Inviting Bravery to The Work

Last month I shared my first artistic response as part of the A-REALL cohort.  I finished my second artistic response last week.  Yet here I am again confronted with my feelings of sharing it.  I ask myself, “Are you brave, Jennifer?” 

These pieces are not finished. I could work on them for a lifetime and still they are only brief conceptual works that depict the fleeting and ever-evolving experiences and feelings of my life.

The process of questioning, researching, drafting and building these pieces is the work!  Much of the work is not seen or experienced in the artistic products.  Yet in sharing my artistic products I invite family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers and even myself into conversation, which further develops the work

The work makes me uncomfortable.  The work keeps me up at night.  I have strong feelings about the work

I believe in the work. I am proud of the work. The work gives me hope!

And so, yes, I am brave.

Discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning.  I recognize how important it is to reflect on racism and systemic oppression, especially as a teaching artist.  The sad reality is the arts and arts education field is complicit in White supremacy. It is this understanding that urges me to do the work

I’m coming to terms with what I unconsciously believe by doing the work.  I’m ripping and tearing myself apart.  Looking at the pieces.  Then putting me back together again with recognition, understanding and meaning.  I am growing my awareness of the complexity of pluralism and how I fit into the larger picture of our society.

I’ll return to this process again, and again, and again… and, yes again.

Read my statement.  Watch my performance.

As I did last month, below the piece I dropped the assignment the A-REALL team invited me to consider so that you too can engage in and create the work

Be brave, artist!  

An Abundance of Blooms

By Jennifer Ridgway

This is project two of the A-REALL program. Here we were asked to select and explore a term from the list of A-Reall vocabulary terms and create an artistic response based off of our findings.

My ideas started forming immediately after listening to Derek Black speak about being invited to a Jewish Shabbat dinner and re-reading the phrase “lead to destruction of whiteness” in the definition of white nationalism.

Traditionally, the woman’s role at a table has been to sustain culture in personal and work-related environments.  Often these environments are within the home and in our local communities.  Consider the tables where you sit… in the school classroom… in a business meeting… in a parent meeting… and certainly your family’s holiday tables.

Here, we enlighten and amplify with our rituals and traditions.

Might this also be where we perpetuate the myth of racial superiority?


It is in how we flick our hair, dress, stand and speak.

Our power starts long before the guests arrive in how we set the table.

Fork on the left. Knife on the right.

It is in who is invited to the table, and why or why not.

They are family.  They are not.  They think like I do.  They will say or do something I don’t like.

It’s embedded in the centerpiece.

From master of the house to his wife.

It tells the story of greed.


Each guest at the table shares a unique perspective.

But as guests we respect the lines of power.

From one table to another. 

From one conversation to another.

The traditions and rituals ensure they do. 

The traditions and rituals bond us. 

Bond us to a collective fear.

No matter what we read. 

No matter what we say.

No matter what we think.

No matter what we do.

This noise.

This chatter.

This impulse to politicize and weaponize everything. 

Drives us back with fear. 


The truth is none of us are safe.

Our situation and environment continually change.

Animals that cannot adapt to the changing situation and environment are often in danger. 

Are you adaptable?

Are you in danger?

Is destruction imminent?


Dig up your roots.

Question the rituals.

Challenge the traditions.

They will still be there.

Everything passes. 

And everything remains.

But who will you invite to your table?

And must it be a table?

Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things.

Ready to tend to your own artistic response?

Below you can find a list of A-REALL vocabulary. Select one word to further explore and understand. Create an artistic response based off of your findings. If you want definitions or resources on any of these terms, reach out to me. 

  • Anti-Racism
  • Coercive Power
  • Conformity
  • Disenfranchisement
  • Diversity
  • Equality
  • Equity
  • Expert Power
  • Ideological Racism
  • Implicit Power
  • Institutional Racism
  • Internalized Racism
  • Interpersonal Racism
  • Intersectionality
  • Legitimate Power
  • Liberation
  • Model Minority Myth
  • Race
  • Referent Power
  • Reward Power
  • Systemic Racism
  • Prejudice
  • White Nationalism
  • White Privilege
  • White Supremacy

What is success?  Who knows!  Reflect on these statements to assess your work.

  • I have a new and expanded understanding of the vocabulary term I created.
  • The artistic response and/or my journaling shows a high level of thinking in regard to my exploration of the vocabulary term.
  • The artistic response shows how I feel about the concept, policy, or theory introduced in the vocabulary term I chose.
  • I have considered how the ideas introduced in the vocabulary term affect me, but also how they affect others who belong to different social identity groups than me.

White Nationalism: A concept born out of white supremacy. A key difference is a focus on nation hood. White nationalists in the United States advocate for a country that is only for the white race due to feelings of entitlement and racial superiority. They also believe that the diversity of people in the United States will lead to the destruction of whiteness and white culture- hence, the correlation to white supremacist ideology.

An Invitation to Examine 0.3 Miles

I’m on a journey. You should join me.

In January I joined the A-REALL cohort.  A-REALL is a professional learning community for arts educators, TEACHING ARTISTS, and arts integration classroom teachers committed to anti-racism in learning spaces. Presented by the MSDE Fine Arts Office and Arts Education in Maryland Schools, we meet bi-monthly to address racial inequities in arts education.  

Additionally, we are expected to develop an archival portfolio of our personal experience.  We are to submit monthly projects. Our first assignment was “All About Me,” which invited me to look at my own racial history.  As I prepared to create my piece, I unpacked the topic.  I wrote in my journal.  I spoke to guardians and loved ones from my childhood.  I asked important questions to recall events and better understand the experiences.  I reflected and brainstormed with family, friends and colleagues (Angie and JanLee!).  

After I completed my piece, I wondered, what now?  Does this go in my basement? 

Then I remembered my application to this program where I said, “I must do more.  Be braver.  Get wiser.  Act stronger.  I want to teach and live more boldly, intentionally and transparently.”

This is me doing that… always failing forward. This is where you can join me.  Below my piece I dropped some of the questions the A-REALL team invited me to consider so that you can reflect on the questions too.  Or respond to others that pop up in your world – there is a lot for each of us to unpack!  Then take an hour, a day, a week, a month and respond creatively. Use the literary arts, media arts, dance, music, theatre, visual art. Heck bake your response or grow it in a garden… am I going overboard? I think not! This is an important conversation that we all need to have with ourselves and with each other. And don’t miss the final step, SHARE YOUR WORK.  Because as a dear colleague, mentor and friend texted me today, “It’s hard to grow without sharing.” (Thanks Denise.)

Let’s fail forward together.  It’s the only path towards making diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion a possibility.

0.3 Miles

By Jennifer Ridgway in collaboration with Angela Ellis

I grew up in Poolesville, Maryland, a small, rural town where most residents attended local churches on Sunday mornings.  White supremacy and racism were normalized in Poolesville’s schools, businesses, government, families, and even its churches.  As newcomers to Poolesville, my parents were invited to attend Poolesville Memorial United Methodist Church, what we soon understood to be the white Methodist church.  It wasn’t long before my parents learned that the head usher made a practice of telling first time attendees who were Black: “Your church is down the street.”  Many questions arose for my parents.  They discussed race and colour with their four children.  We watched PBS’s Eyes on the Prize and Roots.  We listened to Soul Train and WHUR’s Quiet Storm.  And we attended local churches that were identified in the community as Black.  This was my beginning.  I am still on this journey.  Which is why I return to this place again and again.

It reminds me to let go of the familiar, embrace the uncomfortable and unpack Whiteness.

It situates me in new spaces with a sense of curiosity, play and wonder.

It challenges me to understand different ideologies and explore new ways of being me.

It allows myself and the people I encounter to be complex works of art.

Always learning, always in process. 

I am a theatre artist attempting a visual piece to practice stepping into unfamiliar territory, and perhaps to get a little uncomfortable, as I demonstrate how my childhood experience with race and skin colour has and continues to shape me. Inspired by the folk art that I experienced within my family and at all the churches I attended, this is a visual representation of my beginning. 

This piece uses 0.3 miles of yarn to depict the loosening and unraveling of the tightly knitted binding of institutional racism.   I collaborated with Angela Ellis, who is a member of Elijah United Methodist Church, the Black church that was 0.3 miles down the street from Poolesville Memorial United Methodist Church.  Angela is a personal mentor, artisan, public speaker, community organizer, wife, mother to my Godsister, grandmother and always family.  She knitted the two churches as the foundation of the piece.  Seemingly identical in their denomination yet knitted separately by the colour of their skin. My adult guides from my childhood – both Black and white – spoke and acted in ways that moved them and me towards progress.  In between the two churches is a depiction of the journey of difficult conversations and hard work that never ends.  It flows into my experimentation with arm knitting, as I continue to build on that foundation with my own engaged practice.  I learned to arm knit to complete this piece.  It required me to essentially bind myself to the work and to be fully engaged.  It is imperfect as this journey requires mistake-making.

There are times I can’t imagine it getting any harder, more impossible, darker.  It does.  Sometimes I think I’ve mastered it.  I haven’t.  It is in me.  White supremacy and racism are a part of all of us.  It is woven into every part of our society and world.  It needs constant work. 

I wonder how long are you willing to learn something new, to be uncomfortable, to work at this issue … 0.3 miles?  A mile?  3?  3 years?  30?  A lifetime?

Lean in.  Get involved.  Question.  Examine.  Push.  Rest.  Go again.  Push.  Rest.  Resist.  Examine.  Question.  Always hold to the light. 

Embrace unraveling. 

Knit anew.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.

Pema Chödrön

Ready to move out of the nest with me? Start with these reflection questions:

  • What was your earliest memory around skin colour? Where were you? Who were you with? Was it something a family member said? Was it an event you and your friends participated in? How did you feel?
  • How did your parents or caregivers talk about skin colour? How did their beliefs and views shape you? How do you feel about the words your parents or caregivers use to refer to people of color today, now that you’re older?
  • We are often trying to be seen as competent or as authorities, but in the work of anti-racism, you will need to unlearn and learn for years. How can you cultivate a spirit of teachability and humility? How can you walk in love instead of judgment, so that you can learn and not become defensive?
  • White supremacy doesn’t just superiorize the dominant (white) culture–it normalizes it. Can you think of ways that you’ve participated in normalizing white culture, at the expense of other cultures?

This is my Playmaker’s Treasure Chest!

“The only journey is the one within.”

Rainer MARIA RIlke

It’s the end of the day. Maybe the project is complete.  Maybe the curtain came down. 

You should be inspired and proud. You’re probably exhausted, and maybe even sweaty.

It’s a journey – the creative process.


It’s time to reflect. To turn or bend back.

Do so with interest and curiosity.

Let’s do it together.