I am studying community engagement.
Because I want to find out how artistic expression contributes to women/young women’s growth and self-confidence.
In order to help my readers question the importance of these groups to allow women’s voices to be heard.
Why do women/young women become connected to artistically expressive/empowering programs and how do they empower women/young women?
“Well, I feel like I am from that area of the culture of women where so many women are silent.” (NPR/Medea Project/Rhodessa Jones)
Rhodessa Jones, a audacious performer/artist/producer of a theatre performance called The Medea Project based out of San Francisco- has created a legacy for herself and the incarcerated women she has worked with in the San Francisco County Jails alongside Sun City Jail in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this interview with NPR, Rhodessa gives a personalized testimony of her life, how she developed, how theatre saved her and how her work with these women, saved them also. Also, found in an exclusive interview of Rhodessa working with these women in the Sun City Jail- provides a further detail of the attention Rhodessa brings to these women’s self-esteem.
“We live in a culture, where as girls we are very soon separated from who we really are. And we start to play the game. You start to dress a certain way. You start to speak a certain way. You start hanging out with a certain group of people. Or you start hoping to be different than what you are and it separates us from ourselves and it plays a large part of getting us in trouble. We get confused.” So, in lieu for layers and layers of reasons, Rhodessa’s activities with these incarcerated women, through theatrical roles representing real life scenarios these women find themselves in to classroom lectures of self-empowerment, or these women sharing thoughts on themselves as women- they become connected to this form of artistic expression and empowerment through honoring their self, expressing themselves and encouraging themselves.
The Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project (YWDEP) founded in the summer 2005 by Kristen Arant in NW, DC….”gives rise to Young Women’s self-esteem, positive development and creative self-expression through drumming, poetry, movement, song and performance.”
This short film, created by DC filmmaker and educator, Ellie Walton who is dedicated to building and sharing intimate stories and surprising perspectives-gives a polished perspective and projection of the work which Kristen Arant has created with these young women participating in this 8-week summer enrichment program. This film/organization is what has set up the ground work for what direction I am taking this research in, which is to try and grasp a deeper understanding as to why women/young women become involved with these artistically expressive programs. And through these expressions they find empowerment, growth and self-confidence.
“What happens is that first their shy, next they play the drum-they get a little less shy, they get their emotional release from the drum. Then they write then they don’t share their writing first. Then they get encouraged, and encouraged and encouraged and then they share their writing. Once it get’s honed then it get’s performed.” (Kristen Arant) Majority of the young women brought into this space have experienced some form of physical abuse, sexual harassment or assault-so to be able to have this nurtured space, of all women, encouraging and providing strength to one another through these forms of expression and by sharing what takes place behind the curtains-it begins the acceleration of strength, of growth.
“By giving drums to these girls was like opening up a portal inside of them to release their fear. It’s like here, just let yourself go on this drum and see what happens. That’s the premise, the transformation is a powerful thing to witness.” (KA) The film goes on to show two of the youngest girls in the program Iris Miller (age 12) and Amari Nixon (age 12) from their first day, being introduced to the drum and asked to play for the camera. Both, very softly, begin tapping on the drum-obviously representing their apprehension. The frame changes to the last day of the camp-both Iris and Amari- with enhanced smiles, powerful strokes on the djembe and an over-all more confident presence to the camera. Throughout the remainder of the film, Iris and Amari are seen blossoming and expanding themselves by carrying leading rolls in performance.
“The inclusiveness of YWDEP is a huge part of what makes it safe. The young women who come into this space are welcomed, encouraged and given opportunities to create alone and with each other. All part of a unified group, where everybody basically has each other’s back. And to learn from really talented and skilled artists in the community……..part of the empowerment is locked in with this access and opportunity that the girls have from these experiences.” (KA)——>Where YWDEP and Rhodessa’s work strike similarities is the creation of the safe space. The environment which is composed when all-women enter a space where creativity, truth and knowledge will be gained through the sharing of these women’s stories-is essential to the ground work for organizations like The Medea Project and The Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project. Once the safe space is created, then the release of colors, testimonies, pain, suffrage, self-expression through cast rolls in a play, to holding down certain parts of a polyrhythmic structure comes into existence.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, dancer/producer/creator of The Urban Bush Women, international dance company in 2008, implemented a project called “Place Matters” on the campus of University of California at San Diego- a vast campus where in 2005, a student survey revealed large numbers of negative and detached feelings about life on campus. Three years later, Urban Bush Women(UBW) came to UCSD’s campus with the idea to debate about the concept of ‘place’-to utilize poetry based on their academia and turn it into movement. Over-all, to help students create a more meaningful connection to their school.
Place Matters, infused by UBW, is constructed off of collaborative-problem solving and community engagement. UBW partners with local artists and residents through performance classes, trust-building exercises, workshops and a creation process that culminates community wide performance. “You bring people who represent different aspects of a community and talk about what is
important to them, what they would like to see addressed and celebrated, and how we can have a process of mutual collaboration,” Zollar says. “We try to establish a common language around
issues that affect the community: racism, systemic poverty, who has power and who doesn’t. It’s a common establishment, through a creative process, of what determines a community’s identity.”
Zollar’s work, specifically on UCSD’s campus stems away from YWDEP and The Medea Project, since the target is a community as a whole (UCSD’s student body) versus the focus being pinned on women/young women’s self-expression and rise of empowerment/self-esteem. Zollar’s work is honed very tightly around collaboration-collaborating thoughts/ideas/poetry/insight from these students all around the community and revealing what is restricting them from feeling engaged in their campus’s community.
When YWDEP comes together in their safe space and expresses amongst the girls, what adversities they deal with on a daily basis and then transform their writing into a monologue to be performed-their community identity is outlined to highlight the projection of these young women’s voices. When Rhodessa places these women from the Sun City Jail, in a room with their fellow woman prisoners, alongside paper and pen-to vocalize and verbalize through self-dictation-how they view themselves as a woman and how they honor themselves-their community identity is to highlight that each and every woman has honor for herself, has respect for herself and that she is worthy of speaking of the truth and in turn, it will be performed and projected with empowerment and strength. When UBW plus Zollar, place the UCSD students in a room-have them inscribe the roadblocks and disconnection that their academics play on their role within the campus community and begin to use the movement of their bodies to open up with creativity- to open up to each other about the common issues that are affecting them all-they become engaged. They become connected. “Engagement is about putting power in the hands of the community itself.” (Zollar) By culminating these workshops and activities, the engagement that takes place is what UCSD’s community identity is revolved around. Revolved around the center point of being more connected and where they can find their place on the campus.
After over-viewing YWDEP, The Medea Project and UBW-my journey will be crafted by what I will find on EBSCO through the terms and areas of Music Therapy, Social Impact, Gender Identity and Engagement with Music.
#tv008 #thoughtvectors #comethisfarnotgivingup