About - I See My Light Shining



I See My Light Shining: Baldwin-Emerson Elders Project was conceived by celebrated author and 2020 MacArthur Fellow, Jacqueline Woodson. A partnership between the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, the Emerson Collective and Woodson’s nonprofit, Baldwin For The Arts, I See My Light Shining offers a unique foray into the lived experiences of Black, Asian, Caribbean, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latino/a/x, dual-heritage backgrounds, and queer individuals across the United States.

Operating at the intersections of migratory trajectories and politics and history, I See My Light Shining is a collection of oral testimonies along with an array of ephemera including photographs and letters, that provide an essential memorialization of American life. Focusing on ten regions, the project examines topics from the emergence of social justice movements, to gender and diversity politics, to housing inequality and displacement, stories of protest, rebuilding, love, and liberation.

Elders’ oral histories were captured by Baldwin For The Arts' inaugural class of Baldwin-Emerson Fellows who include award-winning writers: Caro de Robertis, Natalie Diaz, Eve L. Ewing, Denice Frohman, Caleb Gayle, Robin Coste Lewis, April Reign, Ellery Washington, Renée Watson, Jenna ""J"" Wortham. Baldwin-Emerson Fellows have collected the narratives of more than 200 elders whose stories may have otherwise been lost with the passage of time. More than just an archive, I See My Light Shining is an invitation and offering to celebrate and honor the individuals who have contributed to shaping American history and culture."

A Letter on the Title:
I See My Light Shining

My mother died suddenly at age of 68 alone in her home in Brooklyn. She had been a part of the Great Migration – moving my siblings and I to Brooklyn from Greenville, South Carolina.

Her past was a silent, painful memory that she rarely shared. Like so many coming of age during Jim Crow, the horrors of the south were filled with stories that were ‘left' in the south; too painful to bring to this new and promising world of the north.  But I believe in genetic memory and that trauma gets passed down until there is resolution. When my mother died, I went back to the place she always called ‘Home’ – Greenville. There I found so many stories I would have never known had I not gone searching for them. These were the stories of seemingly ‘ordinary’ people like my mom. And like my mom, they were heroes who had survived something. Like my mom, they had a light. A light that had always shone inside of them. I wanted to bring that light to the outside world. I wanted them to live to see it in its glory. And although so many of these stories are only shared in my memoir, I wanted this project to be bigger. Hence, I SEE MY LIGHT SHINING: The Baldwin-Emerson Elders Project. With this project, so many elders are bringing the wonder of their survival to the bigger world. For some of them, this is a scary thing. For many, it is a great joy. I often wonder how my mother would have felt about her own story in the world. I don’t know all of it. I never will. But the greatness of it lives inside of me. With I See My Light Shining, we’re spreading the greatness of many. Long may they live. 

— Jacqueline Woodson

This project was brought to life in partnership between Baldwin For The Arts, the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, and Emerson Collective.

Baldwin For The Arts

Headshot of Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson

Founder, Baldwin For The Arts

Headshot of Christine Platt

Christine Platt

Executive Director, Baldwin For The Arts

Headshot of Monét Dixon-Sabio

Moné Dixon-Sabio

Executive Assistant, Baldwin For The Arts

Management and Production

Headshot of Madeline Alexander

Madeline Alexander

Project Manager

Headshot of Chris Pandza

Chris Pandza

Communication Design

OHAC and CCOHR Leadership

Headshot of Mary Marshall Clark

Mary Marshall Clark

Co-principal Investigator

Headshot of Kimberly Springer

Kimberly Springer

Co-principal Investigator Curator, Oral History Archives at Columbia

Research and Administration

Clementine Benoit

Research Associate

Kenia Hale


Sophia Piperata

Data Management Intern

Jada Reid

Administrative Intern

Gloria Mogango

Oral History Master of Arts Fellow

Ornella Baganizi

Audit Editing Lead

Julianna Lozada

Administrative Intern

Tynéa Henry

Special Projects Intern


Ten writers Ten regions Hundreds of histories


‘Give them all the truth.
They can make the determination on their own.’
Damon Jackson