Created by designer and activist Melissa Moore, the Youth Learning Lab of Education and Applied Design (Y-LLEAD) in Greenmount West is a youth-led + intergenerational supported design, build, and community activation program.
A typical Y-LLEAD session begins with setting an intention and closes with similar activities. Youth participant Talayia Bowman explains, “We come and sit in a circle to keep our energy and circulation between us. We start with our meditation/contemplation practice where we ground our feet and sit in an upright position with our backs erect… It’s beneficial. We are still young and pulled in a lot of directions but this helps us be more open to what we want to be, kind and decent to other people.”
Bowman also described the benefits of being in an intentional collaborative learning environment. “I’ve been in programs where the ripple effect only lasts as long as the duration of the program, but here, this is stuff that directly deals with how we view society and how we carry ourselves.” Bowman smiled, and then continued, “I deal with regular challenges… when I leave here, it’s like taking a little ball of optimism outside into the world with me. Being young, people don’t expect us to think through stuff as much as we do. Design thinking means taking something apart layer by layer. This program has helped me learn how to unpack hard situations and I can use [these skills] as soon as I hit the sidewalk outside. Overall I would describe my experience as enlightening,” Bowman explained. “What makes [Y-LLEAD] different is how it is run. Most programs lie about wanting participants to have a voice, but this place does not.”
Using a combination of healing practices and design thinking, Y-LLEAD helps participants and facilitators work together to solve complex social problems. Y-LLEAD learning exchange facilitator Thea Ganlas said, “We spend a lot of time really listening and hearing everyone’s voice. It’s therapeutic for me and it’s almost unfair to get paid for doing it. We learn how to approach communal work. We talk about everything. We see this space as safe and whatever we bring to it, we deal with in the healthiest way possible. I have not seen this work out with other programs – other programs I’ve been a part of were focused on the business end of the work, not the healing that can come through doing arts-based practice.”
As a facilitator, Ganlas sees Y-LLEAD as a chance to be an ally in communities that are not her own. “I came to Baltimore as a student. I did not feel connected to the neighborhoods because I stayed inside of a bubble. It is really easy to do. I decided finally that I should find out what it means to live in Baltimore and not let others speak for those experiences. Being a part of Y-LLEAD helps me feel connected to the city I have decided will remain home for now.”
As a Baltimore native, youth participant Bowman offers another perspective on allyship. “I don’t live around [Greenmount West] and a few months ago I would have been like, ‘I don’t live around here, I don’t hang around here and I don’t care about what goes on around here.’ But now I realize I don’t have to live here to care about the neighborhood.”
I found myself, on an ‘empty bucket’ day, with the first real chill of the season blowing against me, losing myself. I was on the bus stop and sad for no tangible reason. Then, something happened. My head nodded rhythmically. I tapped my foot in the same time. It was comforting. It was familiar. It was music.
When I consider music, an artform so pervasive in my world, as an advocacy tool, I cannot help but conjure images of a motley crew of young folk who have been paraded in front of a crowd and are desperately in search of something that remotely resembles harmony. Such an image almost always touches my heart. It is, indeed, a beautiful thing to witness. But what of the heart-rending lyrics of Soul music? What of the deeply percussive reverberation of House; the aggression of Jazz; the inevitable uplift offered by Gospel; the audacity of HipHop, Rock and Metal? Where do those independent artists, who, for pennies, bleed their truth on any available stage, fit into this paradigm of advocacy and justice?
Peter Bruun, in his September 13th post, said this in an attempt to define “art”: “I believe the notion of art is itself a construct; a cultural invention to imply certain shared understandings on value, meaning, and status…”. Assuming this construct (art) is indeed about the assignation of value, and there is value in music as a form of entertainment (as evidence by the gross amount of money moving through the mainstream industry), why, then, am I not, often enough, engaged in discourse regarding the spiritually restorative value of music?
I wonder what happens if we choose to see those things, like popular music, as accessible avenues in our pursuit of justice. If an aggressive song puts me in an aggressive mood, and likewise, a love song is evocative of love, shouldn’t I leverage that state of being?
While we are not necessarily creating out of a sense of social consciousness, it still strikes me as appropriate that we might leverage said creations, nonetheless.