Students share work at Troutbeck Symposium

Students presented to packed crowds at Troutbeck.

Natalia Zukerman

Students share work at Troutbeck Symposium

The third annual Troutbeck Symposium began this year on Wednesday, May 1 with a historical marker dedication ceremony to commemorate the Amenia Conferences of 1916 and 1933, two pivotal gatherings leading up to the Civil Rights movement.

Those early meetings were hosted by the NAACP under W.E.B. Du Bois’s leadership and with the support of hosts Joel and Amy Spingarn, who bought the Troutbeck estate in the early 1900s.

Students from Arlington High School in LaGrange, New York, Kara Gordon, Nicolas Giorgi, Justin Meneses Aquimo, Akhil Olahannan, and Sheik Bowden together with their teacher Robert McHugh, made the historical marker possible by pursuing a grant from the Pomeroy Foundation.

“We believe strongly that markers help educate the public, encourage pride of place, and promote historical tourism,” said the foundation’s research historian and educational coordinator.

The ceremony began with a land acknowledgement by students Kennadi Mitchell and Teagan O’Connell from Salisbury Central School who gave thanks to the Muncie Lenape, Mohican and Schagticoke people by saying, “This guardianship has brought us to this very moment where we may learn from one another. We honor and respect the continuing relationship that exists between these peoples and this land.”

The crowd was then welcomed by Charlie Champalimaud who, with her husband, Anthony are the current owners of Troutbeck. Speeches were then given by Kendra Field and Kerri Greenridge, co-hosts of the event and founders of The Du Bois Forum, an annual retreat of writers, scholars, and artists engaged in historic Black intellectual and artistic traditions.

Field noted, “It is our genuine hope that the dedication of new historical sites, most especially this one, as part of our larger commitments, will make more complex, more diverse, and more complete the answer to the simple question ‘what happened here?’ and the closely related question, “what might happen next for generations to come?’”

MaryNell Morgan enchanted the audience with her a capella renditions of several of Du Bois’s “Sorrow Songs.”

Du Bois used these songs as part of the presentation of his 14 essays in his seminal work “The Souls of Black Folk,” first published in 1903.

A graduate of Atlanta University where Du Bois taught twice, Morgan sang a medley of songs explaining that the best way to understand “The Souls of Black Folk” is to understand the songs. In attendance at the evening event were also local officials, Amenia Town Supervisor Leo Blackman, and New York Assembly Members Didi Barrett and Anil Beephan. Closing remarks were given by Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor at Ohio State University and one of the panelists for the Symposium.

Over the next two days, more than 200 middle and high school students from 16 regional public and independent schools converged to present and discuss their year-long research projects, uncovering the often-overlooked local histories of communities of color and other marginalized groups, answering the questions posed the night before, “what happened here and what might happen next for generations to come?”

Rhonan Mokriski, history teacher and educational director for the Troutbeck Symposium, emphasized the student-led nature of the forum by saying the directive was to “give it to the students and let them run with it.”

Through visual art, documentaries, personal and historical narrative, photographs, and multiple forms of storytelling, students skillfully presented their findings, revealing truths— often difficult ones—in the tradition of their predecessors who did so in the very same location.

Said Jeffries, “It’s one thing if the kids were doing research and then presenting in the, let’s say, school gymnasium, right? But to be able to do it here at Troutbeck, it adds the power of place and makes it all the more powerful.”

Natalia Zukerman

Student presentations ranged in topics from the Silent Protest of 1917 and its connection to the Amenia conference of 1916, the links between Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes and Nina Simone, to local families, Amy Spingarn’s quiet activism, reimagining Du Bois’s ‘The Crisis’ through a modern contextualization that included the recent Supreme Court action on Affirmative Action.

Jeffries and Christina Proenza-Coles, a professor at Virginia State University spoke after each set of presentations, responding to and contextualizing the students’ work.

“These projects themselves are commemorations,” Poenza-Coles said. “They are themselves peaceful protests that are pointing us to a more just future.” Poenza-Coles emphasized the interconnectedness of past and present and stated, “Spaces that we would have thought about as white spaces, in fact, were also black and brown spaces from the beginning of history. Histories are completely intertwined.”

Blake Myers, programming, marketing, and culture manager at Troutbeck spoke passionately about the community effort it takes to put on the event year after year. She said that while making sure the program is sustainable, “It really is a replicable model,” and hopes to see other institutions, schools, and foundations adopt it as a teaching tool.

The rooms, walls, and wooded paths of Troutbeck reverberated for three days with stories, past and present, celebrations and revelations of untold narratives and marginalized voices.

Said Jeffries, “America is a product of decisions and choices that were made, and often those were bad decisions and bad choices from the perspective of somebody committed to human rights and to equality. But that’s our foundation, that’s how we started this whole thing.

“So, you have that on the one hand, but then despite the systems of oppression that are designed to do just that, you always have people willing to fight against it and people who are willing to carve out spaces to preserve, promote and protect their own humanity.”

Left to grapple with the complexities of historical memory and its implications for contemporary society, Jeffries offered, “The work that’s being done here, connected with Troutbeck, it’s not just about recovery and discovery, which is critical. But then the question is what do you do with it (the information)? How do we commemorate?

“What do we put in place physically so that we don’t forget. Often, we think about history and this question of ‘if you don’t remember the past, if you don’t remember the systems that are created, then we are doomed or bound to repeat it.’ But we’re not going to repeat anything because most of the stuff, we never stopped doing.”

There was some laughter from the audience and Jeffries concluded, speaking to the students, “But you’re waking up, remembering, focusing, and bearing witness so that we can finally disrupt it. We can finally stop doing the things from the past that have created and generated inequality in the present by focusing on this community that is very much doing the work.”

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