By Jennifer Van Pelt & Sara Mortensen
On June 8th, Words Alive held our 4th Annual Art & Literacy Event to showcase artwork made by our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) participants. Each year, ABG students participate in a program-wide literacy and arts project that enhances their reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in a book and their own environment.
This year, our book of focus was the stunning young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The book and the exhibition focused on the theme of “duality”. At the Art & Literacy Event, our Executive Director, Patrick Stewart, explained where the inspiration for the theme came from:
For many the term “risk” is a very positive or powerful way to go forth or evaluate next steps. Yet at the same time, we use the term “at-risk” with a child and I don’t need to define that even further because you know exactly what that is. At-risk kid. At-risk communities. They have very negative connotations. These are labels that very often these kids grow up with, I don’t know if they are trying to shed them, they will tell you sometimes it's who they are. But we look at risk very differently [depending on our perspective]. That was the inspiration for this...Through this duality we wanted to take a look at dual concepts but with language and having conversations about [this] one particular word.
In the novel, The Hate U Give, the main character encounters and witnesses police brutality in her community and overcomes barriers through activism. For the exhibition, students focused on themes of duality in their own lives and how they have struggled and persevered individually. The project enabled the participants to make real-world connections between the book and their lives in a meaningful way in order to learn about themselves but also reflect on how coming together and sharing their experiences can make a larger impact.
Students painted individual pieces of wood based on a theme from the book (identity, racism, grief, anger, bravery, risk, or activism), then the pieces of artwork submitted by the students were combined together into communal sculptures by local artist Isaias Crow. In the end, each school participating in the project had a distinct sculpture that served as a visual representation of the positive and negative aspects (i.e. the “duality”) of one of the prominent themes in The Hate U Give.
The exhibition, titled The Love You Give, was displayed at the San Diego Art Institute (SDAI), a regional contemporary art center in Balboa Park, at the Youth Alliance Exhibitions: a showcase of student artwork created during the past school year with seven other local non-profit organizations. In addition, two of our schools (La Mesa Community School and 37ECB) took field trips to view the exhibition. During these field trips, the Education Director from the San Diego Art Institute, Karla Centeno, held a discussion with the students about how they felt about their work being displayed and publically available for others to see. Responses ranged from “I feel famous” to “I feel proud” and Karla encouraged the students to bring their family and friends to view their accomplishments as well.
At the Art & Literacy Event on June 8th, nearly 100 of our volunteers, donors, and community members showed up to support our students and our mission. The room was filled with awe and amazement as everyone took in the incredible artwork our students had produced. In addition to the art, students participated in writing exercises based on their theme, some of which were printed in the event program. On the subject of grief, one student wrote:
Like a Trojan Horse
love is the costume of pain
that drowns in black water.
-Christian, 17 years old
On the subject of bravery, another student wrote:
Bravery is not about jumping in front of a bullet or standing up for someone.
To me, bravery is avoiding confrontation and walking away.
Bravery is not about getting locked up or committing a crime.
Bravery is staying away from crime and moving on.
Bravery is not always about fighting or jumping someone you hate.
Bravery is breaking up a fight or doing what’s right.
-Salvador, 17 years old
Words Alive Executive Director Patrick Stewart spoke at the event and called upon the experiences the participants have had throughout the program and during the art project specifically. He recited their words such as “this is the first book I’ve read” when speaking about a novel they studied, then later, “I can’t believe I actually wrote this” as they picked up the program that held their own poems.
Providing the environment and tools that allow students to read, analyze, create, and learn to love reading is what Words Alive strives to accomplish with our Adolescent Book Group. One of the many ways we teach and inspire the students to do this is through the integration of literature and art, which studies have shown can expand critical thinking and language development. We are so proud of our students for creating such beautiful art pieces and engaging with the project. We can’t wait until next year’s project!
If you would like to learn about and get more involved with our literacy programs at Words Alive, click here to find out more information.