access to the same resources and opportunities.
Equity recognizes that students need to receive the specific resources that will help them achieve similar outcomes to those who have always had access to resources and opportunities. If for generations, student families have lived in redlined communities where banks, financial institutions, small business grants, easy access to transportation, health care, and homeownership have been denied - a process which has led to a frightening racial wealth gap - then students may need a host of resources to overcome the ramifications of this history.
This may mean access to teaching teams of teachers who track with them, to high-powered counseling, to trauma-informed instruction, to college grants, to transportation vouchers, to housing vouchers, to pro-bono legal or other services, among some examples.
When the combination of resources provided supports a student in arriving at outcomes similar to those who have easy access to these resources, these are more equitable outcomes. Here is one resource that explains equity versus equality well. https://www.diffen.com/difference/Equality-vs-Equity
But true equity would mean we work together to dismantle the histories of societal norms that create unequal access to resources and opportunities and that we rebuild those norms together.
It is a long-term goal of a just society; regardless of race, economic class, and gender, students should have the same access to life circumstances and educational opportunities that prosper them.
Fixing equity gaps in education is a vast undertaking that cannot take place overnight, and it takes the backing of conscious organizations and schools to push for this change.
Drawing on our ethnodramatic method, Honoring Stories and Integrating Curriculum™ , we offer training workshops and build teams that are adept in teaching about and addressing societal and local issues with students and/or employees.
Through our consulting and our workshops, companies are learning how to work with non-profit organizations and schools in cross-sector teams who are coming together to explore how areas such as housing and finance can be a part of better community-driven solutions for youth and families.
Companies are learning how to provide needed products, services, and educational platforms by ensuring their best resources are designed with the input of broader communities and that their best resources help solve pressing societal problems and broken systems.
Department. (2019). EQUITY IN MISSOURI . Missouri: Department of Higher Education and Workforce Developmengt.
I remember being nervous to use ethnodrama to engage students because ethnodramas were so intense. Fires in the Mirror, Evicted, The Laramie Project, Twighlight LA. The post-conflict situations they cover orient around violent events.
So I tried everything else I could think of that permitted students to turn their community research into plays and role plays with multiple perspectives.
Then one day in 2008, while teaching in a mostly evenly integrated high school during the Obama election period time, students developed a role play that permitted them to begin talking across race in role.
They were able to explore the biases of the characters I provided them without owning them as their own. The result was that they leaned deeper into the drama to explore the range of perspectives.
It was a powerful class, and their passion and hunger for exploring each perspective by jumping in and out of role captivated us all.
I drove home deeply moved by the lesson plan infrastructure that had held us together. It had helped us start to get to some of the sources to our biases in a safe way, so many rooted in media portrayals of people of every race. I felt I was onto something and was eager to build on what we had created the next day.
To my surprise, when I got to school the next day, a counselor greeted me. She explained that misinformed election-based conversations were now coming to the surface, and the students didn't know if their peers thought they were racist.
The peers had learned from the media and from those around them that if they didn't believe Obama should be president, they were racist.
I had no idea this was the political message students were receiving, and I tried to explore that message with them in class, where it was coming from, and its impact on civic discourse.
I found the students withdrawn and not eager to continue. They were afraid of losing their cross-race friendships.
That was a turning point for me. I realized drama work that started to surface our deeper fears and biases would fizzle out every time the moment the uncertainty of what it was revealing became present to us.
I needed a better container for our drama work, one that would permit us to allow ourselves to explore our biases together, without pulling away from one another.
Ethnodramas began to provide us that roadmap forward.
They helped me find a human-centered framing that meant we could engage in role plays with the monologues they provided that helped us go deeper and deeper into studying the sources for the biases all around us as they interfaced with other people and with us.
It wasn't about labeling people or perspectives as good or bad, as right or wrong, as black and white. It was about accepting that everyone is a recipient of harmful messaging and thus is limited in their lives, in their understandings of themselves and others because of blatant and hidden biases they have internalized.
We began to explore what makes messaging harmful to people and relationships. We began to explore the impact on people and relationships of biases fed to us from news and other sources.
We moved away from a spirit of division and towards a spirit of learning about what was working against unity and what it would take for us to move towards unity.
We began to lean into a spirit of acceptance of one another that helped us extend to one another truth, love, grace, and deeper exploration when our biases surfaced.
A Learning Stance
We take pride in supporting schools, businesses, governments, and communities in identifying, developing and retaining talent among our youth. We address harmful employee and student bias by immersing clients in collaborative learning processes that help them identify and solve communication breakdowns. Through our method, Honoring Stories and Integrating Curriculum™, we work with others to create, document and recreate systems that produce successful products and services for our community. We transform our community from the inside out.
Our mission is to transform our deepest divides through informed communication among all cultures and sectors that helps everyone build stronger bridges and thriving communities. "The history of man is the history of crimes, and history can repeat. So the information is a defense. Through this, we can build, we must build, a defense against repetition." Simon Wiesenthal.
Our Ethnodrama practices integrate the collaborative study of social issues by collecting interviews with people from diverse backgrounds in our community to facilitate dialogue with the many cultures towards problem-solving and informed collective action.
We encourage students to understand that they always have something to learn from people of every background and that people always have something to learn from them.
We motivate students to be strong relationship-builders who value and respect all people and can find common ground with anyone, regardless of any cultural difference. They understand how social inequalities work and do their part to carefully navigate those inequalities' strain on relationships.
Sumner High School History
Sumner High School is a renowned historically significant institution for African Americans dating back to the 19th century. It is named after renowned abolitionist senator Charles Sumner. In a segregated St Louis, the school stood out as a beacon of hope for the middle-class in The Ville neighborhood. Sumner High School was the first high school for African American students west of the Mississippi River in the United States.
Sumner High School opened its doors in 1875 (Carson, 2015) following an amendment of the US constitution that required all school boards to support the education of African Americans. Up to the 1920s, the high school was the only school for African Americans despite a rapid increase in the black population.
The school was housed in an old building that was considered unsafe for the white students, and the teachers were all white until 1877. In the 1880s, parents lobbied to have the school moved to 15th and Walnuts streets because students had to pass through the city gallows and morgue to get to school.
The African American community protested the deplorable conditions that included grated prison cells, execution setups, and sometimes even dead bodies awaiting identification. African American parents were bent on having their children educated in a decent neighborhood away from saloons and pool houses. As a result of their lobbying, the school changed locations once again in the 1890s.
The high school is of great significance to the black community as it portrays the community's commitment to advocating for educational resources for its children. The school helped stabilize the community and offer a sense of belonging to the children, and it served as a solid foundation for academic achievement.
Sumner high-school was considered a school for the upper echelon African Americans, but it still educated students whose parents were common laborers. The African American community held the staff of Sumner High School in high regard and considered them the role models of the community.
R. Sarah Carson. "Sumner High School." Clio: Your Guide to History. April 16, 2015. Accessed November 20, 2021. https://theclio.com/entry/13412
St. Louis Racial Zoning from 1916
A racial zoning ordinance passed in 1916 in St Louis forbade its citizens from moving onto a block where 75 percent or more of the residents were of a different race. Landlords and real estate agencies began putting covenants into the deeds of properties that stated that the properties were only to be lived in by white people. African-Americans were left in what was termed the riskiest neighborhoods and could not move to the affluent zones to access better jobs and education. African-Americans became homeowners at lower rates and were crowded into segregated neighborhoods where housing values stagnated. While legislation no longer exists that allows segregation, racial isolation is still prevalent and needs fixing.
COLIN GORDON. Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City. (Politics and Culture in Modern America.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2008.
Where We Are
Educational institutions are products of systemic policies that have contributed to various discriminatory practices that affect youth and communities similarly and differently. What if in school students developed complex analyses regarding poverty, racism, homophobia, discrimination, bullying, and more?
We engage students in sustaining in-depth and sophisticated research through which they become community leaders in ethical problem-solving. Community Allies LLC has developed programs for youth that incorporate digital technologies to map the kind of development that provides for the best community-centered housing opportunities for residents.
This is to address the housing inequality issue that has plagued STL for the longest time. The youth capture place-based oral histories and present their research at working group meetings. Our ethnodrama programs provide youth and adults a level of nurturing that curtails naïve conceptions regarding race, which are extremely prevalent in the community.
Students are encouraged to engage in vulnerable conversations regarding inequality issues which are extremely prevalent. They work together with audiences to come up with lasting actions they can take to work towards solutions to housing and other community challenges.
We have learned that businesses need these processes too and that schools and businesses need bridges to one another. We have translated what we do with ethnodrama into an agile method, Honoring Stories and Integrating Curriculum™. We engage change-making teams in learning together communication and community research processes that help them learn with communities they want to serve how to develop better products, services, and communication practices.
Teams build inclusive, innovative teams who identify and solve pressing problems with communities. In the process, they also orient towards needed organizational cultural shifts. Change-making teams help transform company cultures to become even more inclusive and innovative and they contribute to the building of diverse talent pipelines.
Ethnodrama Origin Story
Community Allies Founder, President
A sense of belonging is the pride of being associated with a place and the feeling of being at home somewhere. William Arthur Ward once stated (Team, 2021), "Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice."
I remember when I first experienced the power of making change through collective action. I had taught high school English, French, and Humanities for five years, seeking to engage students in sorting through real life together from the classroom. As I was wrestling with how best to teach predominantly white students about cultures and histories of inequalities outside of their experiences, 911 happened.
My real world approach suddenly felt intense. After two years of tracking with the aftermath of 911 on how students responded to a real world approach, I took a break to study my practice with other teachers.
I returned to St. Louis and joined the newly started, now called Educators for Social Justice. There, I encountered teachers from K-16 with whom we reflected on what they taught and how they taught and its impact on schools and communities.
In the words of Audre Lorde," Tomorrow belongs to those of us who conceive of it as belonging to everyone; who lend the best of ourselves to it, and with joy. (Valeria, 2021)" I learned how schools, non-profits, and parent groups could work together through curriculum fairs to make a change for a better tomorrow - still happening today through ESJ.
The joy of being on a team of change-makers who were changing lives together meant everything to me. For so long, I had felt on my own as a teacher, and very little in my school helped teachers collaborate.
I went to graduate school and began to explore how youth could engage in similar change-making efforts from the classroom.
Before long, Marsha Pincus, a pioneer educator in ethnodrama, began to share with me how she used ethnodrama to help students talk across their stories and their differences.
I jumped back into the middle and high school classroom. I began experimenting with how to get students excited about reading ethnodramas, intense research/based plays that captured the perspectives of many people following tragic events.
I learned over time through trial and error how to help students find ways to discover and invest in learning their own stories and one another's stories through dramatic role-play that helped them find what they had in common.
I ensured they had the freedom to determine what they wanted to study about society and what data they wanted to collect and use to answer their questions. In one of my early class processes, students discovered a collective interest in exploring gender norms and binaries.
At first we used drama to explore their personal stories, which they were slowly discovering through songs they had collected and performed and inquired into together. As they began to experience their own gender stories, they moved to want to learn about the experiences of their moms, all single.
This collaborative inquiry into gender became the class larger inquiry that lasted for six months and became the topic of the ethnodrama they performed. It set in motion an inquiry that just kept becoming more and more layered as they discovered new areas about gender constructions and expectations that they had questions about, especially as they related to imposed gender binaries and expectations for genders to align with sexual orientations and societally determined ideas about masculinity and femininity.
Their questions and biases ran deep. We used drama to trouble and expand their perspectives.
On the day of their performance in front of three grades of school classmates, students didn't show up. I had to hunt them down and ask them why they didn't want to perform. They explained they were afraid their peers wouldn't get it. And really, what I realized was that they hadn't yet committed to their message. They, too, were still learning.
In the course of performing their ethnodrama, they allowed audience members to perform their versions of gender. It is quite a story, but suffice it to say that a peer challenged them in a way that helped them come together, rediscover their purpose and their message, and experience collective action that set in motion ripples of new thought.
Students got to learn together by doing. And their six months of layered collaborative discovery turned to better awareness of how to work together to advocate for gender identities that did not limit expression by binaries that boxed people.
Team, K. (2021, November 4). 60 Best Belonging Quotes About Identity And Finding Your Place. Retrieved from Kidadl: https://kidadl.com/articles/best-belonging-quotes-about-identity-and-finding-your-place
Valeria. (2021). Gratefulness. Retrieved from Word for the day: https://gratefulness.org/word-for-the-day/tomorrow-belongs-to-those-of-us-who-conceive-of-it-as-belonging-to-everyone-who-lend-the-best-of-ourselves-to-it-and-with-joy/
Good education is one of the most sought out dreams in America. Education is free for all American citizens, but obstacles like community unequal access to homes and property taxes prevent some from receiving these benefits. Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful tool through with which we can change the world. But inequalities in our society for students create a big setback in achieving the change we want to see.
Education is the key to unlocking other human rights that include employment, safety, healthcare and more (Sherif, 2020). We host emotional intelligence and bridge-building communication workshops in companies, schools and organizations that address specific issues in our community and that walk participants through a well-researched ethnodramatic reflective process of collaborating within and across their stories and their departments to make change. We assist in breaking stereotypes that get in the way of the productivity of our students and employees.
We help our clientele, which includes youth, acquire sophisticated understandings of societal processes that hinder progress by equipping them with communication skills that they employ in interrupting these practices. Schools, busineses, and communities, in turn, access new ways of learning from one another and from our youth the ethical complexities and life circumstances youth and future employees have inherited.
In schools and non-profits, students use their community research to teach others, and the school and community learn from them and access much-needed healing. In businesses and organizations, employee teams engage a similar process of collaboratively-led change-making that transforms their companies.
Sherif, Y. (2020, December 9). Education Is a Fundamental Human Right and the Priority of the 21st Century. Retrieved from INTER PRESS SERVICE: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/12/education-fundamental-human-right-priority-21st-century/#:~:text=Education%20is%20a%20fundamental%20human%20right.,or%20political%20and%20civil%20rights.&text=Education%20offers%20an%20economic%20improvement,restoring%20thei
Sarah Hobson, Ph.D. specializes in supporting teams, departments and schools, businesses, and government agencies in building inclusive innovative change-making communities who understand how to connect well with and join diverse populations in providing needed sustainable resources for all youth and families.