philARThropy – artists take social action in philly

PhillyReacts_FB_403x403

Generally speaking, I have a lot of positive things to say about Philadelphia, especially regarding social action. Though many of us are still cringing over recent budget cuts to city schools, organizations such as First Person Arts are giving us reason to keep the faith. Which is a good thing, because you can’t legitimately call yourself The City of Brotherly Love if you’re not actually promoting community advocacy.

Later today, Philadelphians will have a chance to witness real-time social change at Philly reACTS’ debut event, “The Heart Beneath The Hood.” A collaborative, creative approach to addressing major current events, Philly reACTS is a new initiative by First Person Arts, a non-profit arts organization that transforms the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art experiences.

Driven by newsworthy events, such as the Trayvon Martin case, which is the focus of tonight’s kickoff event and premiere program, Philly reACTS combines live performance art, personal storytelling and interactive audience activities with a collaborative art project (in this case, crafting a flag out of donated hoodies, a symbol of a community united for peace and forward momentum) to keep important causes and issues front-and-center. And, to do it in a safe, unprejudiced environment.

It’s not just about Trayvon Martin, but also about what we should do now, in Philadelphia and beyond.

Organizers also hope to send a message to participants, as they move through each stage of Philly reACTS programs, that there is enormous power in speaking up, and out, in a unified voice.

“The Trayvon Martin verdict stung the Black community with a sadly familiar venom. It also strengthened and unified a multi-cultural, multi-generational group of Americans who share the same vision of justice, value all human life regardless of color or creed and who want to look beyond the hoodie. Through our first Philly reACTs, First Person Arts seeks to bring together a group of artists and community members to lend its unique voice to this dialogue.”

—First Person Arts’ Executive Director, Jamie J. Brunson

I don’t know the status the hoodie collection, as it’s just been a few days since the program was launched, but as hoodies are also being requested to share with partnering organizations, it’s unlikely your contribution will be turned away.

Tonight’s event takes place at 5:30pm in the courtyard of City Hall.

Click here to learn more about both Philly ReACTS and First Person Arts. And, since community involvement is so critical to the success of initiatives such as this one, please share related information on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and anywhere else you think fellow Philadelphians will take interest. Don’t forget to use #PHILLYreACTS. I won’t be able to make it out, but I expect to see coverage on the local news (hint, hint media outlets).

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rediscovering poetry

Head Off & Split

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand all weekend, you’ve witnessed some degree of reaction regarding the acquittal of George Zimmerman. And, whether through social media posts or during face-to-face conversations, you’ve probably absorbed a range of emotionally charged responses. Some may have resonated, others perhaps offended or surprised you. The latter describes my sentiment when stumbling upon a friend’s Facebook post featuring this poem by Harold Pinter. However, this post isn’t about the Trayvon Martin case. (I don’t have the guts to take that on, but am very happy others do.) This post is about poetry, lost and found. Here is where today’s post started:

God
(1993)

God looked into his secret heart
to find a word
To bless the living throng below.

But look and look as he might do
And begging ghosts to live again
But hearing no song in that room
He found with harshly burning pain
He had no blessing to bestow.

As I savored both my friend’s decidedly unique way of expressing his dismay over Trayvon Martin’s death, and the ethereal words penned by Mr. Pinter, my heart started purring.

The poem, with its subtlety and melodic cadence, stirred my senses in a way that was far different than the quips, barbs, reflections and rants I’d been reading since the announcement Saturday evening. It was the thrill of poetry, a literary genre that once captivated me, but somehow grew less important over the years. As a mother, I turned my kids on to Shel Silverstein practically at birth, but I woefully admit that poetry is something they learned more about at school than at home. But again today,  I was reminded about the power of a well-crafted poem. Perhaps your own passion for poetry needs to be reignited.

I reread “God” several times, then visited Mr. Pinter’s website to see what else I could find. Then the wires in my sleepy brain connected, and I recalled a recent conversation with my writing mentee regarding haikus and poet Nikky Finney, who I only discovered last year.

Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry, had been a guest on one of my favorite radio talk shows, Radio Times. Not only was she an engaging interviewee, with her straightforward, yet eloquent and clever responses to Marty Moss-Coane’s always excellent questions, her on-air poetry readings were delicious. If you can’t begin to imagine what I mean, listen for yourself. If you’re a writing instructor looking for a fresh repertoire of lively descriptions to share with your students, or need to work on improving your use of language in all forms of creative writing, you must get your hands on a copy of Head Off & Split stat.

I also learned that she’ll be speaking at Penn State on October 26th, as keynote for a “Celebration of African American Poetry.” I don’t know the ins and outs of attending university events as a non-student, but you can bet I am going to find out. Between her two 2012 NPR radio interviews and her National Book Award acceptance speech, it’s hard not to be inspired by and in awe of this incredibly bright, talented, passionate and compassionate writer and woman. I wonder what SHE is thinking about the Trayvon Martin case, and how she would weave her words to express her thoughts.


I hope that you will find a connection to her poetry just the way I did: fast and furious. And, if you’re not already a fan, Radio Times is your ticket to all kinds of memorable interviews, and people and topics to learn about on an elevated and intimate level.