Joetta Wright uses art to education and empower community

The Wright Stuff

Joetta Wright

Twin Cities native Joetta Wright has commitment to excellence in her blood. Her mom, Patricia Wright, is the first African American woman in Minnesota to own a court reporting business, and Gloria Wright, Joetta’s grandmother, was one of the state’s first African Americans to become a registered nurse. Joetta is continuing that trailblazing lineage through arts and education.

Armed with a master’s degree in theatre education and teaching licensure from the University of Minnesota, the working film, television and stage actor uses her craft to culturally and socially educate the community via several avenues.

One such contribution is Wright’s weekly podcast Double Consciousness which explores, in part, the W.E.B. DuBois concept of what it means to have a divided identity while navigating dominant culture politics and social norms as artists of color.

“The primary purpose of Double Consciousness,” said Wright, “is to shine a light on how notions of race affect the psyches of Black and Brown people in the global community. As [co-host] Toussaint Morrison and I dissect our own experiences with race, we open up the discussion to the public in hopes of building a deeper understanding of the trauma we live with as people of color, and what it truly means to be a White ally in America.”

Wright also tackles a troublesome issue too often overlooked: diet and eating habits of Black folk and the impact that has on physical well-being. “My beliefs concerning health are complex. I believe that because of our history of enslavement, we have been raised to believe that Black food is synonymous with foods that puts [us] at high risk for myriad health problems.

“Also, because of the systemic racism that we see within the construction of neighborhood grocery stores, we see the very purposeful placement of liquor stores and corner stores in majority-Black neighborhoods to perpetuate the cycle of unhealthy living habits coupled with cheap and quick options for food.

Black food, or “soul food,” has traditionally included the least nutritional parts of pigs and cows — think chitlins, pig feet —along with kitchen scraps fried in high-fat, high-calorie grease. For Wright, food education is key in breaking this historical cycle.

“I began my health journey at college as I gained more understanding of the importance of eating a healthy mix of greens, fruits, meat, dairy and grains,” said Wright. “We have to be aware. We have to understand that when it comes to food, we, the Black community, are being groomed for extinction.”

In addition, Wright uses her talents to teach not only acting, but also African and African American art, music, and literature. Last year, she led North Minneapolis High School students through programming that introduced them to such fundamentals as movement, voice and diction. It also included looking at social and political change through the lens of theatre.

Her philosophy on classroom instruction is clear. “Our goal as teachers is for the student to be at the center of everything we do,” said Wright. “To create curriculum with each child in mind, we must design personal connections to content and encourage critical thinking.

“When we ask our students to independently identify their educational goals, and participate in developing their educational experience, they take ownership of that experience, and value their understanding in more profound ways.

Through this, she hopes to create a sea change in how students, especially students of color, view themselves in the education process.

“I believe that we can empower our students by giving them opportunities to teach their peers new content, by promoting choice-based projects, and by investing the time it takes to understand the learning needs of all students,” explained Wright.

“So often, our national and state leaders pledge their time and energy toward building our communities and providing the support for our citizens who need it the most. More often than not, those promises are hollow.

“We have to show our students of color that there is a place for them in education, and that we hold the same expectations for all students. Only then can we begin to inspire our students to become the agents of change that they are meant to be.”

 

Double Consciousness is published weekly on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. For more information, visit doubleconsciousness.com.

About Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.

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