Ways to Fly – Juneteenth Workshop at McVickar House

by The Irvington Historical Society

On a steamy Juneteenth morning, fourteen 4th to 6th graders happily took part in a workshop that was created and led by Injy Sullivan.  

Through lively whole group discussions and break-out small group chats, the kids explored modes of resilience and resistance of enslaved people.  Injy shared with the students images of the public art, “Yesterday” and the accompanying plaque along Main Street.  Everybody brainstormed how the depicted child’s demeanor on the bas relief projected an aura of resistance.  Injy shared that the artist, Vinnie Bagwell’s hope was to create a message of hope by demonstrating resilience by resisting. 

During the workshop, Injy underscored that resilience means toughness-the ability to bounce back after a hardship and to be able to withstand life’s difficulties.  Injy recounted that there were numerous ways that enslaved people demonstrated resilience.  The kids showed their knowledge about methods of active and passive resistance.  They added to a growing list with techniques like preserving traditions and stories, singing work songs, running away, slowing their work and forming strong bonds with each other. 

After reading The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez, Injy facilitated a discussion whereby the kids began to discover the deeper meanings and themes behind a simple story of the characters using their imagination to escape boredom.  The children talked through the themes that this book presents, referencing not only boredom, but the extreme hardships of COVID and slavery.  Everybody considered  the resilience strategies that the characters used to get through their challenges. 

During a few moments of quiet, the kids wrote their own strategies for coping with difficult times on small slips of paper.  They shared a few and smiled broadly as they found solidarity with the other kids’ ideas. 

Finally, each child decorated a Ways to Fly wooden box with colors, beautiful paper collage and symbols to represent their very own methods of resistance.  The slips of paper can be pulled out and read anytime the need arises!  The children, Injy, a couple of parents and members of both committees thoroughly enjoyed the morning’s workshop. We all left with a lasting missive: Once you learn to fly, you can teach others to fly.