by Anne-Marie Akin

My name is Anne-Marie Akin, and I am a musician, writer, and teacher based in Chicago, Illinois. I will be looking at the design principle, “take care of vulnerability.” I was immediately drawn to the framing of vulnerability as a core feature of education; it feels like a profound “aha” moment for me. I’ve spent my working life as an artist in the classroom (primarily as a musician) and at this point, I work almost exclusively with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. Everyone I work with is defined by society as “vulnerable.” I teach in Early Head Start and Head Start programs, where a child between the ages of six weeks and five years must be considered “at risk” in order to be enrolled. Usually this is because the family meets the income requirement: a family of three must earn less than $18,350 a year in order to be eligible. For a mom with one baby, it’s $10,890 or less. In a city where a one bedroom costs at least $1000 a month, that’s some serious societal vulnerability.

How, in that setting, where a parent must struggle to meet the most basic needs of their child, often living in roach and rat infested buildings, on blocks where violence is a feature of the landscape, can emotional and spiritual vulnerability be stewarded and allowed to flourish? Think of the degree of self-protectivity required simply to move forward each day! How is there space for dreaming, for reflection, for breath, for song?

My capstone project will follow my 2021 Lullaby Project, a program of the Weill Institute at Carnegie Hall. The program pairs parents in need with a professional songwriter to help them write a personal lullaby for their child. Writing a lullaby with a parent is intensely personal work. It also involves setting aside my own ego as a writer, so that the parent’s vision and voice come through. This will be my fifth year doing a Lullaby Project, but this is the first time at this Early Head Start location. From promotion to final celebration, I will be looking at each step of the process through the lens of “taking care of vulnerability.” I will examine what I instinctively do to nurture that vulnerable space between myself and the parent songwriter, asking what can be added, concretely, to further nourish the almost alchemical process of birthing a song.

For the first time, I will be working exclusively on Zoom or FaceTime. I have no idea what this will be like. I suspect that when I’m writing in person, I match my breathing to the parent as a way of being in rhythm with them. I am absolutely certain there are other in-the-body practices I do, unconsciously, which now must be replaced with new, as yet undiscovered practices. So a big piece of my capstone will be asking the question, “how do I take care of vulnerability in the virtual space?”

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