Last year, ArtsVision students chose the production of
as an artistic answer to racism in our community, especially after the death of Botham Jean. As a creative team, we had conversations with our parents, some of whom questioned whether this was an appropriate subject for students to tackle, at such a young age. The production of Hairspray allowed our students to address these issues and speak up about the injustices the see in our communities.
was set in 1962. during the height of the civil rights movement. In this play, a young white girl (Tracy Turnblad) decided to stand up and say “no” and fought racism, hate, intolerance, and injustices she saw being waged against black students in her community.
In history, there were several instances showing young people standing up for injustice:
- The Children’s March (1963) in Birmingham, Alabama where African American students marched, when their parents were not able to.
- The Walkout in Crystal City, Texas, where Hispanic students stood up and fought for change in their community.
Young people have a voice and it is stronger than you can imagine, especially when we (adults) listen to their voice and support them.
ArtsVision, being a diverse youth arts organization, hit this wall
with the realization that this specific play did not have provisions for "open casting." That meant an African American girl could not play the part of Tracy Turnblad. So we had to cast
students in the
roles and the non-black students in the
roles. This led to several discussions about race in the 1960's, with several students asking "why it was like that." The students ended up having some real discussions surrounding race relations and the differences that seem to divide us.
I think last year's production allowed our students to grow in new and unique ways and our students made new and meaningful relationships, that might not have occurred. It is sad that in this day and time, over sixty years after the start of the Civil Rights Movement, we are still fighting the same battles of hate and racial intolerance.
Our hearts go out to the families of all who have perished at the hands of those who were supposed to "protect and serve." Our hearts and prayers go out to law enforcement who are on the front lines everyday and who are now targeted because of this unrest. Our hearts and prayers go out to those standing up for equality, tolerance, and justice. We, in the arts community, stand in solidarity against this inhumanity and will continue to speak truth through performance.
This week, I had the privilege of viewing a video by 12 year old Keedron Bryant, who is in the same age range as most of our ArtsVision students. As an African American monther of sons and grandsons, as a sister of African American brothers - it touched my heart. The song,
“I Just Wanna Live”
(sung by Keedron and written by his mother, Johnnetta ) gently, but powerfully, speaks to something that many of us live every day.
I hope you will stand with us as we continue move forward, in love and art.