From stories of being excluded from field trips and clubs to being antagonized by teachers, the Stolen Joy Project is offering a space for local students of color to tell their stories.
The Instagram page — now showcasing over 20 stories — was created to highlight injustice in the local school systems from student experiences directly. The founders hoped it would also lend collective power and strength to eradicate white supremacy culture in the schools.
The Stolen Joy Project is part of Village at Ithaca, a non-profit committed to supporting educational equity in the city. On their Instagram account, each post spotlights the story of an individual confronting racism in public schools.
Meryl Phipps ’09, the executive director for the Village, recognized that these students wouldn’t always be supported or safe to repeatedly tell the same stories — and that they might not be heard in the first place.
“It felt really empowering in a sense,” said Autum Niver, youth project coordinator for the Village and participant in the Stolen Joy Project. “I felt like I was actually being heard, and that let me know that somebody actually cared about what I was saying, and wanted to know what was going on in the school district.”
Niver explained that they felt nervous about the possible backlash from their school about the story, referring to their previous experience with school administration putting down their concerns. Having someone not question their experience, according to Niver, was incredibly impactful.
Phipps emphasized this point — explaining that The Stolen Joy Project doesn’t verify the stories they receive.
“One of the huge issues that we have is that when people of color come forward … people immediately go on the defensive and they don’t believe them,” said Phipps. “There is no situation in which a person tells us a story, that it would be helpful for us to go and say ‘that’s not exactly how it happened,’ because they’re telling us the story as they experienced it.”
Along with the Instagram posts, the program has started “The Stolen Joy Movie,” a short film that reenacts the stories from the Stolen Joy Instagram page. A trailer for the film was released earlier this month.
Jaden Boyd, who acted out one of the Stolen Joy Project posts in the trailer, said that he personally believed that the story was an important one to tell and would be important for the Ithaca community to learn about.
“I think when I heard about the project and got to learn about what they were doing and just seeing all of these kids failed by the public school system,” Boyd said, “I just felt a connection to that because I felt like I was failed by the school system as well.”
The Stolen Joy Project is accepting stories at [email protected]