Sacharja Cunningham ’19, center at the Thea Bowman House in Utica.

Informed by his coursework, Sacharja Cunningham ’19 found himself pondering how he could address social justice issues in the education system. That’s at the core of his summer research project, “Mind. Body. I Am Somebody.”

He is exploring how centering the body through dance, general fitness and spoken-word poetry may enhance the sense of self in young people, in particular marginalized youth. Based on existing research, Cunningham is developing and implementing a curriculum for youth at the Thea Bowman House, a local community organization.

about Sacharja Cunningham '19

Major: Africana Studies

Prospective Minor: Education Studies

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

High School: Phillips Exeter Academy

More about student research

Cunningham, an Africana Studies major and prospective education studies minor, is intrigued by the concept of a detrimental mind/body split in education. That split, as he explains it, occurs because teachers and students are supposed to be exclusively of the mind when they enter education spaces. Yet doing so undermines their identity as a whole and thereby supports oppression.

He thought about the concept in the context his own education. In his high school, Cunningham had the opportunity to develop his mind and body ­— a holistic self, as he describes it. For instance, a great track and field program enabled him to tap into his inner physical strength, and great academic resources fostered his intellectual growth.

But students in underserved communities often lack such resources and opportunities, Cunningham observed as he absorbed what he was reading and discussing in his education course.

He shared what he’d been contemplating with Todd Franklin, Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of Philosophy, and Franklin made a suggestion — apply for an Emerson grant from the College to research the issue over the summer. Cunningham acted on the advice, received the grant and is working on the project with Meredith Madden, visiting assistant professor of education studies.

“My educational experience allowed for me to strengthen my body and my mind in ways that showed how these parts of me were not only connected, but inseparable,” Cunningham says. “As an aspiring educator, I want to create educational environments where students can also strengthen their minds and bodies in an effort to make them feel whole and strong. I am hoping to gain insight as to how to accomplish this through my Emerson research.” 

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