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Plucky Comics: Introducing New Superheroes to the Classroom

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Finals Presentation | Instagram

 

Nathan Alston, Daniella Gennaro, and Onyekachi Ezirike all know what it’s like to not see themselves represented in traditional curriculum. Growing up, they experienced the impact of this lack of representation, and in response they created “Plucky Comics” to bring visibility to Black Queer stories in the classroom. 

Story by Malin Andersson & Sydney Moore

To get a taste of these ideas, think of your favorite historical heroes. For some of you, the founding fathers or an American president might come to mind, but for many marginalized groups their people’s history is absent from most educational curricula. Yet, seeing yourself represented is an important part of childhood development. Even in primary school, representation affects the way kids view themselves and their place in society. New team member, Onyekachi, stated that, “There’s a group of people who never see themselves in history. It’s 2021 – this is the time to howl at those people and let them know that ‘there are people just like you who made wonderful additions to America and the world.’” 

After wrestling with this lack of representation, Nathan Alston decided to start a passion project centered around self-education. “I am Black and queer and I don’t know much about Black Queer history – and that makes me incredibly sad. The structure of our education is built in such a way that it tries to eliminate the identities it doesn’t think we should honor or be – and that makes me mad.” Nathan took this anger and transformed it into creation. 

The creativity spark behind Plucky Comics originated from Nathan’s background in theater. When the theaters closed because of COVID, he started searching for offstage avenues to funnel his love of storytelling.

 

The Evolution of Plucky Comics

The passion project began as a series of Instagram posts for Black History Month in which Nathan shared a Black individual’s story each day – from Claude McKay to Marsha P. Johnson. As the month progressed, even Nathan was taken aback by how much the series resonated with his followers, bringing about the realization that this was a fantastic opportunity to bring representation to marginalized stories. 

Little did Nathan know, his passion project would blossom into Plucky Comics, which was well-received at the 2021 Innovation in Action Final Showcase. Plucky Comics took Second Place for $7,500 and the Envisioning an Anti-Racist World award for $1,000, a new track focused on the creative potential of working virtually across disciplines and platforms towards inclusivity. Plucky Comics participated in other programs as well. The team was a Learning Levers Finalist. 

Originally, Nathan wasn’t sure if his idea to use comics as Black Queer representation would fit in with Innovation in Action. However, after meeting with the Center for Socially Engaged Design (C-SED), he realized that this was the place to actualize his vision. While Nathan explored options for expansion, he reached out to Daniella Gennaro, a fellow MBA in the Ross School of Business. 

As a former 7th-grade teacher, Daniella knows the importance of representation and visibility firsthand. “As the only Latina teacher in a school with a 48% Hispanic student population, I can recall my Latina students telling me how they finally like school just because I was there.” Together, Daniella and Nathan decided to do something about the lack of Black, Queer visibility in the classroom. Choosing comics, a proven method to teach kids new content, to tell the stories of those who were previously invisible in the history books.

Daniella explained that when you start teaching kids of all backgrounds that Black and Brown people were influential and have lots of powerful stories as well, that’s when it becomes pretty game-changing for kids. Then, kids grow up knowing that they can accomplish the same too.

With their passion for education and representation, Daniella and Nathan came up with the idea for Plucky Comics: a web app and educational tech tool that tells the stories of Black, queer historical figures through comics – scheduled to launch in February 2022. They plan to have educators directly incorporate the web app into their curriculum for students to engage with stories of important Black, queer historical figures. 

 

Vision for the Future

However, Plucky Comics is not limited to the classroom. For Nathan, the opportunity to educate yourself never ends. Subscribers can use this app, interacting with the stories with visual and even eventual auditory elements to learn about those who have been left out of mainstream history. You can even create your own poems or journal entries as a way to engage with the featured stories, creating a community that reaches through time. 

Onyekachi Ezirike, who is also in the MBA program at Ross, joined after Plucky Comics won Second place. When given the chance to work with Nathan and Daniella on Plucky Comics, he jumped on the opportunity to use his skills and passion to make a real difference in people’s lives and the community.

At its core, this is what Plucky Comics is about: community is the foundation and heart of queerness itself. Nathan truly feels that his strong relationships with Kachi and Dani are an opportunity to celebrate that, as they are telling a story together. Coming from a background in theatre has helped Nathan understand that storytelling is as much about the audience as it is about the people in a story. 

It is because of their trust in themselves, their teammates, and in their mission that Plucky Comics has found success and will continue to expand inclusion in and out of the classroom. They are steadfast in the knowledge that “There’s a lot of kids out there who actually need this, who need superheroes. Because they don’t see superheroes who look like them.” (Onyekachi)

For Pride Month in June, Plucky Comics has launched a series on their Instagram (@pluckycomics) dedicated to showcasing Black Queer stories. Follow them and join the Plucky Comics community to learn about the important voices who have been left out of our history books for far too long.

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