At 10 a.m. Monday, the floor of Transylvania University’s Beck Gymnasium was a patchwork of colored satin, dotted with 170 superhero capes. By 10:15, 170 elementary school superheroes had donned their capes, twirling and whirling with their most special powers.
“I got a violin because I’m in orchestra and I’m good at violin, and I got dog paws because I’m good at taking care of animals and I have one of my own,” Nolynn Suter said of her pale-blue cape, emblazoned with stripes, paws and a violin.
Ayanna Darrington’s cape showed a running figure, because she’s really good at running, plus her birthdate, which she loves. For Semaj Harris, a basketball symbolizes his superpowers because “basketball is my life.” Margarita Hernandez loves art, so her cape was sewn with an artist’s palette.
The capes were labors of thought by students from nearby elementary schools — William Wells Brown, Arlington and Sayre — and labors of love by Transy students, who made the capes by hand as part of the university’s Community Engagement Through the Arts class.
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This marks the ninth time that Transy professors Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde have taught the class as a way to get Transy students more involved in the urban neighborhood that surrounds their campus. In the past, they made dolls and hid them around downtown, or they made birdhouses and murals with children.
“For our students, it’s a vehicle for community building, how to be a good neighbor,” Todorova said at Monday’s event, which was sponsored by Blue Grass Community Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.
The Transylvania students visited selected classes to sit down with the elementary students and talk about their greatest strengths and design their capes. Each Transy student designed and sewed at least 10 capes.
For senior Ashley Montgomery and many of her classmates, it was the first time they had seen — much less used — a sewing machine. “It was frustrating but rewarding,” Montgomery said. “The machines didn’t always want to cooperate.”
At Monday’s event, the superheroes donned their capes, then visited with community superheroes from the police and fire department. They also visited a photo booth and received a free copy of El Deafo, a Newbery Award-winning book about a hearing-impaired superhero.
“They have been so excited about this,” said Hannah Bennett, a Transy senior who is a student teacher at William Wells Brown. “It’s been very empowering for them, to have someone getting to know them and make this gift.”