You Have a Week...
It was really moving to be a part of the 10 year celebration and share the stage for a brief moment with the kids as a "performer" after being in the role of "staff" for so long. I've performed outside of the JDC setting many times, but it was special to read one of our kid's poems knowing what they go through before, during and after their stay with us and how we ask them to crank it out on a page while they are here during this project.
For some of them, they are writing, reading and performing something for the first time ever in this program.
The emotion and energy are always two things that audience members say they are blown away by each year. Who wouldn't be - as the kids tell us true tales of love, hate, abuse, struggle, pain, pride and success.
I'll never forget James' mom standing up and just bursting with emotion and pride as her son read "Black Woman" to the crowd in 2011. Secretly (or maybe not?) I have held back a tear on many occasions at a Hip Hop performance, but that was one that probably squeezed out.
Or how about Saturday night when Rachel read Miko's poem and then triumphantly reported that he had accomplished his goal of going to college just as he stated in his 2012 poem "Shift in Spirit." Powerful.
We always talk as a team during the week about how the flow of the project will go with movement of kids in and out of workshops, how to structure the classes and show, and planning our diligent efforts to get kids to re-engage and get back in there. Most of the time it works, sometimes not, but those are our roles reaching these young men and women where they are while they are with us.
We have such an experienced team of teaching artists now that the teamwork needed to pull off this huge task in just a week's time just comes naturally. You can see it in the everyday operation though as each person takes care of his/her part. That speaks volumes to the curriculum that we have for the kids and the seasoning of our teaching artists who want to come back each year and be part of this.
Of course, the superstar of this whole production has become PPA's Rachel Tibbetts. She does not get enough credit. I was touched to see the youth explode into a cheer when her name was mentioned at the end of the show.
She deserves every bit of that including the impromptu hugs from four kids.
When you have that kind of support behind you, you aren't afraid to bare your heart and soul to a room full of strangers, your parents, peers, and the staff who are in charge of you every day. That kind of audience would intimidate anyone - but these kids, untrained and full of talent - find that courage thanks to Rachel and our teaching artists and staff every single year.
I'm not really sure of any Detention Center that has a partnership like what we have with PPA through the Hip Hop Project. We are very lucky.
They go above and beyond to ensure that our kids get the best arts experience they can while they are under our care. It's a special thing to know this program is alive and well right here in St. Louis. To see our youth have such a success after a goal has been set before them and a week of hard work is behind them is an incredible thing to witness. I am truly grateful to be a part.
Nathan Graves, Assistant Superintendent
St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center
photos by blueShadow Photography