Forging community connections takes time, flexibility and mutual respect. As a part of the Artists Within Coalition, Single Carrot Theatre (SCT) has been learning this first hand through teaching theatre in Baltimore schools and hosting weekend theater workshops for neighborhood youth in their 2600 North Howard Street location. In January 2015, SCT began providing weekly workshops to high school students at the Community School in Remington. They partnered with Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in March to provide onsite, weekly theatre workshops in conjunction with Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle’s efforts to combine arts content and skills with other core subjects.
Building this collaboration began a year ago with a request from Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle to use SCT’s space for the school’s end-of-year closing ceremony for 5th and 8th graders. According to SCT Managing Director Elliott Ruah, “what was more important was our desire to connect with students and parents in the surrounding neighborhoods. Not just to have them know where the space is but for them to have a positive experience in our space.”
Creating the relationship with Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle required persistence. “As actors and art educators, we knew our best strategy was to simply keep showing up,” Rauh said. “Once the principal understood we were open and ready to help, we met with them once a week for five weeks in Fall 2014 to begin our work in Spring 2015.”
It was fateful timing.
When the Baltimore Uprising began in late April, SCT had been steadily working with the students, teaching them to express their emotions and thoughts through theatre exercises. In the aftermath of the uprising, SCT staff saw their young performers reveal the impact of the unrest on their lives.
“We first didn’t want to force anything on them. We just wanted to help them reflect how they were actually feeling,” said Jessica Garrett, SCT’s Director of Public Relations & Education. “This was especially important because we are working with children from Pre-K to 14 years old.”
SCT asked students to express their thoughts using a writing exercise, answering the prompt, “I believe Baltimore is…”
Using a mix of tableaus and standing statues, they asked youth to physically express what they believed was happening in Baltimore, answering the prompt, “If Baltimore was a person, show me how Baltimore feels today?”
“So many students wanted to be Freddie Gray,“ Rauh explained. “They knew that name. It was the take-away name… Children directed each other and designated who the cops were, who the protestors were and what kinds of things they could throw.”
Students then analyzed the tableaus and identified what was happening. Youth assigned their classmates as cops and protestors depending on the racial mix of the group.
In the final tableau, students were tasked to show Baltimore at peace.
“This was our attempt to create a curriculum that did not ignore what was going on,” Rauh said. “We didn’t want to sit them down and explain what the incidents were about. We wanted them to show their understanding through their own bodies and reflection. For me personally, it made me feel more connected to the Uprising because I had a forum to see what the kids were taking away from it all. I was blown away by how young some of the kids were and how aware they were of the dynamics of the situation. Awareness starts early in Baltimore.”
SCT hopes to continue their collaboration with Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle throughout the upcoming school year. Check out their website to know more about their work and to support their efforts.
October 23, the Just Kids Partnership will be hosting its second annual “Art with a Story” at the Creative Alliance, from 6-8 pm. This event features visual and performance art as part of Youth Justice Awareness month in an effort to raise awareness about the practice of automatically charging youth as adults. Art with a Story includes a gallery showcasing artwork by youth who have been in the adult system, an installation simulating a solitary confinement cell, and live performances by poets and musicians, including the nationally traveled spoken-word poetry meets hip-hop soul group, the 5th L.
But what is the Just Kids Partnership? Consisting of organizers and youth leaders at Community Law in Action and lawyers from the Public Justice Center, we are a collaboration seeking to end the practice of automatically prosecuting youth as adults. We use public education, community organizing, and legislative advocacy as we work towards this goal. Art is integral to our advocacy.
Youth 14 and up, charged with any of 33 enumerated offenses will be automatically sent to the adult criminal justice system, based solely on age and charge. Once there, youth are subject to adult jail, adult process, and adult sentences.
This policy is fundamentally flawed. The practice casts far too wide a net; almost 70% of the youth direct- filed to the adult system are eventually sent back to the juvenile system upon judicial review or are released outright, but this often occurs months after the initial charge. Youth charged as adults are usually held in adult jails where they are at serious risk of abuse, harassment and suicide. A youth prosecuted in the adult system is more likely to re-offend upon release, and offend more violently, than comparable youth processed in the juvenile system. In addition, this practice has a severely disproportionate impact on minority youth. Finally, youth charged as adults face all the collateral consequences associated with an adult criminal record upon release, including problems getting a job, housing, financial supports, and higher education. The practice doesn’t work to keep our youth safe or to make our communities safer. We can do better.
These statistics come to life with the stories and art that illustrate how truly harmful this practice is for our youth and our communities. Thus, Just Kids integrates art throughout our campaign in order to bring these stories to the public and the legislature. The artwork – from poems, to stories, to photographs and multimedia visual art – is how we reach the hearts and minds of the only ones who can push our representatives to change the laws that mandate automatic prosecution. One can see or hear the individual stories of youth caught in the adult system, who lose months if not years of their life to adult jail, before trial or transfer, and then must spend the rest of their lives trying to overcome the trauma of the experience and the barriers created by the charge alone.
This art, created by youth organizers and leaders, will be showcased at our October 23 Art with a Story event. So check us out – at the end you will have seen experiences great art, will understand why we are fighting so hard to end this practice, and learn how to take action! For tickets go to http://justkidsmaryland.org/ or http://artwithastory.brownpapertickets.com/
The Baltimore Art + Justice Project
What’s the Word? Click to read!
- Artists Within Spotlight: Y-LLEAD – Healing the Self to Heal the Community
- Artists Within Spotlight: Single Carrot Theatre Arts Integration in an Uprising
- Baltimore Uprising Art Archive Series 4: North and Penn Visual Artists and More
- Baltimore Uprising Art Archive: Series 3 – Youth Voices
- Baltimore Uprising Art Archive: Series 2
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