Professor William Elliott’s essay is included in the new book “Future of Building Wealth: Brief Essays on the Best Ideas to Build Wealth - for Everyone” which was published by The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The book provides policymakers and financial leaders with the tools, resources and innovative ideas to pave the way for economic growth and prosperity for all American families.
Each piece of vintage luggage in the installation performance tells a piece of Rogério Pinto's story. Crafted into sculptures, suitcases and trunks recount a period when he was consumed by the loss of his three-year-old sister Marília and his family's struggles after her death.
Born and raised in Brazil, Pinto, a professor and associate dean for research and innovation at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, found a way through the visual and performing arts to confront a painful past, find peace and forgiveness. He created an award-winning play entitled "Marília," readapted now as a new art project called "Realm of the Dead."
This community-based art initiative invites the audience to dive into complex subjects from death and parental molestation to ethnicity, race, gender and other issues. It premieres in October at the U-M School of Social Work, which celebrates its centennial. "Realm of the Dead" is an autobiographical project that uses self-referential theater as a vehicle for self-healing and advocacy. Based on pedagogy and theater of the oppressed, it intends to advance social work research and practice, as tools of critical reflection, personal growth and advocacy.
By exploring the nearly 30 sculptures in the installation, visitors will learn about Pinto's journey out of a childhood of poverty and the trauma followed by the death of his older sister, who was hit by a bus when he was just 10 months old. The audience also will revive the turmoil caused by his father's sexual molestation, the domestic violence during Brazil's military dictatorship and Pinto's arrival, at 21, as an undocumented immigrant in New York City in 1987 and the challenges he faced as a gender nonconforming gay man.
"I use autobiographical drama theater for personal growth and self-healing and to inspire the audience to find creative ways to resolve personal conflict," Pinto said. "I am particularly interested in inspiring people to think of poor immigrants in more humane ways. I believe that all of us engaging as a community might lead to advocacy around the issues dealt with in the 'Realm of the Dead,' such as the prevention of childhood accidents, sexual trauma and poverty."
Megan Leys, U-M graduate student in social work, said she cried the first time she read Pinto's play. "I was left speechless by its power and impact. 'Marília' left me thinking about my own identity and positionality," she said. "It pushed me to think about parts of my identity I don't always share, and forced me to consider if and why I might be ashamed to express those elements. It allowed me to look inwardly and consider personal growth and explore my own identity." Last fall, Leys was a student in one of Pinto's classes, in which he incorporated activities based on his play. The course aimed to increase students' knowledge about diversity, anti-Black racism, human rights, and social and economic justice by encouraging students to explore the power of autobiographical approaches to self-healing and advocacy. "Despite living in the midst of a global pandemic, and the amount of grief I felt about lost loved ones, those activities provided me with a sense of connectedness and community and reminded me why I wanted to be in social work," Leys said. "This feeling proved to me that performance and autobiographical investigation is a wonderfully effective tool to improve our own social work. I look forward to seeing the installation in person this fall."
After visiting the installations and exploring Pinto's journey, students will be invited to participate in pedagogical exercises. One, called "The Hair Dresser," is based on Pinto's rendition of his work experiences in the United States, before he became a professor.
The goal is to help participants practice improvisational and collaborative empathy and develop listening and empathy skills around grief and loss of a loved one, poverty, immigration, gender identity and LGBTQAI2+ issues.
Another exercise called a "Marília Moment" is based on Pinto's evocation of his dead sister to help him face and address difficult moments in his life, for example, homophobic violence and lack of resources as an undocumented immigrant.
This exercise asks participants to embody a gesture or a characteristic of someone—who has passed away or is still alive—and develop a strategy for overcoming a personal issue based on the person in question.
"By sharing his personal experiences, his vulnerabilities and his successes, Pinto creates a safe space where all participants feel comfortable revealing their true selves," said recent social work graduate Megan Malaski. "Pinto has created an art installation that speaks to lengths about resiliency. His story takes the audience to parts of his past that have shaped him into the person he is today. "Through these activities, students can learn the intersectionality of a person, how people are affected through their lens of the world, and overall that a person's strengths and resiliency are not always identified by oneself."
What would you put in your "suitcase"?
Viewers will be encouraged to answer this and other questions: How do personal objects help you tell a story about who you are and about your many identities? How can specific art forms and practices support social justice in different contexts, considering demographic diversity, diversity, equity and inclusion?
"I recommend autobiographical exploration to all, and to social work students in particular, as a way to prepare them for 'use of self' in social work practice," Pinto said. "It is important to envision creative ways to help their clients engage in self-healing, community-level engagement, political involvement, letter-writing campaigns and more."
Marc Arthur, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Social Work, has worked closely with Pinto on several projects, including the expansion of a social justice art collective including students from across the university. During a course he taught to immerse students in art-based social justice, Arthur used the play "Marília"—with Pinto's participation in the classroom—to discuss autobiographical work and process.
"As a homework assignment, I asked the students to create their own "suitcase" by using boxes and then to bring them to class for show and tell," Arthur said. "It was a very rewarding exercise that helped students understand some of the ways that self processes of introspection are useful forms of self-realization and community engagement." For Arthur, the community-based theater is a growing field with few boundaries. "Rogério's project is deeply interdisciplinary with an eye toward the fine arts, by bringing together a play and an art installation from his social work perspective," he said. "Seldom, the visual and performing arts come together in a community-based theater like the 'Realm of the Dead.'"
The installation will be on view Oct. 4-17 in the Lower Level Atrium at the School of Social Work.
Last week, we hosted an in-person (and virtually accessible) Centennial Homecoming and Reunion weekend. This was our very first in-person alumni event since the pandemic started over 18 months ago, and it was a lot of fun to see so many wonderful friends! The feedback we received from guests has been uplifting and inspiring. One alum stated that the weekend was like “chicken soup for the soul”. Thanks to everyone who joined us virtually and in person.
Fatima Salman, SSW Engage Program Manager was recently interviewed on WDET’s All Things Considered program about how for American Muslims, 9/11 changed life in America. Fatima said, “It wasn’t just worrying about our country, or worrying that that happened to our country, but it was also the worry of what’s going to happen to us as a community in America.”
PhD student Charles Williams II is featured in a video from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services addressing vaccine hesitancy and encouraging the COVID-19 vaccination. Williams, who is pastor of the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, says “There is no invincibility to COVID-19. If it hits you, and it hits you wrong, you’re gone.”
Associate Professor Shawna Lee and Joyce Lee, PhD ‘21, are coauthors of “Longitudinal relations between coparenting and father engagement in low-income residential and nonresidential father families”, published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Their paper was awarded the Diversity and Inclusion in Men in Families Research Article Award from the National Council on Family Relations and was recognized for its contribution to advancing the science on the role of men in families.
MSW Student Stacey Stevens has received a summer research grant from U-M’s Anti-Racism Collaborative for her community-based research project, 48208 Lives. Stevens created the project in partnership with Yusef Bunchy Shakur, MSW ‘19, who is the director of the Mama Akua Community House in Detroit, Zone 8, and Pedro Coracides, an MSW student at Wayne State University.
The project focuses on Zone 8, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, which takes its name from its zip code. Zone 8 experiences many of the inequalities that ravaged all of Detroit in the past decades — unemployment, addiction, persistent poverty, lack of affordable housing — in hyper-focused ways. The high percentage of both empty apartments and rental properties make it difficult to foster a sense of community. Despite these many challenges, residents have fostered a sense of community out of survival. Many critical institutions, including local schools and grocery stores, have closed, which has made this community more vulnerable socially, politically and economically.
“This is a neighborhood that is under constant attack from gentrification from outsiders,” said Stevens. “It is only now with its proximity to Midtown and Downtown Detroit, that this neighborhood is being ‘valued’ and recolonized.”
According to project documentation, 48208 Lives seeks to “connect, develop and nurture emergent leadership from Zone 8 to create a racially and socially just vision for a revitalized Detroit without displacement or continued disinvestment.” To do this, the project will develop an asset map, marking all the human resources available to residents. “We are hopeful that this project will lay a foundation for neighborhood residents to support their visions for a vibrant community,” said Stevens.
“One of the things I have learned thus far in our planning is how there is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing this work. I live about two miles away from the neighborhood we are working in. There is such a drastic difference in how my community looks and the resources most folks in my community have compared to Zone 8,” said Coracides. “I think that is the one thing I hope to learn through this work: what does it look like to replicate this work in different communities around Metro Detroit in light of the unique needs and resources available to each community?”
“The support will allow us to navigate some of the challenges on the ground and to meet our goal by connecting us with residents and positioning us to amplify their voices,” said Shakur. “As a graduate of the School of Social Work, this opportunity to work with like-valued people is inspiring. Developing a research framework that is resident-driven and working professionally in a team capacity doesn’t necessarily happen post graduation.”
TIPPS — The School of Social Work’s Trauma-Informed Program and Practices for Schools — has launched a new website. Learn more about how TIPPS translates research into strategies to help students develop their potential and create safe, nurturing and inclusive learning environments. Professor Todd Herrenkohl, TIPP’s director and principal investigator, leads an interdisciplinary team of faculty, students and community partners.
Professor Luke Shaefer spoke with the New York Times about how the new monthly child tax credit could increase economic stability for families. "When we load up so much of our aid in an annual big refund, it means so many of our families are going into the red by the end of the year," Professor Shaefer said. "We used to think about poverty in the United States as static - your income is below the poverty line - but people's lives are very volatile."
Professor Rogério Meireles Pinto spoke with Marie Claire Brazil about the importance of the Stonewall riots in terms of current LGBTQIA2+ rights and aspirations. "The relationships between the different groups that comprise LGBTQIA2+ have always been a little uneasy," said Pinto." To the extent that there was a ‘gay movement' in early 1969, that movement wasn't centered in bars like Stonewall. For the most part it was middle class and socially conservative - nicely dressed young men and women marching peacefully, if at all. There were always exceptions, but Stonewall was the first time that any of those represented in what we today call LGBTQIA2+ pushed back against the police and government visibly and forcefully."
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