Making space for hidden heroes

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Our Voices Project hopes to bring hidden Black heroes into the limelight through short filmsduring Black History Month.  

“Our goal is not only to educate our community with a more inclusive history by including students in the planning and production process,” says Jackie McGriff, director and producer behind Our Voices Project, a platform for Black, Indigenous, and people of color to share experiences through visual and aural storytelling.

Told through the voices of the youth, each film will air on a Monday and features a student portraying a Black figure’s contributions to history. The series is a collaboration between Our Voices Project, Irondequoit High School, and Courtney Shouse, a member of the educational systems subcommittee at Eliminating Racism and Seeking Equity. E.R.A.S.E. aims to eradicate racism in all forms, promote activism and improve equity through diversity in Irondequoit and neighboring communities.

The first film features Maria Stewart. Born in Hartford, 1803, Stewart was the first Black woman to talk about women’s rights, religion and social justice among Black people. She has been called one of the matriarchs of Black feminist thought during the Jim Crow era. 

Stewart made daring public speeches against slavery, which were published in the Liberator, a weekly abolitionist newspaper in Boston. Stewart eventually moved to Washington D.C., where she became the head nurse of the Freedmen’s Hospital and Asylum and later the medical board of Howard University.

The idea to highlight lesser-known Black historic figures has been years in the making, says McGriff, who would like students to learn about various Black, Indigenous and people of color and their contributions to American History.

In promoting the video on Facebook, Our Voices Project asks: “Why don’t we hear from women like her and why do you think that is?”

The effort challenges audiences to learn more about Stewart and explore resources gathered by Irondequoit High School’s diversity group in preparation for the video. Advised by Social Worker Teisha Maldonado and School Counselor Jenna Zahariev, Mosaic is a club where students celebrate together and educate the school community on topics of race, culture, inclusion, diversity and equity.

Each film has a student team that conducted research and helped with the shoot and production. At the end of each week, Our Voices Project will air behind-the-scenes interviews with each of the student participants. Students share their choice of historical figure, the impact of the research and a couple of lessons learned from the experience.

The West Irondequoit School District and Irondequoit High School will share these stories online. Kim Cristal, K-12 social studies curriculum supervisor, is creating lesson prompts including the short films. 

For McGriff, making these short films part of the social studies curriculum is an important goal. By introducing these videos into learning, she calls it a “dream fulfilled.”

She hopes to expand to other schools in Monroe County while also expanding it to include other BIPOC changemakers in history.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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