February 2021 | Issue 83
We are excited to introduce the newest Free Minds cohort! In keeping with our semester theme--the Distance Between Us--we offer a peek at how our new class is building community online. Plus, join us in cheering on two Free Minds alums who share their academic and creative accomplishments. Enjoy!
Meet the Class of 2021
Spring 2021 looks like no other semester in Free Minds history. In January, 23 students gathered through Zoom to get to know each other and begin a semester-long conversation in the humanities. In our first week of classes, discussions ran the gamut, beginning with questions about our names and our favorite foods, and ending up in more probing territory--What do we believe about education? What kinds of learners are we?

Now, in week five of the semester, students are off and running, reading The Distance Between Us, Reyna Grande’s memoir about family, immigration, borders, and education. This text springboards us into what will be an ongoing discussion of distances--physical, geographic, cultural, ideological-- that divide us and how we bridge them.

Many students in the Class of 2021 are re-entering school after a long pause. For some, this is their first time in a college class. Several students are bilingual, and members of the class have origins in Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, New York, Michigan, and all around Texas. More than anything, this group is bonded by their curiosity and a common goal to learn, each one taking this difficult moment in our history and making the most of it.

The rest of the semester holds much in store. In addition to hosting author Reyna Grande in our Zoom class, we’ll read and discuss portions of Plato's Phaedo. We'll learn about ekphrastic poetry--poems that respond to works of art. We'll explore U.S. history through texts including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and The New Jim Crow. And at each step, we'll build our capacity to reflect and respond to what we read by engaging in the writing process.

The Class of 2021 has already shown they are more than ready for the journey ahead. A warm welcome to you all, and cheers to a lively and enlightening semester!
Upcoming Events
February 2nd Saturday

Join us for our upcoming 2nd Saturday! Free Minds Art History Professor Janis Bergman-Carton will lead us through a discussion on art, heritage, and gentrification in Austin, focusing on the historic Gold Dollar Building. The discussion will be held over Zoom on February 13th from 10:30 am - 12:00 pm.

We hope to see you there!
Write Together Saturday

On the 4th Saturday of each month, Free Minds Creative Writing Instructor Vivé Griffith leads a remote gathering for students and alumni to write in community. The events will be on Zoom from 10:30 am - 12:00 pm. Upcoming gatherings will take place on:

  • February 27
  • March 27
  • April 24
Zoom links and additional information about all our upcoming events are on our website: freemindsaustin.org/events.
For Jarmesha Harris, '12, Graduation is a Beginning
“This means everything to me. I’m ready to move forward because I have something to add to society. I can do something,” said Jarmesha Harris, a graduate of the Free Minds Class of 2012. This past December, Jarmesha walked the stage, graduating from Concordia University with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Care Administration.
This moment has been long in the making—Jarmesha has been pursuing her college degree since 1998. Much of her adult life has been dedicated to caring for her seven biological and “bonus” children, ages 8 to 25.
Looking back at her time at Concordia, she remembers professors’ positive feedback on her papers fondly. Graduating cum laude and as a member of Gamma Phi Beta honor society, she is proud of the grades she earned, but, more so, the confidence she gained. One of the most valuable lessons Jarmesha learned in school was how to communicate with people from different walks of life—to ask questions, pursue resources, and be a leader in her family. She credits college with helping her find her voice.
For Jarmesha, this is not the end, but the beginning of a life-long mission. As she seeks a career in health care administration, Jarmesha aims to focus on advocating for patient safety and care. Jarmesha has felt the repercussions of patient neglect in her own family. Before her late father-in-law passed, the rehabilitation center where he was living failed to adhere to his diabetic diet, resulting in worse health outcomes for him. Jarmesha wants to change care for those like her father-in-law who feel forgotten.
Way to go, Jarmesha! Your Free Minds community is so proud of you, and we know our community will benefit from your many gifts and your hard work!
The Final Word
Last fall, Free Minds held a community writing workshop.The group ended their time together by writing epistolary poems--poems in the form of letters. Below we share a poem from workshop participant Jill Davis. Here Jill writes to her great grandmother, America Shepherd Booker.

Jill is a graduate of the Free Minds Class of 2016 and holds an Associate degree from Austin Community College.
Dear America,
This is your great granddaughter.

We have never met. But

I wish you were here

To tell me firsthand all the old stories
like the one Big Mama told me of how Great Grandpa’s brimmed hat
might come flying out of the open-screened door when you two argued
Or about how Big Mama, your curious daughter, got drunk on cigars
delivering them from her uncle’s house to Great Grandpa, Hartrue, her dad

There are simply too few stories

What did your mother, my great-great grandmother, mean naming you
America? Did she think perhaps with that name one day you might
own the cattle instead of being owned?

Did you get teased about your name at school or did you stand up tall?

Did you even go to school - working in the fields instead?

Did you daydream while you worked in the fields hunched over at the
waist pulling life and a living from the earth?

Did you wish yourself away? Was the farm your castle or was it your
prison? Even so,

I imagine you in the house beating batter or slamming dough
against the kitchen table

What was it like when you stood up for yourself?

Did my mother see you and did you pass that fierceness on to her?

My mother was quick to forward march double time to an argument,

I’ll tell you…in her that fierceness wasn’t hidden, like the time, so I hear,
she almost got into a fist fight with a man on the bus. Was it the
same with you?

I saw a picture of you once

You looked young and haughty with your chin pushed up in the air. You
with your slanting dark eyes, high cheek bones and bright skin, hair
wrapped in a cloth

You had a pride about you that was evident even in a crinkled, black
and white photograph. 

Did that pride see you through the harsh Texas summers and the cold
winters without central heating?

I imagine that pride made you strong in an era where strength could
get you lynched. Could that strength see you through to more
strength? What did you see? What did you endure? 

It is left to my imagination with both you and Great Grandpa Hartrue

What would you say to me, now, when I have so much…artifice?

I never knew the land and the soil, and these days we disdain the fight
for a scrap to gratefully win two scraps, we’ve forgotten the elemental
toil where recycling happens every day— paper being used to curl black
hair, emptied feed sacks being pressed and made into skirts, or scraps
of aluminum winning a war.

Great Grandma America, I imagine the only thing you and your
generation couldn’t fight was time.

You fell before we could meet, and I mourn the loss. I mourn the loss
of the story of how I came to be in this place, the story of how we all
came to be in this place.

If you could reach out and pass through time, what would you say to
me, America Shepherd Booker?

I imagine you fought for freedom in Giddings, Texas, the town you
never left. The farm you left behind. You fought for every grain of dirt
dug down deep through your hands. You fought. 

Jewel Laverne Davis, your granddaughter, my mother, fought so hard
for so long. Her granddaughter, Melonie Jewel Carson, Ruby Booker
Davis’ great-granddaughter,your great-great granddaughter, yes, that
Melonie Jewel Carson, fights at the Texas University where you couldn’t
have gone to college but could have swept their floors. She fights to
build a foundation for herself on those once all-white floors (until in
1950 Heman Sweatt broke the color barrier.) Now, she learns her art
and studies the African Diaspora as a new millennial.

Through her I know you have not truly left, Great Grandma. Still, I ask,
be with us. 

Keep fighting to bring us to fruition be it in a long-lost journal found, a
forgotten tall tale spoken, or a dream fulfilled. We are here. We are
fighting to hear your stories, America. We are fighting to create ours. 
A program of Foundation Communities, in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College, Free Minds offers a two-semester college course in the humanities for Central Texas adults who want to fulfill their intellectual potential and begin a new chapter in their lives.
Free Minds Project
Foundation Communities
5900 Airport Blvd.
Austin TX, 78752
Academic Director: Amelia Pace-Borah
Community Liaison: Dallas Klein
F: 512-447-0288
Ph: 512-610-7961