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    Inside Nyansa Classical Community

    Inside Nyansa Classical Community

    Nyansa cultivates knowledge and wisdom, merging classics and culture to reach the next generation.

    By Angel Adams Parham

    February 27, 2024
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    Nyansa Classical Community was founded to bring classical learning and literature to young people of diverse backgrounds who are unlikely to be introduced to this tradition in any other way. Because much of our work has been with children of African descent, it was important to us early on to weave together the classics with the history and culture of Black authors and artists.

    At a gala we held to introduce friends and donors to our work, my college-student assistants had assembled examples of our children’s artwork compiled as we read Homer’s Odyssey. The students had the chance to combine two streams of art: the classical tradition of Homer and his great epics and Black intellectual and artistic traditions. They created collage art in the style of Romare Bearden’s A Black Odyssey – a beautiful series which recasts Homer’s Odyssey by telling the story of African and African-diaspora people in our various journeys across the ocean and in the new places we call home. Bearden, an African American painter of the Harlem Renaissance, brings a beauty and mastery to this work that is a treasure to pass down to new generations.

    Child drawing

    Photograph courtesy of Nyansa Classical Community.

    After operating as an afterschool program for six years, the Nyansa program came to a halt with the Covid pandemic. We used this time to distill all that we had been teaching into a formalized curriculum divided into twenty weeks. This would make it possible for others to replicate the best of what we had been practicing. Writers and artists drew together to describe on the page what we had been experiencing in person.

    By the fall of 2021, we were in a position to pilot the curriculum at several different sites. Over the course of the academic year it was used in two schools in Virginia and one in Uganda. One of the most gratifying reports came from Sarah, a teacher who, on her own time after school, took on the challenge of working with two brothers, fifteen and twelve, who were in academic trouble.

    Even though the material was pitched at an elementary-school audience, Sarah was able to use it as an educational breakthrough with the fifteen-year-old, who was behind in reading and exhibited little interest in school. She drew on Nyansa’s story-rich curriculum – in addition to Greek mythology, there are Bible stories and Aesop fables – to engage him. Following each story were writing assignments based on the literature that helped to reinforce areas of reading, spelling, and writing. The younger brother, for his part, was most attracted to the art project based on African American artist Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. All of these lessons integrate literature, history, and hands-on art. The stories behind Lawrence’s artwork allowed Sarah to draw this young student into conversations about virtue and vice and consider how to cultivate the one while fleeing from the other.

    Nyansa can travel to where young people are, whether in a living room after school, working with a tutor, or at a school in urban Virginia or rural Uganda. We are grateful to be part of passing on this great tradition and helping young people find their voices so they can join this millennia-long conversation.


    From The Liberating Arts (Plough 2023). nyansaclassicalcommunity.org

    Contributed By AngelAdamsParham Angel Adams Parham

    Angel Adams Parham is the executive director of Nyansa Classical Community. She is an associate professor of sociology and a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. Her books include The Black Intellectual Tradition: Reading Freedom in Classical Literature.

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