Tyra Patterson spent 23 years in prison for a murder she did not commit before gaining her freedom with the help of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center and an outpouring of public support nationwide.
Ms. Patterson told her story at The Summit Country Day on Monday, May 20 when eighth graders and their guests presented the seventh volume in the school’s “Hear My Story | Be My Voice” book series. A capstone project following nine months of research on the topic of justice, eighth graders told 59 stories about people who spent their lives fighting for justice. Since the project began, Summit students have told 417 stories which, in the telling, serve as restorative justice.
A sixth-grade dropout who was homeless as a child, Ms. Patterson was illiterate when she entered prison. With the resources and help provided there, she learned to read and completed her GED. She also earned a paralegal certificate and had a paralegal job waiting for her when she was released. Now working as a paralegal for a Cincinnati law firm, she is an advocate for women in prison.
Eighth grader Gwen Hellman, Hyde Park, interviewed Ms. Patterson for the book. “Meeting Tyra and understanding her story has been a transformational experience,” Gwen wrote. “I’ve learned to see people through a different lens and to recognize dignity within every single being.”
Brought to tears when The Summit assembly sang “Happy Birthday” to her before she stepped up to the podium, Ms. Patterson told the crowd: “Justice is having the voice to speak out.” In the book, she tells Gwen that justice gives people a second chance, jobs and housing. Justice, she says, humanizes others.
Giving voice to humanity is the epitome of “Hear My Story | Be My Voice.” During the Celebration of Voices, standing one-by-one with their biographers to be recognized were Holocaust survivors, survivors of Japanese internment camps, veterans of war, survivors of trauma and violence, immigrants, refugees, artists, musicians, poets, writers, teachers, attorneys, judges, human rights activists, foster parents, police officers, those unjustly incarcerated and those working to give a voice to people who suffer from depression and anxiety. In addition to Ms. Patterson, four others brought their voices to the assembly.
Mirsada Kadiric, a Bosnian refugee who with her mother escaped the killings in Bosnia, eventually coming to the U.S. where she became a citizen at age 16. Now president of RefugeeConnect, she reminded the audience of the genocides that have happened around the world in recent years. She told her biographer, Alaina Fisher, West Chester, justice is “having the freedom to live, to be alive, and do as you choose with your life without any judgement from anyone in society.”
Yadav Sapkota was born in a refugee camp in Nepal where his family was forced to live as a result of Bhutan “ethnic cleansing” and lived there for 16 years until his family was offered relocation in the U.S. He graduated from the University of Virginia and is now executive director of the non-profit Bhutanese Community of Cincinnati. Mr. Sapkota urged students to learn that making mistakes builds confidence, to be unique and develop their own personalities and to be kind. His biographer, TJ McGrath, Hyde Park, wrote: “Yadav Sapkota taught me that people, no matter where they have been or how terrible their lives were, want to love and be loved.”
Cincinnati jazz singer Kathy Wade, who co-founded Learning Through Art, performed “Brown Baby” for the audience. In her story, she tells biographer Kiko Liu, an international student from China:” You need to be open because this is a global world. Whatever happens to one of us happens to all of us.”
Desirae Hosley, program coordinator for Word Play Cincy, a group which helps students make connections through storytelling, ended the program by performing an original poem. Biographer Derek Kuang, a Chinese international student, wrote: “From Desirae Hosley I learned that we need to appreciate our honor and value as a human being. She inspired me to remember that I am someone who is worthy of adding contributions to the world, no matter how big they are, no matter what the world looks like right now.”
"I am deeply grateful to the 59 people who shared their stories with our students this year,” said Rosie Sansalone, the eighth grade English teacher who coordinates the project. “The human story is magical because when we discover the stories of others, it allows us to see our shared common humanity. These inspirational stories have helped my students to understand that good thoughts and good words will inspire good deeds as we all work to create justice as we build a roadway to a better world."
See a gallery of selected photos from the event here.