By #JustLitProject (Detra Price-Dennis, Lívia Barros Cruz, Katie Eller, Rachel Knight, Noelle Mapes, Jenice Mateo-Toledo, & Azsanee Truss)
During this time of heightened sociopolitical discord in our country stemming from acts of racial violence, a growing disregard for public health, and exacerbated disparities in public education, we believe it is imperative to leverage media for social change. In 2019 we launched #JustLit, a social media and professional development project focused on curating resources that center multimodal explorations of social change through young adult and children’s literature, media production, and popular culture.
The project features an Instagram account, JustLitProject, with text sets that foster an ethos of civic engagement and social change that can inform how educators approach K-12 curriculum development.
In doing this work, we hope to support educators in expanding their definition of text, consider embodiment as a path to social change, and connect with others through curated hashtags about topics like racial justice. Below we expand on each of these elements:
Expanding definition of text
Teachers walk into – or now, Zoom into – a classroom, always recognizing they are not the only teacher in the room. Kids arrive as experts about everything – sharks, babysitting, coding. More than being experts in different topics, they’re skilled in garnering information from a variety of texts.
#JustLit aims to collect, connect, and honor multiple ways of knowing through social media, the arts, digital platforms, articles, books, and more in order to explore themes of race, equity, power, and social injustice. By doing this, we don’t try to curate lists or give fixes to teachers. Instead, we aim to cultivate a lifelong practice of criticality for teachers and students. This approach requires learning from and within community, enacting a radical imagination regarding what is defined as a text, and recognizing that people never engage with texts in a vacuum but rather are, in some way, an active participant in their communities, both culturally and politically.
Embodiment as a way to think of social change
Our bodies are physically connected to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In our work, we encourage educators to take up an expanded definition of text and specifically consider the body as part of that expansion. As such, embodiment can be expressed through images, movements, sounds, and words. Consider the following photo collage and poem written by members of our team, Lívia Barros Cruz and Jenice Mateo-Toledo, as an example of embodiment that triggers reactions about media and social change.
Dance to it
Hearts move through it
Live flourishes because of it
Where there is a beat,
there is a rhythm.
Birds beat their wings,
I always beat my sister to the first Summer swim.
But White Supremacy has been beating life out of the beat
Has been beating to death Black men, women, and trans
Police officers on the beat
Knees hammering breath out of lungs
The heart stops its beat
I Can’t Breathe
BEATEN TO DEATH!!!
We bear witness:
Resistance thumping on the streets
Powerful bodies recreating beats
Owning our rhythms
SOARING TOWARD CHANGE!!!
Connecting with others through curated hashtags
We are members of the collective community of educators, representing the common practice of teachers hoping to find and build community on social media. As such, we felt that an Instagram account would be the perfect space for us to share multi-modal #JustLit resources in the service of social change. Hashtags help us categorize or “file” posts under themes and tag them so that resources appear in spaces where conversations are already happening around these topics. As we curate and develop conversations on topics like feminism, racial justice, environmental justice, and educator self-care, hashtags aid in the visual organization and conversation as well as the intersectional nature of these issues within work for social change.
We warmly invite you into this conversation. Please join our community at @justlitproject.
#JustLit is an affiliated Media and Social Change Lab project that is housed in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design program at Teachers College, Columbia University.