Arts & Culture

Well Read

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Artivism got its start in the summer of 2016 when a number of Big Thought’s students were attending a DaVerse Lounge event in Deep Ellum together. Tragically, that evening was the night of the downtown shooting where 5 officers lost their lives and 9 others were seriously wounded. Being close to downtown, they were surrounded by sirens as the news broke.

The youth were filled with emotions about the event – fear for their safety, mixed feelings about the shooter’s motivations and their own perceptions of policing in marginalized neighborhoods. These youth craved an opportunity to take action and have their voices be heard. Through their vision and leadership, Artivism was born.

Artivism Today

Today, Artivism has evolved into a pre-professional project-based experience for youth artists with a passion for social justice. Youth ages 13-17 work side-by-side with professional artists to create multiple exhibits throughout the year, each centered around a specific theme and art medium.

While the youth artists may vary from project to project, the youth collectively develop and create a film documentary through the year.

Spring 2020: Well Read

When a potentially well-intended comment of “You’re so well read” is said to a person of color, the impact of the statement is felt as a microaggression.

What is the project about?
By breaking down the microaggressions that center on the ascription of intelligence for minorities, this project will dive into the youth’s relationship with the written word.

How? Altered books.
Glue it, cut it, tear it, paint it, sew it—however the youth wants to reimagine the book they are holding or the text they are reading, the process of altering books inspires a deeper examination of “don’t judge a book by its cover” and encourages the youth to reimagine themselves in narratives that may have previously felt unapproachable.

Why is this important?
In 2018 and at an 86% literacy rate, the United Sates ranked 125th globally. When comparing the percentage of adults with a high education and the percentage of those without, Texas lands 50th in the nation. And while Dallas ranks 37th when comparing cities nationally, San Antonio, El Paso, and Corpus Christi are all ranked in the 70s. When jumping into the massive amounts of research dedicated to this topic, one of the most frustrating is the availability of books when comparing low-income communities and affluent ones: 1 book for every 300 children as opposed to the average 12 books accessible in communities with quality resources. So, for marginalized youth, exposure to stories, let alone stories that reflect them and draw their engagement is nearly non-existent.

To experience Well Read and meet the youth artists, please join us for the Artivism Exhibit on March 21 from 2-5pm at Sunset Art Studios.

Well Read Artivism 2020
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Big Things Happening in West Dallas

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By, Elysse Alvarado

The West Dallas Community Center offers a variety of services including programming for senior citizens, healthy meals and education counseling offered by El Centro Community College. But apart from these offerings, the center functions as a meeting place for the neighborhood. Walk in and see locals chatting over coffee or people playing card games. The smell of home-cooked lunch waifs through the halls. This community center is welcoming and warm, yet the building itself didn’t reflect the energetic and diverse community that the center serves. But now that local muralists, Reggie and Sanah Bowers have arrived to work with students at Dallas City of Learning a whole new look welcomes visitors and showcases the vibrant personality West Dallas.

Sanah Brown teaching how to shade the mural

Reggie and Sanah Bowers are constantly seeking ways to do good in the Dallas community through their art. Reggie, a military veteran and artist, is currently working on a masters in Social Work and learned about Big Thought through a professor who knew of his passion around art and children’s well-being. Sanah, an experienced photographer and artist, heard about Big Thought for years and thought this would be good opportunity to get involved and work with kids in the West Dallas community.

Working on the mural with Dallas City of Learning.

This led to both artists utilizing their talents to teach art through the design and development of three mural projects at the West Dallas Community Center. Some students had never taken an art class so the entire process gave students the chance to learn the foundations of art from professional artists. Inspired by the West Dallas community, Reggie and Sanah wanted each piece to be a direct reflection of the community showcasing the warmth, diversity and energy of the neighborhood. 

Sanah Brown working with students at Dallas City of Learning!

An average mural takes about 60 hours to complete, but with lots of little hands, Sanah emphasizes that painting three murals can be a little challenging. “The initial challenge was getting them to focus and not paint everything at once, but now they understand how to paint a mural.” Students loved coming to camp everyday to paint the murals and see how they change everyday.

Mural painted by students at West Dallas Soars

Reggie and Sanah agree that their overall goal for these murals was not only to teach art to students, but also to connect them to their neighborhood in a deep and meaningful way. Community members joined in on that goal by leaving notes filled with advice and encouragement for students. These notes will be incorporated into the murals to show community support and showcase its generous spirit.

Now that these colorful murals have been completed visitors will instantly know that they are in a special place that is welcoming to all and committed to supporting education. 

Looking for creative ways to teach your child more about art and culture? Check out learning opportunities happening across Dallas at Dallas City of Learning!

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Social Emotional Learning: Developing the Whole Individual

Social emotional learning, also known as “soft skills,” isn’t a new phenomenon. But it is rapidly gaining momentum nationally as educators, employers and even economists recognize the value of developing the whole individual, not just academic readiness. In this three-part series, we look at social emotional learning from a human interest standpoint, as a burgeoning local and national movement, and as an investment in the future through a grant from The Wallace Foundation awarded to Dallas ISD and Big Thought to create SEL implementation in the district.

Social Emotional Learning At Work

Here’s a story about emotional redemption: A teenager on probation enters the Creative Solutions 2016 summer program at Southern Methodist University. He’s withdrawn, non-verbal, can’t even make eye contact. He has closed off the world in his attempt to hide behind a broken soul.

Two weeks into his work with Creative Solutions, a partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department, SMU and Big Thought that teaches performing and visual arts to teen probates, proves cathartic. He suddenly felt comfortable enough to write down his emotions and recount past traumas through poetry.

“A couple more weeks later and he felt safe enough to share those with his mentors,” says Allison Caldwell, Youth Development Specialist at Big Thought. “During the very last week of the program, he decided that he wanted his words published in the poetry anthology and that his poem was worthy of sharing in front of an audience. His voice shook towards the beginning, but his confidence grew as he felt the support from his peers.”

Writing was the salve, the elixir that helped this teenager overcome depression. “His story is the perfect example of the beginning of a journey towards social emotional growth,” says Caldwell. “He reflected on his emotions and experiences, connected with others, and was beginning to learn how to manage his emotions.”

There you have social emotional learning at work, its transformative powers in full throttle. But what exactly is social emotional learning, and why has it become a national buzz phrase in education? According to CASEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, “social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Caldwell has spent more than five years applying social emotional learning to her work with Creative Solutions and DaVerse Lounge, the spoken word program for middle and high school students in partnership with Journeyman Ink.

“Social emotional skills exist on a continuum – you can never truly master a skill, rather you continue to deepen your understanding of yourself and your relationships as you practice social and emotional competencies,” she says. “All of our programs at Big Thought are infused with opportunities for kids to develop SEL skills.”

Photo: Creative Solutions students triumph onstage after last summer’s “The Island of Lost Souls” performance at Southern Methodist University. Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio.


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One Line Wonders: Powerful Prose That Cleanses Souls

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Oh those one line wonders. They come at you fast and furious at DaVerse Lounge. We’re talking about young, expressive poets who get up on the platform, face the mic and unleash powerful prose that cleanses their souls as it enlightens the audience.

The third DaVerse Lounge event of the 12th season, held December 9, 2016 at Life in Deep Ellum, is certainly no different. The evening drew 300 readers and receivers, with 13 schools represented and plenty of emotional literacy merriment. We even had Gopal Raman, the Southwest Region winner of the National Student Poets Program 2016, in the crowd as well as on the stage.

So without further ado, here are a dozen one line wonders to remind us that personal poetry covers all cathartic bases.   

“She strokes my head and pats my back, bringing back memories of when I was young”
– An ode to mothers
Jamyah, Thomas J. Rusk Middle School

“I guarantee you I’m going to make it there 10 minutes early because rush hour traffic doesn’t apply to me”
– A humorous manifesto to the self deep inside
Vertiz, High school graduate

“Doesn’t it feel like I’m a rapper because I talk too much”
– Stream of consciousness self-expression
Jaziel, Uplift Luna Preparatory – Secondary

“Have you ever met that one person that makes your heart beat and puts air in your lungs?”
– The heightened state of ripe love
Semira, John Horn High School

“Our own opinion is the only one that should matter”
– Life exasperates as it exhilarates
Elizabeth, Oliver W. Holmes Middle School

“I dissolve in tea, life dissolves in me”
– Tea as a metaphor for life
Gopal, St. Mark’s School of Texas

“I wrote this just to get funky, just to get funky on this microphone”
– A tribute to great and powerful musical voices
Camika Spencer, Teacher, Lancaster Middle School

“So I take pictures of my big beautiful smile with a dog face…that’s my hashtag selfie life”
– Life as experienced through hashtags
Johanna, Thomas J. Rusk Middle School

“The moon was the one who lit my way through darkness, the one who appeared when I needed someone”
– A love letter to the moon
Casey, Thomas Jefferson High School

“People look at me like I’m crazy, but I am nothing but space”
– An existential look at life
Francisco, Oliver W. Holmes Middle School

“We keep preaching about peace, but keep using a piece”
– A lament about violence in our current society
Julissa, Cedar Valley College

“My panic attacks were not scheduled like doctor’s appointments”
– The dissection of an emotional crisis
Ellery, The Novus Academy graduate

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, State Farm, Liberty Burger, and the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation for their generous support.

Photos by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio; collage presentation by Mario Tarradell


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For Tacovia Braggs, DaVerse Lounge Is Essential to Life

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Tacovia Braggs was a junior at David W. Carter High School. She was 16. The perennial wallflower, she buried her head in her poetry. So her spoken word teacher, Darius Frasure, invited her to attend DaVerse Lounge. It was 2005.

Tacovia, now a busy, 28-year-old flight attendant, remains as connected to DaVerse Lounge as that fateful first time she got up onstage and read the provocative, no-minced-words piece, “Just To Make You Think.” In fact, head over to any DaVerse Lounge event this 12th season – don’t miss it Friday, December 9, 2016 at Life in Deep Ellum – and you’ll see Tacovia working the platform right alongside DaVerse Lounge creator and emcee Will Richey.

“You can’t describe DaVerse, you can only experience it,” she says by phone from the Indianapolis airport. “As an adult you will never find a place like DaVerse, so as a kid it’s, well, DaVerse. It is what it is. DaVerse should be in every city, in every corner of the world, because everybody should have that opportunity.”

For Tacovia, DaVerse arrived in the nick of time. She spent much of her adolescence trapped in her own emotions. You see, Tacovia’s home life was less than stellar. At the tender age of 2, her father was murdered. That’s when her mother closed off the rest of the world, including Tacovia. So the little girl born and raised in Dallas slowly grew more and more insular. She turned to her writing for refuge.

“My solution to the problem was to bottle it up and say nothing,” she says. “That was the only way I knew how to handle life. Because showing emotions was either laughed at or frowned upon. I’m a writer because of it; that was my way of talking without talking.”

So at DaVerse, Tacovia not only read her original poetry before an audience at every event, but she also found a safe haven for her fragile soul. Her DaVerse debut was indeed nerve-wracking, and Tacovia admits that she hid behind the paper where her poem was written. It became her shield. But there was already something magical at work. She felt a kinship with total strangers.

“You walk into that room and there are all these people everywhere, and yet you felt like you belonged somewhere,” she says. “You didn’t feel like they were turning around watching you when you walked through the door. Nobody judged you. I didn’t feel anybody was watching me. Kids were nice, the adults were nice. They were all welcoming. I felt so excited about being around these kids. I wasn’t really social even when I was a kid. I wasn’t a social butterfly talking to children. But being in there it was like, oh, they are kind of like me.”

Tacovia immediately connected with Richey and with DaVerse Lounge mentor and bandleader Alejandro Perez, Jr. She would be invited back again and again until attending DaVerse was a life essential like food and water.

“That first poem was full of so much conviction, power and strength that we invited her to become a part of our traveling poetry group in the Metroplex,” says Richey. “DaVerse Lounge gave her a home to nourish and activate the power of her voice, and in turn we learned from her. What started as a mentor-mentee relationship has evolved into a lifelong friendship, even a sense of family. My wife and children consider her a part of our extended family.”

Through the trials and tribulations of the teenage years, and then the college years, and then the getting ready for the real world years, DaVerse Lounge was there. It became Tacovia’s refuge, her character-building sanctuary.

“I knew that my situation when I was growing up wasn’t the best of circumstances, but when I got to DaVerse I never had to think about it,” she says. “I didn’t have to think about homework or test scores or my house or my family situation. I was not thinking about all the things that bothered me because I was overwhelmed with all the joy that was around me.”

And then something extraordinary happened, something completely unexpected. Tacovia’s mother was driving her to the events, and she would stay for the entire show. Slowly but surely the lines of communication between Tacovia and her mother began to open. Two people who were virtual strangers after tragedy struck suddenly started to talk.

“Before DaVerse we didn’t have conversations, period,” she says, “so it definitely opened everything for us. When I came to DaVerse you were able to talk about it, express it. It made me more confident because I was learning how to accept and process life.”

Today Tacovia is based in Houston and has been a flight attendant for United Airlines since 2011. She’s a North American flight attendant, which includes travel to Canada and Mexico. “That’s about as international as I get,” she jokes.

She’ll tell you without any qualms that she talks up DaVerse Lounge on the planes. DaVerse Lounge is her rite of passage, the missing link that gave her the courage to face her emotions, to socialize with strangers, to revel in an ambiance that is completely judgment-free. DaVerse Lounge turned this wallflower into the belle of the ball.

“What Big Thought invested in is a goldmine because kids are always being told what to do,” she says. “They are at home and being told what to do. They go to school and they are being told what to do, how to react, what choices to make. There is this constant control. As adults we go from obligation to obligation to obligation. But kids go through this in a heightened state because they are growing. Being in DaVerse, even if you aren’t reading, gives them a place to be, to just breathe, and not be bogged down with concerns. You don’t need to worry about anything when you go there. You don’t have that burden of trying to figure out what am I supposed to be doing. You’re not getting fussed at or criticized or chastised. You are there to be a part of something greater than you. DaVerse is what life should be like.”

Richey sees Tacovia as a shining portrait of the power of DaVerse Lounge. He found in Tacovia a fellow poet, a dear friend, and a kindred heart-on-the-sleeve spirit.

“It is an honor to have her back at every show to provide that nurturing and yet firm example of a young female voice who has become a thriving professional,” he says. “It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support an adult. Tacovia embodies that.”

DaVerse Lounge, a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink, thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Photos courtesy of Tacovia Braggs and Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big ThoughtFor Tacovia Braggs, DaVerse Lounge Is Essential to Life
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