Storying Youth Lives: Focusing on Equity and Engagement in Teaching and Teacher Education

Valerie Kinloch, Tanja Burkhard, and DaVonna Graham

Schools “do little to nurture the souls and support the creativity of us students" (18-year-old Damya; see Kinloch, 2010, p. 54)

In this chapter, we examine the valuable role of youth stories and storying and their interconnectedness with equity and creativity in teaching and teacher education. To do so, we place primary focus on Damya, a brilliant, beautiful Black adolescent girl1 who was in Valerie’s English language arts class at Perennial High School in New York City. She was also a participant and co- investigator in one of Valerie’s teacher education research initiatives and, since that time, they have remained in touch with each other. After graduating from Perennial High, Damya matriculated to a predominately white institution (PWI) in the U.S. Northeast, where she majored in International Affairs. Damya’s academic trajectory and the educational choices she boldly made represent an explicit rejection of deficit narratives that were enacted onto her by some of her К-12 teachers, administrators, and peers. Such narratives, according to Damya, tried to “define my success in ways that didn’t uplift my humanity.” She is but one of many other Black adolescents in this country whose stories—of academic struggle, perseverance, acuity, and resilience— represent conscious, critical rejections of deficit narratives that seek to undermine and minimize Black people’s cultural, intellectual, linguistic, and social histories. Through Damya’s stories and those of some of her peers, we (two U.S.-born Black women and a Black German woman) are able to better recognize and learn about the multiple ways they created artful opportunities to center equity in their school engagements.

Specifically, Damya’s stories reaffirm for us the importance of storying as a method and a practice that encourages people to make sense of their realities, narrate their specific ways of knowing and being, and name their past and present while (re)imagining their future selves. In this reaffirmation, we build on San Pedro and Kinloch’s (2017) argument that educational researchers should “willingly center the realities, desires, and stories of the people with whom we work” as we also “situate their stories in relation to our stories, lives, and research projects in humanizing ways” (p. 374S). In so doing, we come to understand the valuable role stories play, particularly in the lives of People of Color, and the significance of storying as a way to capture and share the intricacies of who we are in relation to who others are in the world.

Indeed, stories are central to human life and human experiences. Stories carry and embody our pains, joys, struggles, and triumphs. They capture and encapsulate creative practices and bring into life what poet, feminist, woman- ist, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde (1985) refers to as “possibilities.” In her discussion of poetry and possibilities, Lorde insists, “poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action” (p. 36). The possibilities that emerge from poetry, specifically, and from stories and storying, generally, signify our human capacity to “give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (p. 36).

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