Arts & Culture

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.

Senior Partner Relations Manager, Kristina Dove makes her mark on a mural.

CEO/President of Big Thought joins in on the summer fun!

Completed mural with notes from the West Dallas community.

Chief Strategy Officer, Jessica Malek gets her hands dirty with a summer learner at West Dallas SOARS.

Trustee Blackburn makes his mark with West Dallas SOARS!

Aaron Glover, Executive Director at the Writer’s Garret, visits students at mural unveiling.

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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NEA Chairman Jane Chu Learns Secret Poetry Handshake During Dallas Visit

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Jane Chu knows a secret. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman was officially welcomed into the Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School DaVerse Poetry Club with the secret handshake. Students christened Chu as an honorary member during her Quintanilla visit Monday afternoon, November 28, 2016.

Big Thought hosted the Quintanilla jaunt, which began with a roundtable conversation featuring Big Thought staff and partner representatives. Chairman Chu conversed with Guy Bruggeman, Dallas Love Field; Janiece Evans-Page, Fossil; Will Dowell, Behind Every Door; Will Richey, Journeyman Ink; Lela Bell, Teaching Artist; Antoine Joyce, All Stars Project Dallas; David Fisher, Office of Cultural Affairs; Kjerstine Nielsen, Dallas Public Library; plus Big Thought’s Gigi Antoni, Erin Offord, LeAnn Binford, Leila Wright, and Shianne Patrick.

Chairman Chu made the trek from the nation’s capitol to visit with various local community leaders and speak at the Dallas Arts District Community Breakfast on November 29, 2016. The NEA has funded several different partnership initiatives coordinated by Big Thought over the years, including most recently its support of Dallas City of Learning. Big Thought also managed the Dallas portion of the NEA’s inaugural Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, which culminated last July in New York City.

Back at Quintanilla Middle School, Gary Gibbs, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts; Chad Pendarves from Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s office; and the NEA’s Meredith Raimondi also participated in the roundtable discussion. It began with Chairman Chu providing an update on NEA initiatives, and continued with partners sharing about their programs, their personal inspiration, and how the arts positively impact children.

“The ensuing conversation on partnerships highlighted the value of collaboration,” says Big Thought’s Binford, “combining partners’ areas of strength to create wrap-around services that reach more children with increased impact.”

Chairman Chu arrived in Dallas with a passion for hearing diverse perspectives from the community, and seeing quality programs in action. So she was duly delighted when the Quintanilla DaVerse Poetry Club students launched into a call-and-response warm-up led by DaVerse Lounge creator Richey, and then followed through with an activity that had students and adults creating personal poems that were shared one-on-one.

She bonded with those kids. Not only did they shower Chairman Chu with performances of original poems, but they also taught her that secret handshake. She’s official now.

Big Thought extends sincere gratitude to Quintanilla Principal Salem Hussain and DaVerse Poetry Coach Lisa Taylor for their hospitality.

Photo by LeAnn Binford/Big Thought 

 

 

 

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Six Word Stories Station Engages DaVerse Lounge Crowd

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Six Word Stories took DaVerse Lounge by storm last Friday evening as 88 attendees stopped by the Six Word Stories station and wrote down their personal tales in half-a-dozen words.

We were blown away by the engagement, and the thoughtful stories. Here’s a small sampling of the beauties we enjoyed:

I’m under construction and never happier!

Your melody, my harmony, our symphony.

I am more than six words.

Organized chaos in one beautiful dream.

I can’t is not an option.

Follow your heart, free your mind.

Amazing stuff, huh? Here at Big Thought we thank Communications Manager Pholesha Johnson for doing the research that led her to suggest the Six Word Stories phenomenon as a DaVerse Lounge self-expression exercise. The even greater news is that Six Word Stories will be implemented at all DaVerse Works middle and high school poetry clubs. Also, these same middle and high school poetry clubs will be offered the national Six Word Stories project curriculum.

Need a refresher course on the Six Word Stories history? Revisit our recent Six Word Stories piece.

All of this Six Word Stories excitement spilled onto the Big Thought staff, too. We got into the six word spirit. Here are the gems we came up with:

What’s thought about is brought about.
— Rob

Determined not to cry, she laughed.
–Tori

The cemetery brings it all back.
— Anne

Wisdom shared by age is golden.
— Sally

Whose lips do I adore more?
— Laura

Art will always be restriction free.
— Shianne

Love whatever arises, no matter what.
— Sarah

Insert witty comment, give me credit.
— Brandon

Love yourself first, then love others.
— Kristina

A pub in London was destiny.
— Maria

Memories of loved ones carry me.
— Phyllis

Good communication keeps the employees happy.
— Bill

DaVerse Lounge – share space, be embraced.
— Will

You should laugh, love, cry everyday.
— Erin

Shower me in happiness and love.
— Katelynn

Need to be fearless and stronger.
— Jose

Escaped the Friday Night Lights effect.
— LeAnn

Life is About Refocusing and Recharging.
— Mario

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

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