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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.

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