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Ep214 Kit Martin - Artist and Coder Working With Underserved Communities

Released Sunday, 18th April 2021
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MEET KIT MARTIN:While I never graduated high school, I am an artist, coder, and doctoral candidate who has worked with underserved communities for the past 20 years. I grew up in Sudan, Kenya, and the United States. Such disparate perspectives brought into focus gross racial, socio-geographic, and gender disparities. Through a Watson Fellowship and while obtaining an M.A. in international development, I spent my years after college at work on humanitarian projects in Brazil, Senegal, Jordan, Tanzania, and Egypt; in the last, I worked with garbage collectors, الزبالين, to improve working conditions and income. After obtaining my Master’s, I moved to the newly independent South Sudan, working with local partners and international donors to decolonize international development by shifting power dynamics, and administer projects with loan provision, agricultural systems transformation, and resettling displaced refugees. Most recently, my motivation to reduce barriers to equality and enfranchise historically underrepresented groups has taken me into simulation through agent-based models, particularly those models dealing with social systems that demonstrate the intersubjective development of inequality and the perpetuation of violence.
To get to this point, however, I've overcome significant hardships in my own education, and as a result, I understand the challenges of not being as prepared as my peers. I grew up in a family with eight children, and my parents chose to homeschool us early on, and, because of undiagnosed learning disabilities, I was unable to read until I was 11. Then, due to troubles in the family, all the educational support had been withdrawn by the time I was 13. I was left to negotiate my own learning without the support of any kind of educational infrastructure. I found the books I needed by asking people who were going to school and teachers I knew. Sometimes my parents would give me a stack of books for Christmas, and I would just tear through them. In time I found Kant and Jane Austen, Dostoevsky, and Machiavelli. I constructed a canon of literature on my own. Though I also tried to pursue biology, chemistry, and math, without mentorship, these subjects were out of my reach. I know how it feels to have pieces missing from what I know, what society expects me to know, and as a result, I can easily empathize with students who must overcome hardships in their educational journeys.
My motivation to work with disadvantaged youth influenced one of my first projects in Nashville in the 1990s, with a group called Kids Club. There was a low-income housing project in downtown Nashville, and each week, we would go to talk to the families there as volunteer social workers. On Saturdays, we held a gathering called Kids Club where nearly a thousand kids would come together for a time to simply play. The disadvantages these children faced were continuous and inhibiting; routine needs, like getting to school and completing their homework, were inordinately difficult. Precarity also challenged their ability to form and maintain relationships. Through Kids Club, children were able to build relationships in an open, inclusive environment.
After I arrived at the Northwestern campus, I saw opportunities to incorporate my interests in coding and language to further motivate and continue to work with disadvantaged groups. In 2018, I was given the opportunity to teach two courses. The first was a multilingual creative writing workshop that facilitated the construction of generative grammars through coding: students could easily switch between languages to express themselves in all languages at their command. I conducted and designed this eight-week creative writing course, providing feedback as students used the technology to develop multilingual narratives. As a result of running that course, Dr. Eva Lam, an eminent scholar in the field, asked me to TA and work with her to teach her Identity, Language, and Culture class to...