Helping my hometown: Creating a learning community that fosters intellectual curiosity, democratic self-governance, and social responsibilityPosted: January 9, 2012
By Jawuan Miguel Meeks
Since I graduated from The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan in 2007, I have gone on to complete a master degree in education in Boston and I am presently working on my PhD in education at Michigan State University.
I entered the teaching profession based on a combination of two experiences. The first involved a process of deep reflection of growing up in my hometown of Detroit. Ever since I was a small child and up to the present moment in which I am writing, the narrative defining Detroit has been one of overwhelming gloom. While at the University of Michigan I began to explore counter-narratives and seek out ways I could contribute to, not criticize my place of birth.
The second experience that led me to education was my time spent at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, I enrolled in courses with social justice and social change orientations. Some of these classes had students engage with Detroit by having dinner in Mexicantown, or documenting and reflecting on the creative process of students embarking upon telling their families’ arrival stories to Detroit. Outside of the classroom, I was actively involved with the student government as an elected representative for my college and as a member of the student planning team for the Semester in Detroit program.
During and after my tenure at the university I was an associate—now I am an elected member—of an organization called Telluride Association. Telluride Association, which has offices in Ithaca and Ann Arbor, operates two summer programs on the campuses of the University of Michigan and Cornell University. During these 6-week summer programs, young people from all over come together under the spirit of creating a learning community that fosters intellectual curiosity, democratic self-governance, and social responsibility. Currently, in my role as alumni and development support chairperson, I am responsible for facilitating college weekends two times a year for underrepresented students.
Over the course of the weekend, students engage in discussions about the social and academic aspects of college as well as essay writing and financial aid workshops. The experience of doing this type of work becomes more meaningful and rewarding when I hear back from students. Just recently, three students wrote to tell me they were accepted to Cornell, Brown, and Michigan and they were so grateful to have participated in the college weekends. Since I am no longer in the classroom, connecting with these young people, as they pursue their academic dreams, allows me to stay engaged with my vision of a more equitable society.
In sum, my time spent at the university gave me the tools, language, and understanding necessary to process my experience growing up in Detroit. Moreover, my time at the university makes me grateful for how education has transformed my life and in turn, I now seek to provide the same opportunity for others. After being on the East Coast for three years working as a teacher in K-12 classrooms, I had the opportunity to return home to complete my PhD in teacher education at Michigan State. With this new start, I plan to return to Detroit and seek out ways in which I can contribute to better educational outcomes for all students and families in Detroit Public Schools.
Jawuan Miguel Meeks is a 1st year PhD student at Michigan State University studying curriculum, instruction, teacher education and urban education.