High School Students ‘Post Secrets’ About Their Identities at Affirmations

By |2019-05-24T10:02:46-04:00May 22nd, 2019|Entertainment, Features|

It’s a take on the ongoing community mail art project “Post Secret” by Frank Warren. In the fall, in the days leading up to National Coming Out Day, the newly created LGBTQ+ Alliance at Renaissance High School in Detroit invited the study body to submit anonymous secret posts to a box. The contents was later displayed along a hallway in the school and eventually to the walls of the Affirmations LGBTQ community center in Ferndale where they’ll have an official opening night on May 30.
“Students modified the ‘Post Secret’ project by Frank Warren, recognizing that all people have something to ‘come out about,’ not only related to sexuality and gender identity,” said Kyle Goodall, the alliance’s sponsor at a teacher at the school. “The idea was that if students could see the spectrum of experiences in the school, there would be more empathy in the hallways. Students disclosed experiences from sexuality to mental health issues, from trouble at home to normal growing pains. Of a 1,203 student body, 225 posts were submitted; 91 students were distressed and 29 came out as LGBTQ.”
Shortly after the wall went up at the high school, more students began submitting posts.
“After just three hours of being up, 50 more students had submitted posts, and 10 students came out as LGB,” Goodall said. “Over 100 more posts were then added to the submission box. In addition to anonymous secret posts, students wrote on other posts in solidarity with the original writers.”
But the school’s administration had concerns about the wall’s contents and did not originally allow them to be added to the display.
“The administration expressed concern about posts related to sex, drugs and suicide,” Goodall said. “Those were the ‘taboo’ topics on the wall and required immediate removal. Our principal stood up for the Coming Out Wall, however, even when faced with pressure from colleagues to remove the wall entirely.”
The wall, thanks to the urging of the students who had participated in it, was allowed to stay up for the entire month of October.
“Students furthermore suggested an alternative to the original wall: an empathy and student response wall,” Goodall said. “The original wall felt incomplete. Students wanted to respond. In lieu of the many individual anonymous posts, student responses to individual posts would replace the Coming Out Wall. Letters read, ‘Dear I’m too fat to be noticed,’ ‘Dear I want to Die,’ ‘Dear I’m afraid I won’t get into college’ and ‘Dear I’m Lesbian.’ This was a visual display of the empathy our student group hoped to foster.”
Still, to Goodall, the Coming Out Wall project still incomplete.
“Even though our hallway was adorned with heartfelt letters from students to one another, the original Coming Out Wall was missing posts related to real student experiences about suicide and drug use,” Goodall said. “Furthermore, the 65 student letters [responding to the original posts] were separate from the anonymous student posts. There needed to be unification of both walls and inclusion of the voices removed. I suggested to students we try an installation at Affirmations because the organization has the space for such an exhibit, because it is a very public space, and because Affirmations offers several youth programs. It seemed the organization would be youth-allied and interested to support the project.”
Affirmations was.
“The wall can be experienced as is, taken in as a collection of youth grievances, regrets, insecurities, or concerns,” Goodall said. “But it’s more aptly read as a conversation between and among students. These are the very conversations students would have among one another, and it’s important that these secrets be heard as such. While students are ‘coming out’ anonymously with hurt, suffering, forming identities and other normal adolescent experiences, youth are, indeed, communicating with one another about their experiences. If it isn’t a conversation they’ve had with a friend already, it is a conversation they’ve wanted to start.”
The opening night reception May 30 is free and open to the public. It will last from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit goaffirmations.org.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.