Thursday, April 3, 2014

Learning to Trust in Hope with Daniel Trust @writingproject @danieltrust @cwpfairfield @fairfieldu

In 2012-2013, CWP-Fairfield received a NWP High Needs grant to support effective educator development (SEED) at Bassick High School. In this time, Alisha Smith of Bridgeport-Yale Gear Up, introduced me to Kathy Silver, an art teacher at the school who quickly began collaborating with me on making professional development matter for the teachers in the building. At this time, she discussed that I needed to meet a student of hers who created the Daniel Trust Foundation.

I met him after Kathy and I ran a 5K in support of refugees in New Haven. Although Daniel Trust didn't relocate through refugee services, he survived the Rwandan genocide and has begun to travel the country to share his story as a survivor and advocate for LGBT youth. Over the weekend, Daniel and his mentor, Kathy, had dinner with me and my mentor, Sue McV, from Louisville, Kentucky. Sue taught me that there is no learning outside of a relationship and the friendship existing between Kathy Silver and Daniel Trust is proof that a committed educator makes the greatest difference in the lives of their students.

I was asked to introduce Daniel Trust last night on Fairfield University's campus. The following is what I had to say.
Good Evening. My name is Bryan Ripley Crandall and I’m the Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University and a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions and the College of Arts and Sciences. I want to welcome you this evening in recognition of Genocide Awareness Month and to share my appreciation for tonight’s guest, Daniel Trust. Tonight’s presentation is called: Learning to Trust in Hope: From Rwandan Genocide to Community Activism – survival, education, and how to change the world one child at a time.          
It is sometimes difficult to imagine that the luxuries we are provided on a college campus are not ubiquitous in all parts of the world. In fact, the reality we know at Fairfield University is a small percentage of how the world is understood by others. In the U.S., alone, it is predicted that only 70% of all students will graduate high school. Of these graduates, approximately 36% will go into higher education. Although low, these numbers are enormous when compared to a global truth that only 1%, yes 1%, of the globe has a college degree. Those of us afforded a chance to study, I believe, have a tremendous responsibility to educate ourselves - to better people - for others. This mission is what drew me to a Jesuit University.        
I became aware of global inequities when the demographics of my classroom in Louisville, Kentucky began to change. In one summer, my school went from 50% White and 50% Black, to 33% ELL, 33%White and 33%Black – Steven Vertovec of Great Britain calls this demographic change in Western Society the phenomenon of super diversity - a reality I truly love. While doing doctoral work in Syracuse, I began to study the relocation of young people from Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East who were placed in mainstream classrooms. As I began to ask questions about changing demographics in urban schools, my life became a mission for finding answers. I've been on the road to find out ever since and, as my students will tell you, I usually have more questions than I have solutions (every truth claimed by any one individual spawns a field of inquiries yet to be discovered).          
Dr. Yohuru Williams, a phenomenal historian at Fairfield University, would be pleased by one of the answers I discovered in my research. I discovered that ‘history matters.’ I am an English professor who promotes literacy, and reading/writing/thinking, and creating have been my passions. Yet, through working with relocated youth, I soon learned that history is at the heart of it all. Who we are in this room today – each of us with our individuality, life stories, and accomplishments – is a direct result of the complicated histories of yesteryear. These histories have all resulted, for better or for worse, from colonialism and imperialism. Some argue it is a behavior that continues today, especially with our work in urban schools. The minds of youth continue to get colonized through corporate reform and discriminatory practices that are mandated by our governments and politicians with poor excuses for culturally irrelevant curriculum.  I learned this truth through interviewing eight African young men who were relocated from refugee camps to the U.S.. What we know here is definitely not the reality of the world. In pop cultural terms, we are the capital of Panem and most of the globe exists as our districts. Our privileges are on the backs of oppression.
This is why I am glad to have Daniel Trust with us at Fairfield University this evening to share his story. I am extremely thankful to Kathy Silver for introducing me to him less than a month ago and for Julie Mughal’s quick-action that united so many parties to bring his story to us today. I want to share a special appreciation for The Center for Faith and Public Life, JUHAN, International Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Student Diversity Programs, Carol and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, Catholic Studies, and the friends of Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University who made this event possible.          
Today, I received Google alerts of criminal acts that are occurring right now in Central Africa Republic, Syria, and Sudan. More locally, however, I met a young man just this morning at Bassick High School who relocated from a refugee camp in Benin. His first day of school was yesterday. My point in telling you all this is that Daniel’s story is our story and we have a responsibility to educate ourselves as much as possible about global realities and histories. The inequities that exist today are directly correlated to traditions that have not been kind to all people.  With our luxuries comes the need for us to be smarter, kinder, and more willing to do what is right for those in this world who have not been born into such privileges. 
It is my pleasure to introduce Daniel Trust and his quest for human rights to you this evening. He advocates for all youth, reminds us of the Rwandan genocide, and calls us to action, both locally and globally, to make a difference one child at a time. Please welcome him to Fairfield University.
Daniel Trust spoke of many things after my introduction, but what has lasted in my mind is the power he had over his audience to demonstrate that we are a storied creature who learns best from listening to the experiences of others. I feel as though I am a better man for hearing him speak and I am extremely thankful in the power Ubuntu.

I can be me because of who we are together.

I am also extremely thankful to the Daniel Trust foundation for supporting teachers and young people who are working in their communities to make a difference. This is what the National Writing Project believes in and what I've loved best about working at Fairfield University and with Bridgeport City Schools.

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