Growing Up Making – Dorothy Jones-Davis

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Welcome to Maker Ed’s “Growing up Making” community blog series that highlights how maker educators have been influenced by family and their community. By sharing stories of what inspires maker educators, we’re excited to showcase the impactful and multigenerational human history of making.

This post was written by Dorothy Jones-Davis, co-founder of NationofMakers.org, co-producer of the National Maker Faire, and Scientific Project Manager, Neuroscience at Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. Share your own #GrowingUpMaking story with us online via Twitter.

Continuing the Making and Re-Making Traditions of My People

by Dorothy Jones-Davis

The most precious things I remember most from my childhood were made and refurbished, not bought. A mixed race African-American and Caucasian child from a poor background, making and re-making was all around me.

IMG_5882We were not privileged to have a steady stream of new toys, TVs, or household appliances; therefore, a tinkering mentality was second nature. My father, a musician and odd jobs specialist, had amongst my favorite jobs, a stint at the Goodwill. As he brought home old bikes, toys, TVs, broken furniture and tattered clothes, we became painters, woodworkers, seamstresses and electricians – painting, sanding, sewing, hemming, and soldering as necessary. We used copious amounts of electrical and duct tape.

We made and re-made, and as I made, I learned, about the world around me. Although we didn’t have much, I learned about science and engineering, circuits and electricity, through the making and remaking of my little world. And I learned that I wasn’t alone. At a young age my dad imparted that as countless generations of our people, black and brown, made – everything from quilts, to buildings, to inventions that changed our world – so we continued this honorable tradition.

And as a child with Native American ancestry, I was privileged to be able to participate in what my friends and I affectionately called Indian Camp. Once a week for several years of my childhood, I spent my section of art class with Janis Us, a Native American educator of Mohawk-Shinnecock descent. Mrs. Us spent hours teaching me how to make Native American jewelry, crafts, and art. I spent summers traveling to the Institute for American Indian Studies, in Washington, CT, to learn more about my ancestors and all that they made, learning myself how to create habitats, toys, clothes, baskets, even candy and gum from the plants, trees, and fibers all around me. I beaded necklaces, made cornhusk dolls, wove blankets and sewed clothes for a pow-wow.

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As an adult, it has been my personal mission to make sure that people of all backgrounds, young, old, black, brown and white alike, have an exposure to building and creating and making – whatever they are passionate about. It has been my goal to let them see themselves in the countless individuals before them that have been wood makers, textile makers, engineers, artists, tinkerers, hobbyists, craftspeople, and more. To have them make the connections between the cycles of building, refining, re-building their final product, and the engineering design process. To envision themselves as scientists, programmers, engineers, and artists, all through the act of making. To have a child make a light blink through a simple circuit, and realize that physics mastery is attainable. To make a dress out of recycled materials and envision themselves designing the latest styles on the red carpet. To understand that making is the portal to a world so much larger than they could even imagine. And to have them realize that the limits of what they can make are only self-defined.

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