With eyes closed, a circle of about sixty people were asked to visualize a street they were familiar with– what it looks like now and what this community could look like. Shawn Sweeney, of Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, asked participants to think about whether or not there was litter, if there was a grocery store in walking distance, and if they could safely walk to that store.
This is an exercise similar to the creative visualizations that Sweeney leads for youth in the Roots & Shoots program. For that group, he then takes it further, having them draw onto a map the things that they believe would make their communities more ideal.
Sweeney shared this as part of the “Creativity, Social Change and You” event held Wednesday night at Billings Forge. Other guest speakers included Chris Doucot from Hartford Catholic Worker, LaResse Harvey of A Better Way Foundation, Magdalena Gómez, a performance poet out of Springfield, and Joe Miguez, with the Labyrinth Experience.
The purpose? To inspire.
Magdalena Gómez broke the ice by performing a poem about inventions she would like to see; later she would share about her work with youth in Springfield, many of whom face challenges similar to those in Hartford. She spoke about how students often enter her classroom with attitude (and/or lack of self-worth) and exit with a better ability to respectfully assert themselves and communicate better. Involved in that process: taking risks and understanding that if you are doing the right thing, you will not necessarily be liked by everybody.
LaResse Harvey, known for her work on issues related to incarceration, gave the story of where she first became aware of the arts as a child. In her whittled-down-to-ten-minutes biography, she also shared the place where she felt inspired and strengthened by the arts: prison. It was there where she was introduced to Maya Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman“. Now, she works on creating social justice through her Civic Trust Public Lobbying Co.
Harvey spoke about the importance of civic engagement, which is a theme that Chris Doucot also touched on. Doucot explained how Catholic Worker is “trying to create a space in the North End of Hartford where we can overcome fears.”
As with many these days, the Occupy movement was on his mind. He encouraged the “Occupy the Hood” philosophy to be taken further: Instead of going into a community to “help”, he said, it is better to listen. “Become their neighbors,” he urged, but not through gentrification.
Doucot said that in the United States, “we still have apartheid,” even if nobody will call it that.
He also challenged the rhetoric of the Occupy movement, saying that “‘occupation’ has an imperialistic undertone, no, overtone to it,” and that the 99% language is flawed: “across our borders, we are the 1%” and “the rest of the world can not maintain the American way of life.”
He encouraged people to move away from selfishness and toward sharing and community.
The mood was not wholly serious. Barefoot Joe Miguez asked the audience to pretend to hold invisible string, and later, ended the event by leading the group in the “Hokey Pokey”.
This event was sponsored by the “Creativity + Social Change” class at UConn (Greater Hartford campus), Connecticut Creates, and the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
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