Seeing Through New Eyes

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Thank you for joining our conversation:

This website is dedicated to conversations: How can we best serve our communities?  What dowe need to know to help each other gain the most out of our experiences?  Are we asking ourselves and each other the right questions?   What types of conversations are we having?  Let’s talk.

 

 Website video

 

Christine Ristaino is an educator and a writer. Her memoir The Little

Girl Is Me grew out of conversations about some of the toughest questions

about violence, race, and parenting that we face in America today.

Welcome to Seeing Through New Eyes


I was attacked in front of my children in a parking lot in September of 2007.  This event launched me into an on-going quest to confront violence and discrimination.  My children’s questions immediately after the attack were quickly followed by a deluge of questions from friends and family about the race of the attacker.  The simple fact that he was black and I am white sparked a whole series of troubling and revealing conversations on race, ethnicity, prejudice, and coming to terms with violence. 

The weeks that followed were painful but life-changing, as I attempted to put the attack and its aftermath into perspective. I began to ask people questions: how they came to see the world the way they did; what they meant by particular things they said; how they experienced race, including their own, in this country. I brought up topics that in the past had felt too explosive. I realized that in order to really understand others — in order for them to understand me — I needed to open up and have difficult exchanges.

Opportunities came into my life that allowed me to further explore these questions. Students in my freshmen seminar, How We Learn, and I became part of a group called the Waller Scholar Organization at an East Atlanta elementary school. There, inner city children talked about their experiences under the guidance of their teacher, Robert Waller. Conversations with the Waller Scholars were not easy. We met with fourth graders who heard gunshots every night and never felt safe. Some of the discussions with these children forever changed us.


My students were so encouraged by the scholars that they organized a student chapter at Emory to foster a relationship with them outside the classroom. In 2010, we expanded our partnership to work alongside the CREW Teens, a dynamic, wonderful group of high school students who meet afternoons at the Drew Charter School.  During our exchanges, the strong voices of the Waller Scholars, CREW Teens, and Emory students inspired me to listen for the power of my own.


I started to write down conversations on race, ethnicity, healing and violence. My book was at first titled “Targeted,” calling attention to where our attack took place as well as the nature of prejudice, which targets a particular group. It is a collection of conversations about elements that seemed related to the event at Target—race and ethnicity were two of the subjects that kept coming up. Where in the past I would have stopped asking questions when topics moved beyond my comfort zone, my conversations in this book push past this threshold with results that keep me asking.

Soon I gained the courage to confront painful chapters in my own childhood that lay just beneath the surface of the discussions I was having, connecting the dots with previous experiences as a target of the violence that is all too common against women. I realized how much power my own experiences with violence had taken from me. With a new honesty and freedom, I began to tackle the topics in my life that had formerly silenced me and changed the title of my book to The Little Girl Is Me to reflect the personal journey the book documents.

This new way of interacting in the world has infiltrated into the classroom, leading to rewarding community partnerships and an on-going discussion about education.  It has fostered new book projects such as Letters to a Teacher and Writing To Heal.  It has led to a twenty-four person collaboration to create curriculum for discussions on race, ethnicity, healing and violence.  Links to all of these projects may be found on this Seeing Through New Eyes Website.  Your input is welcome, so please join the conversation.

Sincerely,

Christine Ristaino