Lost in the Woods


My recent Summer Institute on Teaching Social Justice was so engaging that I compare it to events in my life that I can immediately call upon because it’s in my bones. Like getting lost in a darkening woods in a rainstorm and every hoot and chirp is shattering. Can you tell I was jazzed?

I have a heap of experience as a Master Teaching Artist and Director and there was even some discussion as to whether this program was right for me. My conversation with Renée Watson, one of the lead trainers, quickly put any concerns to rest. We agreed that the opportunity to dig deeper into how to communicate and inspire our kids on issues of social justice needs continued and inspired attention.

And no false advertising here. There was art, there was inquiry and there was reflection. There was risk-taking and taking action. There was poetry and performance. There was silence and mindfulness. There were hands-on-techniques that I immediately put into practice with my staff of Teaching Artists, Counselors and Social Workers. 

I am currently involved in trauma informed practice, which at it’s fundamental understanding looks at “not what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you.” The social and emotional elements that are present in the experience of the trauma of social injustice can never be discounted, but it takes real talent to give context and form to those feelings. The Master Teaching Artists Renée and Patti Chilsen, the second lead facilitator and Program Director, dignified all participants to be present and creative without the kvetching that can so often undermine even good intentioned outrage.

It was an honor to be part of the group of dedicated folks that came together and made a community of activists. I now feel better prepared if I ever get lost in the woods again.

The process by which we were guided through the breaking down of a poem, after first being introduced to a recorded performance of a charged piece of writing was in and of itself inspiring. Then to use that lesson to construct my own piece, collaborate with a small group and create something new was yet more rewarding. And then the ultimate challenge to our comfort zone came when we headed out to the street to perform our creation. I have played on and off Broadway, done film, TV and all that, but here I was kneeling down on Fifth Avenue performing for anyone who passed by, with a message I believed in. Social Justice in action! What a thrilling and humbling experience.

-David Kener, Summer Institute 2015 participant

See more about the workshops in last year’s Summer Institute Anthology

Interested in Summer Institute? Fine out more about our programs here