Brett M Sutton
My name is Brett Sutton, and I am a native son of Greater Cincinnati, specifically Covington, KY. I had the distinct opportunity and pleasure of undertaking studies for the Brueggeman Fellowship from 2009-2010. I graduated with the Xavier class of 2010, majored in History; and focused much of my elective course selections around Romance Languages (Portuguese and Spanish) and Fine Arts.
As a high school student I started to develop a great love for travel largely through my art classes. I enjoyed studying and experiencing cultures both outside and inside my own. With age, a fair amount of independence, and courage, this affection for travel/anthropology became more of a constant reality. As a freshman at the University of San Diego, I received acceptance into an upper level study abroad group in South Africa. While in South Africa we received lectures via van rides and historical battlefields, and met with community leaders in various parts of the nation. With this experience the seed of exploration became imbedded in my spirit. Over the following years I scrimped and saved working and studying full-time in order to afford myself the ability to take flight during any downtime from classes. I was able to visit various countries on several different continents. On all of my trips I would constantly seek the unbeaten path, the seemingly unimportant local conversation, and I documented and artistically expressed each of my trips upon returning.
Much to my good fortune a friend and former Brueggeman Fellow Katie Cole Nagavi informed me of the incredible fellowship opportunity. I became enthralled by my project and could hardly wait for the trip to begin. Not by coincidence my trip led me back to a Brazilian favela (slum) I had briefly visited a year prior.
Just weeks after graduating I was on a plane from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, to pursue research in Afro-Brazilian Socio-Cultural Consciousness, through the lens of favelas, Capoeira, and Candomble. The project led me to analyze the legacies of Brazilian slavery and start to form questions surrounding the multifaceted dilemma of what seemed to be a “racial-caste system in a country which often boldly proclaims itself to be a “racial-democracy.”
My journey lasted from June through November, and in that time I was able to visit three different Brazilian states situated along the central coast. (Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo) I began my stay in what is considered one of South America’s largest slums, Favela da Rocinha. I boarded inside the favela with two British documentary filmmakers, in one of the poorest sections known as Roupa Suja. (Dirty Clothes) During my month I volunteered with the Uniao de Mulheres Pro Melhoramento da Roupa Suja, (Union of Women for the Betterment of Roupa Suja) a group which serves as a community center, pre-school, and day care. While there, I designed a logo for the NGO, painted two murals, and helped the women of the center teach elementary Portuguese and led art classes. I aided the two British filmmakers with interviews and tagged along in some of their filmmaking endeavors into order to more fully understand the favela in all its complexities. I was able to interview dozens of local residents and experience incredible local events which very few “gringos” ever come close to encountering.
I left Rio in July and flew to Salvador, Bahia, the original capitol of Portuguese Brasil. While there I taught English and interviewed individuals at the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko, in the historic Portuguese colonial section of Salvador known as Pelourinho. Additionally, while living in Salvador, the Afro-Brazilian cultural heartland, I researched Capoeira Angolaand Candomble. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art which incorporates elements of dance and music, and Candomble, a religion centered in Salvador, incorporates elements of Portuguese Catholicism and West African traditional beliefs.
In the final weeks of my trip I journeyed by bus through the scenic coastal state of Espirito Santo, and later spent several days in Ilha Grande (BigIsland) a sparsely populated tourist and biological research island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
Upon my return from Brasil I worked with Krohn Conservatory in preparation for the Brazilian Butterfly Show, which lasted from April-June 2011. My photography, writing, and artwork were featured in various displays.
What They're Doing Now
Upon my return from six months in Brazil, I was accepted into City Year New Orleans, an AmeriCorps program which works directly with underprivileged and under resourced communities. Currently, I am working as an 8th grade English co-teacher at ReNew Accelerated High School. Our school is comprised of students typically 2 years behind there grade level as a result of course failure, incarceration, pregnancy, or a tremendous amount of school missed. Additionally, I have had the privilege of working alongside dozens of community action groups throughout New Orleans leading community projects, and aid work. From planting sea grass on Grand Island, LA to leading neighborhood mural projects, and leading the organization of a massive Career Day at our school, the opportunity has given me the chance to try my hand in several interesting fields.
My future plans include teaching ESL in Portugal for a year returning and to begin work on earning my PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology.