This past month I had the pleasure of being on a panel at the Oral History Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) Conference. The presentation was very special for me because I had the opportunity to talk about my work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and my graduate work while studying at Brown University. The conference allowed me to have a mini-reunion with my fellow Brown alumni who I worked with on a project called The Fox Point Oral History Project.
One of my greatest accomplishments at Brown was working on The Fox Point Oral History Project. The project began as an oral history and community engagement project that has continued to grow each year. While I was a student I interviewed former and past residents of Fox Point, a neighborhood that borders on Brown’s campus. The residents had wonderful stories and photographs that documented the diverse communities that lived and worked there, including Cape Verdeans, Portuguese, and African Americans. The neighborhood is located on the water in Providence so many residents there worked as longshoremen and stevedores. The landscape of the neighborhood has changed and population has transitioned from a mostly working class neighborhood to one filled with student, professors, and professionals. Students and teachers at Brown realized the importance of this neighborhood and how it has rapidly changed and therefore began collecting oral histories and photographs from long time residents of the neighborhood.
After establishing a relationship with the community and collecting stories and memories we proceeded to share this history with the current residents of the neighborhood. We established a relationship with the local elementary school called Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and installed an exhibit in the hallways of the school using photographs and oral histories from the oral histories we collected. We then worked with the middle school students to teach them about the history of their neighborhood. After studying the history of the neighborhood the 6th graders added their own photographs to the exhibit that documented their current perspective of the neighborhood. Finally, the 6th graders were trained as docents and gave tours of the exhibition to their fellow students and members of the community at the exhibition opening and throughout the year.
The Fox Point Oral History Project was a wonderful opportunity for me. Talking about it at the OHMAR panel in relation to my work at the JMM really reminded me how much my graduate work helped to launch my career doing outreach and community engagement work. It also made me appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to continue to do great community-museum work at the JMM through projects such as our partnership with Commodore John Rodgers Middle School. I’m looking forward to see what community projects are in store for next year.