Many Faces of Lawrence

Oct 31st, 2015 | By | Category: Fall 2015, Featured

Mary-at-ElTaller

by Mary O’Brien Guerrero, Owner of El Taller and Book Store and Café
Lawrence, Massachusetts
MA ’04

“Lawrence is like a big book of history.” —Joel Tshimbolonga, sixth grade student from Rising Loaves

Mary Guerrero wrote "The Faces of Lawrence" for the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Magazine in 1999.

Mary Guerrero wrote “The Faces of Lawrence” for the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Magazine in 1999. Link to the full text by clicking on this image.

In a quiet red brick compound on the corner of Essex and Union Streets in the heart of Lawrence, students attend the Bread Loaf Middle School Summer Program now known as Rising Loaves. Within the high brick walls of the Lawrence History Center are offices where the mill owners paid the Essex Company for the land and rights to the water, a blacksmith shop, a stable, and a warehouse. Inconspicuously located in the shadow of the Everett Mill and surrounded by the bustle of small businesses both new and old, students gather in the stable-turned-classroom to re-envision their city. They look closely at the historical maps and learn how the Essex Company planned, designed, and created an industrial city by first building a dam to harness the water power (and for our benefit they kept meticulous records throughout the whole process). Fourth, fifth and sixth graders take three weeks out of their summer to look at historical photos and hear the stories of the people who worked in the mills. Students visit the sites of this history like archaeologists doing field studies. They look at the buildings, bridges, and canal from multiple perspectives to make a connection to the past and connect that past with the Lawrence of today.

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Maicol Arias, Ovanny Disla, Starr De La Cruz, and Natalia Fiato look at historical documents at the Lawrence History Center.

Rising Loaves addresses the fact that our students must look closely at their community, at their lives, and at the history of this city in order to combat the negative narratives put forth in the media. The conversation I wrote about in the Bread Loaf article “The Face of Lawrence: Integrating Photography and Writing” with sixth grade boys over 15 years ago continues to be the reason I believe this work is necessary. Since that Bread Loaf article was published, immigrants continue to arrive; small bodega shops open, and media coverage of the city has continued to spiral out of control. In 2011 the state took over the schools, denying local public input to education. In 2012 the Boston Magazine published an article calling Lawrence the “City of the Damned” with the byline “Crime is soaring, schools are failing, government has lost control, and Lawrence, the most godforsaken place in Massachusetts, has never been in worse shape.”

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Joel Tshimbalanga shares his writing in the stable turned Bread Loaf classroom.

The power dynamics continue to worsen as people are unheard, and a perception takes over as the truth. What has remained the same is the need for programs that allow our students to look closely at their own community, their city, and its history and to form their own stories of our diverse lives. As immigrants, and sons and daughters of immigrants, their struggles might be viewed as a language barrier, a cultural barrier, or an economic barrier, but it is also a narrative barrier. If a negative narrative becomes the accepted perception, then that is what gets internalized.

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Artwork created by Kathryn Delaney inspired by the students and history.

In well-off communities, the positive narratives of professional, hard-working people with economic and civic successes aligns with the hopes and dreams of the citizens. But in poorer immigrant neighborhoods labeled minority, there is a disconnect between the narrative and the hopes and dreams of the citizens. In these cases there is a greater need to challenge students to look closely and document the world around them, a world most often directly in opposition to the negative narrative accepted as truth by so many. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah, spoke about this disconnect in her TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” She explains that when only one aspect of a group of people is known, the perception becomes that all the people are that way. The multiplicity of the people is forgotten. In the case of Lawrence, if we allow our students to believe the single story about their own community, there is the risk that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Lorena German talks to students about their art.

Through the voices and images of our youth and students, the narrative can be taken back. The story can become diverse. Poet Martín Espada in a recent trip to Lawrence to offer a workshop spoke to the youth and told them that it is the poet’s job to make the invisible visible. In Lawrence our students are the poets.

“Lawrence means everything to me from the fall of the Pemberton Mill of 1860 to the old papoose before the fire department was created. What I like about Lawrence is the feeling it gives me. My family lives in Lawrence.” Mark Rahi, sixth grade student from Rising Loaves

 

How I Write

By Ninive Matos

I write when I’m mad.

I write because I just feel like expressing my thought or feeling into my notebook.

I write by using pencil mostly just in case I make a mistake but, I would use pen too.

I write at my desk with a dim light.

Sometimes I write in my car even though I’m not supposed to but, writing for me is so addicting that’s why I chose to go to an awesome program called Bread Loaf.

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Johnayra Arias working with artist-in-residence Elissa Salas takes photos of her city.

Writing to me is life.

 

10 Comments to “Many Faces of Lawrence”

  1. Geena Constantin says:

    We need more programs like this in our cities! I am so excited to hear about the positive influence that daring educators are having our urban youth. Born in Lawrence, MA myself and raised in and out of the city, it has always been a battle to refute the negative stereotypes of the area. It is an inspiration to see the youth standing up to show how beautiful and innovative our city Lawrence was, is and will be.

  2. Se Jeong Yang says:

    I am so touched by this post. “But in poorer immigrant neighborhoods labeled minority, there is a disconnect between the narrative and the hopes and dreams of the citizens. In these cases there is a greater need to challenge students to look closely and document the world around them, a world most often directly in opposition to the negative narrative accepted as truth by so many”.–Yes, I totally agree and this what I want to devote myself in my life. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. viyeye says:

    good

    Thank you for your work, in elevating the
    consciousness of your students,

  4. Ben Klemer says:

    Mary O’Brien Guerrero is perhaps one of the most positive people on the planet! She has the respect of other teachers AND the administration of the Lawrence Public Schools (I wish I could say the same). Keep up the good work! Ben Klemer- Reading Interventionist (Pickett Elementary) Duval County Public Schools- Jacksonville, FLA.

  5. Laura Benton says:

    What a wonderful project. I love the idea of getting kids directly involved with the history of their community. It seems as though they are learning so much about urban planning! Community investment should start as early as possible. What a fantastic example you have set for us all!

  6. Ceci Lewis says:

    Mary and her work inspire so many of us, particularly those who don’t have the great fortune of living close and sharing a city with her. Her ideas, her enthusiasm, and her ability to see her home with new eyes every day is a gift she has shared so freely. Thank you, Mary.

  7. Deborah MacDonald says:

    Thank you for your work, in elevating the consciousness of your students, and those of us choosing to make a home here in Lawrence.

  8. Lou Bernieri says:

    Mary’s genius is responsible for this remarkable program. As the article reveals, she’s been doing this amazing work for years.

  9. Tom McKenna says:

    I’d like to acknowledge Chris Benson’s editing of the _BLTN Magazine_ issue featured in Mary’s piece. Chris’ superb editing helped writers like Mary to produce important pieces like Mary’s that stand the test of time.

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