Congrats to our June Volunteer of the Month, Olivia! Read our interview with Olivia here:
What first brought you to Big Class?
I'm part of a group called Wildseeds: The New Orleans Octavia Butler Emergent Strategy Collective (phew!), a Black feminist collective which, among many other things, hosts book clubs and writing workshops inspired by the work of visionary speculative fiction writers of color like the late, great Octavia Butler. My friend Mwende joined the staff of Big Class and put out a call to the Wildseeds looking for volunteers.
I'm a writer by passion as well as trade, and I love nothing more than hanging out with young people (the most visionary creators of all!). I worked in schools, outdoor schools, after-school and summer programs all through my teens and 20s, though it had been several years since I'd done anything in that arena besides play with my nieces' and friends' many children. I also freelance, so not only do I have a fairly flexible work schedule, I also spend virtually all my work time alone with my laptop. A mid-afternoon volunteer gig once a week, in a space filled with life, creativity, fun surprises, and the wild, wise voices of young folks was a perfect fit.
What keeps you coming back?
No two days, or groups of kids, at Open Studio are ever alike! The more open format of the program, and the shifting combinations of kids who make their way there day to day, really do allow for a measure of playfulness, freedom, and "emergent strategy" based on the needs of individual kids and the group at any given hour. Ms. Raven and Ms. Mwende do such a phenomenal job of creating a safe, fun "container" for whatever energies and intentions the young folks might be bringing into the space that day, and channeling those into creative practice. Every week I look forward to seeing which kids will be present, how they'll interact with one another, and what will come out of their brilliant, whizzing brains next!
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
Listening is a huge one. It's probably the skill that serves me best in life. It also helps that I love doing it, especially with young folks: asking them questions, hearing what they come up with, detecting when their imaginations are taking them someplace different than I've been compelled to guide them, and letting that happen. Just listening, and being present and flexible to what young folks might need from me, is a really important tool.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
I travel a bit for work, and I've hated to have to miss a week of Open Studio here and there. Also, I don't know if I'd still be Volunteer of the Month if the deciding factor was kids' actual output of finished written work when they're with me! When I'm with kids, we tend to get caught up in "imagination loops" and not all of what we talk about ends up on the page on that particular day, though I do believe those musing sessions are a key part of the creative process! That's what I tell myself, and them, at least.
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind them if you can.
Honestly, every project is great. From trading haikus with one kid to revising an epic fantasy tome with another, to an eye-opening weekend video project with some of the older girls that took me back to being on the brink of teenage -- it has been such a privilege to work with the kids on everything we've gotten the chance to work on together. Also, I live to watch them read their published work, and support one another as emcees and audience members. They radiate with pride -- and as someone who's had the honor of having her words in print fairly frequently, that never goes away!
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
You can find me at home or in a café with aforementioned laptop, editing and writing stuff about HIV and other health and justice issues; with a pencil and notebook, jotting down ideas and aimless prose; biking around town, skirting potholes; trying to get comfortable driving a car (just got my license five months ago, for the first time in my life!); gazing at the bayou, waiting for a fish to jump (they really do that!); or dreaming up interesting ways to cook greens.