WITS Voices: The Ritual
January 31, 2020
By Naa Akua, WITS Writer-in-Residence
When I was a student in elementary school, I was happy to not immediately start “working” as soon as we got to our desks. Since I went to Catholic school, the necessity of saying the “Our Father” and the Pledge of Allegiance were staples before “class” actually started.
It was then when I knew I needed something to ground me—I needed someone to create something to invite me to be there, to be present in the classroom. The rush of students passing through hallways, making sure they get to every class before the bell rings, may also hold a resounding cacophony of voices swirling around in their head or earbuds that choose not to hush due to your appearance in front of them.
So how do we draw students in instead of calling them out and sometimes blaming them for not wanting to listen? Do I have the magic remedy? No. But do I have a suggestion, yes. I call this grounding method The Ritual; it consists of everyone stating their name, pronouns, their mood right now, and answering a question of the day. Sometimes, I would choose to incorporate a breathing exercise into The Ritual, due to the energy of the class. A ritual is a ceremony or action performed in a customary way.
In my most recent ceremony, the question of the day given to my students at Franklin High School was, What is one thing that makes you smile? It is amazing to watch a group of youth come alive based off of one question. “My cat makes me smile,” “money makes me smile,” “my mother makes me smile,” “being with friends makes me smile,” “my sister makes me smile,” “my bed makes me smile,” “my family makes me smile,” “a really good book makes me smile,” and “just seeing other people happy makes me smile” (that answer was well received by a group of young ladies going, “Awwwwwww”).
Before they ask the question, Naa, why are we doing this? I answer their why’s with this: Because I want you to be here with me now. I want you to be here with your classmates and get to know them a little better. I want you to know by me checking in, I’m asking you not to check out. The only thing I haven’t shared with my students is that I need to get grounded also, little Naa included.
Naa Akua is a queer liberator of sound and word, an actor, performance arts teacher, and a continuous student at being present. Intentionality, love, and encouragement is the focus of Akua’s work that can be found in tracks like “The Elements” or “Till It All Goes Away” from their mixtape Odd(s) Balance (on SoundCloud.com). Naa Akua has been a cast member of Book-it Repertory Theater’s adaptation of T. Geronimo Johnson’s “Welcome to Braggsville”, a part of last year season’s Late Night Revue “Dear White People” a Boom Boom L’Roux production, Theater Schmeater’s debut of “Welcome to Arroyo’s”, and Tailfeather an Earthpearl Collective production.