enculturating las vegas into the next millennium... art, dance, film, music, poetry, theater, history, nature and everything else that enriches the lives of those who live and visit southern nevada... Since 2003...

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Our Kids" by guest blogger Evelyn "Evie" Thompson...

I have had the pleasure of knowing Evie Thompson for over a year now. Her energy is infectious and her love and passion for art and culture is second to none. I serve as one of her advisors with the Music and Arts Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of electronic music. I invited Evie to blog about her experience working with children and bringing them the beauty that is music. Enjoy...

 “Our Kids”
By Evie Thompson

There are a lot of catch phrases when it comes to referring to the kids of America. We have “our kids,” the “youth,” “youth-at-risk,” “underprivileged,” “our future,” “innocent children,” etc. I find myself as desensitized to these phrases as “I love you,” and “I have issues.” My point is that there are as many mindless descriptions for kids in our over-analyzed, overmedicated, over-desensitized society as there are kids.

While establishing our non-profit (The Music & Arts Society) we were advised that it was vital that the language in the mission statement contain the phrase “youth.” This is not to say in any way that we did not create our organization to benefit our national treasure, “the youth.” But one has to remain vigilantly mindful not to merely look at “the youth” as commodities in formulas on a spreadsheet. God forbid anyone actually articulates that quantifying numbers in programs must happen in truth.

After all, aren’t non-profits supposed to struggle for the countless causes they represent like the poverty-stricken spiritualists? Aren’t I more altruistic, pure and exalted when I let people know that I am helping the “youth of America?” This is what I find interesting about owning a non-profit in America especially in a city like Las Vegas. If I were to say I own a casino, I may be judged with revolt, revered for my wealth and possibly admired for my business savvy.

The paradigms and categories we create to feel good and those we identify as exploitive are ambiguous at best. At least we all know that a casino owner is in it for the money. But I am I somehow better than other people because I have a non-profit with programming for after-school programs in “at-risk” populations.

What does this term “at-risk” mean anyway. I recently brought this up in a meeting and was informed that “at-risk” meant at-risk of going to jail, at-risk for going into the system whether juvenile correction or foster care, etc. I’ve been thinking about the term more in-depth since that time. I believe it has replaced the less politically palatable term, “under-privileged.” Of course I’ve given this term a great deal of thought as well.

In America “underprivileged” popularly refers to the less fortunate, the lower socioeconomic strata, the working poor. My understanding is that underprivileged and/or “at-risk” almost invariably applies to urban minorities. And absolutely never to dysfunctional middle and upper class “privileged” kids and trust fund babies. After all, kids with money have no problems and if they do it ceases to be any concern to society because their families can afford to get them the attention they need, assuming the privileged problem is discerned at all.

As I continue with my diatribe of how we as culture identify our “youth,” I would be remiss to omit the source of it. I have been “at-risk,” “underprivileged, abused and conflicted all of my childhood. I came into existence in conflict. Born of a white mother with a white father on my birth certificate, one of the first issues of my adoption was an issue of race. I am not all white. I was white, Negro, black, eventually bi-racial, mixed and now I’m just me. I’ve never fit into boxes and to be honest as soon as I thought I was comfortable in one the box no longer fit.

As an adoptee, I was so “lucky” that someone loved me enough to keep me; I was part of the “successful” statistic. As a victim of child abuse and molestation, I was part of the “unfortunate victims” statistic. As an artist, athlete and merit scholar, I was part of the “youth-that-will-save-America” statistic. As part of the elite Trojans of the University of Southern California, I was part of the privileged pedigree. When I saw my father’s $19,000 income my freshman year while trying to establish my independent status (I was working and debiting my way through school), I was lower-middle class and underprivileged again.

I have analyzed myself senseless. I’ve been blessed enough to travel the world, to sit with the “oppressed” women of Japan; stay with families in the jungles of Thailand; partake in Egyptian pilgrimages along the Nile. I’ve sat on the Great Pyramid, climbed Machu Picchu and seen the Big Five on the Masa Mara planes of Kenya. My very first time to a “third-world” country I was struck by a feeling I wouldn’t be able to articulate until many years later. In the myriad of races and cultures I noticed one conspicuous fact, love was present everywhere. People smiled from their souls in places I never thought there was anything to smile about.

The indigenous people, those who could never afford to shop at Wholefoods, were happy and ate better than most of us in America. I saw families working together for whatever they were working toward. I felt more love in a single smile from a foreign stranger offering me a piece of fruit than from my entire childhood. I noticed the pride people took in their huts, their families, and their “meager” offerings. Many bathed in rivers where corporations poured their waste. But the warmth of their hearts touched me forever. Their basic humanity touched mine.

From that point on, I maintained that every American inner-city “at-risk” kid should be forced to go to a third-world nation at least once. I’ve changed my mind since then, every American should go!

I never wanted to be a teacher in the conventional sense. I never wanted to be a parent until it was too late. By the time I realized I had more fear of repeating my violent past than in my power to change it, it was too late. In my efforts to alleviate the pain of my own childhood I’ve traveled many paths metaphorically and literally. Each road has lead to amazing insights, revelations and opportunities. I taught self-realization classes, created family workshops, written papers on self-empowerment through creative power. My life has felt serendipitous and often disjointed.

The media hasn’t helped to allay my thoughts. In fact, commercials depicting breakfast as a piece of toast with a chocolate spread as nutritional, sums it up. Over-worked parents with screaming babies making messes and an overabundance of chemicals to sterilize a germaphobe population while offering pills for any and all manner of ailments is the great American solution to our parenting woes and whatever else ails you.

Yet, here I am with my partner in life and in business, the legendary Jesse Saunders, originator of House Music, (Google him and check him out in Wikipedia for more info). About a year ago we established the Music & Arts Society here in Las Vegas. Nine months later we established the Electronic Music Café. Our lives, our passion and our mission are global.

We have brought our “ART of the DJ™” program to the after-school system. We work with the youth, the “youth-at-risk,” the “under-privileged.” As we work with them I think about how much they have, materially speaking; they have toilets, roofs, shoes, and actual schools. Over the years I’ve heard so much negativity about the Clark County School system that I was expecting something a notch above the African infomercials. Instead I found countless after-school programs from forensic CSI programs, to dance, cooking, music and more. I see kids with options, with a lot of people that care about them. Villages where perhaps parents are not as present.

What I don’t see are whole families whose simple bond is love. I see kids carrying their lockers on their backs in backpacks. I see kids hurrying to get to hurried parents hurrying to the next commitment. I see people doing the best with what they have in the one of the allegedly richest countries in the world. Despite my apparent cynical observations and ranting something amazing really did happen.

The kids we come in contact with on a daily basis are more sophisticated and aware and present than I ever expected. They are still kids. My lesson has been simple and humbling. I believe each and every one of us comes to this incarnation with our own journey. We each possess our own unique story. Each soul is neither more nor less innocent than anyone else’s. The unique personalities, reactions, creations, attitudes and resistances reflect one indisputable fact. Kids are human beings. Whether trust babies or “at-risk,” each has their own unique set of sensibilities, dreams and desires. And while they are predisposed to the circumstances they are born into, in the end they will live their journeys, they will live their lives; however long or short; however seemingly eventful or not. They are human beings; they each fulfill some purpose whether in Africa or America.

This blog will share the inspirations and insights this blogger gleans from these creative encounters with the young humans we are fortunate to interact with as we continue on our journey. You will find it to be many things, all of which I cannot be responsible, but I can guarantee that it will be thought provoking. I think if we think a little more about what and why we do what we do, the peace we so desperately search for in our smorgasbord of additions, will be a little less appealing. Here’s to the kids of America and my journey to and through them!

About the Music and Arts Society
The MUSIC & ARTS SOCIETY is a non-profit corporation. Our goal is to preserve the historical and artistic foundation of the fine arts and today’s pop music known as, electronic music, which has its roots in the prolific genres of yesterday (i.e. blues, jazz, rock & roll, new wave and disco). This supports the greater community by teaching the youth and adults how to navigate the music and art industry through creative, educational and practical programs.


Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...

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