Students Create Book Based on Cedar Rapids Residents

Published: Feb. 18, 2016 at 3:43 AM CST
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Mount Vernon High School Students re-created the bestselling book Humans of New York using the people of Cedar Rapids.

The project was a branch of the school’s new social justice course, which aims toward teaching inclusion and moving toward social change.

Students took the streets of Cedar Rapids in groups of three. They were told to talk to everyone, and ask if they would like to share their story.

Those who did, had their picture taken and a short version of their story placed next to it.

“What this project does is it shatters the single story, it’s no longer homeless is all of this, it is homelessness is a man who has a job, and loves music, and is interested in cooking. It’s a person, it’s a story, it’s a face,” Teacher Leigh Ann Erickson said.

Students who participated in the project said it opened their eyes.

Junior Alyssa Maddocks said the course was a once in a lifetime experience.

“We walked into a coffee shop, and we saw one of the workers there, and we asked her kind of about her childhood and what she enjoyed the most, she went deep into her background and told us all about her camping trips, with her uncle, and her family,” Maddocks said. “If we don’t get to know people, we just see them as any other person I guess, but when you go and you learn their stories and you hear more about them you get to know them as the unique and interesting person they are.”

“Mount Vernon is kind of a closed community, everyone knows everyone else and they kind of keep their minds closed to the outside world, and even traveling the short distance to Cedar Rapids allowed them to find a whole new world and life experiences, and allowed them to find out that life isn’t always perfect for everyone, “Junior Bailey Priborsky said.

That was Erickson’s goal, she wanted to give students the chance to get out of their comfort zone.

“Ultimately when you know a person, that’s going to empower you to make change for that person, and not just for a cause,” Erickson said.

The Humans of Cedar Rapids project is now published and housed inside of Mount Vernon High School. The students have started their own key club to continue going out in the community, meeting people, and making a difference.