Bringing D.C. Communities Together with the Humanities Truck

As a graduate assistant working with Humanities Truck fellow Laura Waters Hinson, I am privileged to help highlight the diverse voices and stories of community members around Washington D.C. Professor Hinson leads American University’s Community Voice Lab (CVL) and graduate students Eman, Amelia, and I look for opportunities to use the Humanities Truck with this project.  CVL allows students to produce “short documentaries and digital stories that capture the voices of D.C. community storytellers too often unseen and unheard.” Over the past few months, the three of us have taken the Humanities Truck to different neighborhoods across D.C. to screen these community-focused films. The events we’ve planned using the truck have provided an opportunity to mobilize the CVL films and connect people with their own communities, as well as to other communities around the city.

Next Step Charter School:

On Wednesday October 23rd, Eman, Amelia, and I brought the truck to Next Step Charter School in Columbia Heights. This school offers education to young adults who are learning English as a second language or are not supported by traditional public schools in D.C. Many of the students moved to the United States from Central America and have come to Next Step Charter School as a stepping stone to a college degree and a life in the U.S.

We parked the Humanities Truck by the school and a class of about a dozen high schoolers met us outside. After screening a few CVL films on the truck’s external screen, we broke the students into small groups and encouraged discussion about what they had just watched. The conversations were thoughtful and inspiring. Many of the students agreed that their favorite film was Wendy Vasquez, which is about an alumna of Next Step Charter School. The film tells the harrowing story of why and how Wendy came to the United States from El Salvador. Many of the students connected deeply with this film because they found parallels to their own immigration journeys. To wrap up the event, we asked each student to say, in a sentence, how they wanted to leave their mark on their own community. For this last question, we prompted each student to answer for themselves, instead of as groups. They really responded to this question and opened up— contributing meaningful contemplations like: “I want to be remembered as kind, friendly, brave, and supportive to migrants in my community.”

Building Black Equity Community Fest:

On Saturday, November 16th, we took the truck to the Building Black Equity Community Fest in Anacostia. This event was planned by the Greater Washington Urban League Young Professionals at the Union Temple Baptist Church, and was focused on supporting small businesses. There were many local vendors to check out, speakers to listen to, and connections to be made. The atmosphere of the event was empowering and community-focused. It fit in perfectly with our use of the Humanities Truck, as some of the CVP films we screened profile residents of Anacostia who are community-focused entrepreneurs.

We parked the truck outside the church and people stopped by on their way in and out of the event. For this excursion, we used the inside of the truck as a museum space for people to walk into by hanging photographs from the films.  Eman picked CVP films that “highlighted profiles of Washingtonians who are building community businesses and working within D.C. to seek their full potential.” The films sparked curiosity and inspired community pride within the members of the Anacostia community that came inside the truck. Some people wondered aloud that the films were made in or near their own neighborhood, and everyone asked for information on where they could watch the rest of the films. We knew the event was successful because people came out to the truck to watch the films despite the cold weather!

It has been an insightful and encouraging experience taking the truck out into the community. It has truly helped us increase visibility of the Community Voice Lab films, and more importantly, prompted relevant and inspiring conversations among community members in D.C.

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