Youth Voices Leading for Racial Justice

Two things jumped out at me the most from this workshop. The first was the set of sharp and wise recommendations for guiding organizational change and sectoral change during uncertain times from the ArtsEd Response Collective, which was convened by Ingenuity to address the immediate challenges of COVID-19 and the police murders of Black people. And the second was the deeper dive into dance as an educational tool uniquely well-suited for engaging children and youth around issues of anti-racism and racial justice.

The ARC Final Report presents a plethora of resources for arts educators and organizations, schools, and equity practitioners in adapting and innovating new strategies and best practices that are responsive to the challenges of remote learning and pandemic conditions. The report lifts up what I think is one of the most important principles for any sector during these times of rapid change and volatility—to commit to open source knowledge sharing and learning, which is part of recognizing that we must engage in building anew and that “experimentation is now a part of the new operating norms for every industry…in order to do important work in an uncertain landscape.”

Another insight from this report is about fully exploring the arts as a tool for recovery from the crisis. Within the context of schools, this is especially poignant to consider the needs for reconnection and healing from learning loss, Covid-related traumas and economic hardships so many students have endured in communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

This session highlighted Forward Momentum Chicago’s dance education program, funded by Ingenuity with an explicit focus on anti-racism and racial justice, in partnership with Sutherland Elementary School in the Chicago public schools system. As program staff Bradlee Lathon and Jamerial Gloss described, designing and implementing the class pushed them to surmount the challenges of remote dance teaching and to confront (and address) gaps in the lack of age-appropriate teaching resources on anti-racism geared toward middle school and younger ages.

“We had to take a step back not to water down the content, but use language that youth understand and that turns the light on for them in a way that they maybe never experienced before,” Bradlee said. “Anti-racism and racial justice are still taboo topics for kids. People believe children aren’t ready to have these conversations. Maybe they don’t have the language and don’t know what to say, but they have feelings about it and they want to express it, and we have to give them the opportunity.”