Introducing Dr. Anika T. Prather

People started calling me Dr. Anika Prather before I finished my defense, but I really had a hard time walking in that title until it was official.  After I turned in the draft that caused my adviser to decide to set the date for my defense is when I started using it “a little.”  Even then I felt uncomfortable with it.  I wanted to make sure I had done EVERY part of the journey.  So on Tuesday, April 4, and with several of my high school students watching (I took some with me who wanted to go), and wearing my Adinkra symbol dress in honor of the ancestors who bled and died so I could be here, I defended my dissertation.  It  went well and I felt good.  My husband says I seemed so comfortable.  I think I was so excited to finally tell the whole story of why I love the Great Books and why I feel they are relevant to the African American people.  To everyone’s surprise, the defense was not just about these books that a group of white men deemed as the “fount of all knowledge” but I reveal how the reading of these books have assisted in the liberation of the African American people.  The ancestors read them to gain the literacy needed to fight for our freedom!  I also make the case for adding to this list so that all races, cultures and backgrounds can contribute to the Great Conversation.  So it is official. I am Dr. Anika T. Prather or you can call me Dr. NIKA!

Now it is time for the next part of the journey and I look forward to inviting others to join me in the continued reading and discussion of these texts and the others that I hope to add to the list!  Won’t you join me?

Dr. Nika

 

The Time has Come

Well, on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 11 am this long 12 year journey will come to an end. My adviser and I spoke by phone on how the defense will go today.  Then I opened my door and my graduation invitations had arrived.  I started to cry.  It’s hard to believe that I am actually done.  Every single day of this journey seemed beyond impossible and yet with just moving forward each day, step by step, I finally made it to the finish line.  To GOD be the glory.

dr. nika

Finding Anam Caras

anam-cara

Finding Anam Caras

From different worlds we came together

Around a table

Around the books

Of yesteryears and present day

From different generations we came together

Around a desire to learn

Around a desire to discover

Our common humanness and inner selves

From different backgrounds we came together

Around a space of dialogue

Around a curiosity to understand

How our souls are joined

How our minds, hearts and very essences are joined

How we are Anam Caras

With those of yesterday, today, tomorrow…

and each other

(Prather, 2017)

Circle of Freedom

 

We are lonely and lost in our hungry transparency.  We desperately need a new and gentle light where the soul can shelter and reveal its ancient belonging. (O’Donohue, 1997, p. 4)

 

When my students and I embarked on the journey of reading the “transcripts of our civilization” (Townsend, 2015) freedom stripped us of our skin color, our cultural backgrounds, and even our socio-economic status. All we were left with was a text and us sitting around a table in what I like to call a Circle of Freedom.  While dwelling there, we allowed the light of the texts, our lives and personal experiences to unveil new places of understanding.  No papers, no worksheets, no red pens to mark answers right or wrong.  There was only “us” and the texts and we did as Townsend (2015) implores us to do in his tribute to Thoreaux’s Walden, “…to live free, you must learn to read as you have never read before.”

By abiding in our Circle of Freedom, we became bonded together.  A bond, that has remained even after graduation.  The bond is so meaningful that the participants in the study have even struggled with feeling alone because there are no peers to enjoy the same type of dialogue with.  The Circle of Freedom is powerful like that.  We became as O’Donohue (1997) has said, each other’s Anam Cara— “soul friend.”  O’Donohue says:

When the human mind began to consider the next greatest mystery of life, the mystery of love, light was also always used as a metaphor for its power and presence.  When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you.  Where before there was anonymity, now there was intimacy; where before there was fear, now there is courage; where before in your life there was awkwardness, now there is a rhythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you used to be jagged… (p. 6)

 

As we traversed the books, questioned them, questioned ourselves and questioned each other, an intimacy grew between us, that freed us to explore the truth about ourselves.  I recall Sophia having doubts about Christianity.  She mentioned this in the study and how she realized I was giving her the space to go through that process.  She was allowed to voice these questionings in our discussions, in a Christian school sitting around a table, discussing a text (many times the Bible), in the Circle of Freedom.  The bond that was forged has remained over the years so that when her mom died suddenly after she graduated, when she saw me at the funeral, she hugged me tightly, held my hand and we stood together to view the body.  The Circle of Freedom does this to those who allow themselves to dwell there.  It draws us closer together, students and teacher, in an Anam Cara  relationship, as we explore our humanity through the humans who have gone before us and written about their human experience.

The word “circle” originally comes from the Latin circul which means “a group of persons surrounding a certain interest.”  Our interest was exploring the Great Books together and seeing how those texts speak into our lives today.  Although it initially was a required class, students found themselves reading the texts sometimes in the privacy of their bedrooms, outside of the assigned readings.  They came in to class ready to ask a question or to talk about a perspective they gained in reading.  This brought us together and soon it did not seem to feel like a class to me or to them.  It evolved into our Circle of Freedom, a free space to become illumined within ourselves. Henry David Thoreau, expresses the heart of my renderings thus far in his short poem below:

Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find

A thousand regions in your mind

Yet undiscovered.  Travel them, and be

Expert in home-cosmography.

(Thoreau, 1954/1992, p. 300)

In These Pages

 

There is so much to glean from the ancient folk

There is so much to learn from those who spoke

Centuries ago.

It is different for every person

How the books connect to your soul

But they will if you let them

And it may take time to reflect them

Doesn’t matter the color of your skin

Look deep inside you will find that you are in

The pages spoken of by the sages of your humanity

It’s plain to see and if you can’t

I understand

You see others have struggled too

But we all had to invite Hurston, DuBois, Woodson or Wheatley

To speak for us, so let them guide you

Let them ask the questions that reveal

How these books speak what’s true

About your humanness

Let the process cultivate your mind

To be able to know beyond what’s read between the lines  

Talk about it, with a friend

or not

Draw close to a stranger of a different shade

Or not

but is of the same specie—

Woman or man the whole lot

Of humanity

Can be found in these pages

(Prather, 2016)

Putting Research into Practice

In the course of completing my PhD I also started a school that I feel embodies what I have shared in my writing.  The Living Water School opened its doors on September 7, 2015.  It was a true step of faith! I longed to create a place where students can open their minds and learn freely.  They could explore the questions that flood their minds each day and they could read rich, classic literature in a leisurely way.

My dream for the school was that it would be a place where dialogue was the main way of learning.  Well, by the mighty hand of God we did it!  We made it through our first year and are ready for year number two.

I also got to present my research on this type of learning at the University of Maryland through an experimental theatre called “The Table.”  It has been an amazing year!  God has done it all.  Now, that the school has completed its first year, “The Table” theatrical presentation and my proposal are all done. I am now moving towards completing my dissertation by the end of August.

I can hardly believe that I am at this point.  Each phase of this journey has seemed impossible, the obstacles seeming insurmountable, but GOD!  By HIM all things are possible.  God has brought me to this point and I give Him praise. May my journey continue to give him honor as I seek to free the minds of more students through reading classic literature and engaging in dialogue.

Proposal DONE!

It’s been a while and even now I have little time to write, but I feel I must document this momentous occasion!  I have completed writing and defending my research proposal!  10 years.  10 very long hard years and finally it is done!  10 years of studying the classics at St. John’s College.  10 years of teaching Great Books literature to African American students.  10 years of people thinking my research interest was lunacy.  Yet, here I am by the mighty hand of God and I give HIM all the honor, glory and praise! It’s amazing that in these years I barely left my research topic.  It is truly my passion.  The Great Books of Western Civilization are to me so important to the progression of the African American people in this country.  Many disagree.  The books raise so much controversy, but thanks be to God that he gave me the words and the wisdom to share my heart.  Now on to the research project of my former students.  I am nervous but excited to interview them to see what their lived experience was of reading Great Books literature.  Onward!

dr. nika