Identity, Education and Power: Square One

Welcome to Identity, Education and Power. My name is Sherri Spelic and I am your host. This is Square One.

Square One traditionally refers to a place we return to after we’ve moved out, made some mistakes and need to start over. Most often we speak of “going back to square one.” I want to re-purpose the term, however, for this auspicious occasion: the launch of a fresh new publication: Identity, Education and Power. And in this case, Square One is our excellent point of departure; the space from which this publication moves forward.

Square One is the singular true beginning, the unmistakable port of origin. And all origins have stories.

I’ve been writing for a long time now. My first piece of writing to receive public recognition was a contest essay I wrote in eighth grade. I belonged to a class of 10 in a small parochial school in one of Cleveland’s working class communities. The contest essay was an assignment, not a choice. The topic was grandly formulated: What America Means To Me. I remember my classmates talking about their chosen themes - specific historical events or a general recounting of American history - and not being able to relate. I wrote differently, apparently. I took the prompt fully to heart and wrote a patriotic masterpiece which impressed the jury and earned me a $50 savings bond (in 1979 dollars).

Surprisingly, I still have that essay in my archives. Expertly laminated by my educator mother and preserved for eternity. It’s a peculiarly interesting read almost 40 years later. According to my mother, the contest’s sponsor representative who handed over the prize money at our school’s awards banquet seemed a little taken aback when a skinny black girl rose to claim the honor. I suppose that when the Ladies Auxiliary of the Polish Legion of American Veterans envisioned their contest, I, or anyone who looked like me, probably did not enter their imagination as the likely recipient of such an award. But it was essay #6 that won; not my face or outward features. It was my writing which earned me the recognition. That’s important to remember.

The award winning essay (image: ©Spelic)

Maybe that was when I first recognized the power of words. Of my own words. I discovered that I could win recognition, praise, accolades, ribbons and certificates (I especially liked ribbons and certificates) by using my words.

Fast forward to high school in the early 80's, when my writing received more training, fine tuning and acclaim. The crowning success? Admission to my first-choice Ivy League school. I attribute that outcome, at least in part, to my application essay. It was the one college essay that I enjoyed writing and was actually proud of. The open-ended prompt allowed me to respond in a way that was what we would now call ‘authentic.’

Decades have passed and I continue to write and write and write. In that time I have journaled, translated, commented, conceptualized, and more recently blogged. It’s hard for me to imagine not writing something in some capacity. And now I’ve decided that it’s time to expand my horizons; to employ my writing to support the other thing I love so dearly: reading.

While I deeply enjoy the rapid fire exchange of good, better and best reads to be found in my Twitter feed, I recently determined that I wanted something different. Something specific, something I hadn’t quite found yet in my online travels: a space dedicated to Identity, Education and Power.

When I first checked on Medium this is what I got:

Imagine that.

I chose Identity, Education and Power because I realized that experiencing, and connecting these ‘Big Three’ are what I do, all day, every day. These are where my work is housed and rooted. They are my fields of struggle and triumph. Identity, Education and Power are what I write as much as why I write. But here’s the thing: I is not enough. Even in the multiple aspects and levels of identity which I present - this alone is not enough. My online handle is @edifiedlistener. I am edified by and through listening.

I become more of who I am and wish to become by listening. This publication is a public space for the listening I wish for and savor: Ideas of substance and heart; voices bearing strong words, soft words, thoughtful and bold words. Above all, this is a listening space.

In the concept building phase of this publication I was reminded of a text I encountered a year or two ago on the subject of curating. Written by Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator of Serpentine Gallery London at the time, this short meditation spoke to me on a surprisingly personal level:

… I believe to ‘curate’ finds ever wider application because of a feature of modern life impossible to ignore: the incredible proliferation of ideas, information, images, disciplinary knowledge, and material products we all witness today. Such proliferation makes the activities of filtering, enabling, synthesizing, framing, and remembering more and more important as basic navigational tools for twenty-first century life. These are the tasks of the curator, who is no longer understood simply as the person who fills a space with objects but also as the person who brings different cultural spheres into contact , invents new display features, and makes junctions that allow unexpected encounters and results. (“To Curate” in This Will Make You Smarter, John Brockman, Ed., Transworld Publishers, London. 2012, pp. 118–119)

“The person who brings different cultural spheres into contact…” That’s me - or at least whom I aspire to be. The inauguration of this publication is my start button. Another nudge came to me through one of my edu-heroes, Audrey Watters, almost a year ago. I wrote about it here. What Audrey did for me with a single piece of writing was name both my fear and my desire:

One of the most powerful things that you can do on the Web is to be a node in a network of learners, and to do so most fully and radically, I dare say, you must own your own domain. (emphasis mine.)

“to be a node in a network of learners..” That’s me now, doing this. The publication Identity, Education and Power is one such node - of my creation. I didn’t ask anyone for permission. I simply decided to start. Although this publication is technically not a domain, it is my domain. A space for which I am the gatekeeper and host.

The first authors you will meet here have been invited to contribute. I have gone knocking on their digital doors, requesting their involvement and in many cases, asking them to “Please say yes.” Overlap and intermingling between contributors and readers is precisely my aim. You are all my guests and it is my pleasure to welcome you into this newly christened space. It’s time to leave Square One.

Let the adventure begin!

Acknowledgements: I wish to express deep gratitude to Rusul Alrubail for her assistance in preparing the launch of this publication; Tressie McMillan Cottom for her swift and wholehearted support, Audrey Watters for serious bravery enhancement and my sweet husband who has listened, listened, listened generously throughout this inauguration process.

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