Taylor Jones recalls the recent story of a student who came to her classroom that was having problems at home. The student opened up about their struggle with gender identity, not knowing who they were, but about their mother’s lack of acceptance.
“’You are my daughter, I’m not having a son,'” Jones said the 11-year-old told the class.
The fine arts theater teacher at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School in Miami, who said she is transparent with her students about her own orientation as a lesbian, wants her students to know that when they come to her classroom, they are in a safe space.
When it came time to cast the class production, Jones said she found acting roles for the child who identified as transgender that would promote comfortability — that were genderless and non-binary.
“I knew that the mother was not comfortable (with the situation), and I knew that the child was not comfortable playing a female role. In the end, he loved his performance and mom loved his performance,” she said. “That’s what I believe makes my programs and my shows successful. That’s the magic. Creating a safe space.”
Jones, 24, a recipient of Legacy’s Top Black Educator Award, finds that her personal experience with theater and its ability to create community and inclusivity, is an important part of education and that theater promotes open communication.
“I know about the hate crimes, transgender people taking their lives. I want my students to know that I support them, that the class will support them, and that this is where they can truly be who they are,” Jones said.
Passionate about her students’ performance education, Jones didn’t want her students to miss a beat during the pandemic. She started open mic sessions for them to participate via Zoom. The results were even better than she could have imagined. “I had a lot of kids who were not theater kids who signed up to perform and then joined Drama Club because of it,” Jones said.
With a desire to help all children have access to the arts, Jones began an acting series class at The Miramar Cultural Arts Center in January 2021 for middle and high school-aged students. The initiative teaches children acting, theater, musical theater and, as she explained, showcases the arts in a different light.
Jones named the program Colors of Sankofa.
“Sankofa is from the Twi language. It means never forget where you’ve come from, go back and get your history. And the ‘Colors’ in the title brings the inclusivity into it — different shades of people,” she said.