October 28, 2022

Professor Guided Youth Who Interviewed African American Elders to Document History

PBA News

Dr. Alisha Winn, an adjunct professor in the School of Ministry, pioneered a project that connected youth with elders in their communities to record some previously-untold stories of overcoming racism and segregation.

A team of three PBA interns — Josmery Botello, Nicole DeAvila and Catalina Rios — supported Winn’s project. As a tech assistant, Botello helped the elders get online for their Zoom interviews during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winn shared about the Palm Beach County African American Oral History Project with PBA students, faculty and staff in the Lassiter Rotunda of the Warren Library on Tuesday, Oct. 25. Dr. John Doncevic, director of the Warren Library, introduced Winn’s work saying, “This really is about PBA’s DNA of Enlightening Minds, Enriching Souls and Extending Hands in action.”

“There’s a huge gap between youth and elders,” Winn said, and her work helped bridge that gap.

Eight elders from West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Belle Glade, Pahokee and Riviera Beach were interviewed by five teenage researchers. The elders told their interviewers about life growing up in Palm Beach County. A PBA intern was on every call to facilitate the interviews.

The end product was a 10-minute documentary and a booklet produced for the elders who are not online. The oral history project shares stories on Instagram, and a public exhibit in each city is also planned, Winn said.

Rios, one of the PBA interns, said she got to learn “a whole different side of history that you don’t really see.”

Each young person interviewed at least one elder from his or her city. But before the youth conducted any interviews, each one was assigned a decade to study, Winn said. It was evident from the youth feedback that the participants developed a stronger sense of identity and self-worth, increased their appreciation for the past and gained respect for elders, Winn said. Students also developed a deeper understanding of resilience in the face of racism, she added.

For many of the elders, it was the first time anyone asked them about their previously unknown contributions to the county.

One of the elders, Mary Lopez, described living one street away from a school that she was not allowed to attend because she was Black. She picked up books from “the book building” at the white school so that she and her classmates at the Black school would have textbooks to use.

“These things that I’m telling you, nobody ever told me. These are things that I saw,” Lopez told the youth researchers.

Another of the elders, Alfred Straghn, was raised in a segregated neighborhood in Delray Beach. He became a civil rights activist and chairman of the local NAACP. Straghn died shortly after his interview, which underscored the importance and timeliness of the project.

Cordayja Searcy, the Delray Beach teenager who interviewed Straghn, said he never tired of his work, and “he is also the type of man to protect everyone, no matter what race or background they come from.”

In addition to her faculty position, Winn is an applied anthropologist and owner of Consider the Culture, a full-service educational and community engagement firm specializing in community outreach and cultural education. She began the Palm Beach County African American Oral History Virtual Pilot Project in partnership with the Palm Beach County School District and the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.

After the project Winn hired Rios as her assistant in Consider the Culture. Rios graduated in December 2022 graduate.

Photo 1: Dr. Alisha Winn presents on the Palm Beach County African American Oral History Project in the Warren Library on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Photo 2: PBA alumna Catalina Rios speaks about what she learned from working on the Palm Beach County African American Oral History Project as an intern.

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