COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for our communities. Deep Center is meeting these challenges with a clear head and open heart to work toward the best possible outcomes for our young people and families. Now more than ever, it is critical we help Chatham County’s families—especially our most vulnerable ones—not only remain connected in basic ways but gain greater access to resources that provide stability, empathy, health, and guidance.
Deep Center holds our programs together with relationships, care, culture, and respect for everyday wonders and wisdom. Homemade food, comfortable, accessible spaces, and in-person time spent with our village are some of the ways we make magic to empower our young people as creators and leaders. As we navigate both a statewide shelter-in-place and social distancing, Deep’s programs team has had to pivot quickly not only to meet the needs of our young people, but also to continue the spirit of what makes our programs unique. Our teaching artists and program managers are working to cultivate the same sense of real-world community in virtual spaces powered by Zoom, Google Hangouts, phone calls, texts, and emails.
Below our programs staff members describe how they are navigating the strange new world we’re living in while finding new possibilities for transformation.
This time of the year, the Young Author Project (YAP) is usually completing a series of three intensive in-school revision weeks with our young writers, polishing the pieces they’ve chosen to publish with us this semester through a focus on one-on-one mentorship with the workshop leaders (writing fellows). While we were unable to host revision weeks in the schools, we pivoted to a virtual revision framework that allowed writing fellows to maintain the one-on-one relationships that make YAP revision successful. Each of our schools is different, and each of our young people is different, which meant that our virtual revision tactics were constantly adjusting and transforming to best support our individual writers. Writing Fellows worked with their young people through Google Docs and email, through video chat and phone calls, through text and voice messaging. As of today (April 7th), we’re still in the middle of the virtual revision process with most of our schools, but the results so far have been positive. Although the circumstances are not ideal, one-on-one phone calls or text chains have allowed Writing Fellows to check up on the families of their youth and make sure everyone is okay in the middle of the crisis, and have given youth a creative outlet in a scary time.
You don’t know how valuable presence is until you can no longer see your young people face to face. All our young people grow in writing differently, and we’re used to honing each young person’s individual skills face to face. We now rely 100% on virtual applications such as FaceTime and Zoom. Phone calls for dictation have become my number-one tool for the revision process. Also, texting is a great way for our young people to get fast critiques. This also gives our young people more time to genuinely think before they engage with us about next steps for their stories.
-Maria Zoccola, Program Manager and Martina Allen, Teaching Artist
Over the past few weeks, our young people have showed up and shared out through the virtual revision process. Using phone calls, emails, and simultaneous editing in Google Docs, teaching artists have helped young artists deepen and perfect their poems, essays, and stories. We definitely miss seeing each other in person. Any artist can tell you that editing, revising, and fine-tuning a work of art are the hardest parts of creating. Maintaining the close artist-editor relationship online has been a challenge, but in a way, I think it has forced us really to slow down and catch up with our young people one-on-one. Moving forward, Block by Block will explore the best way to showcase our young artists’ hard work for our 2020 end-of-year event, even in a digital space.
Regarding these digital showcases, we’re working with our youth leaders to find a way to blend joy, stories, performance, and art online to share with families and communities. We’re still deciding on the right platform. We know that, like every year, we will put together a dynamic and colorful book showcasing youth art, photography, and writing, with a focus on the school-to-prison pipeline. It will feature sketches of youth by Jose Ray and art by Llucy Llong. We will give special attention to the path from oppression, resistance, healing, and liberation, and possibilities for creating a healing village. We will complete the book by end of July.
– Ariel Felton, Teaching Artist | Publications Manager, and Keith Miller, Director, Youth Programs
The Action Research Team is refining our strategy plan for the remainder of the year. We are seeing an influx of opportunities for virtual learning moments, and both staff and program youth are now participating in webinars centered around political education, youth organizing, international justice movements, and much more. Other logistical questions have arisen, resulting in an inevitable shift to new tools and practices that can accommodate online togetherness. We are rethinking what our work can look like as we continue to interrogate the school-to-prison pipeline and, more specifically, the meaning of “safety” and “security” in the lives of young people, which remains the focus of our research this year. Our team is also getting creative about how we can engage with our young people and their communities in a way that is both responsive to the current crisis, and also grounded in recognition of the long-standing inequities of our school system that are being highlighted by this pandemic. Although much is new, much more is already familiar to our young people and the villages that surround them. Ultimately, we’re seeing a surge in our communities’ power and their desire to address these issues.
-Raphael Eissa, Community Engagement Coordinator and Rush George, ART Fellow
With the Work Readiness and Enrichment Program (WREP), we’re continuing to produce episodes of the WREP Talk podcast based on the content we recorded throughout the year. Luckily, we have plenty of recorded material, but we’re exploring the possibility of recording an episode over Zoom to get at least an update on how the young men are holding up during this weird time. Of course, this means ensuring that each of our young men has access to the technology needed. We’re also using this time to explore what next year and future years at WREP look like, especially given the current circumstances.
Our Youth and Community Artist Drop-in program has been especially difficult to rethink, because the whole concept is hands-on and in-person; however, we’re currently thinking through what virtual workshops would look like. We obviously can’t hold DJing or intro-to-tattoo workshops, so we’re trying to find a sweet spot: a way still to create that “space between spaces,” but with limited supply requirements and through a virtual platform that will be engaging and hands on, but that also honors social distancing.
– Lana “DiCo” DiCostanzo, Program Manager
Our Healing Schools work at Hubert has shifted dramatically since schools have closed for the remainder of the year. Since restorative practices are fundamentally relational, and we’re not able to be in the school building together, we’ve begun figuring out how to make video calls into warm and welcoming spaces. We held our first virtual circle on March 27, and it was open to all Hubert staff members to check in and hold space for one another. We are planning on more of these to come. We’ve shared our mutual aid toolkit with teachers and families, and we’ve begun formulating ideas about virtual professional learning workshops for teachers to share skills and normalize the idea that struggling is real, especially in this new context.
– Megan Ave’Lallemant, Director of Restorative Practices and Culture and Fridam Marley Pitts, Restorative Practices and Culture Specialist
Since day one, we have made Míranos an adaptive program. We have learned to shift based on the circumstances with which we have been presented, and this moment is no exception. Míranos has become a task force as a way to re-evaluate how other Deep programming serves our Latinx youth. We saw a need to make Deep more inclusive to the unique experiences of the Latinx community, especially in things like health and education, where language barriers are the biggest difficulty. Through weekly video calls with our Assistant Teaching Artists, our youth are talking about their experiences inside and outside of Deep, and through these conversations, we are creating a set of recommendations for different programs, hoping to see programs adjust better to the needs of our Latinx youth.
– Anthonella Alvarez, Teaching Artist
With the arrival of COVID-19, Slam has shifted its lens from building group pieces for nationwide competitions to individual content creation and continuing to cultivate Savannah’s youth Slam culture. Intense group sessions have turned into daily prompts and weekly artists one-on-ones through Zoom. This big shift comes during National Poetry Month, which is allowing the team truly to capture and reflect on these days in quarantine, and further hone their craft in the process by completing the “poem a day” challenge. Several virtual open mics and workshops led by esteemed spoken-word practitioners are also popping up everywhere due to the shelter-in-place order, which gives our young artists a chance to continue connecting with and learning from performance artists all around the world.
– Marquice L. Williams, Program Manager | Teaching Artist