Composing Community

Image from www.lansingstatejournal.com
Image from http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

My friend and RCWP colleague, Marcus Brown, has been working for about a year to open the Village Summit in the house next door to his Lansing home. You can read about many of the trials and tribulations that Marcus, his wife, and everyone involved in creating the Village Summit have had to endure in this article from the Lansing State Journal.

In trying to figure out a way that I could help Marcus and his cause, he suggested that I spend some time with him and help develop a website for the center that highlights its services and activities. And here is where the power of  digital writing comes into the picture…

Marcus and I began talking about this last year and began a Google Site for his organization. As it does, time slipped by, we both neglected the website for a long while, and kind of forgot about it. But, when talking with him over breakfast in December, and trying to figure out how I could help, he began discussing all the ways in which we wanted to use a website to reach out to his community — people in his neighborhood helping with the Village Summit, other community organizations, the Lansing Mayor’s Office and City Council, and beyond. I was thinking about the software that he could use to compose this site, immediately moving my mind to the suite of tools that Google offers including Sites, Picasa, Maps, and Calendar. After working together for the better part of two hours, we updated the site, adding images, maps, and a calendar, not to mention a good deal of Marcus’s writing and poetry that show his passion for education and serving his community.

And, so, in less than two hours, the Village Summit had a (revised) website.

On the one hand, we could look at this as nothing remarkable. Yep, we have Google Sites and can insert plug-ins and, wow, doesn’t that make life easier for us when we make web pages.

Yet, in digging a little deeper and thinking about the socio-cultural, technical, and political literacy practices associated with how Marcus composed a site about a community center for a variety of audiences and purposes, I find the digital writing task in which the two of us were engaged to be quite fascinating. To be sure, even a few years ago, he could have created a similar site with a variety of web-based tools or software. It would have taken awhile, and he would have likely had to use a site like Geocities that put ads on his work (or buy a domain).

But, using this suite of Google tools, and having a specific set of purposes and audiences in mind, he was able to compose a multimedia text — a website that employs text, links to videos, images, and maps — to distribute his message. Composing community. All in about two hours. In less time than it used to take us to design, produce content for, and upload a basic website using Dreamweaver and FTP.

And, it’s free.

And, it’s collaborative, so others can add content.

And, it’s a public voice for a community that, even a few years ago may not have had the time or resources to develop a web-based message.

To me, as a teacher of digital writing, this was really an epiphany. Yes, of course I knew that anyone could hop online and make a site, or a blog, or a wiki, or a twitter account. Yes, I realized that our digital writing can be collaborative and shared widely. Yet, I didn’t think very clearly, until that day when Marcus and I met, about the power of digital writing — in really just a moment — to compose entire communities, to bring something into existence in ways that would have been difficult or impossible even a few years ago. I had heard of it happening with different tools, over time. But, in just under two hours, we were able to take what Marcus had started a year ago as a dream, and what we initially tried to capture on the web last summer, and brought them both together.

For me, watching Marcus connect his many literacy practices and personal passions to create this website show the heart of what it means to be multiliterate in a digital world.

Thanks, Marcus, for reminding me of it, and for all that you do to serve your community.


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