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On Tuesday March 10, 2020, after six and a half weeks together, my students and I met in person for the very last time. Lockdown appeared on the horizon, but uncertainty remained. In class, we stayed on schedule. We watched the first half of Ryan Coogler ‘s 2018 film, Black Panther and planned to watch the second half in class two days later. However, by Thursday March 12, the university system had canceled classes. We were told to prepare for the transition to online instruction. Soon afterward, our state was on lockdown and our city became the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Contemplating this anniversary has not been easy. After a long and difficult year, the challenges of lockdown almost seemed to fade in the distance. At the same time, commemoration feels necessary and significant. What we have learned might be of use to others. With that hope in mind, I found several artifacts (edited for clarity) to illustrate the labor of transition.
Remnants of My Last Commute Before Quarantine 10 March 2020 (Discovered in my bag several weeks later and reassembled on a yoga mat)
Objects arranged on a purple yoga mat clockwise from the top: black gel pen; public transit pass; black dry erase marker; lip balm; six colored pencils; hair tie
Photo by Susan Bernstein
Introduction to Distance Learning (from the revised syllabus)
Writing Project 2: Envisioning Beloved Community (from a reconceived assignment sheet)
Many of our sources this semester have addressed the question of creating a Beloved Community.. That is, another more, sustainable world. In Black Panther, for example, the question arises about how to best use Wakanda's resources: Hide in plain sight? Share with others in deep need? Combat colonizers and other oppressors?
Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, and other activists and sources we have encountered this semester addressed similar questions. Dr. King, for example, identifies this situation as "the fierce urgency of now."
Writing Project 2 asks you to imagine a proposal for creating a Beloved Community for a specific audience and purpose. In your proposal, you can engage deeply with one of our sources. For example:
As you grow your ideas, consider your concerns and the concerns of your audience. What agreements or disagreements might you have? How would you envision and enact a Beloved Community for a more sustainable world?
Spoiler Alerts: Black Panther Interrupted (from my spring 2020 teaching journal)
I don’t know how much we accomplished in 6 ½ weeks. We were ½way through Black Panther, and then we had to stop. I had taken more time this semester setting it up, showing cultural connections, talking more about the Black Panthers, including watching excerpts from Stanley Nelson’s film Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution. When class ended, the story felt suspended in air, plot lines left unfinished.
And then our world turned as upside down as Wakanda after N’Jadaka became King, seasick upside down.
I want to resist becoming a bot, a disembodied head on the screen. Online instruction does not ease the seasickness, does not remove bodies, minds, and affects. I still want to imagine that another world is possible. Real life slips through the cracks of rigidity. Those cracks are Sisyphean moments of joy. That joy is the hope I want to remember.
The one-year anniversary of this pandemic might be difficult for us to contemplate, and for our students as well. We have lost family and friends. We have lost celebrations of rights of passage that students might have anticipated for years, such as high school graduation, and other face-to-face events shared with loved ones. The emotional labor of reflection might bring unimaginable challenges for many of us. For this reason, I would offer students an ungraded space for writing and multimedia, and as well as options to keep their work private. At the same time, for those who choose, it might be helpful to reflect on how to commemorate this anniversary. How would you commemorate the one-year mark of the pandemic? What would be important to remember? How might students reflect on significant memories of this past year? What would you want future generations to know about this time in our lives?
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