The process of writing, no matter what the genre is, involves questions of perspective. Over the course of three years of college English classes, I have learned a lot about the importance of perspective. In fiction, this might mean deciding whether to tell the story from a first person point of view or a third person perspective. When I’m writing an essay, I have to think about how my own perspective biases what I’m writing and how perspective affects the characters or authors I’m analyzing. In more ways than I could ever list out, perspective is one of the most powerful factors in constructing a narrative.
This week, I learned about the world from the perspective of the children who attend ACH. These kids offer a completely new perspective, growing up with a story all their own. Even though the kids were warm and welcoming from the first afternoon I arrived at ACH, they are just now comfortable enough to share bits and pieces of their inner world. In a call and response which the counselors use to stop misbehavior, one of the kids clarified for me just how much this after school program means for all of them. When one of the counselors yelled, “what are we at ACH?” the entire cafeteria full of kids responded with a resounding, “we’re a family!” While bickering between the students is an inevitable part of the day-to-day activities at ACH, it was clear in this moment just how much these kids care about each other. From their perspective, ACH is a safe place and a place where they know they are loved. Even more impressive is their willingness to share this safety and compassion with anyone who happens to show up, including myself.
Between the various homework assignments the children have to complete and all of the art projects provided, ACH is constantly fostering the development of a distinct perspective in these children. Just this week, they were given numerous opportunities to express their unique perspective. On Monday afternoon, when few of the children had homework, I got the opportunity to spend some time painting with the kids in the mural room. Since I had last entered the room the week before, these kids had transformed the room from a dim storage space into a masterpiece that radiated joyfulness. We spent the afternoon getting splattered with a little paint, watching the kids put on their own dance numbers for us, and making progress on the ongoing mural project. Instead of restricting the kids to a specific image or giving them limiting jobs, the ACH counselors simply handed each kid a cup of paint and a paintbrush and told them to express themselves.
One of the girls danced back and forth across the empty back wall, letting her paint brush dance across the wall along with her. It was clear her mind moves in a more abstract way. Along the other wall, two other girls sat and told me the story of an entire snow covered world they had imagined to go along with the white spots which they had painted all over the room. The most valuable thing I pulled from this afternoon of painting was how ACH ensures that each child feels that their perspective, and the art they produce as a result of it, is valuable. By the end of the day, though the walls appeared to be a confusing collage of random colors and shapes, each child had come up with and told me a different story about what the mural meant to them. It’s amazing getting to know more about each of the kids as unique individuals and getting to help them express themselves in so many different ways.