When schools across the nation shut down last year, parents and teachers alike pondered what education would look like. To keep students both learning and engaged, it was evident that it was imperative to find and develop creative solutions to keep our children on track. In Summer 2020, 50 local students (and one outside of Georgia) embarked upon what they thought would be a five-day writing workshop with veteran and former Westlake High School teacher Chantrise Holliman. The Writers Workshop was intended to be a series of week-long sessions designed to help 5th to 11th graders practice and strengthen their writing, but it proved to be much more than that.
The final essays from these sessions were powerful and inspiring, which empowered Dr. Chantrise to publish a book that would be very impactful for the students involved and for the greater good. In Their Own Words: Relevant Essays from Brilliant Young People in the Year 2020 was published on November 30, 2020. A hardcover limited edition is slated for release during Black History Month, incorporating encouraging words for the students from prominent public figures and influencers.
The events of 2020 clustered together formed a unique shift to life as we knew it. Beginning with Kobe Bryant's death in January, through the COVID-19 crisis that began in February, the murder of Breonna Taylor in March, George Floyd in May, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery that came to light later that same month, it was a poignant time. All that happened made us a little uncomfortable, opening up for conversations that we typically hide from with our friends, colleagues, children, etc. It even got a little scary. But if we're honest, we know that it is in the scariest and most uncomfortable moments that we can evoke change.
Voices from around the world were heard, but Dr. Chantrise believed that our children's voices were faint and wanted to give local students a platform to tell the world how they felt.
"The goal of the book is to not only give students a place to voice their thoughts but to serve as an opportunity for them to earn scholarship money for whatever endeavors they have on the horizon," said Dr. Chantrise.
What you will read within the pages of In Their Own Words is a series of essays and personal narratives written by students bold enough to endure their fun and educational writers’ workshop during Summer 2020. They showcased the real power, wisdom, and ability that comes with youthfulness when allowed to strive. These future leaders and creatives addressed race, bullying, strife, politics, and more. The authors hail mostly from South Fulton Schools, including Stonewall Tell Elementary, Wolf Creek Elementary, Renaissance Middle, Sandtown Middle, Woodward Academy, Main Street Academy, KIPP South Fulton Academy, Cliftondale Elementary, Camp Creek Middle, Landmark Christian, and Westlake High.
The first $500 of the book's profits will benefit a charitable organization of the students' choice, and further profits will be divided evenly among the students.
"It's my way of helping my students give back to others and allowing me to give back to them at the same time," Dr. Chantrise attested.
In Their Own Words was compiled and edited by Dr. Chantrise and Kejonna "KeJay" Staley, aka KeJay Urbane.
Dr. Chantrise has been a powerful force in the world of education for nearly two decades. Her undying perseverance to uplift and teach the up-and-coming generations using her motto, Disturb the universe, has altered her students' perspectives on what their lives can be if they choose to take them into their own hands. Dr. Chantrise is a writer and creative, having published several books and journals. Her greatest joy is teaching, both adults and students, and this compilation was indeed a labor of love. An inspiration in her own right, she is a heart attack survivor, a bilateral amputee, a wife, and a mother. She is the only child of two former educators who instilled in her a love of learning and the tenacity to see things through no matter the challenge.
She passionately carries the torch, inspiring the lives of thousands of young people throughout her career, including co-editor and former student, Kejonna "KeJay" Staley, a writer, photographer, all-around lover of all things literary. Staley's keen eye, patience, and creative genius were instrumental in bringing the book to life. Dr. Chantrise and Kejonna live in Atlanta and spend a lot of time conversing about good books while also eating great food.
"Working with Dr. Chantrise Holliman was simply euphoric," said Staley. "She created a comfortable space to work on and discuss how to make what we both wanted for not only the class but the students attainable, fun, and helpful for all involved. I am proud to have collaborated with my former teacher, an amazing woman, and an educator."
Visit DrChantrise.com for more information. In Their Own Words is available on Amazon.