Herstory Highlights 2021-2022
From a Single Workshop to an International Network
25th Anniversary Gala Celebration
On October 23rd, 2022, Herstory celebrated over 25 years of work transforming lived experiences into written memoirs powerful enough to change hearts, minds, and policies.
The Gala Luncheon, held at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University, featured selections from Herstory writers, a partner gallery, and invigorating conversations reconnecting Herstory's network.
Herstory is a 27-year-old nonprofit organization. The 25th Anniversary celebration was delayed due to the Covid pandemic.
Amy Maiello Hagedorn Training Institute
Takes Herstory Into the Next Quarter Century
The notion of passing along the dare to care-- at the heart of Herstory’s mission and work-- is deceptively simple. The pedagogy and way of life that has grown up around it, touching thousands, is multi-faceted and profound.
Our training program began informally, in 2004, when a handful of workshop members began to work with our founder to articulate tools that would exchange a collective study of what creates empathy in a reading stranger for more conventional approaches to narrative practice. Little did any of us know, when our first cohort of facilitators began to work in the jails and with women writing in Spanish, that almost 20 years later we would have a formalized training institute, in partnership with the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and the national Coalition for Community Writing, creating an ever expanding network of workshops in the schools, in the jails, and in the community, reaching out locally, nationally, and even beginning to reach out nationally.
We are honored to name our training institute after Amy Maiello Hagedorn, who was present as a writer when the seeds for the training program were sown, in celebration of all she contributed to the movement for justice and equity on Long Island and to Herstory’s vision and growth. Our world wouldn’t be the same without her, and all that she has given to us all.
The Elephant in the Room Project
goal is to unveil fear-based inequities, lies, violence, lack, and ignorance, so our children are given the room and opportunity to blossom into their fullest potential.
Special thanks to the English and Social Studies teachers, Ms. Michele Lloyd, Ms. Deven Kane, Ms. Renee Williamson, and Mr. Juan Nieto, who welcomed Herstory into their classrooms, Mr. Paul Sibblies, a true Principal Pioneer, who welcomed Herstory into the high school, and Dr. Gina Talbert, Ms. Shamika Simpson, Ms. Latesha Walker, the administration team and Board of Education, who graciously accepted Herstory’s invitation to allow us into the Wyandanch School District. We are also grateful to Ms. Jill Lewis and facilitating her art club students on how to engage their narrative through art alongside the skills and expertise of artist Gwynne Duncan.
Special kudos to Mr. Bruce Penn for helping to weave the tapestry together through video. Herstory facilitators Milady Gonzalez, Helen Dorado Alessi, and Amber Davis, thank you for your consistent commitment to the Herstory vision. Thank you, Renee Joshua-Porter for the spirit and wisdom and heart you have brought to the making of our movie. Thank you, Erika Duncan, Herstory’s founder and director, for your dedication to this project.
The stories will bring healing and change and will most certainly continue.
What is the true heartbeat of communities depicted through skewed lenses? Do we really listen to the beautiful voices of brilliant children often muted because of the hue of their skin? At a recent Freedom Forum in Wyandanch, we were given a mandate to include the children in the conversation.
In the quiet that comes when we listen very deeply, “The Elephant in the Room” is the real issue that exists, that is often ignored and denied. Without dealing with the Elephant, sub-issues surface and can plague communities. Gun violence is one of the sub-issues.
Herstory was given an opportunity by the Human Services and Youth Services Departments of Suffolk County to be the story gathering arm of an extensive gun violence prevention project. We are honored to partner with Wyandanch Union Free School District to begin tackling the Elephant, one issue at time. Our collaborative
"Doing our Time on the Outside” and “Writing Beyond the Prison"
We are happy to announce two new grant funded projects in partnership with the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University.
We entered 2022 with the roll out of two interconnected projects in the carceral justice arena, building on a long-standing relationship with Prison Families Anonymous and a decade and a half of working in Long Island’s three jails, where hundreds of writers each year have used our empathy-based tool kit to create a powerful literature that over a decade and a half has influenced judges, policy makers and prison guards in life-changing ways.
Doing our Time on the Outside, Prison Family and Reentry Voices for a Change, a project funded by Humanities NY, takes its title from a groundbreaking book by Barbara Allan, founder of Prison Families Anonymous, written in a Herstory workshop that brought together high school students with parents in prison, law students and criminal justice system reformers. While Barbara was writing her book, charting the building of a movement to support prison families, the young people writing by her side created All I ever wanted/ Stories of Children of the Incarcerated (with over 2000 copies circulated since its publication in 2015). Together the books tell the story of the heartbreaking separations, stigmatization and lack of opportunity that follow those marked by the carceral system, even as they shed light on the longings and dreams of the incarcerated and their families in a way that no reader can ever forget.
In partnership with Prison Families Anonymous, the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and the Criminology Program at Hofstra University, Herstory workshop facilitators Victoria Roberts and Shahrzad Sajadi hit the ground running with an online campus community workshop that brought together people who have had a loved one in prison or jail, people coming out of prison themselves, and the graduate and undergraduate students who will be the decision- and opinion-makers of the future to write together side by side.
As we move into the summer season, we are launching a local and national Summer Story Gathering Initiative: Complementing the semester-long workshop, this initiative aims to gather 50-100 stories to foster understanding and inspire change. Guest facilitators will offer onsite single-session 2-3 -hour retreats designed to generate finished stories to be used in advocacy projects developed by the spring semester cohort. In an intimate small-group setting, three to five participants will come together with the goal that each member will complete a short piece by the end the meeting to donate to the cause. Participating organizations will target people whose stories will help their advocacy efforts relating to carceral impacts and reintegration. This work will be conducted both in person and online according to the public health needs of the time. A full cohort of Herstory facilitators and facilitators-in-training will offer a total of 30 story shaping retreats between the beginning of May and the end of August.
August to December 2022: The last trimester of the grant year will be devoted to producing podcasts, web postings, public presentations and an online anthology featuring stories produced by the campus/community cohort and the 100 Stories Initiative. Participants will be equally involved in every aspect of decision-making as to how the stories will be used in the world, whether in online publications, podcasts, public presentations, presentations to legislators and educational communities.
The grant year will culminate in a daylong conference sponsored by the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and the Criminology Program of Hofstra University, hosted by the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook, in which scholarly and activist presentations will be interwoven with readings of the stories produced.
We will enter 2023 poised to expand on the project, while creating an ongoing podcast series and a folio edition of stories and scholarly writings to be widely studied and used as a basis for advocacy work.
We are also thrilled to announce our participation in “Writing Beyond the Prison,” a project coordinated by our partners at the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and supported by a “Sustaining Public Engagement Grant,” awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This interdisciplinary public humanities project will engage SBU faculty and graduate students from Africana Studies, English and History in working with Herstory and the United Black Family Scholarship Foundation, to bring the voices of those most directly impacted by the carceral system into the public conversation. We will create a publicly accessible, web-based Living Archive to publish and preserve the writings of people within the carceral ecosystem as a rich public history research and curriculum-building initiative.
The grant will allow us to reengage the facilitators who were working behind bars when the pandemic struck to join with our local and national fellows in developing curricula/guides to sustain incarcerated writers and to bring writings from the Living Archive into schools, community programs, and training for social service and law enforcement agencies.
In addition to helping those whom society has silenced to create their own powerful testimonial literature, our focus on dissemination—not only of this carceral literature but also of our pedagogical tools--will nurture new writers, speakers, community organizers and leaders. We will also create an ongoing public history digital archive that makes these narrative available for use by future humanities scholars, activists, and policy makers. Our project will have an immediate impact on democratic practice and racial inequality in America, while working toward reshaping the “carceral ecosystem” by amplifying the voices of the incarcerated and their families.
Expanding Classroom Pedagogy with Brave Journeys
When Herstory first published Brave Journeys in 2018, we could only imagine the direction this book would take us and the real impact these stories would have on our classroom communities. For the past three years, this bilingual collection of deeply moving stories by young people who crossed the US-Mexico border alone has served as an exemplary text for several local school districts in preparation for the NY Regents Exam. Educators have used these 15 first-person stories to demonstrate the characteristics of narrative writing, to facilitate language learning, and to teach students the relationship between textual and emotional literacy. Most importantly, it has empowered newcomer students as they use memoir to process their immigration experiences and work through the confusion and guilt of leaving loved ones behind, all while inspiring them to claim their narratives as a way to connect with fellow students.
This past year, the Herstory team designed an online instructor’s guide for Long Island’s teachers that includes several pedagogical resources: bilingual summaries of each story as printable PDFs; video interviews with the book’s young authors; professional development videos and curricular materials; and story-by-story study guides that highlight core learning standards. We have been able to offer this dynamic online resource guide free of charge because of a generous grant from the Long Island Community Foundation. This pedagogical resource is currently in use in Westbury,Patchogue/Medford, Long Beach, Hempstead and Central
Islip School districts, but our dream is to expand Brave Journeys and its accompanying guide into all our schools. On November 4, Herstory presented this goal at the NY State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages conference, where former NYS TESOL president Susanne Marcus, now an active member of our Herstory team, shared how using Brave Journeys in classrooms far exceeds any measurable outcomes of standardized testing; it also infuses empathy, trust, and inclusion into our classrooms and communities by embracing the whole self of our diverse students and their families.
Moving forward into 2022…we are excited to bring Brave Journeys into Nassau’s BOCES Twilight Alternative Schools program in Uniondale, Glen Cove, and Freeport. We invite you to walk with us on this path forward with us.
In this season of collective trauma and illness, danger, and environmental catastrophes, what voices might lead us to healing, new solutions, and hope? Can our stories help us come together when what happens to our health and our planet depends on our interconnectedness, and when each one of us is a critical part of the human chain?
We are happy to add to our growing series of Online Workshops for Our Time a new writing community for first responders who have been working on the front line, including medical personnel at all levels, doctors, nurses, nurses aids, home care workers, EMS and hospital workers on the ground, police, food pantry workers, counselors and teachers.
Public Health and Human Rights in a Time of COVID
We are creating a special space for those students who have risked their lives in order to continue in school or help their families, who are serving as essential workers in fast food, instacart delivery, group homes, cleaning houses, and more…
In partnership with the Humanities Institute and Pandemic Narratives Initiative at Stony Brook University…
We have met once so far, and the conversations and story shaping has already gone very deep, as we gather the people who are meant to be in that zoom room. Knowing what the schedules are like for first responders, we invite you to come whenever you can. Come once or twice to shape a particilar story that needs to be told, or continue week after week to work develop a book length project.
While you can argue with a political position, you can't argue with a story, so that we need the voices of those who are seeing the most, if we are to come together to protect our world.
Equitable Earth Freedom Forum in Wyandanch
On October 17, Herstory and the Wyandanch community used storytelling to expose the wounds caused by racial and environmental injustice as a first step towards healing. Gathered in the public plaza behind the recently renovated LIRR station, the community listened as each writer’s story cried out for answers to what gets overlooked in revitalization plans like the well-known Wyandanch Rising: how toxic dumping in minority neighborhoods continues; how our youth feel despair about inheriting a sick planet; how generational trauma is real—but so is generational joy! This forceful group of health care workers and local business owners, high school
students and seasoned educators raised their voices in a united effort to shift the conversation, as their urgent call for action resonated off the plaza’s buildings and filled the crisp autumn air we all breathed in together.
But these cries for an equitable earth and for racial justice did not stop at Wyandanch that afternoon. Herstory teamed up with the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts (BACCA) to bring in local film maker and six-time Emmy nominee Waldo Cabrera to transform this live event into a full-length video that will carry these stories into the hearts and homes across Long Island and beyond. Together, our collaborative vision sees this as just the beginning, as the Wyandanch community will use the film and Herstory’s empathy-based storytelling methods to keep cultivating a growing advocacy movement that will lead towards social justice.
Moving forward into 2022…we will take our first ever film into more neighborhoods and schools on Long Island to inspire and co-create similar civic engagement programs.
In-School Programs and Online Campus & Community Workshops for Our Time
Our successful instruction and valued presence in Long Island classrooms over the past 11 years is what allowed us to navigate the challenges of virtual instruction and really transcend as schools reopened their doors this summer. And here the numbers do not lie: from Spring 2021 through Fall 2021 semesters, the Herstory team has served close to 500 students! This includes our Summer 2021 workshops with New York Edge, where our facilitators used Herstory’s proven methods to quickly build lasting points of connection with the city’s youth who yearn for someone to actually hear them. It also includes an urgent workshop we created in Harlem for Children in Temporary Housing, where young girls and boys learned that, despite their precarious situation, their dreams are still so important to have and to share with others. And while we are excited to be back in person with all our students, our ability to connect through virtual networking platforms is a gift we continue to cherish and strengthen. Throughout 2021, our Herstory team has embraced these digital tools to expand our network in endless ways, together transforming Long Island into a powerful nexus for the larger work we are doing.
The most unique aspect of our online Campus & Community workshops is the effective way we build bridges between classrooms and the larger society. In partnership with the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, our intergenerational workshops create dynamic spaces where students write together with participants from across the country and from all walks of life, increasing the chance for their stories to touch hearts far and wide. The following themed workshops grew throughout 2021, widening the panorama of voices behind these much-needed stories: those of recent immigrants, folks with disabilities, Black Lives Matter activists, and writers across the LGBTQ+ spectrum:
Making Our Voices Heard: Memoirs to (Re)Imagine Mental Healthcare
Healing Our Communities, Spirits and Land: Regeneration, Resilience and Rebirth
While focusing on themes that unite certain groups, we also celebrate important differences within these communities, which speaks to an important challenge in the fight for social justice. When building a coalition of change, when shaping a movement based on empathy, celebrating our differences is just as important as strengthening that which unites us, as together they both influence how we relate to one another and live together in an increasingly diverse society. We will continue to grow the following workshops throughout the coming year and hopefully beyond:
Moving forward into 2022…we will embrace even more digital tools to increase the impact our network can make, as we look to create podcasts and refine our hybrid model of in-person/on-line workshops.