In this first of hopefully many podcasts on the topic of ecopedagogies, I am joined by Prof. Laurel Kearns of Sociology and Religion and Environmental Studies at Drew Theological School and the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University and Prof. Tim Van Meter, Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry and Coordinator of the Cross-Cultural Program at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. They are both part of The Green Seminary Initiative, and teach courses in religion and ecology. We discuss the roots and origins of ecological theory, environmental justice and place-based education, resilience theory, contested spaces and points of tension in environmental studies and religion, along with several main areas: food (organic farming; food justice), animals, climate change, urban vs. rural, consumption/waste, role of religious groups in environmental justice (and faith-based initiatives), links to action and pubic policy work, and imagining the future. In other words, Laurel and Tim set the larger context of ecological pedagogies for us and give offer inspiration and ideas for an eco-inclusive classroom and curriculum.
In Part 2 Colleen and Willie bring us to the challenges of our current time with specific strategies for educating about systemic poverty. They show us an intersectional approach and offer tools for meeting people where they are. An engaged scholarship is at the root of their activist work. They end on a note of hope, as encouragement and challenge to engage in the work of social change.
At the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, the Poor People’s Movement, and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I invited two activist-scholars involved in the New Poor People’s Movement to talk about popular education and movement building for social change. In Part 1, Willie and Colleen talk about the legacy of the sanitation workers’ strike and the Poor People’s Movement, and how they defined leadership and power and “found a way out of no way” in a politically charged 1968.
From the Kairos Center website:
“Willie Baptist is a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement. He has 50 years of experience educating and organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, as an educator and organizer with the National Union of the Homeless and its educational arm, the Annie Smart Leadership Development Institute, as the Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union for 10 years, and as a lead organizer and educator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, as well as many other networks. He is a Board member of the National Welfare Rights Union, the United Workers of Maryland, Picture the Homeless in New York and on the Advisory Committee for the Wildfire Project. Willie is the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets including Pedagogy of the Poor, A New and Unsettling Force: Re-Igniting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, It’s Not Enough to Be Angry, Lessons from the Poor Organizing the Poor: 5 Main Ingredients and the 6 Panther P’s. Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center.”
“Colleen Wessel-McCoy has been involved with the Poverty Initiative since 2004 and currently works as Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development, with Willie Baptist. Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Colleen received her undergraduate degree in religion and social justice from Agnes Scott College. She was part of the inaugural year of the Interfaith Service House and worked for several years as a tenant organizer in Chicago. She and John Wessel-McCoy have two children, Myles and Josephine. She has a MDiv from Union Theological Seminary and earned her Ph.D. in May 2017 in Christian Social Ethics with a dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 and its lessons for building a social movement to end poverty today.” Colleen also helped develop the Religion and Social Justice major at Agnes Scott College, along with being the first major in this program.
In Part 1 Willie and Colleen tell the story of the work of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Part of the mission statement of the Center, based on the Greek word for “the right and opportune time,” is:
“We believe we are living in a kairos moment: A moment of great change and transition, where the old ways of doing things are breaking down, new ones are trying to emerge, and decisive action is demanded.”
This audio podcast is a concrete example of popular education for movement building and social change. As defined by the Highlander Research and Education Center: “Popular Education is a participatory process that combines people’s experiences to develop collective analysis and strategies for action for positive social change.”
This campaign has been “a long haul”, and we are continuing to “make the road while walking” (Myles Horton’s terms). The struggle for a true living wage is complex. For example, our dining hall staff are divided into Agnes Scott employees (Laborer’s International Union, with Facilities staff) and Aramark (four years unionized with SEIU). Aramark staff have four months a year with no work or pay as seasonal school employees in Georgia. For another example, our outsourced landscaping staff have zero sick days and greatly reduced vacation time with the new company. So there is a continued urgency to do this justice work. In addition to working on undoing structural oppression, the campaign has over the past 25 years founded an employee emergency fund and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses. Hourly staff and students are the core leaders of the movement, and any significant change is from their coalition work, along with support from community partners.
How do we educate at an institution that has as its mission statement: “AGNES SCOTT COLLEGE educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times”? We in the living wage campaign take this mission seriously and stand with our colleagues to work for a just campus. In the words of one custodian: “I choose to stand and make a difference.”
On Feb. 16, 2018 (Founders’ Day at Agnes Scott) the Agnes Scott College Living Wage Campaign held an Economic Justice Teach-In to raise awareness, educate, and movement build. The Living Wage Campaign has three major focus points: just wages, institutional respect, and democratic workplace. We are a coalition of hourly staff, students, a few salaried staff and faculty, and fabulous community partners (Atlanta Jobs with Justice, the Teamsters, WRFG (Radio Free Georgia) Labor Forum, Project South, Atlanta 9-to-5, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, and Faculty Forward).
Alumna and former ASC living wage campaign organizer Jillian Wells (2010) served as emcee for the hour and a half event. Another alumna activist, Helen Cox (2010), joined us and offered historical perspective. Dr. Nathan Grigsby, music director for the Joyful Noise Gospel Choir at ASC, brought two soloists to add music to our event. Zion Martin sang “You Are Good Medley” by Todd Galberth, and Victoria Wallace sang, “Rise Up” by Audra Day. Neil Sardana of Atlanta Jobs with Justice spoke, as well as Anne Olson (Human Rights Atlanta), student activists Emma Fischer and Kristina Kimball, and hourly staff.
For the full video of the teach-in click here:
At the event we celebrated the work of past activists: Della Spurley-Bell and Carrie Wells, co-founders of the first and oldest unionized facilities staff in the U.S. South. Hear the story of the union founding here (retired custodians Della Spurley-Bell and Maggie Ivy):
The first Living Wage video was made in 2007 by ASC alumna Mia Mingus, who worked at the time at SPARK: Reproductive Justice Now:
A few days before the teach-in, Della Spurley-Bell and Tina Pippin appeared on the WRFG Labor Forum and were interviewed by Diane Mathiowetz and Paul McLannan. A summary of the history and issues of the campaign are here:
Videos from our alumnae, faculty, and community supporters are here:
Alice Walker’s definition of womanist:
Jacqui Alexander. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditation on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred. Duke University Press, 2006.
Katie Cannon. Black Womanist Ethics. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988.
Kelly Brown Douglas. Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. Orbis, 2015.
Jacqueline Grant. White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.
bell hooks. Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Discovery. New York: Routledge, 2014.
bell hooks. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994.
Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper: 2006.
Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan. Exorcizing Evil: A Womanist Perspective on the Spirituals. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997.
Gloria Ladson-Billings. The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. Jossey-Bass, 2009.
Layli Phillips, ed. The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Cheryl J. Sanders. Living in the Intersection: Womanism and Afrocentrism in Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995.
Alice Walker. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.
Traci West. Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence, and Resistance Ethics. NYU Press, 1999.
Nancy Lynne Westfield, ed. Being Black, Teaching Black: Politics and Pedagogy in Religious Studies. Abingdon, 2008.
Delores Williams. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993.
Chris Crass’ website has the list of his publications and other resources in popular education and organizing:
In this second part of the podcast Profs. Westfield and Lockhart-Gilroy go deeper in their discussion of embodied teaching and learning, utilizing womanist epistemologies. Critical race theory provides a framework for understanding the dynamics of race in the classroom. They describe their classrooms as multisensory—honoring the whole selves in the space to make places for the imagination, and the creative mind and body. They leave us with an exploration of what a truly revolutionary womanist pedagogy entails.
The music for part 2 is from “Prayer for Syria” by Paul Myhre, associate director of the Wabash Center for Teaching Theology and Religious Studies. You can find his music at https://www.reverbnation.com/paulomyhre
In Part Two of our conversation Chris Crass talks about what activist/popular education and movement building mean for higher education. Chris is a co-founder of the Catalyst Project: Anti-Racism for Collective Liberation (https://collectiveliberation.org/) that offers political education and organizing support. He also discusses his commitment to dismantling patriarchy and misogyny (see his essay: http://thefeministwire.com/2013/06/against-patriarchy-tools-for-men-to-further-feminist-revolution/). Systemic change brings personal transformation. In these times of attacks on equity and racial justice, Chris discusses how to find hope in resilience and resistance. First step: to educate ourselves and show up for racial and gender justice. Chris reminds us: We are the 99%.
Freedom University Georgia: http://www.freedomuniversitygeorgia.com/
New Yorker Video on Freedom University Georgia: “The University That Won’t Be Stopped”:
Laura Emiko Soltis, “From Freedom Schools to Freedom University: Liberatory Education, Interracial and Intergenerational Dialogue, and the Undocumented Student Movement in the U.S. South,” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 17, Issue 1-2, June 2015:
Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA):
Aviva Chomsky, Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, Beacon Press, 2014.
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2012.
Coalition of Immokalee Workers: http://www.ciw-online.org/
In these two podcast segments, T.J. explores the current context for trans*educators, the genderism, or forced labeling, the siloing of student affairs staff and faculty, and the possibility of collaborations and working across institutional boundaries. T.J. embodies, in his teaching, workshops, and scholarship, what it means to be intersectional. He shows why faculty in higher education need to build coalitions with student affairs staff. From bell hooks’ statement, “Theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary,” T.J. argues that we need to find and make places of co-learning and co-creating. T.J. asks us to consider: To whom are we accountable? In Part 2 Dr. T.J. Jourian talks about models of campus collaboration for justice, the growing critical mass of transgender scholars who are creating their own agenda and scholarship. He reminds us that “the gender expansive world is a given” and we all need to step up and into the challenges this brings to mainstream pedagogy and curriculum.
One of the items in my “Classroom Agreements” (or ground rules) in every class I teach is: “We will allow each other to make mistakes.” T.J. urges us to take risks, make mistakes, ask for help—but after we have done our homework (see your assignment below). For those of us committed to co-creating democratic spaces in our classes, transpedagogies are necessary, pushing the boundaries to new liberatory possibilities.
T.J. also offers a definition of leadership that is “leaderfull”, incorporating the voices of the masses on the margins. He leaves us with the question, based in reflexivity: “Who are your co-conspirators in the work? Are you a co-conspirator too?”
Follow T.J.’s blog at “Waking Up Tired: Not Your T*oken”: http://www.tjjourian.net/blog-waking-up-tired