Forum for Community Action at FICA Seattle

By Njoli Brown

I was graciously invited by FICA Seattle to facilitate a conversation on how cultural orgs can effectively engage in social action.  In Seattle there are a large number of groups which participate in the ethnic/cultural arts of Latin america, Africa, central – SE Asia and so on.  But, aside from the artistic endeavor, how many make the determination to actively and positively effect, in profound and long term ways, the communities within which these arts were sustained through centuries of struggle and an infusion of intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy?

The first thing that came to mind for me was a discussion on the spate of ongoing disturbing events throughout our communities, but it seemed that the first step needed to be a deep dive into “identity.”  One of the most common falsely held presumptions in groups is that, “if we’re all here then we’re all ‘down.’ ”  But before getting to the “what” we’re doing, there’s a lot of figuring that has to go into the “why” so that when it becomes difficult and laborious there’s a foundation that we’re working from in common.  I give FICA a lot of credit for often trying to provide opportunities for critical evaluations of itself by its members.

How does this collection of people see itself?  Does the collective mission align with each individual’s personal mission?  Are we willing to lose members if we determine the mission is of tantamount importance? From where are we garnering vital information and through what lens are we evaluating it? Do the actions we hope to take stay true to the missions we’ve established for ourselves?   Etc, etc.  There is a lot to be said for a group which decides to wrestle with itself and deal with the discomfort of recognizing the failings, doubts.. the humanity of all its members.

There is a long history of misdirected actions which can often times do more damage than help. Often times these are a result of not establishing all the predetermination that will provide you with the fortitude to stay in the process for the long haul.  Simultaneously, there are advocates who have, at times, been discarded without a dedication to the difficult conversations which provide soil for effective growth and leadership.  I hope to hear more from the participants of this recent forum, to hear if they found worthwhile takeaways, if there are plans for next steps, suggestions.  I also hope that other groups will make use of the currently aroused energy to figure out how they can utilize their organizations as nuclei for positive change.

*Gratitute to co-facilitator, Jabali Stewart, and to Mestre Silvinho (FICA Seattle), Leika Suzumura and Chelsea Rae for getting the ball rolling.

http://www.papernopaper.wordpress.com

Turning Vision Into Service

By Njoli Brown

Today during our LEAD session we talked about the role that vision can play in transforming things that we do for ourselves into tools we can use to support our communities. Such an important thing to remind our young people that service isn’t always a grandiose thing out of reach in our everyday. Look for ways to use their passions and interests as the vehicle for engaging their generosity and empathy. http://ow.ly/i/lyefa

Snowpocalypse

An activity for… well, whomever.

I do this initiative in some of my classes called “Snowpocalypse.”  It starts with everyone in the class taking scraps of paper and writing things they do for themselves and things they do for others, one item on each piece of paper.  The collection of things they do for themselves focused particularly on things that they enjoy, whether at home, in school or out in the world, and the things they do for others should be focused on things they do by choice, not because they are mandated.  Perhaps these are things they do because they bring them personal joy or because they are needs that they see should  be met and they recognize their distinct capacity to do so. Next we ball all of these scraps up into “snowballs” and have a 4-5min snowball fight.  Afterwards we all go about the task of picking them up (yes, this activity cleans itself up) and sticking them in their appropriate places on a Vinn diagram divided into:

  • Things I do for myself
  • Things I do for others
  • Things I do for my community (in the intermediary position)

We take time to look at what we’ve constructed and give space for anyone to move the position of an action to some new category.  We find that a thing which so often one person thought of as completely selfish endeavor, from the perspective of another, was a action of tremendous generosity.  We process this by delving into a discussion around how we can make simple, every day things into opportunities for transformation and building. All this is to explain a process wherein we guide students to understand their capacity to affect change and growth in their communities.  We come to recognize that service and personal fulfillment can be interwoven when each is approached with the proper perspective.  We start realizing that “labors of love” don’t have to seem so laborious. I’m always curious about ways in which facilitators, instructors, educators guide their students on this empowering journey of self-realization and I hope to continue sharing inspiring activities as I encounter them.  And I hope to keep encountering them… so feel free to send some my way.

Spring Into Summer, Summer to Fall: The Bridge Between Camp and School

By Njoli Brown

I first started teaching out in Seattle about, I’d say, 14 years ago.  I worked in a small independent elementary school (Happy Medium Craig-SeasholesElementary aka The Giddens School) and, over the course of a few years, worked in almost every possible capacity, co- teaching, after school programming, special programs, 4th grade, 5th grade, kindergarten.  It was a wonderful place to learn the craft of teaching.  I was surrounded by amazingly dedicated and inspired teachers, most of whom, seamlessly integrated their own creative, artistic selves into the task of designing curriculum.

Now, I’ve never been much of a non-worker so, during our summer breaks I’d search out gigs where I could simultaneously work and still feed my desire to explore and to spend time in beautiful places.  The idea of working camp just dropped into my lap. It was all of those things at once, existing in places all over the world and with a direct developmental relationship to the kind of capacity I wanted to build, inspiring young people to discovery.

Again, I’ve done the range of camp gigs.  I’ve been a backpacking lead, athletics director, youth development director, program developer, etc. and in all of those things it’s occurred to me this special potential, this bridge where learning can happen in the midst of a time where young people feel liberated to truly be themselves.  Camp experiments with creating the illusion of boundlessness while maintaining the boundaries that keep spaces safe.  At the same time they often miss the teachable moments because they are blinded by the lessons they imagine their charges should be learning.  high ropes course

Perhaps it’s because of the majority number of inexperienced, although tremendously energetic, staff.  Maybe it is because of the precarious balancing act the administration has to play in order to protect its revenue stream, by sustaining the “care-free” ideal.  It could be a discomfort with or lack of capacity to train staff to recognize teachable moments and not to shy away from them.  Whatever the case may be, when I see camp really working, it is a marvelous thing.

I spent a couple of years working with a summer program called Morry’s Camp.  The interesting thing about this project is it’s integrative goal of providing an exciting outdoor experience while recognizing the importance of making space for a social justice component, an academic tutorial piece and career internship opportunities.  During the school year they arrange for meet-ups, field trips, etc. and, by doing this, they recognize the student as a fully rounded being and introduce a new perspective on “year ’round” education,” making recreation and emotional development an equivocal part of the process.  There is a true sense of dedication to the youth as a “camper,” a scholar and a part of society at large.

There are other programs which do this successfully (i.e. Outward Bound, SIT: World Learning) and as many which view summer programs as a chance for kids to “get away from it all.”  I’m not one to say which of these perspectives is wrong or right but solely to draw attention to the possibilities.

School, as well, has been an experimental process highed-nodewith as many  iterations as there are students to teach.  I think it’s become fairly recognized
that, nationally (and I speak in general terms), schools model themselves as much in relationship to  the evolution of student thinking as they do in relationship to the type of thinking that is required for the era, whether this speaks to market or social requirements.
This being said its been quite a while since the production line model of education has been an appropriate metaphor for real world success.  Alternative classrooms are not the end all and be all.  In fact, at times they can be as exclusive as they are inclusive but a holistic perspective on teaching engages the array of different “intelligences” which are required to share an educational space.

The bridge between camp and school.  Historically they have been seen as a relief, one from the other.  But many of the things that make each wonderful, individually, could be a welcome addition to the toolbox of the other.


 

Be on the lookout for my article later this season…

Who Camps?  The racial, social, economic divide in the summer camp experience. who camps

 

Handing the Reigns to Your Students

By Njoli Brown

Are you setting your students up to take the reigns?

I know there’s still a couple of months left before the school year officially comes to a close but for those of us who facilitate co-curricular programs that time is rolling quickly toward us.  It’s a wonderful gift, the opportunity to bring arts, athletic and social education into schools, but the true gift is seeing your students find the inspiration to motivate their own explorations beyond that.

Often this time of year has us extremely focused on seeing final projects come to fruition, finalizing paperwork and providing a sense of closure for our students, many of whom we are unsure if we will be seeing again since our presence in their school is contingent on the receipt and renewal of grant monies or direct sales.  With all of this said, one of the most empowering things we can do is provide resources and suggestions for means through which students can pursue new found passions.  By doing this we really meet out the goal of generating an environment which acts as a wellspring for ingenuitive young people.

youth activism

Drawing attention to some of the free and low cost opportunities available in your area can often be a first step…

Activism:

(TAP) Teen Activist Project

“TAP is an exciting youth program that engages New York City teens as organizers and peer educators on civil rights and civil liberties.”     http://www.nyclu.org/issues/youth-and-student-rights/teen-activist-project

 

Amnesty International – Youth In Action

“From New York City to San Francisco, from Detroit to San Antonio, young people across the US are standing up and making noise for human rights! No matter how big or small, there is no better way of becoming involved in the global community than by taking a stance on human rights. With over 1,000 student and youth groups across the nation and growing, Amnesty International is leading this charge. The time is now. Lend your voice.” http://www.amnestyusa.org/resources/students-and-youth 

Visual Arts:

Free Photoshop Alternatives              http://gizmodo.com/5974500/10-photoshop-alternatives-that-are-totally-free

Free Arts NYC

“The Teen Arts Program (TAP) provides teens with regular access to NYC cultural institutions and opportunities to explore the arts as a potential academic or professional goal.” http://www.freeartsnyc.org/programs/teen-arts-program/

Literary Arts:

NY Writers Coalition

“NYWC’s workshop method is designed to reduce competition amongst writers and allows writers of all backgrounds, ages, experience levels and genres to work together to grow as writers. Workshop size is limited to ensure that each member receives enough time and attention.

Workshop participants write during the workshop and receive positive, supportive feedback. We do not critique brand new writing, because the writer has not yet had a chance to read or revise it. In addition, it is assumed that all writing done in the workshop is fictional. Workshop leaders also write as part of the group, providing a model for taking risks and showing vulnerability in a group setting. These guidelines ensure that participants feel safe to write and read aloud even the riskiest material.

Writers are given the freedom to find and strengthen their individual and unique voices as well as to experiment with form, style and new genres. In addition, the workshop provides a structure for writers to produce new work on a regular basis. Workshop members become part of a community of writers, easing some of the isolation that writers and those in marginalized groups often encounter.” http://nywriterscoalition.org/programs/programs-for-youth/

Street Dance Orixas

By Amy Campion

I’m so happy to feature my dear friend, Amy Campion, Los Angeles based activist and artist, in this month’s OnBlast! section of NoPaper mag.  Over the years I’ve been constantly awe-inspired by the way she’s been able to seamlessly weave together her art, her social & political passions and her deep caring for family, friends and community.  Gratitude, Aim, for dropping us creative bombshells.

-Njoli-

In 2012, I did a 3 month residency at the Sacatar Institute on the island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil.  While there, I researched, wrote, choreographed, and directed a short dance film called Street Dance Orixás.

From the streets of Salvador to a surreal windswept island and back again, seven street dancers from Bahia, Brazil incarnate powerful orixás (deities from the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble) through a hybrid of breakdancing, popping, and parkour movements.  Street Dance Orixás explores the intangible connections between Afro-Brazilian dance traditions and contemporary hip hop dance forms through rhythm, movement, stories, and colors.  The orixás manifest their divine qualities through alleyway acrobatics, sidewalk airflares, train station arm swings, and cobblestone footwork- each orixá in a location linked to his or her tradition.  Exú careens through crisscrossing alleys, vaulting over walls, his shirt changing from red to black in mid air.  Ogúm cuts down imaginary enemies along the train tracks, using breakdancing battle tactics to assert his presence.  Yansã toprocks through the cemetery, hair blowing in the wind.  Xangô explodes in a flash of flying feet in front of his demolished building. Oxúm’s irresistible charm glints in her gold sneakers as her footwork flows along the cobblestones. Oxóssi stalks his prey with intricate hits and finger tuts around an enormous urban tree.  Yemanjá arises from the ocean to offer her blessings in freezes and flares along the breakwater.  In a surreal sequence, the orixás are transported to an island made of sand where they dance out their dreams.  When they finally unite in a dance cypher (circle) on the streets of Salvador, Bahia, they are utterly stunning and unstoppable.

DSC_0029

As a B-Girl (woman who breakdances) and a capoeirista (person who practices the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance of capoeira), I have long been curious about the connections, both historical and abstract, between capoeira and breakdancing.  Over my 15 years of studying breaking (breakdancing) and capoeira, I have noticed an uncanny number of similar movements and philosophies between the two.  Capoeira has deep roots in the Afro-Brazlian religions that believe in a pantheon of deities known as “orixás”.  Each orixá has a tradition of associated dance steps, drum rhythms, stories, colors, personalities etc.  In the Northern Hemisphere, African American and Latino American social dance have had a major influence on the urban dance practices that known today as “street dances” such as breaking, krumping, popping, etc.  While these various street dance forms are not commonly associated with a religion, many street dancers experience a deep spiritual connection through their practice.  Notably, there are many movements/steps which can be found both in the traditional orixá dances as well as various street dance forms.  I created Street Dance Orixás in order to explore the intangible connection between orixá traditions and hip hop dance forms through a contemporary interpretation of the orixás as performed by street dancers of different styles.

During my residency at the Sacatar Institute, I immersed myself in the local street dance community and researched Orixá myths and traditional dances under the guidance of Joelmo Teixeira.  I wrote the script, choreographed the movement, cast local Brazilian dancers, hired a local Brazilian film crew, scouted locations, rehearsed, directed, and shot the film in Salvador, Bahia and on the island of Itaparica on the beach near the Sacatar Institute.  The relationships that I developed with fellow international artist residents at the Sacatar Institute led to collaborations with Mexican composer/musician, Ernesto Diaz, who created the soundtrack and American painter/animator, Matt Sheridan, who created the animations.  I returned home to Los Angeles and began to work on post-production in 2013.  In Los Angeles, editor Noah Berlow contributed immensely to the overall vision and shaping of Street Dance Orixás.  Robert Crosby did the color correction and Evan Langley did the visual effects.  Street Dance Orixás was produced with the support of many individual donations throughUSAProjects.com.


And now I’m sure you want to know more about my long time homie, Amy Campion, so you can follow some of her amazing ongoing and future projects….

DSC_1272Amy “Catfox” Campion  

Antics Artistic Director

www.AnticsPerformance.com

Speaking the language of Hip Hop, Campion crosses artistic and social boundaries to unite diverse audiences, daring concepts and dynamic performances.  Her work draws on the expressive capacity of Hip Hop by weaving stories and ideas with breaking, krumping, popping, Capoiera, mc’ing, dj’ing, poetry, film, beatboxing, and theater. Campion manipulates the traditions of street dance to create moving visual metaphors that are a true urban hybrid of street dance styles.  Her choreography has been presented at the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest, the J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival, the B-Girl Be Festival in Minneapolis, the Ford Theatres in Hollywood, the REDCAT, the Music Center in Los Angeles, and the Esalen International Arts Festival, the Levitt Pavilion, the Skirball, the Los Angeles Theater Center, and the Bootleg Theater Dance Festival as well as on Ovation TV, Strife TV, PBS, KCET, and LA36.  Her dance films have been featured at the Dance on Camera Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the Dance for Camera Festival at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and in 2014 at the VivaDança festival in Brazil.  She has been b-girling (breakdancing) and training Capoeira for 15 years and also studies hip hop, house dance, locking, popping, and salsa.  She received an MFA in Choreography from UCLA in 2006 and since then she has taught dance and arts activism at Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Northridge, El Camino College, Cerritos College, the Boys and Girls Club, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and many others.  She has received awards from the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Durfee Foundation, and the Flourish Foundation, and participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute at APAP, in the LA Dance Advance initiative, and in Pentacle’s Help Desk.  As a dancer, Campion performed for Rennie Harris in “Heaven” and “1,000 Naked Locks” and was a founding member of Jacob “Kujo” Lyons Lux Aeterna Dance Company.  She danced in music videos for Genevieve Goings, Kana Shimanuki, Shaka Wear, and Open Mike Eagle and was featured on 1,000 Ways to Die, Voador (a capoeira film), and B-Boy the Movie.  She has appeared in print and in interviews in Dance Spirit Magazine, Dance Magazine, Ms. Magazine online, the photography book “Dancers Among Us” by Jordan Matter, and “Girls Got Kicks” by Lori Lobenstine.

”Amy ‘Catfox’ Campion… stands out in her Antics Performance troupe, as she does in any group, as the bad-ass, tiny, hard-rock dynamo who can b-boy with the best of them.”                                                                          

-Jessica Koslow, Neon Tommy

Making a Space for Truth

By Njoli Brown

I just finished reading an article about the experience of a homeless teen revealing his predicament to his teacher and his class.  In the context of a project called StoryCorpU, this young man decided to take the huge leap to sharing his situation in a scenario in which he had previously been ridiculed, at times, and even bullied.

What spoke to me most profoundly was the idea that a difficult situation can be transformed with real intention and active strategizing.  This program developed by NPR, the teacher’s willingness and action in working past her own discomfort and a classroom forum where honesty is rewarded.  Now, there’s nothing to say that this all works out with a fairy tale ending.  But the real telling moment is this quote from, teacher, Celeste Davis-Carr…

“I want to see you happy… Just your smile is the best moments of you.”

The idea isn’t that we have all the answers or that we will all magically create the projects that draw out our communal truths in one big dam breaking moment.  But, we can make a practice of recognizing teachable moments and diligently searching out initiatives and activities that will tap into undiscovered potential.  Remembering this, I think, makes us all better educators and allows our young people opportunities to be their best selves.

Check out the article and listen to the student recording…

A Homeless Teen Finds Solace In A Teacher And A Recording

http://www.npr.org/2014/03/07/286921391/a-homeless-teen-finds-solace-in-a-teacher-and-a-recording?ft=1

It’s Already Happening: Integrating the Classroom & Social Action

By Njoli Brown

One of the big struggles that we as teachers and facilitators often encounter is connecting the things we do in the classroom to the much larger world outside.  I know this is a motivation for us all, the hope that our students will take their skills and recognize the application opportunities that present themselves in their day-to-day.  One of the greatest resources we have is the city in which we live. 

Finding a “cause calendar” online will give you a sense of the innumerable social projects going on all around town.  Within the scope of each, there are an array of special events and perhaps one of these is in alignment with your club’s values.As we talked about in our most recent Empowerment Lab, always come back to the values and find the passion there. Field trips, initiatives or even just an inspiration, exposing your students to real world causes can give them some context for the skills which they have been developing and give a tactile sensibility to concepts which can, at times, seem abstract.

Por exemplo…

http://www.nptechforgood.com/2013/12/17/annual-calendar-of-social-good-and-cause-campaigns/

2014 Cause Awareness Days