Sep. 29, 2020 8:58 am

Finding light in darkness: Tips on embracing community and self-care

Guest columnist Ami Patel Hopkins remembers her student Cheickna Traoré, and offers insights into the elements of both the artwork memorializing him, and her own Love-and-Light map.

"Visual memorization" in honor of Science Leadership Academy Middle School student Cheickna Traoré.

(Image by Dr. Jane Shore)

This guest column was written by Ami Patel Hopkins. It represents her individual opinion and does not represent the viewpoints of organizations with which she is affiliated either professionally or personally.
With permission from his family, I am dedicating this week’s post to my student, Cheickna Traoré.  Cheickna passed away in early September, during the second week of school. I expressed to his family that he will always be a part of the #PHAdvisory and my amazing students are finding creative and beautiful ways to honor him.

“Visual Memorization”

I could not get myself to write this post as seeing Cheickna’s name is triggering for me. However, explaining the image to this community is what gave me the strength to finally write this post as it morphed into a beautiful tribute to him. Art and forest therapy have been a part of my healing process so this makes complete sense.

When I look at the image at the top of this post (read more from the image creator, Dr. Jane Shore), I see Cheickna’s Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLA-MS) community.

Art by Lunden Hatchett.

You may notice multiple “mosaic sun” images. These images are replications of the art work (at right) by my rock star advisee and sixth grade scientist, Lunden Hatchett.

Lunden and two other SLA-MS students attended Cheickna’s services. I have missed my students and the three students who attended helped me see the light during a very difficult day. My heart was hurting and I wanted to embrace all of the SLA-MS community members who were there. Because of COVID, we limited the embrace to “Wakanda Forever Hugs!”I gifted each one of the students who I saw that day with a DIY Stepping Stone project so they could use their creativity to honor Cheickna.

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Blue was Cheickna’s favorite color so the beautiful blue butterfly [in the image at the top of this post] symbolizes that.The two images of Cheickna were sketched from two pictures sent to me by his family. Anyone who knew Cheickna, knew about his DKNY beanie so you see that in one image.  The other image was from a picture of Cheickna next to a tree. This image of Cheickna, the rainbows, and dragonfly all represent Cheickna’s love for science!

There is a lot of science happening in the picture and it reminds me of when Cheickna would try to stump me during my favorite game, “Science is Everywhere!” In this game, students name any word and I start the process for us to tell each other how the word is related to science (it is also a way for us to use the inquiry and research SLA-MS core values). I have yet to be stumped although Cheickna always tried hard!

The lotus flower says SLA-MS on it and that is because the lotus symbolizes overcoming adversity to me. Studies like this one published about the lotus flower informed why the lotus is a source of light for me. Thus, the lotus in this image symbolizes how the SLA-MS community is the light for each other as we heal together.

There is a lot happening in the world right now that is causing trauma for many of us. I hope for a world of #MoreLove and #LessHate.

We are unable to have the same level of community and connection due to a global pandemic, but it is important for us to continue to keep our cups full in order to move forward.

Here are three tips to help you find light in the darkness:

  • Tip #1:  Spread #MoreLove and #LessHate
  • Tip #2:  Community and connection
  • Tip #3:  Keep your cup full and practice daily self-care

Below, you can see the “LightandLoveMap” I created this past Sunday [that maps out how I apply those three tips].

(Images by Ami Patel Hopkins)

When things feel overwhelming, I encourage you to pause and make your own “LightandLoveMap” to remind you that you are never alone.


If you have ideas about issues, policies, and/or perspectives that I should highlight in this column, please complete this submission form. My column focus areas will prioritize submission ideas. The dialogue can be continued at EdSpace. 


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