In the heart of the poorest part of Fort Lauderdale, ArtServe25 is a museum for Stonewall, gay and lesbian art, and the voices of every individual who wants to make his or her presence known—your sexual orientation doesn’t matter. ArtServe, as well as being a museum, also sponsors many open-mike events for kids to express their music, poems, and rap.
As I sat waiting to sing my song at an open mike night for any adult or child, two young African American men, about fifteen years old, stood up and introduced themselves as rap artists. I held my breath, because, generally, I think rap is a little repulsive. The thumping, annoying beat, combined with the, usually, vulgar repartee, makes me want to crawl in a hole and plug my ears. However, sitting in the front row, I had no other choice but to listen. And listen, I did.
What I heard astounded and astonished me. Though the teens were off pitch and had to start over a few times, the words they spoke touched my heart deeply. They talked of living in a world where the expectation of them was to be in a gang and use drugs and have sex at a young age. They shared their story about finding alternatives to that lifestyle in the arts and rising above the harsh poverty and abuse they lived as children. A few times, I was moved to tears. I’m actually going back this evening to hear an entire evening of just teens called The Voice Box. Free admission. If you’re in the Fort Lauderdale area, it starts at seven this evening (March 27).
The expression of the arts through children is more important than we know. These beautiful kids are in recording artist programs and music schools that allow them to express daily IF they keep a C average in school and never use degrading language about women, express in ways that uplift and inspire, and respect each other.
These rules, however, don’t mean that they have to inhibit the voice of pain in their rap. What I saw, in retrospect, is that this art of music and rap has evolved their young minds in a way where each of them can have an individual voice. I believe that in the culture in which they matured, gang and pack mentality is what had been driving them to protect each other from other gangs and more abuse. But, this arts program has given them a new pack, a new group of amazing friends and family who support their right to make powerful change in their community and in their schools.
When they entered the building with their two teachers, I could see, immediately, that each child needed each other to stay the course, not acquiescing to the animal instincts that drive the adults and older teenagers living that same harsh street and gang life.
In general, if you are not fighting for arts programs in your local schools, you need to be. The difference in death and life is in the hands of our lawmakers who often take away the precious gift of music, fine arts, and literature and give their support to moneymaking sports programs, which also need to be nurtured.
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