To work on the Selma Portrait Project, I traveled back home and lived for five months where I had grown up.
A few weeks ago, at one of the lectures I gave at the University of Alabama, Bill Dooley, the director of the Sarah Moody Gallery introduced me to the audience as someone who "had grown up in and around the Selma area." I thought it was a perfect way to describe my experience.
To be from the Dallas County area is to have the Edmund Pettus Bridge woven into your day to day life. A large part of my experience growing up was driving over the Edmund Pettus Bridge daily. I was driven ovr it almost every day of my life when I lived at home. Returning home, we drove over it almost every day.
Now that I think about it, when I was a kid, the only day we didn't drive over it was usually on Saturdays. Before my parent's divorce, we drove over it to get to school, the store, church...after the divorce, it was a ritual going over the bridge not only for necessities like school but also to go back and forth between each house I lived in.
The bridge became a huge part of my experience of home and of this project. Doug and I were back in Selma for the commemorative walk across the bridge in March. We drove across it almost every day to get into the studio to work on the project. I came to see it as a symbol of the scar that has grown over the wounds inflicted over time--from the Civil War, to the Civil Rights movement and on into the future. For me, the bridge symbolized the scar of having one life split into two separate lives.
The questions and feelings I had around the idea of "home" were what set off my imagination regarding my project and began to dictate its shape. If you've followed along with the progression of this blog, you've seen how I began to explore the idea of how personal identity is shaped by where someone lives. The project ended up becoming much more, but essentially retained its connection to the idea of "home." It wouldn't have worked without Selma...without Alabama...
I think, due to my background, I honestly have never considered myself to be a Californian. I am an Alabamian. It's still my "home." Even though I spend a good part of each year in California, I have a hard time feeling creative unless I go back home. The work I make is a conversation that starts in the South. That back and forth existence today is very similar to what I experienced as a kid. I may even experience that divide between California and Alabama because of what I experienced early in life. There seems to be a holding pattern that I experience until I "get back" to work on something.
In mid June, Doug and I returned to California after working for five months on my sabbatical project. I began making preparations for my upcoming show at the University of Alabama's Sarah Moody Gallery. I began assembling the six two-hour audio collages, created four large cyanotype portraits to be included in the show and rounded out the fabric collage that I had begun in the Wesleyan College gallery. While working to complete the body of imagery, I soon found out that Alabama had been added to the list of "banned" states by California.
California Assembly Bill 1887 bans state sponsored travel to states that California feels has discriminatory laws. Alabama was added very late in June, but its addition is retroactive through January 1, 2017.
I was shocked. My college and the district where I have worked for 10+ years informed me that I would not be able to have my funding request approved for travel back to Alabama. The University of Alabama had asked me to return for a series of lectures, some demonstrations of the collodion process and a reception for the show.
After learning more about AB 1887, I became scared that my district would revoke my salary if I did choose to go back to Alabama. After a series of emails and a meeting with my dean, I did find out that I would be allowed to return to Alabama, but that the district would not reimburse me for travel if it was to a banned state. I began the process of trying to plead my case with anyone I could talk to.
I called my faculty representative, my legislators and the attorney general Xavier Becerra, I wrote the governor of CA, the governor of AL...I wrote letters to anyone and everyone...only two people returned my calls. Only one person returned any of my emails or letters, a representative from the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges who tried to help..
I called my assembly person to request an appointment with one of their aides. I wanted to voice my frustration with a bill I had no control over. It took four to five calls and two weeks to finally get someone on the phone and more than a month later, I just heard from someone from the office.
At this point, I know now that CA will not fund my travel (I am only allowed reimbursement of up to $500 for professional funding travel annually, without a travel ban), but I would like to at least have my representatives hear my story so that they can think about adding exemptions into the law that allow for education, especially culturally relevant education.
After going through this extremely disappointing situation, I felt like a huge part of me was dismissed by the state of California. I have given 16 + years to California as a higher education professor. I have tirelessly worked to improve my own cultural competence, to increase cultural awareness in my classroom and to promote equity and equity related issues on my campus. The whole premise of my sabbatical project was to promote cultural awareness and to begin conversation amid community members that would ultimately lead to more healing in a community that needs healing. I don't even have to squint to see how that aligns with the intention of California's travel ban. But, since it doesn't fall into one of their narrow-minded 7 exemptions, under no circumstances will California even THINK about pitching in to help a teacher teach others.
At first this ban did seem personal, but I wasn't really sure why...why would California institute such a far reaching ban that, in my mind, completely shuts off innovative ideas and education from entering into places that need it? If you are someone who works for the state of California and are asked to go to a "banned" state to provide culturally relevant educational opportunities, the state of California will say no unless it falls under one of the 7 exemptions (none of which have anything to do with culturally relevant education).
After thinking for a very long time about why I am so upset over the passing of AB 1887, I realize that my feelings stem from my idea of "home." I absolutely love where I am from and feel that it has had a lot to do with who I am today. I know firsthand what it is like to grow up in a place that is largely cut off from an influx of technology and from innovative ideas. I feel so betrayed because I know how desperately people that are from areas that are cut off from emerging ideas want innovation and want improvement. It's necessary for survival and growth. California is essentially creating a vacuum in places where they are trying to take a stand. I agree that solidarity needs to be taken, but this well intentioned bill has far-reaching consequences that I don't think the authors fully considered.
My teachers were the people in my life who brought innovative ideas to life. They had perspective in life and talked about things I could never have imagined. My teachers, from far reaching places like Belgium and across the United States opened my eyes and showed me compassion, tolerance, acceptance and empathy. I had those things from my family, but it was modeled by my teachers every school day. My teachers were the inspiration for me wanting to be a teacher and for wanting to bring culturally relevant education to my classroom.
It's my mission to change this ban by adding an exemption for culturally relevant education. I am looking to find Californians who will stand with me to let my assembly person Jim Cooper know just how devastating this stance can be. Put bluntly, education is important. The sharing of ideas is important. Allowing culturally relevant education to flow into areas that need it is imperative. It's essential for growth and enlightenment.
This bill is cutting away at the flesh of cultural competence. What will the scar be crafted from? The Edmund Pettus Bridge eventually came to symbolize, for me, the scar from a disjointed and disrupted childhood. California has yet to reveal a scar from this bill. It's essentially creating a slow wound that may never heal. I'm not sure what the scar will end up being--the ramifications of this bill are not yet revealed.
This bill definitely does make the divide I've always felt between Alabama and California feel a little wider.
It's silly that California didn't consider how far reaching the effects of this bill could be. That it will keep innovative ideas OUT of places that need and want them. But, I don't think the authors ever grew up in a place like I did.
Shame on you, California. You dropped the ball on this one.
If you want to read CA Assembly Bill 1887, you can find it at: oag.ca.gov/ab1887