I Should Tell You About Everett Company, Stage & School and The Freedom Project (Instead Of My MJ Magazine)
I’ll admit it. Sometimes I read something, or hear something related to race and race relations, and it’s serious and it’s important, and so I feel an obligation to blog about it here, but then I sometimes get that, “oh, geez, this feels too much like work–like I’ve got a big school paper to write, and I don’t feel like doing it. So there.” Some form of writers’ block I suppose.
See, because what I really want to do is write something “fun” like about how I went downtown the other day to pay my property tax bill, and what I found when I wandered into Providence’s newly restored Arcade Mall.
Built in 1828, The Arcade is the oldest indoor shopping mall in the country. The interior has been restored and now contains a lot of really cool little boutiques, home goods stores, places to eat and drink like New Harvest Coffee & Bar, an African art gallery called Adirah, and a great vintage store with wonderful finds that reminds me of my Tulsa days of thrifting, Carmen & Ginger. Which is where I found a 1972 Spec Magazine that had Michael Jackson on the cover, which was all it took for me to decide to buy it.
I want to tell you all about the magazine and the pictures of Michael and Jermaine and the rest of the brothers that not too many people cared about except maybe for Jackie, and of the spread titled, J5 – Your Swingin’ Sex-y Summer Luvs! but really what I should tell you about is the event I went to that night, A Boy Named Nothing, presented by Everett Company, Stage & School as part of their Freedom Project Brain Cafe series.
I should tell you how ever since I moved here seven years ago, I’ve come to know and love Everett, co-founded and directed by Dorothy Jungels and her son, Aaron, and daughter, Rachael. How I’ve been inspired and entertained by attending their Friday Night Live Improv Shows with my daughters, and going to their monthly Open Stages to see Sokeo Ros’s Case Closed Hip-Hop dance troupe perform along with other local teens in this open-mic event. How I’ve attended the performance of last year’s Brain Storm, which was developed during their first Brain Cafe–a series of forums, workshops and performances in conjunction with Brown University, that the first time around focused on the intersection of science, the brain, and creativity. I should tell you how all of these things feed my soul.
I love Everett for the feeling it gives me of being–even as an audience member, if not a part of, at least someone who is peaking into a tightly-knit community–a community of artists, youth to adults, from varied backgrounds of race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, working with a diverse group of young people to foster the arts. My moving from New York to Tulsa to Providence, brought me back to a place that has diversity, something I sorely missed in Tulsa. Everett represents both diversity and inclusion. Yet, it’s not just about the diversity and the way Everett uses the arts at times to promote social justice, it’s about truly, quality artistic work being done, and the raising up of future young artists through mentoring and teaching and performing that got me hooked.
That’s why I should tell you about last night’s Brain Cafe, part of the new Freedom Project, which is explained by Everett to be..”a multi-year research and creation process for the development of a touring piece that will be a multidisciplinary documentary theater production that shares stories of people who have been marginalized by America’s criminal justice system.” Last night’s performance and forum, A Boy Named Nothing explored how zero tolerance policies, high-stakes testing, and racial disparities in school discipline feed the school-to-prison pipeline.
I should tell you about how 12 year-old Adrian Tavarez deftly performed as the hooded, young “bad boy” tossed from his mother’s to his father’s abusive homes, to relatives, to foster homes, to the street, and back again, so that with the egging on of dancer, Sokeo Ros, he truly began to believe that he was the “bad boy” thus starting the cycle of a new set of problems at school and beyond, all of this narrated by Ari Brisbon. Ari has grown up as an Everett student and now teaches there, and it is his story that A Boy Named Nothing tells.
I should tell you about how as I learn more about race amity, which focuses on the ways people have worked together across races to move race relations in positive directions, that it was pretty cool to see Osiris Harrell sit side-by-side on the stage after the performance with his fellow activist, a white man whose name I am sorry to not have recorded, and talk about the work they are doing to find out why schools have turned to having police arrest and send our young Providence students into the criminal justice system for school fights and the like, and how “black and brown students” as Osiris stated, are the majority of the students represented in the staggering statistics of police involvement in the schools. Osiris, the president of the PTO at his daughter’s high school recounted first-hand how he came to find out about this activity and racial disparity when it comes to school discipline when his own daughter was accosted by another student.
I should tell you about the young woman, Simone Gilbert, a junior at the charter school Times 2 Academy, who completely blew my mind with her presentation on a winning Science Fair Project she undertook to examine the disparities in achievement on standardized testing based on differences between teachers who followed standard curriculum vs. those who changed the curriculum. I was so impressed by her thorough methodology, and how inspired she was to take on this project. I had no such motivation at that age, nor the math capabilities to attack such a problem, and so it was inspiring to see young people today who are looking at matters that impact them and their peers, and take action to find out the why behind it.
Which is why I should also tell you about Cauldierre McKay. I recognized Cauldierre as one of the peppy students who led my daughter and me around when we attended Classical High School’s orientation a little while back. Yet I had no idea of all the great work he is doing as an Executive Board Member of the Providence Student Union. Cauldierre spoke about how he and other students have organized to do away with the high-stakes testing requirements imposed on those graduating high school. Cauldierre describe how the tests themselves are slanted against students of color, and those from low-income communities–places where poor resources for education have left an uneven playing field when it comes to academics and testing. Cauldierre and his peers have made some great gains in trying to get a bill passed that would do away with the graduation testing requirements, and have come up with some very creative, high-profile ways of bringing their cause to the public’s attention, such as when they had a number of adults–lawyers, doctors, university professors, and other professionals, take the same test the high school students take. The results: 60% did not score high enough to receive their high school diploma. Again, talk about being impressed with a young person’s drive and initiative and sense of social justice. Wow.
I should tell you about Theresa Fox, a teacher at Nathan Bishop Middle School, who I’ve always heard such wonderful things about, even though my daughters have not had her. I had to hold back my tears as Theresa spoke about how she felt she used to be a good teacher, and used to be able to spend time truly getting to know who her students were, including all of the hard stuff–who has trouble at home, who’s parent has cancer, who learns differently, who didn’t eat breakfast that morning, all the things that get in the way of kids being able to learn, but now she has no time for that with the shift over the last seven years when the No Child Left Behind Act came into play, and now districts, and schools have to follow mandated curriculum, which doesn’t allow for flexibility, creativity, or for building trust and community between students and teachers. How the students have now been left out of the equation, and how it’s all about the dollar signs, and all the money companies are making with creating tests and curriculum materials that go hand-in-hand with the imposed testing standards.
I should tell you about how things got a little sticky, but I suppose it’s always in a good way when we are forced to talk about race, when Osiris at the talk-back at the end of the performance, noted that 80% of teachers in the Providence school system are white, mostly white women, while the student body is much more diverse, and asked how can “a white woman enter a classroom and see black and brown children, and truly see them and not see these children as problems or stereotypes, or not worth trying to teach to..” Osiris also said that he felt that when parents of color send their children into school with baggy pants, etc. that they feed into the stereotypes, but wanted to know how white teachers can avoid doing the same .
Osiris generously, several times, looked at Theresa, and said, “But, not you–I’m not saying you do this…” which gave the audience permission to laugh, even if uncomfortably, and for members of the audience to respond, including a school social worker, who has seen what Osiris spoke of come into play, as well as differing views from teachers and parents, both black and white. As I listened, I appreciated the honesty of that moment, even if there seemed to be a white person or two who had to make a point of saying that they personally wouldn’t look at a child of color and pre-judge their capabilities, or treat them differently than white students. I am an observer, and I notice these things. I am not immune to doing this myself–always trying to prove that I’m a white person “that’s different.” I’m learning how to speak my truth, but not get defensive and have to prove that I’m cool, not one of those white people who even unconsciously, have preconceptions about people different than themselves based on race.
I should tell you how I am always moved, how I always have that good feeling in my heart when I’m leaving a performance at Everett, that lets me know I’ve gotten in touch with something inside of myself, something that inspires, sometimes saddens, but always gives me a sense of connectedness and hope. I should tell you that, right? Instead of telling you about that Michael Jackson magazine. I’ll save that for my next post.
You can learn more about Everett Company, Stage & School, their class offerings, Friday Night Live, Case Closed and The Freedom Project, at www.everettri.org.