|BAM Arts & Justice students performing State of Emergence. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan|
After three months of critical thinking, analysis, research, and distance-learning engagement with a school in Ferguson, Missouri, the students of BAM’s 2014 Arts & Justice after-school program presented their culminating piece: State of Emergence. The theatrical work was first performed last December 19, with a reprisal on Monday, January 19 as part of the Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2015. I was lucky enough to see the dress rehearsal, and in the month that has gone by I still can’t shake the images from this powerful performance.
The theme of this year’s Arts & Justice curriculum was Youth and Authority. Exercises and activities, coordinated and led by BAM Teaching Artists and Staff, prompted written works from all 15 students that explored both the positive and negative relationships between youths and their authority figures. Those works became the 100% student-written performance that is State of Emergence.
The piece opens with a shout of “Get off me! I didn’t do anything!” A boy in a red hooded sweatshirt falls to the floor into a white body outline. References to the victims of police brutality that have been on our minds and in the media this past year are strong throughout the piece, yet they're only a part of the story of the complicated relationship between youth and authority explored in State of Emergence. The themes that resonated so loudly conjure certain words: Misrepresentation. Abuse of authority. Equality. Accountability. Respect. State of Emergence presents a sophisticated proposal, from the kids, to remedy skewed perceptions. The students in Arts & Justice unapologetically challenge the audience–and the world–to acknowledge them, give them respect, and see them for who they are, not just for what they look like. The chance to explore and express feelings is a unique benefit that participation in Arts & Justice affords the youth in BAM’s community, not to mention the opportunity to display their considerable artistic talents on a world-class stage.
“Arts & Justice is not about the knowledge [the participants] come in with, but how the classes open them up to being more aware of the world around them.”–Verushka Wray, program manager
“Everyone wants to hear what they want to hear, but we’re talking about the truth.”–Destiny Sorrentini, Arts & Justice participant