Timing is divine
About a year ago I met and became friends with a woman who worked as a math teacher at a middle school in Watts (South Los Angeles). In casual conversation she shared with me the kinds of challenges she faces as a teacher largely due to the challenges her students face in this particular neighborhood and community. She explained how those challenges are often reflected in her students behavior, attendance, class participation and in the way they choose to express themselves. It was not all positive. She was sharing how she was consistently trying, often in the face of blatant disrespect, to continue to be someone to these children unlike anyone else they have in their lives. Someone consistent and unmoving, committed to them and their highest purposes. I was moved by her stories and my need to problem solve immediately kicked in. My first instinct was…”they need music.” And once I learned how little was left in their daily curriculum in the form of arts education (due to budget cuts) I knew the need was even more dire than I had originally anticipated. And so began my quest to offer a FREE after-school performing arts program one day a week at Samuel Gompers Middle School.
My intention was to offer a sampling of all mediums of performing arts, catering to whatever talent or interest the students may already have while also exposing them to new skills. Each week the children would have the opportunity to learn from industry professionals from all backgrounds who are working successfully in music, dance and theater.
I met with the principal early last fall. She was all about it. We exchanged emails. I waited. I followed up. I waited. I followed up. I kept waiting. (Waiting is not my favorite. I am not good at waiting.) I was about to give up and take my program elsewhere and with that looming threat, she finally set a meeting. 9 months went by between our first meeting and our most recent sit down. In that time, due to continued budget cuts, they have let go of 9 teaching positions, one of these being their music teacher, and along with her went their very last arts elective.
When we met a few weeks ago to discuss my original idea, they expressed how they will obviously need it now more than ever. However they said they were not interested in having my after school program one day a week. Instead they asked if I would be able to design a curriculum and facilitate their having my program not 1 but 5 days a week as an actual class elective for the school year. A real class. Every day. The last period. 5 days a week. For an entire school year.
My stomach flipped and my negative ‘head voice’ went to work. Everything inside of me said there was no possible way I could make it happen. No was definitely the answer. But instead all I said was: “Yes. I’ll do it.”
I still don’t know exactly how we are going to make it all work. And for free. But I know that I could NOT let an opportunity to provide these children with at least SOME of what they need and deserve pass me by. If not me, who? If not now, when? And so I keep putting one foot in front of the other because not every kid excels in math and science or is a brilliant linguist…but some could be brilliant dancers and singers and drummers, and they deserve the opportunity to be exposed and explore. It’s important that they are made aware that careers in the arts are not only possible but abundant and whether or not they ever pursue a career, it’s imperative that they have an outlet to express themselves, build confidence, discipline, leadership skills and a sense of teamwork and community. Arts education does just that and I am so grateful for the opportunity to join the crusade to keep it alive and available.
I am so lucky to have a huge community of friends at the ready who are unbelievably talented musicians, singers, dancers, actors, poets, songwriters and producers. All are willing and eager to give back and have generously agreed to volunteer their time, passion and knowledge to be a part of my program. We all know what having had an education in the arts has done for us and the thought of that not being available to every child has called us to action. I am beyond honored to be entrusted with this incredible responsibility and so excited to dive in and get started!
This will indeed take a village, and I felt compelled to share hoping that if you are reading this and find yourself inspired or inclined to participate in any way with us here in LA or even to take action in your own city…I welcome and encourage you to do so!!!
Beyond that, I also want to share what a beautiful lesson in patience and perfect timing this process has been thus far. I was dead set on getting my program started this past school year of 2012/13. It didn’t happen. And as each month clipped by with no word and still no program, I grew increasingly frustrated and often felt a sense of failure. But when we finally sat down and as it turned out what they actually needed and wanted from me was something SO much bigger and better and ultimately WAY more beneficial for their students than what I had initially intended and planned…(what I was dead set on)… well there’s just no possibility it would have or could have played out the way that it did one moment sooner than it did.
This is just a precious reminder that ALL things happen in their time. In their perfect time.