I prefer a porous classroom: one that, when, say a famous celebrity chef comes to town, you can decide to read an excerpt from Yes, Chef and go meet Marcus Samuelsson at a Whole Foods that’s only a short walk away.
That was class today. Through some nice asking, following up on a contact from a conference, and some planning, students were able to spend a few moments taking pictures, getting slips of paper signed and asking Marcus questions about his life and career. He was quite pleasant: posed for pictures, talked about Ethiopia to kids of Ethiopian descent, told them he was more nervous talking to THEM than when he was on Top Chef: Masters. The kids conducted themselves professionally, as expected: they were giggly, attentive, a bit awestruck.
We thought he was going to do a cooking demo, but it was entirely a meet and greet: signing books, shaking hands, taking pictures. I had hoped he’d read a bit from his book, but I think that’s the difference when readings are done in supermarkets and not bookstores: you’re there to meet the person, not necessarily to get the entire ambiance of intimacy that I so love about book signings.
Still, though, it meant something to the kids.
To the Whole Foods clientele, though? Different story. I don’t think they knew quite what to do with a large crowd of Black and Brown adolescents. Usually, I’d wager, many of them are trying to avoid them.
Yet, here they were: eager, full of anticipation, leaning in to meet the Black chef with the compelling story. He could as easily been one of them. The story he wrote is theirs, in many respects. Getting outside and meeting him perhaps made that clearer to them, perhaps made them more willing to write what is inside them, beyond formulas and cliches…
I am looking forward to being able to have the run of the city again, in that respect: to peruse the newspapers and map out readings, signings, art gallery openings, exhibitions…to expose students to all the city has to offer. All OUR city has to offer. To be Black and Brown in public spaces, and to confirm to those who don’t know, while reaffirming to the students, that learning happens all around us, and it’s ours if we merely walk outside.