In March 2011 I was lucky enough to be selected for a Gaines Fellowship in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. To quote from their website, a Gaines Fellowship is:
“a one-of-a-kind undergraduate program to enrich the undergraduate experience in the humanities in a culture where science and technology are increasingly dominating. The fellowships are awarded in recognition of an outstanding academic performance, a demonstrated ability to conduct independent research, an interest in public issues, and a desire to enhance understanding of the human condition through the humanities.”
I was chosen as a Gaines Fellow, along with 10 other students. They are some of the brightest and most interesting people on campus, and I’m continually amazed that I was invited to join them. I feel privileged to be part of such a group, they are already enriching my life in ways that I am sure will become immeasurable as our time together passes.
Anyway, one of the major aspects of the Gaines Fellowship is to complete a Jury project which, loosely defined, is “the conception and presentation of a project that might enhance the civic culture of Lexington or the Fellow’s hometown”. Looking over Jury projects that have been completed in the past is both awe-inspiring and intimidating–students have completed projects such as creating and publishing a journal of undergraduate writing, building a community garden to grow and distribute food in a less-affluent part of the community, and a Lil’ Sis mentoring program. All the projects are impressive in their community service and the dedication that their creators have demonstrated towards them.
After learning that I’d been selected for a Gaines Fellowship my thoughts immediately turned to my Jury project. Alas, though, those thoughts were blank. Lots of past projects appealed to me immensely, but obviously they were someone else’s idea. I wanted to do something not only original but creative, something with a bit of a “wow” factor. My mind, however, refused to play ball.
All summer long I pondered my passions and my options. I’m passionate about poetry, about literature, and about LGBT identity, but couldn’t come up with anything that presented the required impact. On multiple occasions I joked that I’d end up knitting for my project–a craft that my grandmother taught me 30 years ago and that I’d revived as a stress reliever during my first semester at UK. After weeks considering ideas and dismissing them just as fast, I was feeling a little dejected and disappointed in myself but decided to trust that inspiration would eventually come. And it did!
A couple of days after the start of the Fall semester, I found myself sitting in the Writing Center on campus with nothing to do. We hadn’t yet opened for the semester and I’d worked through all the preliminary tasks that I needed to do, so I pulled my crochet out of my bag (I carry yarn and appropriate implements with me everywhere I go–you just never know when an opportunity might strike) and set to work on a couple of hexagons for a blanket I’m making. That got me thinking. I’ve seen several amazing community blanket projects in the past and it suddenly occurred to me that a similar blanket might be a potential project. I thought, initially, about the Periodic Table blanket that’s currently under construction in New Zealand, and the Poetry Society of Great Britain’s Knit a Poem project, and wondered if I could knit a similar poem or a collection of literary quotes. Hot on the heels of those thoughts was the recollection of a community-created blanket recently knit by a group of women (and a few men!) on the website Ravelry. Their blanket was a real demonstration of love, created for one of the website members following the tragic and premature death of her young husband. Just creating the blanket brought together hundreds of people from across the world, all united to create something that would bring love and comfort to a grieving friend. That unification was something I wanted to recreate. Poetry, though, as wonderful as it is, wouldn’t quite do it. To begin with there would be too much difficulty in selecting a suitable poem. I could easily have chosen one of my favourites, but would that inspire other people to get involved? I didn’t think so The blanket needed a meaning beyond being a collection of yarn and that had to be determined by the intended purpose and recipients.Who would the blanket be for? Who might be interested in acquiring it?
And that’s when my other passion hit me. LGBT identity. A blanket, knitted by the community, to celebrate LGBT identity. A blanket that could be displayed for the general public to look at and consider the messages it communicates, messages that come directly from those in, and allied to (by family, friend, or ethics) the LGBT community. A blanket that could then be sold or auctioned and the funds raised given back to the LGBT community in a meaningful way–either in the form of donations to local and national LGBT organizations, or a one-off scholarship to an LGBT student. A blanket that will bring people together at all stages of the process.
And so, the Diversity Project was born.