Youth Theatre Festival encourages creativity

Friday, the community’s youth showed why art remains worthy of celebration at the 29th Annual Youth Theatre Festival. The festival revolved around the theme “I can do that,” a reoccurring notion in the festival’s history. Seeing others their age sing, dance or play the guitar encourages children to believe in themselves and think “I can do that, too.”

The first half of the festival featured performances by the young artists. The Kuumba Watoto and Knoxville Children’s Theatre (KCT) gave special performances. KCT demonstrated three types of dance performances: ballet, “Reflection of God” and jazz.

“We make sure to focus on youth performers and young people performing for young people because it makes a difference,” Jonathan Clark, executive support manager of The Carpetbag Theatre, said.

In 1989, the founders of Carpetbag, a local ensemble company devoted to original works, partnered with the Kuumba Festival to create the Youth Theatre Festival. The festival helped the community’s youth gain accessibility to the arts without worry about the cost.

The festival offered workshops for children from age 5 to 18. Some of the workshops included a hip hop dance class, painting and hip hop writing.

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The festival shows children that different opportunities exist in the world beyond  traditional occupations like medicine or law. Carpetbag wants them to understand their artistry and to sustain a viable and professional career within the theatre.

Kisha Rockette, the event coordinator of the Youth Theatre Festival, said, “We have to let our youth understand that they can survive with being an artist. It is important to tap into the youth so that they don’t feel as if there is no hope or that their dreams are lost.”

Both Clark and Rockette believe that arts programs have improved through the years, but Clark has not seen many art activities inside schools.

“The upcoming STEM academy is cool, but the arts get left out a lot, and that is usually the first place to get funding cut or redistributed,” Clark said.

Children can, however, find arts education through Carpetbag initiatives. Carpetbag received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund fall and spring break youth camps. Children in the camp will receive a stipend for joining and participating. Participants will also have a chance to help with the production of Carpetbag’s upcoming play, “Ce Nitram Sacul,” in September.

 

Images by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little

 

 

 

Refugees celebrate progress, hope

While immigration battles continue on Capitol Hill, the Knoxville community came together to celebrate World Refugee Day (internationally celebrated June 20) at Bridge Refugee Services, an organization driven to help refugees settle and succeed in the Knoxville and Chattanooga areas.

For a refugee, motivation for moving to the U.S. does not revolve around a more comfortable lifestyle, but the prospect of asylum. Refugees flee their native countries because of fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality or affiliation with a certain social group. Bridge helps refugees by securing jobs, housing and education opportunities.

Saturday evening, Bridge clients told stories about their journeys to America and described changes in their lives.

Client Eliza Manizabayo, a Congolese refugee, settled in Knoxville in 2016 after living in the Uganda Refugee Camp.

“There are some challenges where you do not know anything or anybody, and you feel like you’re so lonely, but these days we have churches that support refugees,” Manizabayo said.

Manizabayo shared her story and her love for America, where she finds many opportunities previously unavailable to her in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It’s where every refugee wants to go,” she said of America. “It’s everyone’s dream in the refugee camp.”

Bridge makes every effort to put clients at ease as soon as they step into McGhee Tyson airport.

“They [church members] help repair the apartment and they go to the airport to welcome them,” Manizabayo said. She also said Bridge directed her to many opportunities to help further her education and learn English.

World Refugee Day allows Manizabayo time to feel happy and forgive her past, days darkened by harsh and violent conditions in her native country. Such conditions included sexual assault, murder and torture by armed groups.

“Sometimes when we tell our stories, it makes us remember the past, but also gives us that feeling of, ‘Yes, I suffered, but now I’m okay.’”

Bridge Refugee Services planned events in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Maryville to celebrate World Refugee Day. In Knoxville, WATE’s John Dare served as emcee to facilitate transitions between speakers.

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Zainab Ahmed speaks to the public about her journey as a refugee and life in Knoxville. June 24, 2018. Sage Davis/TNJN

Zainab Ahmed came to Knoxville three years ago. A refugee from Iraq, Ahmed now looks to start her own jewelry business. She currently takes classes in marketing and business to help expand her jewelry brand.

“They [Bridge] encouraged me to do this,” Ahmed said. When Bridge plans events, workers help Ahmed market her jewelry by inviting her to set up a booth.

“They are helping me by connecting me to businessmen and commercial agencies to take classes with them to help me market.”

Drocella Mugorewera, executive director of Bridge, was a client when she first arrived in the U.S in 2009. For Mugorewera, World Refugee Day not only prompts remembrance of the refugees’ struggles worldwide, but also of their achievements.

“We’re celebrating their achievements, resilience and contribution to the community,” she said. “We’re also celebrating the welcoming communities.”

“Refugees cannot thrive without the supporting communities.”

Images by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little

PrideFest brings community together

From toddlers to senior citizens, many people lined the streets of Downtown Knoxville for PrideFest on Saturday. The highly anticipated event celebrated the LGBTQ community with a parade and PrideFest events at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum.

Hundreds decked out in colorful clothes and face paint showed their support for Pride month and the community. While dancers and drag queens hyped up the crowd, many organizations and businesses marched to show their support for the LGBTQ community.

“It’s the only time you ever see a lot of happy people and no hate involved,” Tim Carmichael, member of the Knoxville chapter of Prime Timers, said.

Prime Timers, a worldwide organization, supports older gay or bisexual men often isolated by family and friends because of their sexual orientation. Prime Timers works to support and connect the older gay community and socialize.

Although progress continues for the LGBTQ community in 2018, many argue that room for improvement remains.

Latisha Flores, a member of the Tennessee Equality Project, said, “There are still those people who do not understand or agree with the goals of the organization.”

“I think as more people realize that someone they know or are related to that they love identify as LGBTQ, then they realize that they are all affected.”

Tennessee Equality Project began as an organization advocating for marriage equality rights but expanded during the past 14 years. The organization hosts workshops at businesses and hospitals to educate locals and encourage welcoming behaviors toward the LGBTQ community.

Initially, pride parades were not acts of celebration, but acts of protest in memory of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 when fights ensued between police and customers of the Stonewall Inn, a prominent gay bar in New York City. Now, parades celebrate strides made by the LGBTQ community.

“Pride Month, to me, is celebrating the amazing people that are in our community,” Flores said. “It’s giving us a chance to acknowledge each other, have fun, be together and be our best selves.”

“It’s a slow process but it will only get better.”

 

Images by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little

Music, dance celebrate African American culture

African culture filled Historic Market Square for the 29th annual Kuumba Festival on Friday, June 22. The public celebrated the free festival with entertainment on the stage from noon to 10 p.m.

African American Appalachian Arts brought the festival to fruition. The nonprofit grassroots organization helps plan this annual festival and concentrates on bringing positive social, economic and community development through cultural arts programming.

This year’s theme, “Kuumba Forever,” honored the legacy of former Executive Director Nkechi Ajanaku who died last summer.

“I think people need to see this and experience new things,” Chelsey Goons, a UT student, said. “It really shows how much there is out there in the world to see and encourages young people to embrace their true culture.”

The “Love is the Answer” Youth Art Showcase encouraged child development through the arts.

Felecia Outsey, the creator of “Love is the Answer,” said, “[The showcase] started with me wanting to be able to have something in place for kids who could not afford to go to take dance lessons, and I was once one of those kids.”

“The initiative is an open-mic performance community showcase that is hosted every month, but what we do is use that time to teach love to children and people in our community.”

MC Zakiyyah “Sista Zock Solid” Modeste and DJ K Swift hosted the event through both sunny weather and a deluge. The Kuumba Watoto Children’s Dance and Drum Extravaganza proved a popular feature as performers livened up the scene despite the rain.

The festival ended with a live concert from local singer and poet Daje Morris and the Ogya World Music Band.

 

Images of the Kuumba Watoto Children’s Dance and Drum group by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little

 

Social justice fair brings awareness to Knoxville community

Various regional and national social justice organizations set up tables in the halls of Pellissippi State Community College for the 2nd annual Community and Social Justice fair Saturday, June 16.

The free fair hosted by East Tennessee Community Labs allowed citizens to learn more about organizations who advocate for social and community issues in the city. Groups included the Trans Empowerment Project, Knoxville Feminist Action Brigade and Moms Demand Action.

Moms Demand Action (MDA), a national grassroots organization, promotes polices to provide gun safety at local and national levels. The group works with lawmakers to close loopholes in gun purchasing and litigation.

“You don’t have to be a mom to be part of it, but moms get stuff done,” Jodi Scheer, co-lead of the East Tennessee chapter of MDA, said. “We are not against guns. We are pro-gun safety.”

In addition to tabling, scheduled 50-minute breakout sessions allowed groups to offer more information on topics like diversity in faculty and teachers in public schools, the intersectionality of faith and justice, race and economics.

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One of the breakout sessions, “Healthcare Access & Affordability in Tennessee,” broadly covered nuances of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA and the insurance marketplace often confuse first-time applicants. The audience wondered what changes the Trump administration brings to the ACA.

“The only thing that has been changed is the tax penalty,” Richard Henighan, a volunteer from the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, said.

He explained that under the previous administration, uninsured citizens received a fine for a year with no insurance. President Trump signed a tax bill last December aimed to repeal the tax penalty. Henighan said tax premiums increased because of the lack of such a penalty.

Outside the sessions, the fair featured activities for kids, food trucks and a blood drive. All events promoted equality and progress for the Knoxville community.

 

Images by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little

 

 

Indie artists perform at Smart & Becker

Two Nashville-native artists, Augustus Carroll and Austin Feinstein, performed with local artist Daje Morris in an intimate concert at the Smart & Becker Wednesday night.

As Carroll and Feinstein planned to perform in Knoxville, Morris reached out to the touring duo and helped to book their appearance.

Feinstein opened the show with his first song, “Side by Side.”

“It is sort of my anthem to dealing with the darkness that is in my life,” he said of his first song. “Saying that no matter who comes to me with any problems or whatever darkness that is in my life, it is not going to hold me down.”

The southern-folk artist explained that he did not become passionate about performing and writing music until last year. His inspiration for writing seriously resulted from a break-up last year. Feinstein first learned to play guitar at age 11, but he now focuses more on his music and writing.

“I’m still learning the ropes,” Feinstein said.

After Feinstein finished his set with “Oh Heaven,” Morris performed songs and poems. She began with “Come,” a song infused with both singing and spoken-word poetry. Morris finds inspiration through her memories and other poems.

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Daje Morris performs original music and poetry at the Smart & Becker. June 13, 2018. Sage Davis/TNJN

“Poetry and music is a way for me to process noise and that how I can stay grounded,” Morris explained. She said memories sometimes infiltrate her thoughts and distract her from living. “Music and poetry is a way for me to clear that.”

While Morris receives her inspiration through tragic memories and other poets, Carroll gains his inspiration through everyday occurrences.

“It could be just a thought I have throughout the day or just one occurring thing,” he said.

Carroll began his set with “Ghost” along with a cover of Leon Bridge’s song, “River” to which the crowd sang along.

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Augustus Carroll performs solo during his tour with Austin Feinstein in Knoxville, June 13, 2018. Sage Davis/TNJN

Feinstein and Carroll continue their tour in three more cities. They will perform next in Asheville, North Carolina. Morris will perform at the Kuumba Festival next Friday, June 22.

 

Images by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little