Writer’s Collective continues summer output of children’s stories on the African Burial Ground population in “Backbones to Life” Series

In the Spring 2017 semester, Howard University’s Cobb Research Laboratory founded a new branch to the research team known as the Writer’s Collective. One aspect of this collective is to write fictional short stories for young readers depicting the lives of those buried in the New York African Burial Ground (ABG) in what was named the “Backbones To Life” Series. Each story is based on scientific findings from the skeletal remains and archaeological findings, as published in the Cobb Research Lab NYABG Collection of Scholarly Volumes (see our website: www.cobbresearchlab.com). The ABG burial ground was the final resting place for thousands of enslaved and free Africans in what is now modern-day Lower Manhattan, New York City. The site was also used by some poor Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nutritional stress, infectious disease, and osteoarthritis plagued the majority of the people interned there. It is our mission to recount their stories using the technical findings from the ABG project and add historic information from the time period as the foundation for these stories. We want our young readers to understand the connections between the ailments of our protagonists, the conditions in which they lived, and the resources they used to survive.
STEM and history also play a role in creation of the stories. Though works of fiction, the stories retain accurate scientific and historical information. A “time warp” from present-day scientific research on a specific burial ground site to a specific year between 1600-1800 occurs in the beginning of each story. We aim to promote both an interest in the STEM fields and provide an educational experience for the reader.
There remains a growing need for these types of books aimed towards young children. The population as a whole in this country has been traditionally educated on the history of slavery as solely an institution of the American South. However, New York City was the second-largest slave holding colony in early America, second only to Charleston, South Carolina. In fact, New York was the last northern colony to abolish slavery in 1827. Often, textbooks and our school system tend to downplay the brutal conditions of enslavement and the lingering effects that it still has on our lives today. Due to these failures, young people often do not learn about this unless they choose to pursue the information on their own. The “Backbones to Life” series introduces readers to a segment of American history, via characters who use traditional knowledge and insights from various regions of Africa and the Americas together with science and common sense to solve the problems they face.
Howard University students in the CRL who participate as writers have an opportunity to tap into their creative side, which is often neglected when pursuing an education in the natural and physical sciences. This summer, students in the Writer’s Collective participated in community outreach to teach creative writing to K-12. In June and July, undergraduate and high school students of the PrePharmacy summer enrichment program joined CRL for an all-day creative writing workshop accompanied by an anatomy lesson using bones from the Cobb Collection as visual aids. CRL also hosted AME Zion’s STEM Summer Camp in July where young children age five to ten had a day filled with science experiments, anatomy lessons, and a “Backbones to Life” storybook reading. Their feedback has helped in series story creation. Additionally, SHPEP and General Electric’s Girls, Inc. programs were at CRL this summer and attendees participated in similar biological science and creative writing activities. We hope to continue these efforts next year to clients who support our mission. Leaders in the “Backbones to Life” Series include new graduate student (George Mason University) Mariam Mohammed and current Howard University undergraduate student Adetomiwa Victor Owoseni, both pictured below. We are very proud of their efforts, enthusiasm, and leadership on this project. ****

Cobb Lab