The making of Home
Students work with Near Westside residents to publish book
"Home is more than a place to sleep in. Home is discipline. Home is Love. Home is patience, understanding, compassion." -- From "I'm Really a Westside Kid," by Rosalee Jenkins.
Rosalee ’s life-story unfolded over 2 1/2 hours and a plate of homemade fried chicken. Melissa Raimundo, a senior majoring in international relations, economics, and Spanish, was charged with collecting Rosalee’s story, which became part of Home: Journeys into the Westside (2011), the inaugural publication of the Gifford Street Community Press.
“Rosalee has always wanted to do something like this so that others could learn from her experiences,” Raimundo says. “She has gone through hardships that I haven’t come close to experiencing. She taught me that even on the most miserable day, during the darkest moments, there is light.”
Raimundo is among a group of students who used their classroom lessons in community literacy, life writing, and interviewing techniques to help the Gifford Street Community Press bring Home to fruition. Steve Parks, associate professor of writing, and John Burdick, professor of anthropology, created the courses.
“We wanted students to understand that everybody can be a writer, but not everyone has access to publication or even sometimes to paper,” Parks says. Students interviewed people from Syracuse’s Near Westside, transcribed the tapes, and learned to edit the transcripts in a way that respected the person’s voice and intention but still had a strong narrative structure. Those interviewed had final editorial control over what went into the book.
Mother Earth is also a member of the Westside Residents Coalition (WRC), which supported the creation of the Gifford Street Community Press in January 2011 in collaboration with the Syracuse Alliance for a New Economy (SANE) and the Writing Program in The College of Arts and Sciences. WRC member Gary Bonaparte hopes the book will help people feel empowered. “The book contains the thoughts of Westside residents, which in itself is an accomplishment,” he says, “even if few people ever read it.”
In addition to the longer narratives, the students collected shorter writing pieces and drawings from residents through a series of community-based writing stations students facilitated in churches, libraries, coffee shops, and restaurants on the Near Westside over eight weeks. The students then organized the writings and photographs, designed the book, and got permission from local artist-in-residence Juan Cruz to use one of his murals for the cover. “The amount of work the students did for this project was stunning,” Parks says. “They brought a strong disciplinary insight to the project, but at the final moment, they said, ‘it’s not about us. It’s the community’s book.’ They did not want me to include their names in the book.”
The students say it was about relationship building and helping others find voice. “We learned a lot of things that you can’t learn in the classroom,” says Julie Nascone, senior English and writing major. “More importantly, we learned how to interact and form relationships with people who have a very different way
of life from ours. Friends, family, and community define life on the Near Westside. We learned that we are really not that different.”