With no holiday to celebrate today, I would like to use my blog as the soap-box platform to share the final project for my experience with my Capstone. The course is titled Mobilizing Hope and focused on faith inspired social activism to explore faith and praxis. I was able to design my community based learning around music advocacy and it was a wonderful period of reflection within my own faith and calls to social justice as a Christian. If you would like to learn more or to see my other classmates’ reflections you can visit http://engagedspiritualitypdx.blogspot.com/.
Music has a unique ability to speak beyond cultural barriers and to transcend both time and conflict. It has the power to create emotional connections between musicians and audiences, often without any words. These connections create freedom not only within oneself as a creative and emotional outlet but also as a non-traditional, non-violent form of expression. Musical expression is often underemphasized in our society because while experience is rather universal it’s not always tangible. Every person experiences and contemplates music individually, often within a collective experience.
Fannie Lou Hamer was arrested in 1963 for her work as a female African American Civil Rights activist. She reflected on her time in jail saying, “When you’re in a brick cell, locked up, and haven’t done anything to anybody but still you’re locked up there, well sometimes words just begin to come to you and you begin to sing.” In Living Faith where this story is recorded, Paul DeYoung writes, “[the jailers] were disarmed by her truthful words and her loving spirit” (p. 137). Music was her emotional outlet and the words of the spirituals that she sang and led the other inmates with gave her hope and renewed her faith and spirit.
AfroReggae is an organization that brings music to children in Rio de Janiero as a means to change their current condition and prevent them from falling into the world of drug trafficking. The organization has been working for 20 years in low-income communities, bringing culture and art for children and youth as a tool for social inclusion (http://www.afroreggae.org/). Pictured here is 12 year old Diego Frazao Torquato playing at the funeral of his violin mentor and Afroreggae coordinator Evandro Joao da Silva who was mugged and murdered. Another young violinist, Vinicius, is quoted in Rio Times saying, “I came by every week to ask if I could play, but it took months before they could give me an instrument to practice on. Now I can finally play my violin. It’s the best.” It’s obvious that this experience has greatly influenced the lives of these children and has given them a sense of hope and community that we so often lack and are always seeking. We so often forget how blessed we are to live in a community with broad opportunities to experience and enjoy culture and art – however, they are rapidly disappearing.
Although less extreme in circumstance, my work with my community partner Memorial Middle School in Albany, Oregon was no less important than these two inspirational people and programs. I worked with the beginning band students as they began their musical journey and were introduced to the responsibility and joy that is innate to making music. Middle school can be a hard transition for students and being part of a community that works toward a common goal can be beneficial not only to boosting self-esteem and success in all subjects but also to improving peer relations. The benefits go beyond what we can see and are truly internalized by those whose lives are touched by music.
Hope is the word that has driven my experience with this course. My faith inspires me to not only be selfless with my time and talents but also to drive me farther toward the margins in my work. Those who need the most help are often the most far from it and as Christians we cannot be pulled into the enticing ‘band-aid’ solutions to social problems. We have to act for radical change at the root of the crisis. In my life, music is the method through which I feel called to enact this change and it will continue to be my mission of social activism. We have learned that small actions for collective change have purpose beyond our vision and I strongly believe that my faith calls me to touch the lives of my students for a lasting impact.