Professor Marcelle Haddix appears in a warmly lit room and smiles at the unseen audience on the other side of her screen. You are a writer, she tells them. “You write every day—maybe text messages to your friends, or in videos you post on TikTok. Whenever you write, you are making meaning.” She invites her audience members to reflect on the ways they write, honoring whatever form that might take.
This was how Haddix—Dean’s Professor and chair of the Department of Reading and Language Arts in the Syracuse University School of Education—opened a week’s worth of daily writing prompts for participants in the Writing Our Lives (WOL) Conference held virtually in October 2020.
WOL is a program Haddix founded to support creativity and writing in middle- and high school-aged youth in the Syracuse area. The program first started to take shape in 2008, shortly after she and her family moved to Syracuse. Haddix, whose own son was 6 at the time, attended a conference at a local public library on the education of Black children. “I was struck by the frustration and disappointment many in the community expressed, and how they felt the education their children received fell short,” she says. “I then saw a way that I could contribute.”
Haddix’s scholarship focuses on the experiences of students of color in literacy and English education and on the education of teachers. In her work, she has examined how conventional practices and pedagogies discourage Black youth, especially boys and young men, from seeing themselves as communicators and scholars. She argues for the importance of centering Blackness in educational practices and spaces.
After hearing the parents’ grievances, Haddix began offering a writing workshop at the library. The sessions were open-ended and responsive to what students asked for. “I wasn’t there to teach writing, but to encourage the writing the students already wanted to do and to give them opportunities to share their stories,” Haddix explains. It was important, she says, to create a sense of community, which they participated in as writers.