When I think of all of the wonderful things that Fire has to offer I smile. It fills my heart with the uttermost joy to know that I can come to my workplace and flourish with my co-workers in such a peaceful and serene environment. Whether I am sad, distressed, depressed, distraught, angry, anxious, or indifferent I can come in and completely lay it all on the table. I never bring my drama into this setting on purpose, but Fire for me is like meditation. I just come, relax, and center my focus on what I am doing. I make sure that I breathe deeply, and lose myself in the refreshing oasis of the art. All of my passion, my pent up emotions, and initial reservations are emitted here. The wonderful auras of my fellow staff members are my inhale. The words I write on paper or type are my exhale. Every time I think of Fire at its fullest potential and in its best light, it fuels me with all the more drive and motivation to bring another level out of myself.
To me, it’s all the same as the feeling you get as a kid when you have some of your first Christmas experiences. The whole scene is just like a dream. You write out everything that you want on your Christmas list in a detailed letter to Santa, watch with a dazzling bewilderment as you bask in the luminous magic of the Christmas lights and decoration, you ensure that you have fresh milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve for Santa Clause, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of the seemingly inconspicuous gift-giving martyr. You also do your best to stay on your P’s and Q’s and go to bed early. This task becomes nearly impossible because the lure of new, rare, and exciting presents blares in your ear the way an ambulance siren does. It incessantly calls your name until you have no other choice but to stay up all night and let your imagination run wild, exploring all whimsical possibilities it creates in your mind.
After Christmas day finally does arrive, you are overwhelmed with anticipation and intrigue. No matter what background you came from, whether poor, middle class, or rich, you remember your early Christmas experiences because they bring you back to a point of consummate joy and light-hearted experiences. Those experiences are free of all of the negative components, disappointments, and letdowns to come in life. At those times, it was just the essence of the moment that makes the memory most cherished. You, a young innocent and promising child with your whole life still looming ahead, and your loved ones can’t help but sit back and observe the sensational glimmer in your eyes and reflect back on their own treasured memories. Their empathy allows them to play the role intended to ensure that you make the most of the moment.
After all is said and done, the Christmas day is heralded as one of the most exhilarating days of your life even compared to your later days. Now, as I look back on my own holiday experiences as an adult, I realize now that my adoration for the Christmas season had very little to do with the material gifts I had received. What made Christmas great was: the pure joy and happiness I got from spending precious time with those I loved, discovering the importance of giving and receiving form others, the incomparable feeling of relishing in the good times, and most importantly, the magnitude of knowing that I too am a special child worthy of love and appreciation because of the miraculous birth of Jesus. That is the feeling I get when I walk into the big, red building on the corner of 1249 Portage Road; which is one thing that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Next week, Fire will be showcasing its fourth Readers’ Theater event this year on Thursday, July 14th, 2011. The show is entitled “For Sale” and it chronicles the struggles of mainly misguided, emotionally abused, and disadvantaged people that become immersed in the dangerous and chaotic life of solicitation either by choice or by force. Topics discussed in the (You) th speak event are: an introduction to the sex trafficking business and prostitution, the differences of the two, everything that encompasses what a pimp really is, the terrorizing realities of the victims being sex trafficked or involved in prostitution, comparing and contrasting male vs. female sex trafficking and prostitution, stats on these subjects, and stories detailing how some individuals have overcome such traumatic circumstances. Being a part of this production and this Readers’ Theater project from the start has completely opened my eyes to some of the most psychologically damaging injustices that American citizens face.
These injustices are many of which are never spoken of, nor confronted and dealt with in society as a whole. Our mission with this event is to finally clear the air on this subject, bring light to the heart of the problems discussed, hone in on a greater understanding for the general audience, and to encourage those who have been through these types of situations or people who may know others that have dealt with sex trafficking and prostitution to become compelled to get involved. Our larger goal is to cause everyone to want to help stop this vicious exploitation that occurs world-wide. This Readers’ Theater event will be the most heart-felt and controversial one yet, and to me personally, I believe will be the best one yet. It’s definitely a must see event for all because there’s nowhere else you can find this type of production that combines social justice, a high level of intellection, and theater.
No scholastic curriculum even comes close to the innovative nature of the events and its monumental purpose. This is why I feel so passionately about Readers’ Theater, and why it’s a mandatory event to witness if you are in the K-zoo area. By being present at this event, you are able to see it for yourself and imagine the look on the face of a person who has dealt with this sort of thing if they were aware of a project like this, and it makes a world of difference in the lives of others. In you, it can also evoke the same passion that I have for diminishing these issues.
Last month Fire opened its doors to 16-20 students in the Alternative Learning program at New Genesis. I along with Michelle Johnson, Denise Miller, and Lita Gallegos of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative had been involved in an Oral Testimony teaching program with them over the course of 2-3 months. When starting the program, our main goal was to personally get to know the kids, gain insights into their backgrounds, discover what interests they have, and cause them to generate deep thought from reflecting back on some of their most controversial and difficult experiences. During our Oral Testimony sessions, we presented a wide variety of writing and poetry exercises that granted them the opportunity to take on assignments with more creative freedom and give them the chance to openly elicit their feelings about certain topics and situations. This process progressed as the time went on, and it rapidly transcended from interactive group activities and games, to poetry workshops, to visual arts assignments that accentuated their individuality. Along with these projects, the students did personal collage projects as well.
Towards the end of the program, the students even wrote their own songs. Some of their song lyrics stemmed from the poems they had already written, or the inspiration and delightful creativity they shared. It was as brisk and refreshing as an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a hot, humid July afternoon. Finally, at the end, some of the children were given the privilege of having a field trip to Fire on May, 27th 2011. Here they had the chance to express themselves even more by participating in a wide range of activities throughout the day. They were introduced to sound recording, and many of the students present became accustomed to the entire song making process. Skills learned involved: musical production, recording, and songwriting. The ALP students were divided into two groups, and each group was able to make their own original track from scratch using professional equipment and up-to-date, quality technology. While one group of kids participated in recording, the other group completed an arts and crafts project on a full size door.
The door served as a direct gateway to the essence of their authentic selves and they got to exhibit that through: pictures, collages, poems, drawings, props, and various other supplies available to them. Last, but not least, the kids also participated in a dance workshop, and became exposed to the dynamic, fast-paced, gritty, and distinctive krump dance style. The basic krump movements: chest pops, arm swings, and stomps were taught to them. They also memorized a short dance routine that put greater emphasis on the mechanics instructed. Some of the individuals performed the routine for their peers to display what they learned. Overall, it was a long and eventful day but seeing their faces light up like the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival made everything all worth it in the end.
Thoughts on Journalism and Poetry
I’m involved in a Journalism workshop at Fire that gives me the opportunity to write news stories, features, editorials, blogs, etc. I am also involved in numerous poetry events that Fire has to offer, and I feel that those events are wonderful outlets for expressing my creative talents. I attend the Journalism workshop every Monday from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Poetry events are usually every Thursday at 8:00 p.m. The poetry events allow me to learn more about the various forms of poetry, to gain knowledge from other poets, and network with multitudes of people with a similar passion for the art. I am taking part in these activities because I have always been a voracious writer, and I’ve had a strong desire for using writing as a tool to connect with the world. These programs have given me a substantial amount of help in developing my writing skills even further and it has also served as a stepping stone for my future career aspirations. I thoroughly enjoy being instructed every week on the different journalistic styles, and having the chance to write about different events, news, and/or happenings going on at Fire. Learning totally new things at such a rapid pace was a challenge for me. However, being able to write in a wide variety of ways, and having the chance to build my own portfolio makes the work satisfying. In general, I feel that the Journalism workshops as well as the poetry events are a success, because they give more writers the chance to express themselves, and gain valuable experience in these specialties. My dream is that the project will increase writing opportunities in the media for me and others.
Readers’ Theater is a new project formulated by the youth staff at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative. The project’s mission is to entertain a wide range of people through theater, and to educate its audience on relevant social issues and current data that affects our country. Readers’ Theater also aims to depict vivid scenarios of how said issues positively or negatively affect our society. Readers’ Theater shows also seek to offer spectators solutions to the problems discussed, and/or motivate those in attendance to ponder on questions of how to prevent these dilemmas from taking place on a daily basis. Readers’ Theater serves as a forum of discussion as well, for those involved in the project and for individuals coming to the shows. The purpose of this is to bring greater awareness of these issues to everyone regardless of color, religion, class, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, creed, etc.
The ultimate goal is to get its audience more engaged in discussions on these obstacles in our country and to prompt everyone to have the desire to take necessary action when confronted with these problems in their everyday life. Readers’ Theater’s first piece was on discrimination and hatred that is present in our communities, particularly on the basis of sexual orientation. It took place Thursday, March 10th, 2011 from seven o’clock p.m. to eight o’clock p.m. at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative. The event was originally created by Shawntai Brown and it starred: Adelita Gallegos, Corrina Hinton, Domonique Essix, Brianna Washington, and Devonnte DeJarnette. The production also discussed issues on domestic violence in cases where the man is violent towards the woman, and instances where the woman inflicts pain on the man. Lastly, it presented scenarios where the presence of bullying is evident.
Within the production, Don’t Hate or Discriminate, each topic contained a problematic situation in which the characters first negatively reacted to the issue. Then, after coming to the realization that their actions were wrong and detrimental, the characters experienced a change of heart, and responded proactively to the circumstance by reconciling their differences with the individuals being discriminated against. The second time they concluded the scenes posing a viable solution. Lakira DeJarnette was present for the event Don’t Hate or Discriminate, and she stated that she viewed the show in a positive light. “I thought that the show provided a motivational message and proved to be relevant with a variety of people in the community.” DeJarnette said. “I thought Don’t Hate or Discriminate effectively articulated its message without being offensive.” DeJarnette said. She added that she felt the piece completely served the purpose that it set out to, although, DeJarnette expresses that more group participation would have made the show more lively and interactive.
Aquair Muhammad was another person in the audience, who viewed Don’t Hate or Discriminate as an overall success. “I felt that the event was very entertaining, informative, creative, and insightful. Muhammad said. He also feels that the project had an integral message for young people, and that others could learn a lot from it. “Others can learn how to respond to conversations where these issues present, recognize that the issues are not ok at any time, and that they’re intolerable.” Muhammad said. Don’t Hate or Discriminate debuted as the premier event of the Readers’ Theater project. There will be subsequent events such as this every month at Fire Historical and Cultural Collaborative. The next Readers’ Theater event is going to tackle issues on race. However, the date and times for next month’s event is undecided as of now.
Vandalism has become a controversial issue in the Edison community of Kalamazoo, MI. Various businesses, organizations, and homes have been randomly tagged in the area and it is beginning to cause a stir among local business owners and residents. One organization in particular, Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative has been targeted repeatedly as of late. In my opinion, the perpetrators are completely wrong in regards to their actions because their spray painting devalues buildings vital to the area, causes the owners to be penalized by police when they had nothing to do the crime, and it gives graffiti art a bad name as a means for self-expression. Tagging is when a person or group of people signs or “tags” a building, wall, canvas, etc. via spray paint. This type of vandalism has given spray painting a misconception of being an act of rebellion, committed mostly by insubordinate adolescent gang members with the intent of damaging or defacing property for amusement. Conversely, spray painting is really an art form in its own right.
Graffiti art stemmed from the innovative hip-hop culture, and was unveiled to help showcase the aesthetic genius instilled in many inner-city artists. Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative can offer individuals an outlet to express themselves through Graffiti Art. So ironically, the taggers could spray paint liberally inside of the building and put their talents to good use, as opposed to inappropriately tagging the edifice itself. Although, those suspects living in the community may be highly skilled in the area of graffiti art, their talent in no way justifies the crime of tagging buildings when they aren’t permitted to do so. Going to Fire as an alternative would allow taggers to accomplish something more productive, and save themselves, residents, and law enforcement precious time and money.
It is a typical Friday at the group home. Gallegos is swiftly sweeping the aisle-way in close proximity to her cell. She fervently shuffles the area and expeditiously strokes the floor until every piece of trash is cleared. Afterwards, she is placed on kitchen duty. When washing the dishes she thoroughly lathers each plate, saucer, spoon, knife, and fork. Then she surveys each dish methodically like a hawk, checking to alleviate each dish of the slightest gritty speck. She handles each job with the same care and concern she has for her one year-old daughter Avi’anna; just like her father who whole-heartedly cared for Gallegos and her nine siblings despite not having a lot of money. Taking a tremendous sense of pride in every task thrown her way, Gallegos eyes intent and hands incessantly diligent, rinses the remainder of the lingering dishes until they glimmer like a shooting star in the distant realms of the atmosphere. Knowing that she is about to conclude a hard days’ work, Gallegos takes a look at the last plate with boundless delight. Her work, serving as a direct reflection of her endless dedication and tactfulness, pleasingly smiles right back at her.
Later on, after completing the daily chores, Gallegos immerses herself in the weekly outreach program that she is in. Today, she is being taught the ropes in DJing by Michelle Johnson. Johnson is a scholar, DJ, and co-founder of a local non-profit organization by the name of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative. As Gallegos mixes, she is entirely engaged in the activity. Gallegos completely loses herself in the intrinsic art of being a DJ, the same way she does when she raps or performs poetry. She displays a consummate oneness with the equipment. Gallegos, being more of a jack of all trades, also exhibits an effortless knack for rapidly picking up on anything she tries.
This impresses Johnson incredibly and motivates her to not only desire to get more acquainted with Gallegos, but it also lays as a stepping stone to benevolently propel the lives of both individuals in future years. More than likely, Gallegos is unaware of the significance of the moment, but she takes it all in stride. She allows herself to effervescently shine in a way that makes the whole scene and everyone else disappear besides herself and Johnson. This proved to be a prime breaking point in her life, not only leaving a lasting impression on Johnson, but serving as a building block to transcend her character and her potential as an effective leader in her native Kalamazoo, MI.
Gallegos also experiences the same breakthrough when meeting Denise Miller, who is a professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and also a co-founder of Fire with Johnson. Miller’s initial impression of Gallegos was that she seemed open, creative, and quiet. Although, just as Johnson, Miller would learn over the course of two and a half years that Gallegos’ fortitude, complexity, and maturity would leave an unmistakable perception of her in the minds of them both.
After the encounter with Miller and Johnson, Gallegos would eventually begin working at Fire, once she was released from the juvenile home. Fire’s mission is to optimistically affect the community by promoting programs that improve social justice and hone individuals' authentic self-expression through forms such as: Poetry, Hip-hop, Visual Art, Improv, Comedy, Culinary programs, Photography, etc. Gallegos’ contributions to Fire over the course of two and a half years have helped ensure that its mission and vision for the community comes to pass. Gallegos, now seventeen years old, is involved in a variety of arts based projects at Fire such as: Readers’ Theater, Standing Together, and Fire’s Improv Team. Aside from that, Gallegos serves as an active leader in the forefront of Fire’s event planning, organizing, coordinating, etc.
Gallegos says her dad is the one who inspired her to be completely dedicated to everything she does. Her daughter Avi’anna also gives Gallegos a substantial amount of drive and determination to achieve her goals. “I want to give my daughter a better life.” Gallegos said. Gallegos adds that she plans on getting her GED in the summer, and will pursue a degree after that in order to broaden her career options and help give back to her family. “I wanted to be a coroner when I was younger, but the thought of being around all the blood and dead bodies made me change my mind.” Gallegos said. Gallegos states she doesn’t have a specific thing that she is passionate about, but she knows that she loves to help people. She says that God will place her in an ideal position to be an inspiration to others with stories similar to her own, and those who are victims of bullying, abuse, low self-esteem, and other traumatic situations such as this.
“I feel that Adelita is capable of being whatever she wants to be.” Johnson said. Johnson adds that the world will definitely be a better place with Adelita in it, and is certain that she will have an everlasting legacy of leadership. Johnson also believes that her story will not only impact the youth and families of today, but also the generations to come. “I am confident that she is destined to run a community organization or agency that will help uplift the community she is in, and make an effective difference within it,” Miller said. Miller goes on to say that her keen sense of professionalism, unwavering integrity, and fierce commitment to the completion of projects will ensure her success.
Gallegos has overcome many obstacles on her road to success. She’s been faced with poverty, complications with the law, and opposition from others. Time and time again she has proven that she is open to new things, is capable of conquering challenges she never came across before, and is wise enough to capitalize on good opportunities presented to her. Despite the odds, she has wonderfully risen to the occasion by repelling each and every bump in the road on her journey. Gallegos herself is unpredictable about her aspirations and dreams in the future, but has a lot of faith in what God gave her. No matter what happens in the future, Gallegos knows prosperity is inevitable because she will not stop until she has achieved ultimate greatness. In the end, if no one else remembers her legacy as an employee, they will remember her legacy as a warrior and a as aconqueror.
Devonnte DeJarnette first got involved with poetry at the age of ten. The poem had to be about someone he idolized and he wrote about Michael Jordan. Dejarnette won a 1st place trophy and a free meal a Denny's with this poem. He also entered an online poetry contest which he won as well. The poem he wrote was called "Drunk". The poem was based on an intoxication of love. His poem was published in a book.
Dejarnette is now 19 years old and works at Fire Historical And Cultural Arts Collaborative. Dejarnette wishes to continue to influence others and to publish his poems in a book one day. He became inspired to do this after seeing his mother perform her poems for others. His mother was a care provider for disabled veterans and worked another part time job at a daycare center. DeJarnette said he liked poetry because his mother could motivate others and make them feel good through her poetry.
DeJarnette, at aged nine, and his older sister Takita, then aged 30 moved from California to Kalamazoo, Mi. DeJarnette says he moved “because I was having conflicts with my parents”. A year later his parents moved to Kalamazoo and Dejarnette moved in with them, putting aside the past. After about six years, his parents were not employed and weren't enjoying the cold winter weather that Kalamazoo was having, so they decided to move the family to Allen,TX. Once there, Devonnte graduated high school and was hopeful that the family would find more opportunities there.
Things weren't going well however, so after 2 years DeJarnette moved back to Kalamazoo with another sister. This time DeJarnette her returned to work in a non-profit that he had previously been involved with at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative where they do many different programs such as poetry, recording, arts, talent shows, event coordinating, and more. DeJarnette says he first became interested in Fire before his move to Texas because he was very passionate about poetry .
Michelle Johnson is the executive director of Fire, where she met DeJarnette. Three years ago Dejarnette was introduced to Fire by Javon a talented young man who worked there. Javon was working on a two week summer project called On Fire where a producer by the named Pharlon Randle came to record the youth at Fire. That’s where DeJarnette's rapping talent as well as his performing talent got introduced to everyone at Fire. "DeJarnette was very quiet and shy normally, but would be very funny one on one" says Michelle. DeJarnette has a lot of talents such as being a poet, a leader with great goals for the world, a believer in social justice, a journalist , a media specialist, and a rapper. These are only just a few of the talents he uses on a daily basis while working at Fire.
DeJarnette is interested in and gets to learn more about journalism through Fire by writing articles and doing projects that they offer. “Since first working at Fire at the age of 15 he's matured and become more responsible now, from coming in late everyday, to now coming in early, and focuses more on work tasks, “ says Michelle.
Denise Miller, Public Arts Director at Fire says “DeJarnette is a good poet”. She met Dejarnette at an open mic event at Fire. She said “Since meeting DeJarnette, he's become more interested and concerned with political , economical, and environmental issues, and more comfortable with others than before working at Fire”. Miller feels that others can be inspired by him since he's a high school graduate with dreams and hope to do better. Miller said “I admired how he left Allen,TX to come and work all the way in Kalamazoo at Fire”. DeJarnette said I want others to take chances to achieve their goals and dreams. Dearnette's thankful for Fire because it's showed him how to bring his talents to the highest level and would recommend for others to go to Fire. He's glad to have kept hope for all these years for Miller and Johnson. He said, “I don’t know what my life would be like without Johnson and Miller. Thanks to them I pursed new passions and talents that I didn’t know I had.”