Mama Madison: The other side of the story

Listening to the stories of homeless...kids

Over the past couple of years, I've found that this blogging thing definitely has its advantages. Pre-Mama Madison, for example, my command of standard written English was questionable at best, especially for someone who claims to have majored in the language. But while I still regularly fall victim to the dreaded comma splice and may never master the difference between affect and effect, there is little question these weekly posts have forced me to rekindle my long overdue relationship with The Elements of Style.

Another wonderfully unexpected side effect (not affect, thank you) of writing regularly about my kids is that it forces me to pay much closer attention to some of the littler details of parenting. Someone very smart once said, "Write what you know." And it didn't take me very long to figure out that I was all too often the mom who didn't "know" what position her son usually played in the outfield. Or even whom my daughter sat next to each day at lunchtime. A weekly deadline for telling their stories has made me much more attune with the subtle ins and outs of their lives.

But perhaps the very best part of this blogging gig has been the chance to discover my voice. Not so much my speaking voice--that is something I use often and perhaps a bit too loudly. But forcing myself to write those same thoughts down, and then post them in a public space, has helped me to realize just how therapeutic, for both the writer and perhaps, too, for the audience, the sharing of stories can be.

My world view though, while 100% mine, is admittedly limited. And there are many other far more important voices in our community that need to be heard. Wise voices. Original voices. Young voices.

No, adults aren't the only ones with stories worth sharing. There is a lot, too, we can learn from listening to Madison's children, including the ones who have had the experience of homelessness.

In May of this past year, Jani Koester, a veteran educator for the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Transition Education Program, spearheaded a daylong workshop where nearly 20 homeless MMSD students got to the opportunity to tell their stories--raw, real and honest--through several media forms including writing, art, and personal interviewing. Koester's hope, and that of her partners in Madison's creative community, is that by giving these kids the space to express themselves, some of the stigma associated with homelessness can be broken down.

This coming Wednesday, July 11 from 5 to 8 p.m., the organizers of the Who We Are: Voices in Our Community effort are collaborating with the Madison Children’s Museum to celebrate the workshop participants' projects at the museum’s free "Twilight Art Night." Some of these brave kids plan to attend the exhibition, and to share their experiences in person. I have little doubt this show will stand out as a unique chance for the community to view one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, homelessness, through the eyes of the young people who are living it.

At the end of May this past school year, the district counted 1,100 homeless children among their students--a number that has been steadily growing over the years. Next Wednesday won't give us the chance to hear from all of them. But I am sure these representative few will have a lot to say.

This project has been the chance for these kids to write what they know. And it's important that we listen.

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