How do we understand humanity? Well, there are a lot of ways. Relationships, art, film, TV, the Internet. We try to figure each other out through politics or reality shows, but perhaps the best way would be through books. At least that’s the believe of Baltimore literature programme A Revolutionary Summer.
“Story is a cornerstone of education—the informal and formal sort,” says Andria Nacina Cole, founder of the nonprofit A Revolutionary Summer. For Cole, a writing MFA from Johns Hopkins, literature provides the best comprehensive understandings of humans across the spectrum. “We need story to connect events, emotions, and experiences of our lives. It’s through story that we make meaning and understand ourselves.” So, she, alongside fellow MFA Malene Kai Bell, founded A Revolutionary Summer, a program designed for teenaged black girls in Baltimore to read and analyze famous literature by Black women authors.
2017 will be the organization’s third summer; it was launched in 2015 when Bell and Cole met at through Hopkins’s writing program and got to thinking. The way black women were portrayed in media left a lot to be desired. “Should they depend on social media, popular music, or television for their identity,” their website states, “Black girls will undoubtedly conclude they’re ugly, ‘ghetto,’ angry, intimidating, or unworthy.”
Together, they decided to create a program designed to build Black girls’ self-esteem up by introducing them to womanist art. The program teaches high school-aged girls in Baltimore how to critically deconstruct and analyze these works through vocabulary acquisition strategies, writing workshops, and revision. “We impart concrete methods for tackling texts, albums, paintings, photographs, and life,” Cole explains. “It ain’t a joke.” This year’s syllabus includes Toni Morrison’s ‘Sula’, Warsan Shire’s ‘Our Men Do Not Belong To Us’, and Lauryn Hill’s ‘Miseducation’, and each summer the participants are encouraged to act in an end-of-summer rendition of Ntozake Shange’s ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf’.
A Revolutionary Sumer is funded mostly by individual donations. “People find their way to our website and, believe it or not, they just give,” Cole muses. “It has been the most surprising, humbling thing.” Through these donations, the girls are provided with a free personal library of all texts used, a month’s subscription to Netflix, and a stipend of up to $500 at the completion of the program.
Cole now organizes the program on her own as Bell pursues her new passion: reiki. “She still sends her daughters to A Revolutionary Summer,” Cole adds, with a smile.