Tiayona On Fire, a reflection by Avery Lennard

“God punish that Harriett Tubman,” Tiayona declares emphatically as she waves her arms around and stomps her foot. I look on as she performs her fiery Stagville narrative for the camera. She doesn’t miss a beat as she goes through her minute-long monologue acting as a slave master. Not only is her performance passionate—I am struck by the maturity of her prose. “I didn’t mean to sell his pappy, I got drunk and bet him, may God spare me,” she says quickly at one point before moving on to speak with an imagined slave capturer. I can feel the distain she has for the Union by her concluding insults about Abraham Lincoln.

 

Working with Ms. Roach’s class at Club Boulevard Elementary School has been a fantastic experience. The Memories Through Past Centuries project has given students the opportunity to engage with America’s past by examining interviews with former slaves and developing their own narratives. I was impressed by all of the students, but Tiayona’s final narrative was remarkable. I was blown away by the passion she expressed and by how well she understood the complicated dynamics of slave-master relationships.

 

When I first started working with Tiayona, I feared that she would not be able to engage with this project because she has such a big personality and is easily distracted. I did not think she would connect with her narrative on an appropriate level, but I was completely wrong—Tiayona’s natural enthusiasm is what brought her performance to life. I love seeing how her energy, which can be distracting in some classroom settings, was so valuable for this project. I value the LTP approach as a way to draw upon personality traits that other teaching styles fail to engage.
For more on this project click here

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