Jan. 24, 2012

Sabir describes her personal journey using poetic snapshots in Soup and Hope talk

Lindsay France/University Photography
Myra Sabir opens the 2012 Soup and Hope series.

Using poetic vignettes to capture defining moments of her childhood and her personal transformations across time, Myra Sabir, an assistant dean of admissions and advising, launched the 2012 Soup and Hope series Jan. 19 in Sage Chapel.

Sabir was one of 11 children struggling to connect with her parents.

"To get a sense of my mother,/visualize a woman/softly chatting to herself. ... My dad was tall,/slender ... he owned the space around him," she began, speaking to more than 150 audience members. Sabir, founding director of The Life Writing Project at the Center for Transformative Action, an affiliate of Cornell, said that these vignettes were excerpts from her work-in-progress, "The Silent Story."

Lindsay France/University Photography
Guests are served soup by staff from University Communications.

In the subsequent 15 minutes, Sabir alluded to her mother's descent into a mental illness that put her out of her children's reach, her father's committed but often unpredictable relationship with his children, and the contrasting sense of place -- "a certain kind of transparency" -- she felt in their own backyard.

"I went there often,/hoping to connect to it,/to in some way/dialogue with it./As an undergraduate,/I studied philosophy/to test the mind's capacity/to reach for it," she said.

While pursuing her master's degree at Emory University, Sabir developed a 14-week series of workshops for urban African-American adults with childhood experiences similar to her own. She continued to conduct these workshops in one form or another while pursuing a doctorate in human development at Cornell, while working as assistant director of Cornell's Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center, and as assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Sabir more fully understood her transformation, she said, when she read about the shift people experience from feeling personally deficient to feeling connected and loved in Abraham Maslow's "Motivation and Personality." That shift led to her choice of profession: "Way back when," one of her cousins had asked Sabir if she was going to be a psychologist; that word "echoed something ... it fit," Sabir said. "So,/a psychologist is what I am./And life writing/ Is what I do."

Sabir's talk was framed by vocal selections from Dwight Carroll on guitar; and remarks by Leslie Meyerhoff, associate director of the Office of Academic Initiatives, Cornell United Religious Work (CURW); Juliette Corazon, assistant dean of admissions and advising in Arts and Sciences; and Kenneth Clarke, director of CURW. Staff members from University Communications served attendees soup provided by Trillium Dining.

Now in its fifth year and sponsored by a number of Cornell organizations, the Soup and Hope series was inspired by civil rights leader Vincent Harding and his wife, Rosemarie Feeney Harding, who visited Cornell in 2008. The series builds a sense of community through the life stories of people who have found pathways to hope.

The next Soup and Hope talk at Sage Chapel is Feb. 2 at noon, featuring Parvine Toorawa, a member of the Faculty Family in Residence and known to students in Mews Hall and North Campus as "Mrs. T."