Congrats to our September Volunteer of the Month, Zipporah Legarde! Read our interview with Zipporah:
What first brought you to Big Class?
I read about Big Class on a flyer at the Healing Center. I moved to New Orleans from the Northshore in the summer of 2013, and was looking for a way to give to my new community. As a writer and long-time tutor, Big Class met all my criteria for meaningful community involvement.
What keeps you coming back?
Cliché as it sounds--the kids. I don't have nieces or nephews, and I can't say I interact with children a lot in my daily life. To be honest, most social interaction is terrifying-- I'm such a dork! But if you open up to the kids, they really open up and trust you. Sharing art is a super personal exchange, so they really want you to be their best friend. After just a few weeks, it got to the point that if I missed a scheduled day, I would come the next week and hear them say, "Where were you last week?" I like hanging out with them, they like hanging out with me, and those are good enough reasons to show up.
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
My mom is an educator on the Northshore. One of the things she taught me is to never condescend to children. I always speak truthfully and exercise patience with our students. But the thing that helps me most is not being afraid to be weird! I can talk about comic books, cartoons, and Internet jokes with the kids and they love sharing it with me. You don't have to be a fantastic writer to be impactful, you just have to be there, be available, and be real.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
For me, it was finding a way to tackle really serious issues the children write about in a way that validates their feelings and experiences. This year, a lot of students wrote about the #blacklivesmatter movement and how they felt being children of color in the United States. I helped a third grade student with an in-school project where I learned her mother was incarcerated; this girl had watched her be taken in custody in a really brutal way. I don't have an experience remotely similar to that. Even if I did, it was about her, so I listened, and helped her write about it. Encouraging children to write about "tough stuff" comes with the challenge of telling children, who are so used to being told to censor themselves, that it's okay to write about difficult subjects and that their words have value and power to create social change.
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind them if you can.
I think the best project was helping three students in Open Studio write their own book - together! Collaborative writing can be really difficult, and they came up with this idea, but didn't really know how to execute it fairly. (Worse, it was about a wedding and a horrible mother-in-law, so I had to get three girls to agree on details of a fictional wedding.) It wasn't your usual "group project" because there's no clear objectives that have to be met. So a lot of it was teaching them how to build community with each other, and respect the agency of each person involved. I work with an organization, Wildseeds, that is all about building community and space with each other, so I was able to share some of those concepts with a really talented group of young black women. I hope they write more together in the future, because the end result was a fantastic piece!
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
One of my favorite past-times is biking around the Seventh Ward and spotting cats. I also spend a good bit of time working on my writing portfolio. I'm working on a piece about Steven Universe, race, and feminism that I'm hoping to share in the near future! Right now, it's preparing to teach in Boston! As a native to Southern Louisiana, I'm not very excited about snow or Mark Wahlberg sightings, but I am excited to start serving and advocating for another community so much like my own here. I plan on helping to educate some "wicked smaht" young people.