A Life Well Crafted
A Life Well Crafted is a program that engaged students in three New York City public schools in exploring the contributions of community activists and artists to their neighborhoods and city. This educational program is inspired by the Clara Lemlich Awards given each year by Labor Arts and WorkersWrite, honoring elder women activists. Women who keep fighting. Many of the Clara Lemlich awardees are also artists, including members of the Labor Chorus, seamstresses who worked in the garment industry, and storyteller poets who wrote about their occupational life. The award is named for Clara Lemlich, a young Ukranian Jew who was a leader of the Uprising of 20,000, the massive strike of shirtwaist workers in New York’s garment industry in 1909. The program is also inspired by City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame, honoring grassroots contributions to New York City’s cultural life.
A Life Well Crafted is designed to bring the vision of the Clara Lemlich Awards and City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame Awards into the classroom. In 2016-2017, student participants in the programs explored the contributions of community activists to their neighborhoods and city. They worked with City Lore teaching artists in 16-session artist residency programs where they interviewed community activists who have received Clara Lemlich Awards or who live or work in the school’s local neighborhood. Then they created portraits of the activists whom they interviewed through songs or spoken word poetry. Click here for an example of the songs the students created based on interviews with the Awardees as well as artists and activists in their neighborhoods.
We invite teachers and students to visit and read about the extraordinary individuals who have been honored by Clara Lemlich Awards and the People’s Hall of Fame. Then identify and nominate candidates for your own classroom’s or school’s local heroes award. Invite local heroes to your class and use our interviewing guide for ideas and strategies to conduct interviews with them. Then analyze and interpret the interviews for ideas and phrases to use in creating arts works and writing poems, song lyrics and essays based on the interviews. Every classroom/school deserves its own Local Heroes Hall of Fame.
Examples of guest artists who were interviewed by students include: Clara Lemlich awardees Sukie Terada Ports, an AIDS activist and Community Gardens Advocate; Etta Dixon, a dancer and family health activist who received a brown belt in karate and a Bachelor of Arts degree at the age of 75; and Anselma Rodriquez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, who ran her first marathon at the age of 52 and teaches English to immigrant children; and community activists from the schools’ local community, including Kewulay Kamara, an immigrant artist from Sierra Leone, who is recreating a lost epic from his family and who is sharing the traditional arts of his homeland with the public and with students in public schools; Marina Cappellitto, a teacher who lives in the school’s neighborhood and who works to bring the arts and artists to her school; Sondra Noyola, a school principal who was a student at the school and who is dedicated to engaging her students in their local community and in making the arts a core part of each child’s education experience; Lottie Holman, the grandmother of a student in the school who moved to New York from the South and stressed the importance of education to her children and grandchildren; and Monica Meuller, an immigrant parent who teaches English as a Second Language to students in the school and their families in the community through an emphasis on cultural traditions.