Imagination Stage, a theater arts organization based in Montgomery County providing arts education and creative opportunities for youth, used a Maryland Humanities project grant to collect immigrant and refugee youth stories and produce a play about immigration. The play “Linda y Libre,” was an extension of Imagination Stage’s “¡Óyeme!” initiative with the Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), focusing on immigrant and refugee youth.
The initiative itself began as workshops for refugee and unaccompanied youth to share their stories and process their experiences, with the resulting stories being scripted into a touring play. As with the original ¡Óyeme! initiative, Imagination Stage worked with Latinx high school students who are English Language Learners or enrolled in social services initiatives through the Montgomery County DHHS. These students’ stories were the basis for the “Linda y Libre” play. This project created opportunities for students, and the larger community, to hold conversations about immigration and the direct impact of policies on today’s immigrant and refugee youth. One project partner commented that the “¡Óyeme! workshops provide an avenue for young refugees to receive effective culturally-based and healing-informed support that meets them where they are and is designed specifically for them.”
Writers in Baltimore Schools
SHARP grantee Writers in Baltimore Schools (WBS) used their grant funds to sustain their school-year writing programs at six Baltimore City schools. By using the funds to support stipends for writing instructors and the Executive Director’s salary, the organization served 80 students in grades 3 – 8 throughout the school year, and was able to pilot a new curriculum. The organization’s instructors are often alumni of WBS programs, and SHARP funds meant continued engagement with these writers. Maintaining school year programs also meant that WBS could recruit participants for its Baltimore Young Writers’ Summer Studio, a residential writing camp. Reporting on the impact of the funds, WBS says, “We meet most of the young writers who stay involved with WBS through our school-year programs, so we’re grateful.” Most importantly, keeping the same cohort of instructors on board throughout the new curriculum pilot enabled WBS to collect data and use it to improve the curriculum itself.
The 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones one of the keynote authors at partner CityLit Project’s Spring 2022 CityLit Festival. The live and virtual, fully reimagined signature event which celebrates readers and writers had “Breaking Free: Confronting Hard Truths,” as its theme. The event resonated with participants, particularly coming out of the pandemic, including Maryland Humanities Board member and writer Saima Sitwat.
Sitwat herself joined last year’s festival as a panel organizer, building on her storytelling project, “Becoming American,” which consists of conversations and panel discussions with immigrant women in Maryland.
“Platforms like CityLit Festival provide an opportunity for readers and writers to come together and spark conversations. It is always fun for a reader to meet their favorite writer, but it is a valuable experience for a writer to be connected with readers… Writing can be an isolating experience and it is important for writers to be knowledgeable about conversations that are taking place in neighborhoods. CityLit Festival puts the readers and writers in the same room and that is an exciting prospect for so many of us, especially at this time in history, when we have learned to value company and camaraderie.”
Sitwat reflected CityLit’s theme of “Breaking Free: Confronting Hard Truths, ”The theme specifically resonated with her experience as an immigrant. “Immigrants, in particular, have a tendency to normalize the trauma they have been through during the process of migration,” she says, “but we all need to address and confront the history of systemic racism in America in order to continue our journeys, together.”
Speaking on the pandemic specifically, and the role that CityLit and Maryland Humanities play in today’s cultural environment, Sitwat said, “The pandemic exposed inherent inequities that existed in America. As our country unraveled under the pressure of a raging healthcare crisis, both CityLit and Maryland Humanities were able to provide space for communities to come together and engage in dialogue. I personally appreciate efforts on the part of both these organizations in amplifying BIPOC voices… If [the] pandemic has taught me one thing, it is to be present in the here and now… The uncertainty of life that we experienced during [the] pandemic made me realize the urgency to highlight and share all the good stories out there!”