Connecting the Present With the Past, SIS Creates a Future of Griots
Four years before President-elect Barack Obama mentioned 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper as embodying the spirit of his victory, she had been dubbed by Spelman Independent Scholars as “Wisest of the Wise.
Mrs. Cooper, the wife of the first Black dentist in Atlanta, was one of the dozens of African-American women elders whose stories were recorded and archived in the first 10 years of the SIS interdisciplinary independent study program at Spelman.
Other elder mentors include a woman who never got out of poverty after being one of 13 born to a sharecropper in Albany, Ga.
They have common stories said SIS founder, Gloria Wade Gayles, Ph.D. “We're trying to establish that there are common stories in the memories of African-American women across lines of class.
Documenting Our Elders
You have asked me to talk about my life. You have given me joy. -- Judia Mae Ferrell to SIS
A two-semester independent, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational learning experience open to students across all majors, the goal of SIS is to enhance students critical writing and thinking skills. It also allows students the opportunity to share research and grow in griot knowledge.
In addition to learning sessions with the SIS faculty mentor, students are exposed to lectures by guest scholars including gerontologists, oral historians, museum curators, and physician-researchers.
Through one-on-one independent student relationships and class seminars, the unique yearlong program allows and entrusts students to solicit, understand and archive stories of African-American women elders. A global component of SIS has included oral history research in Accra, Ghana; Benin, West Africa; and Kingston, Jamaica.
It has produced two student-reported and -edited anthologies: “Their Memories, Our Treasure: Conversations with African American with a third on the way as the independent study program, founded in August 2001, enters its second decade.
If our institutions are going to create critical thinkers, we must impress upon students the connections between the past, present and future,” Dr. Gayles said. Every present moment is influenced by past moments. The past gives us informed direction as we move to the future.
When you see an older woman dancing, don't ask why. Dance, too. -- SIS prover