Parkway NW High School
My City Needs
Native Portals Education project at
Parkway NW High School for Peace and Social Justice
The Native Portals Education Project was developed collaboratively by Lindsey Crane (Managing Director, Intercultural Journeys), Alex Shaw (Curator, Intercultural Journeys), Lela Aisha Jones (Movement, Performance, and Teaching Artist), Aidan Un (Media Artist) and Marissa Colston (Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Westtown School). "Native" is defined as a space and/or time from which we originate, commence, and/or begin, and "Portal" is defined as a doorway, gate, or other entrance, especially a large and elaborate one into a space, place, and/or time. The main objective of the residency is to create pathways and entry points for students to continually explore individual agency, social responsibility, social consciousness, and social action through movement and creative process. This residency requires students to contemplate how movement, gesture, and the body have been used in past social movements (especially those steeped in combating racism) and can be used as a place of processing positive and negative elements of being a member of a society. To do this we facilitate dialogue and utilize the creative mediums of dance, media, storytelling, personal experiences, and writing.
Historically, social actions that have fought for equality, and civil rights have included marches, protests, sit-ins, and other forms of demonstrations. Recently, in response to several high-profile cases of police violence, there is a more concentrated resurgence in the practice of social actions and civic engagement. Building upon historical foundations, these methods are now combining foundational strategies and innovative methods of artistry to create compelling public demonstrations that profess the extreme anxiety and troubled climate around race in the U.S. A final and major objective of the residency is the creation of social performance actions. In this process we work on concepts and ideas collaboratively to create live performance and/or media public demonstrations to amplify messages that unveil struggles, expose social neglect, celebrate cultural traditions as well as social triumph.
This residency was supported by The Philadelphia Foundation through the Fund for Children Initiative. Additional support provided by The Puffin Foundation and The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts through Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts.
I come from...
rice every night
It was special to hear Ms. Kristine Morrow’s 1st, 2nd, and 6th period classes speak about what was important for them to become advocates and activists for in their communities. They expressed that littering, children without parental guidance, and police positive interaction with communities was important. They also sang along with Otis Redding's version of "A Change is Gonna Come." Finding familiarity is so important during a residency. We have to connect with one another. It is not just about me coming in although I do bring my knowledge and wisdom. We all have ideas that should be honored. Their surprise in talking about the bombing of the MOVE Organization home is disheartening, but also brought about a wonderful debate on civil and human rights. Questions that surfaced: What does the government have the right to do? Do people have a right to live how they feel is best and along with their values? When have things gone too far in the name of justice? -- Lela Aisha Jones (Movement, Performance, and Teaching Artist)
In my position as video documentarian of Lela Aisha Jones' residency with the 9th graders of Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice, I witnessed first hand how vital it is for young people to have creative outlets and spaces for real talk about their experiences in and out of school. I was impressed with Lela's ability to be open and honest about her art and own personal experiences with the students, inviting them to do the same. Some took to it more than others, but all unanimously acknowledged at the end of the residency that their collaborative work had created a class spirit and solidarity that had been lacking before. Given the limited amount of time Lela spent at Parkway NW, I wonder and am hopeful for what could be possible with more time there. The work she is doing is incredibly powerful and may guide young people often left out by society at large into consciousness and pride of who they are and what they can achieve. -- Aidan Un (Media Artist)
I come from…
a place calls everything jawn
a neighborhood that became my home away from home
a family that sees music as a sixth sense
I come from…
a place of a mind that’s independent
a place of creativity
a place of hope
We experienced different ways of expressing social justice. Regular kids in other schools just learn about the Civil Rights Movement and write an essay on it. We did activities and learned how to express what we've been through or what we've seen in our lives.
We're going to be leaders next year, for the ninth graders, even the upperclassmen. We have to be leaders for them. Ms. Lela showed us that there are different ways to be leaders.
Comments from Parkway NW Students
The challenging thing that I have to overcome was socializing with people that I did not really talk to during this school year so this program really had me talk more like the people who I didn’t really talk to the most.
It helped us with friendships. At the beginning of the year there were some people that had bad relationships, but when she introduced something that we all had an interest in - singing, dancing, playing drums - it helped us come together peacefully.
The thing that was new to me was the whole singing part...the fact that I was just singing about the way people were in society...how they need to be free.
I learned that daps are referred to as handshakes and activism is acting on something you feel should change.
Prior to this residency I never really had any other experiences with the arts.
I understood social justice for art more because people use dances and poetry to spread peace. Social consciousness is new to me but now I know it means how people show awareness in their society.
At first everyone talked about equality and everything being equal. Now I know we don’t necessarily need equality for everything.
There was nothing challenging.
The most challenging part of this residency was the organization. For example the students weren’t really cooperating.
The challenging part of this project was having to communicate with other students.
I discovered that teamwork was important. It’s important because it get the job done.
My experience with art for social change was kinda confusing because I didn’t understand how arts and dance could have an impact on social justice.
I think that it helped us express our feelings. It helped us admit things that we were scared to admit. I am used to admitting things now.
I discovered a lot of things about my classmates throughout this experience. We are all from the same city but have way different backgrounds. The most interesting thing throughout the residency was learning how to express ourselves through music and dance.
I could see myself continuing to do rallies.
People say they don’t want people to protest and etc. We put our feelings into actions and “actions speak louder than words.” We about more than just peace. I love how our greetings for the social performance action were so different.
What do you recall as the most interesting and fun?
...being on stage and doing the acting…
...going on the trip to the International house and seeing Mrs. Lela on stage…
...being on camera...
What are your feelings about the creative and artistic parts of the process?
I believe it was fantastic to get these things that we asked for.
What was challenging for you and/or what did you have to overcome?
Finding a way to get over my past...violence, abuse, and hanging with the wrong crowd.
Dancing...I was just like I know I can’t dance.
I come from…
ballies and barrettes in my thick hair
my family coming to my house because they live near
I grew up on a north philly block where there’s no tears
I come from…
on the side some fights
I come from…
always with my fam