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Program Inspired By Protest Songs Helps Propel Next Generation Of Activists

By Linze Rice | June 13, 2016 6:18am
 Students at Stone Academy in West Ridge took on heavy social justice topics and presented them to the school through creative media as part of the Motivate and Encourage Music Appreciation program at the school.
Stone Academy Presentations
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WEST RIDGE — Working as a record promoter with some of the world's biggest acts for 25 years — the Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson and more — Jeanne Warsaw saw firsthand how revolutionary music brought people together during difficult times.

In recent years, Warsaw has taken that knowledge and turned it into a social justice-based arts curriculum called Motivate and Encourage Music Appreciation, better known as MeMA.

Warsaw was a lover of music early on, and in the 1960s and '70s listened to rock and R&B music "with messages of peace, hope, equality and freedom" — something she said could teach students today valuable lessons.

"I decided there needed to be a curriculum using music from the past; the era that transformed a generation, to teach students about the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam anti-war protests, equal rights and more," she said.

"I feel that young people need to listen and examine the lyrics from these songs and learn that the music had a purpose; not to make money or sell thousands of albums, but to gather together and discuss ways of peacefully protesting."

For four years, the program has had residency at Stone Scholastic Academy in West Ridge, and on Friday students gave presentations using multimedia art to express their thoughts and feelings on social inequalities and barriers to justice.

A performance by Chicago rapper and teaching artist Thrills kicked off the program in the school's auditorium, followed by a slideshow on the history of protest music soundtracked by Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" (also known as "Stop Children What's That Sound").

"Did you know rock 'n roll helped end the Vietnam War?" a slide asks. "What would you speak up for?"

The event was also sponsored by the Friends of Stone Academy group, and received a "generous" grant from The Field Foundation.

Using various mediums, eighth-grade students took on topics such as bullying and suicide, homelessness, the privilege of athletes, sexual violence, police brutality, cultural appropriation, gender inequalities, racism and more.

Wasiqah Maisha, 14, gave a presentation including a video component that questioned established racial stereotypes as well as a spoken-word performance.

"As a person that's from the Asian community, I've faced ... discrimination over the years, so I thought that just because I'm considered a minority, that doesn't mean I can't make a difference," Maisha said.

Student Julian Harvey spoke about misconceptions surrounding sexual violence, and the dangers of victim-blaming. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Julian Harvey spoke to his peers about misconceptions around sexual violence and the dangers of victim-blaming, subjects he said were "very near and dear to my heart."

Next, a group showed a skit warning the dangers of bullying and how it can affect others — including taking one's own life. The short video portrayed a boy in a school being beaten up and finding cruel notes in his locker before alluding to the boy jumping off a lakeshore high-rise.

Though heavy subject matter, students and parents in the audience reacted to the presentations, including offering strong support via applause.

Warsaw said if students can feel empowered to make positive change through music, as well as pride in themselves, the program is doing its job.

"There is very little music today with positive messages and the lyrics are often times misogynistic and/or explicit," Warsaw said. Students "are completely unaware of music from the past, and for many youth, they are unaware that some of the most legendary urban songs are from their own culture, which should make them proud. 

My hope is for students to gain some empathy as well, for other cultures as they learn through the program."

Jeanne Warsaw is the founder of Motivate and Encourage Music Appreciation and a former record promoter in the music industry for 25 years. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

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