The 2020 Social Justice Write-In

On Friday Nov. 20, the Aetna Chair of Writing supported, along with others, a Social Justice Write-In with Kiedra Taylor and Darby Lacey (English Graduate Student Association co-chairs on the Diversity subcommittee) serving as the event hosts.

Kiedra Taylor organized this event from her family home in Georgia — in a different time zone, region, challenges. Her persistence and the calming tone she brought to the actual event grounded it. [see Kiedra Taylor’s guest blogpost here about the event.]

I participated in this write-in from multiple embodied capacities. Officially, I was there as the sponsoring Aetna Chair of Writing. But I was also attending as: someone who enjoys writing in the presence of others; as someone who strongly believes that writing offers multiple impactful avenues of action, engagement, and expression; and finally, as someone who understands writing as a tool and process for restorative and critical/creative justice.

Since the event, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t replayed the event’s prompting video of the performance/slam poem, Simon Says, either live on my iPad or over and over in my head. I was struck by so many things in this powerful, poetic duo-performance (2016, Ashley Davis and Oompa) and I chose to compose my own response to its promptings by reclaiming some of the key phrases in it as well as aiming to imitate some of its original sense of urgency, escalation, tension, emotion. We only had an hour to work on our own writings/compositions and so my 32-second Spark Video is not a final product and it definitely displays some rough edges. (But honestly, given the nature of the event itself, I’m fine with those edges too.) One image in the sequence still didn’t fit (and even bothered me a bit) as we turned our cameras all back on for sharing.

The image that still doesn’t quite work for me is the “invitation” one (second in the video) with a static “welcome” sign image featuring a bird. I narrated to my event colleagues that I had been more than a little [shocked? frustrated? horrified? disappointed… most definitely] that the first 100 or so images I sifted through in Adobe’s stock and free images while searching for a good shot of an open door to capture the “invitation” concept… kept revealing a white arm/hand opening a door. Over and over and over again. Apparently white people open a lot of doors.

And almost as much as the 2016 slam poetry Simon Says performance by Ashley Davis and Oompa that prompted our write-in, that whited (and blighted) “open door narrative” stays with me even as I resist it. “You are as valuable as you are able” is the title of the brief video-poem I composed.

~ Brenda Jo Brueggemann, Aetna Chair of Writing