‘Art that’s active’ Northeast MS Rally 4 Peace, Jan. 15, Charles A. Brown Ice House
The Ice House was alive with artistic expression during Northeast Middle School’s (NEMS) Rally 4 Peace Jan. 15. NEMS students and alumni came together to present a program centered on injustices in the world and pathways to peace.
“It’s a variety of media making their way out from our middle school children and seeing what they’re seeing, and they’re giving us their glimpse [of] the traumas, the successes, the hopes, all of that,” said Denise Parker, vocal music teacher at NEMS. “Some of it will be inspirational, some of it will be graphic, some of it will be unsettling, and it’s what our kids are seeing today.”
Although the program began as Rap 4 Peace roughly 10 years ago, according to event founder and former NEMS teacher Rona Arena, the program has expanded to feature poetry, spoken word poetry, song, visual art and video.
“I wanted to work with kids that weren’t acknowledged for other kinds of strengths that they had, and I was hoping to find things in the arts that would be ways for them to express themselves around the topic of peace,” Arena said. “Eventually, we had to broaden it from just rap to all different types of artistic forms because [of] the kids [and] the changing population.”
For this year’s event, Doug Roysdon of the Southside Children’s Festival arranged for Basement Poetry, a Bethlehem performance art and slam poetry group, to collaborate with the students in preparation for the performance.
“I feel like the real role of the arts is to build school community,” Roysdon said. “It’s to give kids a stage and it’s also a chance for kids to address their problems. In other words, I’m very interested in art that’s active.”
The performers addressed the topics of bullying, suicide, sexual assault, child abuse and self-harm, among others, most frequently through the pairing of visual media and spoken poetry. Quotations from Martin Luther King Jr. were interspersed between the acts to bring together the celebration of the national holiday and Rally 4 Peace, the dates of which always intentionally coincide.
“We have to keep talking to the children, because they are our future,” Arena said. “They are the ones we are leaving this mess to, and when they hear the [rhetoric] that they are hearing today that is so hurtful and so disgusting, I believe that we have to set another vision forward for them. We’ve got to reach our children. They’re incredibly important to us. They’re a great resource.”