Stages of Survival

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I was at the final tech rehearsal for Asante Children's Theatre's Motown Christmas when I heard the grand jury's decision not to indict in the case of Eric Garner's death. It was an interesting dichotomy. Here I was watching many African-American students from 1st through 7th grades taking instruction from artists their senior and laughing and dancing on stage while I read about another African-American man who was recently killed. The comparison sounds harsh but, well, it is. It seemed I was seeing a problem and solution at the same time. I was looking at children that were very much alive and innocent while hearing about a very terrible death. I saw art, vibrancy, and excitement about opening night, mentorship, structure and kids having something to do after school. I saw one of the answers. And again, it was art.

These young singers rehearse their tribute to the Supremes for the Motown Christmas.  - COURTESY ASANTE CHILDREN'S THEATRES / AL WATSON
  • Courtesy Asante Children's Theatres / Al Watson
  • These young singers rehearse their tribute to the Supremes for the Motown Christmas.

There are studies upon studies that prove art saves lives. In hospitals, in school programs and in after school outlets, research supports that art offers us perspectives we may not know exist, and it can lead us to a better understanding of the world and of ourselves. I can't help but make a connection between a seemingly small, under- funded Indy-based community play like Motown Christmas and the larger issue of race relations in our country. It makes too much sense. There aren't enough programs like Asante Children's Theatre. They can't reach enough people. They can't save everyone. Yet, they're trying, doing it one child at a time. They are growing leaders who can make systematic change to combat systematic racism.

During the Saturday workshops, dubbed Prep4Life, the students are broken into classes by their ages. On the surface, they're learning about theater, acting, dancing and singing. That's the draw. But any adult that sits in the class can see that via their artist instructors, they're really being taught self-esteem, anti-bullying strategies, how to respect authority and follow instructions. It's the creative process that intrigues them, and it's the desire to be an artist that maintains their interest. How do we solve some of our public safety issues, our racial profiling issues and our crime prevention issues -- with art? I'm looking more and more at groups like Asante as a big part of the answer. My girls feel more proud to be black because of the program. They aren't as shy. They know how to handle name-calling, and they're encouraged to be themselves. I'm so proud of each of the students in this year's class and especially proud of the staffers that take their time to teach life skills. This is what we need more of -- to grow leaders of every color.

The Asante Children's Theatre (ACT) is a youth development organization committed to enriching the lives of young people so they become empowered citizens of the world. The organization's self-written and produced Motown Christmas debuts this weekend with three performances. The show features students from all three classes and age ranges. Thursday's opening night takes place at John Marshall Community High School at 10101 E. 38th St. Admission is free with a canned good. On Friday, the show goes to the Howard Schrott Center for the Arts on Butler's campus. Admission is $5. The final show of the season happens at the Madame Walker Theatre at 617 Indiana Ave. Admission there is also $5. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the Asante Children's Theatre visit www.asantechildrenstheatre.org.

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