March 2 through April 11, 2009


Where I Am From

Where I'm From on display at the Addison Street Windows Gallery from March 2 to April 11, 2009, is an exhibit of student poetry and photographic portraits. The exhibit is the culmination of a semester-long project at Richmond High School when students interviewed the elders in their community. The course was conducted by writer Summer Brenner and photographer Ruth Morgan, who took the photos for the show. There will be a sidewalk reception on Sunday, March 8, at 4 pm.  The exhibition is free, wheelchair accessible, and on view 24 hours a day. 

Where I'm From is an inter-generational oral history and poetry project set out to find answers to such questions as where the students are from, and to whom do they belong. The project evolved from a belief that family stories can help guide youth, validate elders, and provide an intersection for their shared experiences.  Each week the Richmond High School students met to discuss migration and genealogy; practice interview techniques; design an interview questionnaire; and conduct interviews that formed the basis for poems about themselves as well as family members and leaders in the community.

The project is named after and based on the poetry format that inspired it. The format consists of a dozen or more lines beginning with the phrase: Im from, followed by a blank space with an instruction to complete the line with place names, the names of family members, favorite foods, etc., and is often used by teachers to entice students to reflect upon themselves and their surroundings."Where I'm From" was designed to achieve three primary goals: to train students to conduct oral history interviews with older relatives; to have the students write poems inspired by these interviews; and to create a community exhibit of student writings, with accompanying photographs of the students and their family members.

The students gleaned new information and unexpected advice, and they recognized decisive crossroads similar to their own. The interviewees were also grateful for the opportunity to express themselves. As Ruby Jean Fox told her great-granddaughter, "Nobody ever asks you to sit down and tell them about your life, and by the time they think of it, it's too late."

The interviewees included an African-American whose family fled Louisiana under death threats and who himself was a draft resistor during the Vietnam War; a Mexican-American who grew up in San Diego during the Great Depression and moved to Richmond after the Korean War; an Irish-American whose immigrant parents raised nine children in a nearby two-bedroom house; and a Chinese-American whose parents were engaged at six months in a remote district of rural China.

Community Works, sponsors of the project, has  produced several outstanding exhibits of youth art with important social themes. Community Works engages youth and adults in arts and education programs that interrupt and heal the far-reaching impact of incarceration and violence by strengthening individuals, families and communities.

The Addison Street Windows Gallery is a project of the Civic Arts Program of the City of Berkeley in cooperation with the Civic Arts Commission. For information about this show contact: Ruth Morgan at email:,  for information about the Windows  Gallery please contact the curator of the Addison Street Windows at (510) 981-7546, or Mary Ann Merker, Civic Arts Coordinator at (510) 981-7533 

Return to Civic Arts Program