What we know of life is only where we have decided to rest with our questioning.*
This is not so much the story of the powerful American History Traveling Museum he showed up with in 2014; the unspoken truths that this year earned AUS graduate (2016) Delbert Richardson the National Education Association’s (NEA’s) prestigious Carter G. Woodson Award. It’s not really even about completing his Bachelor’s degree – the courage to finish what he started 40 years ago.
It’s the story of showing up in academia.
And the value of story in the mix.
Delbert’s is the blending of three stories, really. There is Richardson’s own Pacific Northwest narrative, which he describes as having been limited “by texts reviewed not by (his) African American peers, but by the peers of an oppressive culture.” A second strand came via Seguin, Texas; a legacy passed on by Delbert’s father. “There’s an expectation in the Native American and African American experience to give voice to the parts of our culture that are not honored by the community at large. I showed up at Antioch a second generation storyteller.”
In the blink of an eye between 1976 and his first class at Antioch, Delbert refined the stories from Seguin, supplementing them with the stories of African Americans from other small towns and big cities, narratives hidden on the back pages of newspapers and on late-night broadcasts. He conducted studies about studies – followed up to uncover the distinctly dark wind behind the wings of white heroes – and black heroes in their own right.
The third and critical thread in the braid of Delbert’s story involves another prominent African American Seattle artist and cultural custodian; Delbert met then AUS professor Dr. Marcia Tate Arunga at an MLK rally in 2013. They connected through their story-work; their roles as researchers. Delbert’s approach empowered his audience, something Marcia recognized from her own work – the work she continues today, helping to capture unspoken narratives with students in Seattle Schools. Tate Arunga knew well the struggle to fit in to academia and the barriers keeping the public from Richardson’s vision. It was Marcia’s mentoring that spirited Delbert toward returning to school.
Richardson frames his learning opportunity at AUS as uniquely powerful. “There is something extremely enriching about being among the very few African Americans in a class when issues are viewed through a multicultural lens.” The fishbowl approach to engaging – in Abnormal Psychology & Diversity, Power & Privilege course in particular – offered Delbert a refreshing departure from the controlled environment of traditional college classrooms. “Courses at AUS are structured such that all students are assessed by interacting and sharing. I had the opportunity to challenge classmates and even professors to consider issues of history and ‘normalcy’ through the lens of cultural, historical, generational trauma. You find out that our stories are more similar than different; that we’ve all been lied to. It’s a rich place to develop allies.”
As a candidate for the BA in Liberal Studies with Global & Social Justice Studies, Richardson had the uniquely Antioch opportunity to earn up to 45 of his 180 degree credits through the documentation of life experience – those steps between 1976 and 2014. He credits Dr. Phoenix Raine, former AUS instructor and evaluator of his Writing Prior Learning, with empowering him to find the value language. “I have the language now to connect with the administrators and teachers in academia that are the key to my audience.” Richardson’s approach now values his story. “I’ve learned to leverage it. I’m a community scholar now.”
For Richardson, the learning will continue. “As kids, we are so conditioned to believe what we are told; seeing those in power as powerful. The reflective practice I learned at Antioch stimulates young learners with curiosity and leads to more self-discovery. Seattle Public Schools has just adopted and begun to develop an Ethnic Studies requirement in the district. I’m looking forward to being a big part of that.”
Rather than teaching, the Founder, Creator, and Woodson Award-winning Curator seeks to learn with his scholars. What he offers is a fishbowl. “I’m committed to changing the world, one consciousness at a time.”
To learn more about Richardson’s American History Traveling Museum online, visit http://www.theunspokentruths.com/about.html.
For more information about the BA in Liberal Studies with Global & Social Justice Studies, visit https://www.antioch.edu/academics/undergraduate-studies/liberal-studies-ba/global-and-social-justice-studies/.
*Fran Peavey’s Strategic Questioning (1994) is among the powerful texts engaged with in Narrating Change, a story course at AUS that fulfills the Community Engagement and/or Social Justice Methodologies component of the BA program.