Monday, April 29, 2019

Sharing the Truth of Your Personal History and Understanding Your Why

Jacqueline Raymond Wegman

I am inherently privileged. I am white. I have blonde hair and seemingly endless amounts of bouncy energy. I don’t deny the advantage of these factors. However,  I fear my inherent privilege disconnects me from some of the communities I work in; leaving some students to wonder how I can possibly understand their lives. Why am I there? Why am I doing teaching artistry in a community I don’t live in and am not from? How can I relate? These are real questions and they should be asked. What is your why? 
Your history is your truth.

I grew up in the late 80’s-early 90’s in an apartment in Troy, NY. Back in the late 80’s Troy, NY more economically depressed than it is still today. My mom was a single parent working two jobs and raising my sister and I on her own. When my dad stole our car, we took the bus; to the grocery store, to Public School #18, and to my grandmother’s house. After that time (around age 3) I never saw or heard from my father again. 

 My mother was also raised by women. She had two sisters and her mother; a single mom with three mouths to feed. My mother and grandma, as well as her mother before her had to work to make money to survive, to pay the rent, to take care of their children. Getting a college education was not the norm. In fact, no relative of mine on either side of my family had ever gone to college until 2002. My sister was the first to go to a 4 year university, graduate 1 year early with honors and then start her graduate program the next day. No really. The NEXT day. She’s an inspiration for sure. 

Power of connecting through theatre 
Unlike my self motivated, academia driven sister, I found my way to college through theatre. I started singing and acting at 5. It was all I had. It was the thing “I was good at” and how I felt seen in a turbulent household. For me, theatre was a safe haven,  I found a community and a purpose there. And also a way “out.” 

The arts change lives and introduce possibility. They did for me. I do not desire for my students to become mini actors (unless they want to!), I want them to speak up for themselves, know what it’s like to walk in someone else's shoes, and to become leaders in their own lives and in their community.  Theatre education encompasses all of these objectives. 

I want my students to overcome any circumstance they may have been born into.  I want them to know how powerful they are and encourage them to critically think. For female identifying students and students of color I want them to examine where information is coming from. Before doubting themselves ask: Who created this language? What’s the historical context? Who says I can’t do this thing? 

If I could use my art, my background, and pathway to serve as a guide for one student, I would feel that I've successfully contributed to this field, and perhaps, to the world as a whole.  True empowerment can only come from within an individual. No one gave me my power, I had a series of mentors and guides in the forms of teachers who helped light my path, who validated my voice, who saw me. It took me years to empower myself. As an arts educator I hope I can help a young person get there quicker than I did. I wonder, if by sharing our stories, we connect with students and encourage to persevere through situations to see the vast possibilities on the horizon.