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Move Me Soul Forward

14 Mar

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I had the opportunity to attend hip hop artist Raphael Xavier’s work, The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching, at Columbia College last month. I knew nothing about his work, so the depth of his narrative, physical skill and amazing technique stunned me.

The rap and conversational portion of the performance was about cultural transmission. Wanting to know more about the concept, I researched the term; my take away was that cultural transmission is the method employed by a group of people within a culture use to learn, create, remember and pass on ideas and information within their culture and to others outside of their immediate societal group.

In the question and answer period after the performance, Raphael suggested that audience participation is a desirable and necessary part of cultural transmission. It is not enough to observe mutely and dispassionately; the audience needs to applaud or, in the case of his piece, actually come on stage during the piece and become part of the production. In this way we learn about another’s culture, accumulating information, freeing ourselves from our fears and prejudices, and developing skills that no single individual would be able to perfect on their own.

Razib Khan, in his article, We Stand on the Shoulders of Cultural Giants, suggests that there are no “free riders”; imitators who don’t get their hands dirty are often the weakest link in cultural transmission. When interacting with people sharing cultural ideas, the obstacles to understanding and learning include an economic link. If we want the teen performers in the Move Me Soul spring concert – In Tribute: A Celebration of Life! to successfully transmit the cultural importance of their dance concert, we need to provide the financial support.

In order to build upon our collective knowledge, we need to put some money towards the talent, enthusiasm and joy of these performers. Step up and give to the fund raising campaign now at https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/5hnK2?utm_campaign=share-campaign&utm_medium=email&utm_source=03-2014. Help P3 continue to innovate and craft opportunities for theses teens to participate in cultural transmission, learning and passing on new information to others in the community.

If you have any issues donating please drop me a line at laurieask@gmail.com and I will try to assist you. Otherwise, I expect to see you at the showcase performance on April 11, 2014.

Pass On the Good News

11 Dec

In one of my many guises I write a blog for an organization that represents photographers and photo researchers. My most recent post included an incredible book called GO DO GOOD (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2276963). Some of my favorite commercial and fine art photographers took time out of their schedules to create small photographic essays highlighting the small but wonderful projects that individuals and groups have taken on to make a difference.

I mention this because I found the project and book while digging for some information regarding a photography show I wanted to see. There is no large publicity machine churning out press releases, tweets, Facebook updates and news reports about this and so many other examples of people trying to change their small section of the universe.

When I do a Google search for Austin neighborhood, the first two or three items that appear are always related to crime. A recent Chicago Tribune article (http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/) reported that Austin has the dubious distinction of ranking number one on the list of the Top Five Most Crime-Ridden Chicago Communities. This sad statistical representation of a vibrant community shows up again and again, page after page, along with news reports of people who have come under fire in the neighborhood.

The only upbeat news item I could find was Mayor Emanuel’s November announcement with the headline Emanuel steers $1.25 million in TIF funds to high school. “Investing in our children and their futures is a key priority of my administration and this funding will allow thousands of Chicago’s children to get high-paying jobs in tomorrow’s workforce,” said Mayor Emanuel. “I’m proud to be able to reinvest these recovered TIF funds into a neighborhood program that will directly impact the lives of Chicago’s families and strengthen our city’s economy for the future.” While this is a wonderful investment into the Austin neighborhood, it made it into only four papers, while the crime ranking of Austin showed up a dozen times.

Move Me Soul is performing December 13 at 6 p.m. on the Austin High School campus at 231 N Pine. No, this isn’t the Joffrey Ballet and it isn’t at Symphony Center. It’s free and these students come together to prove there is a reason to celebrate life. They dance because they can and because they want to make a difference in their own lives as well as in the lives of those around them. This is a small and wonderful bit of good news about Austin. Pass it on; with each small step we can move away from the violence and statistics towards something better.

Move Me Soul Raises the Bar

5 Nov

Departing CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard quoted these dire statistics in his op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, “In 2011, fewer than 24 percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates were prepared to attend a four-year college, and only 1 in 7 African-American students tested college-ready.” But don’t despair, because there are people working hard, against those odds, to see that CPS students do succeed. One such hidden jewel is Ayesha Jaco, dance instructor with the Move Me Soul dance troupe, which operates an After School Matters (ASM) program in Austin High School.

As a 14 year old teen, Jaco became involved with Gallery 37, now a part of After School Matters, where she learned to dance. Her passion led her to receive a bachelor degree as well as a master’s of arts management in youth and community development from Columbia College Chicago and later, to found Move Me Soul. Eldrick Hereford recently had an opportunity to interview her during a brief break from her very busy schedule. 

She first became involved with ASM and P3 while working in the Austin High School teaching dance as one of the options for gym class. Her class caught the attention of the school principal and Sharif Walker when they observed her students’ success, not only the program, but in college readiness as well as personal growth. She remembered the positive role models in her own life and worked to be one of those same individuals for her students.

In another role, she serves as the Director of The Lupe Fiasco Foundation, an organization that helps to provide inner city youth with positive youth development programming. She is honing in on best practices, as well as piloting programs and determining how to grow and sustain these efforts. The organization just completed its annual Community Feeding Initiative in partnership with several churches. During the event, the foundation offered vegan and vegetarian meals as well as discount coupons for fresh fruit and vegetables in a number of neighborhoods including Englewood and Austin. They are starting their Annual Coat Drive which will provide coats to families in several shelters.

When asked what she would say if she had Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s ear for 3 minutes, Jaco said she would tell him that Austin has the largest population of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the City. Rather than cutting funds for programs such as Cease Fire, there should be an assessment of the area with key stakeholders coming together at the table to talk about what needs to happen in the community to celebrate its talented young people while building and supporting resources for them.

Eldrick asked Ayesha what she does to stay balanced and focused with her many roles as mother, educator, and community organizer. Jaco admitted that while dance and music play a significant part in helping her clear her head and regroup, working with young people rejuvenates and energizes her.

She believes that the arts play a significant role in not only stemming violence by providing youth with opportunities to channel their emotions and express themselves through everything from journal writing to theater and dance, but also that the arts provide youth with a sense of hope. She was once in the same position as many of her students and she remembers how much being a part of a dance program inspired her to go to college and grad school as well as start Move Me Soul. She is taking that organization to the next level as well by working with her students on technical aspects including the necessary vocabulary and performance skills to allow them to perform on professional stages throughout the world.

Jaco serves as a model for what one person can do if they put something out there and pay it forward. As such, she is one of the jewels of the Austin community.