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  • Vive Griffith

For Mallory Shelly, Everything Offers an Opportunity to Learn

“I get chills,” said Mallory Shelly, when reflecting on her summer Clemente Course in writing and the anthology of student work—We, Too, Are America—that grew from it. “I love that everybody is so different and brings something to the table. These aren’t stories we would have heard otherwise.”

For Mallory, a 2020 graduate of the Clemente Course in Worcester, MA, taking the writing class was an extension of the learning she’d done throughout the year in Clemente. She’d enrolled in the program after meeting faculty member Elizabeth Bacon at the public library. Mallory was there gathering materials for studying Spanish. Elizabeth was sharing information about Clemente. It was immediately clear to Mallory that the program was a perfect fit: “I’m always immersing myself in education through work or being in school.”

The class exceeded her expectations, even though her second semester was interrupted by the pandemic and she and her classmates had to finish the course online. One of the features that she loved was that her two children, age 10 and 6 when the program began, took part in their own classes alongside her Clemente class. The Worcester program offers a parallel learning experience for students’ children, cultivating intergenerational learning and conversation. “What we were learning in class, they were learning about in their program too,” Mallory said. “We could talk about it.”

One of the texts everyone explored was the epic of Gilgamesh. So when the Worcester Art Museum offered a reading of the poem last fall, Mallory brought her children to see it. The kids were delighted.

“I need my children to see there is more outside of these four brick walls we live in,” she said. “I want them to know there is more obtainable out there for them.”

Mallory's son and daughter at the protest

That same desire to help her kids expand their horizons led her to bring them to a Black Lives Matter protest this summer. Mallory felt a protest could also be an educational experience, a way for them to start to understand the history of police brutality. “It’s important for me to show them that black is not just a skin color, it’s your culture,” she said. “It’s important to share education whenever I can, because the more education we share the more well-rounded a person they might become.”

She explains this beautifully in the essay she wrote for the class and that appears in the We, Too, Are America anthology published by Mass Humanities. Mallory admits that she answered a lot of questions about why she took her children to the protest, and her essay is a way of explaining her decision to a broader audience. To do so, she had to dig deep and tell the truth, two things that were emphasized by her professors.

“Clemente gives people a chance to see what they may be good at that they’ve never tried before,” she said. “The stories people wrote in class were so remarkable.”

You can read Mallory's essay, "Why I Took My Children to a Black Lives Matter Protest" here. It begins: I took my seven-year-old son and eleven-year-old daughter to a protest in downtown Los Angeles four days after George Floyd was murdered.

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