Jacob Volkman Human Rights Fellowship Program
Igniting the Torch: Activism Across the Generations
Announcing Our 2021 Jacob Volkman Human Rights Fellowships
within the Herstory/Coalition for Community Writing Fellowship Program
Kennesaw State University
Sam Casto Hollman
Kennesaw State University
University of Massachusetts
We of the Volkman/Felder Clan are happy to announce the inauguration of the Jacob Volkman Fellowship Program within Herstory Writers Workshop, dedicated to bringing the voices of activist elders and emerging young activists into the public arena through the creation of intergenerational writing circles across the nation, across the racial, ethnic, cultural, educational and economic divides that too often keep us from hearing one another.
A quarter of a century ago, Jacob’s daughter, Erika Duncan, embarked on new mission, to establish a community writing project to give voice to the most isolated and marginalized people on Long Island, incarcerated and free.
Drawing on the storytelling techniques she had learned from her father when she was a child—meant to startle those who were bigoted and cruel into awareness and empathy— she designed a pedagogy of action, empathy and inclusion, which is alive to this day.
Sixty-five years have passed since Jacob told his eight-year-old daughter the story of his participation in the liberation of Buchenwald. It was one of those indelible moments when the commitment to fighting injustice is passed down. It was one of those moments of teaching the perpetuation of the struggle that Jacob would carry on into his 95th year.
Coming out of a tradition of teachers and healers, starting with his grandfather, Berish Volkman, a renowned rabbi/ healer in the tradition of Maimonides, Jacob spent his life working for fair housing, racial justice and human rights. Whether he was managing a public housing project while working with the early settlement houses on the Lower East Side, or creating a union, whether he was doing neighborhood organizing or teaching sociology, a second career he began when most people were retiring, he was always on the front-lines of change. He was always a very quiet
revolutionary—engaging in conversations and actions in a way that drew other people in, but a forceful one too in a way that didn’t alienate people.
It is in his name that his descendants have come together to create a new program within Herstory where elders and young people will come together around a current human rights issue, to write side by side, with the goal of using their stories to change hearts, mind and policy, with a shifting focus for each year.
After an exciting pilot season, resulting in the creation of an ongoing online workshop, “From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter,” engaging former sharecroppers, student activists, immigrant human rights and philanthropic leaders and young scholars from Long Island, South Carolina, Arkansas, Washington DC, Maryland, New York City, Minnesota, California and more, we are happy to announce the selection of the first cohort of Jacob Volkman Human Rights fellows, to start our training program in September of 2021, as part of Herstory’s larger Coalition for Community Writing Fellowship Program.
In 2022, we will be joining with Southern Scholars to create an accompanying Jacob Volkman/Dorethra Pressey Fellowship Program, serving young people from rural South Carolina who are just entering college.