Post Election Thoughts and Actions

Brenda Ann Kenneally Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Dear Friends,

It feels like another lifetime when the Brooklyn back yard was filled with so much love and possibility and the discussion of all that A Little Creative Class could be. That was June 18, during our first creative roundup held at my now former home. At the end of a robust round table exchange, we pledged to reconvene in the Fall to begin concrete plans for ways to be ready to welcome the first group of young residents in the summer of 2017. Certainly there were logistics and specifics and finances to figure out, but we left with spirits high and in agreement that there is a definite need to partner with so many of the youths throughout New York State who feel far away from the hope of futures that offer much beyond the little that generation before them had.

The momentum built over the summer, though all the while in the background the ominous sound of election doom droned on. It was terrifying and distracting and I had so much work to do to get A Little CC up and running, and still the enormity of what was happening brought up life long internal conflicts about my professional self…and where I was supposed to be in it all.  Though in my heart, I have outgrown the role of journalist, my mind is still hardwired to respond through bearing witness. This election season felt like the post 9-11 media call to duty, when I reconciled my fractured loyalties by rooting more deeply in the personal stories and issues that I care about.

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Reflection of Troy’s Uncle Sam Parade Slide Show installed in the window of North Troy People’s History Museum

November 08, 2016

Election night came and I had decided that I needed only to be in a place that held the greatest importance for me. Like preparing to be locked in during a snowstorm or hurricane, I considered what moral ground I wanted to be hunkered down on when the results came in. Deciding not to run with the election press pack was easy compared to discerning the true social imperative of who I needed to physically stand in solidarity with on this earth-changing day.

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Little John’s Room Election Night 2016

 

It was dusk when I knew that what for two years had been called “unthinkable” would become unavoidable. I was in Troy going back and forth from my friends’  The Stocklas’ house to photograph a site-specific installation next door in the abandoned childhood home of Executive Board member Dana Wells. The installation, titled The North Central Troy People’s History Museum, traces the roots of social inequity that extend from Dutch Patroonships in 17th Century New Netherlands, up through the coming of age stories of all the kids who live on this block today.

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As the results in The States were called, I clicked the shutter in front of a glass case full of prison letters exchanged between an incarcerated 16 year- old father to be, and his 18 year -old girlfriend on the day after her church arranged for their first child to be adopted by a couple from the congregation. The circumstances that landed the boy in a man’s prison were as much about being poor and black as any accumulation of events that had piled up on his record. This turning point in the young mother’s life would have been different if she weren’t poor, white and according to her minister and the faithful around her, unable to raise her child in a two parent Christian household. Next to the letters were pages from the scrapbook of a young black woman who insisted on her right to wear a suit and tie instead of a dress to the prom held inside the juvenile placement facility where she was mandated to live for most of her teen years. On the wall near the scrapbook are pictures of the daily lives of two fourteen year of girls who became childhood sweethearts in 2002, and by 2004 had committed to co-parenting when one of the girls became pregnant by the cousin of the other. Then there is the newly minted certificate of completion issued by The Regional Transit Authority to a 50 year-old mother of eight when she began her job as a City Bus Driver. Also preserved in the museum are name tags from spells of employment at Wal- Mart and Family Dollar and housekeeping departments of various major hospitality chains, locks of shorn hair sent home from the shock unit in a State Prison Facility for minors, and contracts for goods leased at hyper-inflated prices from rent-to-own establishments that are a staple among those trying to stretch a weekly wage.

 

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I continued to document the exhibition while election discussions poured out of the radio. I considered the narrative and felt compelled to determine which of the people represented in the room would be the most vulnerable during a Trump presidency. Though I was able to make a compelling case for each…I had never heard this debate among any of the people that I would be making it for.

The idea that everybody who lives here takes on an equal share of the same bad, has held this neighborhood together through generations of trauma. While, the democracy of poverty carries a moral mandate for all who live under it to spread resources and kinship as thinly as needed, the same safety net can result in fear, social discomfort and even shame for residents who might travel too far from a community that does not judge their pain.

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When I hear the refrain “Make America Great Again” again and again on this night, while I’m in this place, I can see this means different powerful people will find new ways to distract the same powerless people from finding the courage to change courses from those that decades ago stopped leading their parents and grandparents to wider possibilities.  When I hear talk of a noble American factory worker being at odds with the liberal intellectual, I hear a futile divisiveness that reinforces a stereotypical one dimensional view of both physical and mental work. This vilification of education is out of step with an entrepreneurial and interconnected world that requires both fortitude and a healthy sense of entitlement to the vast knowledge that we have at our disposal. The same ideology that drove social and technological progress, and in many ways sealed the fate of the factory workers whose faces I see in the Museum’s 1920’s Image of Collar Stitchers at Cluett and Peabody, has already cemented generations of young people into a landscape of unskilled labor.

I am deeply saddened, though not at all surprised by the election results. The social and spiritual division that we are now experiencing as a country, I had been straddling for decades before this election. My belief that education in the purest sense is no longer a luxury, but an elemental resource in the battle to preserve civilization, was reinforced on the night of November 08, 2016. Within hours I made the decision to respond by rededicating myself to being a bridge, whenever possible, between cultures forged by inequity and to hold myself to standards of loving all who I do not agree with. I aim to become a life- long student of understanding what brings meaning to the lives of others and to offer what I learn as we come together to build A Little Creative Class.

The mission of Little Creative Class is to best addresses the challenges unique to marginalized youth as they become orientated to a wider array of cultural and social possibilities. I had not thought of Our Mission when I chose where I would plant my feet on Election Night 2016, I just knew being in Troy with the people who inspired and informed our program felt right. It has been my experience that when I am where I am supposed to be, life comes full circle in ways that I could have never planned. So on election night I finished photographing a sea of faces and institutions from Troy’s Victorian Era up through a mug shot on a jail ID some one gave me last month. As I packed up my camera gear, it became real that the election had been won on the promise of “making America great again” and I walked back to the firm ground of Our Mission and the home where this night began.

I had started the evening by going with Kayla Stocklas and her mom Deb to the local middle school, where each woman voted for the first time. Debs youngest daughter Christy, who is one of Little Creative Class’s Youth Ambassador’s had been working for weeks on the first – ever in any generation on either side of her family  –  application to a four year college. On this election night we finished the financial aid form, spell checked her essay for the 20th time and tied up all the other loose ends that dangled, and I snapped a cell phone pic as Christy pressed send.

In that moment I was so grateful for where I stood.

 

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Christy pressing send on her college application.

PLEASE BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR/ SAVE THE DATE FOR:
A LITTLE CREATIVE CLASS ART FASHION BENEFIT EVENT

EARLY THIS SPRING in OUR TEMPORARY HOME at

236 Malcom X Blvd.

Brooklyn, NY 11221

Details and call to participate to follow in a blog post early next week… until then…

Love and Bridges,

Brenda K.

A Little Creative Class now has a Blog!!!

Brenda Ann Kenneally Uncategorized 1 Comment

We will post the latest news and events for this budding non-profit.

For bios on the new mentors, please check out our mentors page here.

Also don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow A Little Creative Class on Instagram!

On Saturday June 18, 2016 A Little Creative Class Inc. held the first in a series of Creative Round Ups for prospective mentors to meet and share ideas both concrete and conceptual, as we prepare to receive the inaugural group of young people in the summer of 2017.

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*The Round up was directly followed by A Little Creative Class Inc’s. First Executive Board meeting.

Throughout the round up I was deeply grateful to learn that almost all of the amazing mentors, who attended, have had extensive experience in engaging with young people through non-profit arts organizations. Many of the mentors also, either presently or have in the past been board members of these organizations.

The ideas the mentors shared during the meeting will be invaluable as we carry out Our Mission.

Here are a few:

“It’s important to stay away from deficit based language to describe the nature of the project and to consider “wrap around learning” and nurturing to determine what each person’s individual needs, “We should aim to acknowledge the strengths that upstate kids have and honor those as a source of empowerment for them to build on.”

“The lasting relationships that these young people will build with their mentors will sustain them when the youth return to their communities. These relationships (more than a thing that they might produce) are the “deliverables.”

* The definition of deliverable in the corporate sector, which includes non-profits – and is often as way for funders to gage the success of a non-profit organization…

“A thing able to be provided, especially as a product of a development process.”
This idea of having to justify one’s place is counter intuitive to the mission and Vision of A Little Creative Class Inc. and in our opinion it further stifles the freedom necessary to a healthy atmosphere of creative entitlement… so the above mentor quote was particularly poignant and so well put.

“We need to be aware of what not having these conversations about class, race, social issues do to young people and need to boost that awareness to start the discussion.”

“The residency is meant to offer possibility …Poverty really is the lack of possibility”

“We need to look at ways that we can partner with programs that serve the young people who would be candidates for our residency”

“We need to figure out ways for people who live in isolated communities to take advantage of arts and creative programs and not feel a class difference or that these programs are not for them.”

“In life you have to make this choice: Will I not offend anybody and not put anybody at risk and nothing changes, or will I take the risk at speaking out and defending my beliefs to actually make changes.”

“Just being in New York City and navigating it is life changing. ” There can be a great sense of accomplishment and agency in mastering it.”

PERHAPS THE MOST EFFECTIVE MESSAGE OF THE DAY CAME FROM THE HEART…

Three of our Executive Board members have come to us through their relationship to The Upstate Girls: Unraveling Collar City Documentary. Two of them, Dana and Elliott Wells attended the board meeting and during the mentor’s round up, Dana read a beautiful piece that she wrote on her cell phone in that back seat of my car during the previous night’s drive to from Troy to The Brooklyn for the meeting. Dana, who is now 28 years old and a mother of four, has been sharing her life through the Upstate Girls Documentary Project since she was 16. Dana’s writing powerfully reflected what she had learned since her own coming of age in Troy. In this “cell phone soliloquy” Dana writes her concerns about how best guide her own children through some of the pitfalls that she had to navigate as a young girl. The Following is what Dana read during the meeting and below that are links to the scrapbooks that Dana Elliott made and recorded as part of the documentary project that lead to the idea for A Little Creative Class Inc. Listening to their recorded stories after reading Dana’s writing is the most powerful way to understand the strength and insight of the young people that will build A Little Creative Class Community.

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Written by Dana Marie Wells
June 17, 2016

While I believe structure is important in day to day living and raising children I also believe that too much of anything is poison.  We live in a world where the slightest difference is frowned upon.  What happened to creativity and self-expression?  I can remember kindergarten being half days, finger painting and singing in the auditorium.  Now I watch in agony as my five-year-old cries because she doesn’t want to do homework because she’s so drained from her six-hour school day.  Children are reading and writing in Pre-K, which is certainly amazing, but the problem is if your child is not doing these things he or she is considered “behind.”  How can you be behind in life when it hasn’t even started?  Children are being taught from the very beginning that if they aren’t like the rest of the kids then they aren’t good enough or smart enough.  They are being taught that one way is the only way.  If they miss an assignment they are punished by missing recess, which is the only time they get during the day to be themselves. 

My point is that from the very beginning, our children are brainwashed into thinking that being different is bad.  I know for me I grew up within a church.  I lived in constant battle of right and wrong.  There were things I needed to do and learn on my own that I couldn’t because I was so afraid I would be making the wrong choice.  I was so focused on what others would think of me. I think that alone ruined a lot of the things I would have done and places I would have gone.  Although I am content with my life and as happy as ever with my family, I have suffered a great loss just because I felt like I couldn’t really express myself.  For instance, Brenda commented that we should take up a residency here when all is said and done and try to do something here with the kids, and automatically my brain went to “I CAN’T!”  I have to work, I have to do this, I have to do that.  This one will be upset that one will be mad.  It’s like my mind was auto-tuned to find reason why we could never.  The thought of taking a chance and entertaining it was so small that I couldn’t even imagine it in my head.  It’s like the person I was destined to be is nothing more than a small voice in my head.  Not to mention society has almost made it damn near impossible to follow your dreams.  It’s simply unaffordable.

I think this organization could help that one person with a dream, that one person who isn’t already saturated with the belief that they have to do this or they have to do that.  Our youth need to know that it’s ok to believe; it’s ok to have a dream.  Your voice matters.  Your choice matters.  It may or may not be too late for me but it’s not too late for the 15 year- old girl who wants to write a novel but her dad is an alcoholic, mother is absent and younger sister depends on her.  It’s not too late for the 17 year- old boy who wants to backpack through Europe but he thinks he can’t since all his siblings worked immediately upon becoming of age and that he would have to also. 

I am 29 years old and a mother of 4 children.  I am constantly fighting the battle of good structure and wanting my kids to simply be who they are.  It wasn’t until recently when I came to the realization that I have become a product of my own bringing up that I have had to take a step back and analyze the way I am raising my own children.  I think if it wasn’t for my youngest child I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought.  I have been blessed with a child who has been a free spirit from day one.  She is a natural born leader and I find myself struggling to keep her who she is but also teaching her that there are rules that she needs to follow because that’s just the way it is.  Every day with her is different.  There are no repeats with her.  She is the child I once was and I would give my life if it meant she could make it into adulthood without tampering with her personality.  I feel like the world really is full of opportunities but humans have become endangered in a sense.  We all have creativity within us.  We all have dreams.  Happiness isn’t written out for you, you have to find it or better yet let it find you!

Here’s a link to Dana and Her Husband Elliott’s Scrap Book – The two grew up together and in many ways their stories are intertwined.

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Creative mentors Don Shearer and Tishka Tuprera with junior visionary Dasaun Hill of Troy,NY

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Creative mentors Jamie Welford and Tishka Dupera

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Jamie quickly introduced himself to one of Don’s designs

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The day after the meeting Myself, Dana, Elliott, their four children and our friend Billie Jean and her son Dasaun, who had also come form Troy went to Rockaway Beach. It was The Well’s Family’s first time seeing he Ocean… after hours of body surfing in the rough waves I heard Elliott say to Dana “It’s better than I ever imagined it would be”.

 

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Meeting the ocean for the first time…

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From Troy NY to Times Square NY!

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Getting the bus in Chinatown for the long ride back to Troy.

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Look for details of Our Fall Fashion Party and Art Show Fundraiser with the date in December TBA…