Rosenblum: After another senseless death, listen to youth speak in art

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2011 - 8:44 PM
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Among the creative results of the Summer 612 project: tennis shoes painted with messages of peace and hope for Minneapolis.

Photo: , Provided by Summer612

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A showcase event Thursday night featuring hundreds of talented teens carries greater urgency in light of the slaying Monday of 16-year-old Juwon Osborne. Osborne was the third teen shot to death on Minneapolis' North Side in a single month.

Working diligently since early summer through a Minneapolis program called Summer 612, the teens will share their vision for peaceful coexistence through spoken word, film, dance, visual art and more at the Minneapolis Central Library.

"The death of a young person is a tragic and deep loss, and a reminder of why this work is critical to our community," said Alyssa Banks, research associate with the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support, one of the Summer 612 coordinators.

Summer 612 is part of the City of Minneapolis' Blueprint for Action, which looks at preventing youth violence through a public health lens. Four objectives were set, including placing a trusted adult in the life of every child. It's a reminder that we all must view mentoring a child not as an option, but an imperative.

But Summer 612 zeroed in on the fourth and heftiest goal: Unlearning the culture of violence. Through microgrants from the Minneapolis Foundation and the city, youths ages 10 to 18 were recruited from eight teen-focused organizations and given one mandate: Create.

Donte Collins, 15, is a spoken word actor and dancer with Them Elements Dance Crew of Pillsbury House Theatre. His performance springs from a recent and still raw encounter on a bus, when he was told to take off his blue hat to avoid being associated with a gang. "I couldn't understand how someone could get mad over colors," said Collins, a student at Community of Peace Academy.

Patricia Thomas, 15, was given an unusual canvas onto which she painted her message of nonviolence: a white pair of Nike Air tennis shoes. Thomas was recruited by the YMCA's Y-ReConnect Program, which helps young people who are homeless, or transitioning out of long-term foster care or correctional facilities. She painted her shoes "bright happy colors, pink and blue, to remember the bright happy moments that I had in my life and how it all changed because of violence."

Through TVbyGIRLS, a citywide effort to create media projects important to girls, Leah Gross, 15, helped to produce a 15-minute public service announcement about dating violence, with a focus on what healthy relationships look and feel like. "We showed couples holding hands, clips from the [British romantic comedy] 'Love Actually,' people being really respectful. It's a little cheesy," said Gross, a Southwest High School sophomore, "but it's what we want."

And Fong Vang, 17, who was mentored through the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, was cameraman for a five-minute video featuring street interviews with North Siders young and old, and of many cultures. The North Side, said Vang, who attends Patrick Henry High School, "is a pretty nice place."

Busting assumptions is the first step toward creating a culture of nonviolence, said many adults involved in the 612 project.

"They're so used to thinking about violence that thinking about nonviolence sort of caught them off guard," said Katie Kettler, youth development specialist with the Emma B. Howe YMCA and Thomas' mentor on the tennis shoe project.

"Once we got over the, you know, what nonviolence is, they came together and it was amazing to see. They wanted to paint rainbows and the Minneapolis cityscape on their shoes, and people of different races holding hands. It was really cool to see their hope for Minneapolis."

The teens agreed that being invited to express themselves artistically was a winning idea.

"You can't shed light on the big picture until you know your own picture," said Antoine Duke, Collins' brother and an actor and director. "All art is personal. We talk about world peace, but to get there you have to first bring that back to yourself.

"Through the arts," Duke said, "we might be able to change the world around us."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

  • IF YOU GO

    Limited seating is available for Thursday's free event, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Minneapolis' Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. For more information go to www. tinyurl.com/3b7vcl6.

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