ON Newsletter - Fall 2023
PHOTO COURTESY OF COMMUNITY POWERED
Communities in every corner of Wisconsin are facing a huge array of challenges, from the impacts of climate change on infrastructure, to the loss of talented youth who look for better lives elsewhere, to the need to increase cultural literacy as communities grow more diverse.
In Racine, Appleton, Spooner, and the Forest County Potawatomi community, residents are growing greater resilience thanks to the humanities tools of history, culture, and community conversation. Wisconsin Humanities’ Community Powered initiative trained four young workers who spent a year helping residents unearth and build on sometimes hidden strengths within each community.
As the 2022-23 projects come to a close, Rachel Steiner, Community Powered Project Coordinator in Appleton, tells us about teaming up with the public library and Fox Valley Literacy—an adult education program for English learners—to foster an increased sense of belonging among community members.
"The core of our project was the story circle, in which 6-10 people sit facing each other, relating a personal experience based on a theme. The nine students were of immigrant or refugee backgrounds from Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Iran.
The story circle built on Fox Valley Literacy’s existing programming, gave students a chance to practice speaking English in a welcoming environment, and created a shared experience.
At our event, each person told stories and gave examples of traditional foods from their homes.
Everyone spoke with such fondness and warmth for their traditions that all could relate to each story. The students did not know each other well at the start, but by the end they were laughing like old friends.
There was, however, one disagreement. The students from Venezuela and the student from Colombia both claimed the arepa as a national dish. A friendly argument erupted, with lots of laughter and playful joking on both sides. The laughter grew even louder when the food showed up—arepas we’d ordered from a local restaurant.
At the end of the event, the students each wrote one word in both English and their native language, encapsulating their experience. They wrote: unity, tradition, memory, diversity, culture. One person wrote ‘La arepa is Colombian’ and drew a smiley face with its tongue sticking out.
The story circle can have an impact that reaches far beyond the moment. These participants bonded in ways they might not have otherwise, with an understanding that local institutions in the community are committed to helping build and strengthen those relationships.”
Community Powered projects are just that—fueled beyond their pilot year by the ongoing efforts of the community itself. Fox Valley Literacy is conducting story circles in which the students become the facilitators, and in similar ways, all four communities will continue to develop their programs to suit their needs and visions for the future.
Community Powered Pilot Projects 2022-23:
- Cross-cultural story circles with Fox Valley Literacy students in Appleton
- Revitalization of lacrosse traditions in the Forest County Potawatomi community
- Racine LGBTQ Asset Map and walking tours
- Events connecting Spooner’s history to its youth-led future
On a societal level, the humanities help us grapple with the challenges we face and guide our collective quest for new and better solutions. We find our way there together, which, in a democracy, requires allowing all to have their say. What then about those people who have been devalued and made invisible by the justice system?
On August 27, 1970, Latino activists demanding access to higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were set to meet with the chancellor. UWM’s mission centered on serving the urban population of the city, and the activists had been striving to hold them to their word. At that time, there were 12 Latino/a students enrolled, and they were from Puerto Rico or Mexico and other countries, not Milwaukee, where 30,000 Latinos lived.
Love Wisconsin, our digital storytelling platform, connects you to stories of inspiring people across the state. Whether a life story resonates with your own or introduces you to a vastly different experience, we’re hoping you’ll find that we Wisconsinites have more in common than not.
Here is an excerpt from Angie Treinen’s story about an unexpected twist in the life of their family’s century-old farm.