What is your name? Senyah Haynes & Aisha Astacio
Where are you from? Southern California, currently resides in Chicago (Senyah Haynes) and Los Angeles (Aisha Astacio)
What organization do you represent? Diasporal Discoveries
What is your job title? Executive Director (Senyah Haynes) & Director of Finance & Organizational Development (Aisha Astacio)
How long has the organization been in existence? 5 years
What is the mission and vision of the organization?
Haynes: The mission of Diasporal Discoveries (“DD”) is to expose youth to the diversity of the African Diaspora with a goal of connecting them to various cultures across the globe and expanding their horizons through cultural education and travel, both domestic and abroad.
What impact do you think your organization has on learning and education?
Haynes: I think that Diasporal Discoveries is like a learning remix because we take what is culturally relevant to the predominately African American youth we serve and put it back into the classroom. We want to ultimately cultivate a broader worldview and to that end we study cultures globally, but we do that through the focal point of the African Diaspora, so we immediately have that hook. When young people can open the book or watch the documentary and see their face in another place-the bridge between them and the “other” is suddenly much shorter. That often makes them more eager to walk across that bridge, knowing family is on the other side.
Astacio: Diasporal Discoveries (DD) is taking education to a very different level, and I feel our creative approach to education will have a profound impact on our youth. We focus on experiential learning. It starts with our youth expanding their knowledge, in the classroom, of their own African American history, customs and pop culture and making that connection with the history and traditions of their ‘cultural cousins’ within the African diaspora. But, DD doesn’t stop there. We take it a step further with our travel programming as the youth are able to take what they learned in the classroom and actually experience the cultural history, geography, traditions, etc. of the culture that they have studied in the classroom. This allows for a tremendous experiential learning experience that will impact the lives of our youth who will yearn for continued cultural education and travel while learning independent living skills. In the end, the youth are motivated to become global agents of change beginning right at home in their own communities.
Tell me a little bit more about the communities that you service through your educational program.
Haynes: The majority of the youth that we have serviced thus far are African American, 13-18 years old, and from the Southside of Chicago. The youth come from various socio-economic backgrounds and family compositions. We’ve worked in schools, youth centers, and social service agencies. We’ve had youth from 2-parent homes with two cars in the garage, and others who were wards of the state. What we have found that is consistent is that whatever the mix of the group, 95% of what we’ve presented in class has been news to them- and the cultural program we run most isn’t about Haiti or Brazil… it’s about Black Chicago, so that’s saying a lot.
Astacio: However, we are eager to serve youth from all backgrounds and communities and very much look forward to expanding our program offerings. We have serviced Puerto Rican youth in the Humboldt Park community (Chicago, IL). That is one of the very special things that sets DD apart; we really look to effect positive change in the future of any youth and we tailor our programs and services to meet the needs of our youth and partners.
What inspired you to get involved in education or this type of work in the field of education?
Haynes: I’ve worked with youth in several capacities- as a young adult I was a performer and I worked in educational children’s theatre. That’s where I first got a taste of teaching through alternative methods.
Astacio: After completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Social Work, I worked with a variety of youth populations including pregnant and parenting wards of the state and wealthy international exchange students. In addition to administrative duties, my work always allowed me to have a teaching and mentoring role, which I always found to be extremely rewarding. I began traveling internationally in college when I studied abroad in Spain for a year and had a life-changing experience. It inspired me to teach others about the importance of cultural education and travel and ways in which it can change the trajectory of one’s life.
If you can change anything regarding education and/or learning, what would it be?
Haynes: I would change the fact that there are several young people, particularly Black and brown youth, whose cultures are not affirmed or often, even considered in their daily curriculum.
Astacio: I would change the historic manner in which many educational systems are set up and focus on providing experiential learning outside of the classroom to expand on what is learned inside the classroom. I would make domestic and international travel a major focus of education that also supports not only cultural education, but also cultural awareness and mutual understanding. This is exactly what DD does! Challenging the traditional way of learning is one of the things that inspired me to create Diasporal Discoveries along with Senyah.
What advice would you give to someone who is in the process of learning something new?
Haynes: Keep an open mind, but more than that, look for the joy in the new-the new thought, idea, concept, story…
Astacio: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take risks and be open to try and learn new things. It can only make you more knowledgeable at the end of the day. It can’t hurt you at all.
What does it mean to be a learning change agent?
Haynes: I think that in extreme cases it means to re-write the rules entirely. But in every day cases, just to tweak them ever so much so that learning has a distinct brand. One that inspires and motivates those you’re trying to teach.
Astacio: To motivate and inspire others to learn and broaden their horizons in hopes to not only better themselves, but to better others in their families, communities, and ultimately, globally.
Photo Credit: Senyah Haynes
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