‘I hold so much in’: Big Thought’s Artivism project helps students open up on race, social justice

When you first meet him, Colby Glaspie is as soft-spoken as they come. It’s not because he doesn’t have anything to say. He just doesn’t always know how to say it.

The 16-year-old James Madison High School student from southern Dallas lives with his grandmother right around from a corner store where drug dealers and homeless people camp out. His extensive vocabulary gets him bullied in school.

He turns to writing to help him vent. Putting his feelings onto paper helps him channel his emotions. “I hold so much in,” he said, “that I don’t even know how much I hold in.”

Now he is sharing his writing and poetry through the Artivism project, organized by Big Thought, a local youth development nonprofit. The project gives young people in Dallas a way to explore and reflect on social and racial justice issues.

The first installment of Artivism is a mural dominated by the image of a person screaming with the Dallas skyline glowing in the background. On the backside of the mural are photos of students and other young people. The mural made its debut at the Dallas Festival of Ideas last April.

Over the past few months, the students did spoken-word performances and recorded more than 50 pieces of poetry. The mural includes a set of QR codes that you can scan with your smartphone in order to hear the recordings.

The Artivism project features students from middle and high schools across Dallas. Youth development programs Dallas Youth Poets, Vickery Meadow Eagle Scholars, DaVerse Works (which produces DaVerse Lounge events), Creative Solutions and Incarnation House also participated.

The idea for the project came from youth development manager Allison Caldwell. She said Big Thought had been developing social and emotional skill-building curriculum for a number of years. But during that time, Big Thought wanted to help the students use those skills. The Artivism program is the result of a couple of years of planning to find a solution to that problem.

Caldwell said the goal was to give kids a platform to speak on social and racial justice issues. She was expecting the students to bring up about two to three topics. But the kids went beyond her expectations, touching on everything from race to bullying to food deserts.

“Adults that were engaging with the mural at its premiere at the Festival of Ideas didn’t realize how much teenagers had to say about so many different topics that are often perceived as really mature, high-level [issues],” she said.

For example, Glaspie’s piece, titled “The Dot,” is about the history of slavery, segregation and integration. In the piece, he describes the image of a black dot on a white canvas. The black dot represents black people in America, which is represented by a white background. As his poem progresses, the canvas changes from pure white to multicolored to represent a more diverse country.


View the full article by Dallas Morning News.