Youth showcase their talent and vision for Austin

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Youth from two Austin elementary  schools  showcased their talents Friday to show what they’ve learned through a summer program.

The show, “Austin’s Got Talent,” was developed, written and performed by students from Ella Flagg Young and Duke Ellington Elementary schools.

The show was the final event of the 21st Century’s Beyond the Bell Summer Academy, a four-week program during which students participated in creative writing and research projects that examined the history of Austin and their ideal community.

As a result of their research, students put together their own take on the information, making their knowledge visible through different forms of arts , including dance, media art and storytelling, said Andy David, digital arts facilitator.

Many of the youth expressed concerns about violence, he said.

“I did not grow up with violence, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have so much of it in your community,” David said.

 To help the students understand the idea of a community, students took trips to explore Pilsen and Downtown Chicago.

“We knew that all these students came from one community, and we heard some of them had never even left their neighborhood, ” David said.

Antaniya, who performed spoken word at Friday’s performance, would like to see an end to violence and more jobs created in her neighborhood.

Going to other communities and seeing how they use the arts and handle issues within their neighborhoods gives her hope that  she and her peers can do the same in her neighborhood, she said.

“I ain’t saying that Austin is a bad place to live,” Antaniya said. “Looking at other people and what they do in their communities, we can try to reflect them and the good stuff, and make it work in our community.”

Laneah played the role of a storyteller, an elderly women who reflected on the past and current condition of Austin. Allen depicted a woman who once knew Austin as a community of unity, culture and pride, but sees it today as a divided community filled with violence, unemployment and a lack of culture.

During Laneah’s time participating in the summer academy, she researched the history of Austin and discovered that in the 2000’s violence was rampant, she said.

“I just want to change all the senseless killing, all the gang violence, all the kids dropping out of school,” Laneah said. “All this stuff is just ruining our lives; we’re supposed to be getting our education, and nobody is doing that and nobody is  doing that for their children.”

She said the program took her outside of her comfort zone, taught her new skills and how to work with others.

For another participant, the program and showcase helped him form strong bonds with others.

“When I started this, I used to think of them as friends,” said actor and dancer Darryl. “Now I think of them as family.”

Program coordinator Emelda Lawson Bekkal said programs that integrate the arts are very important to children and can transfer to their academic work.

“I just hope this program helped them to see their potential,” Bekkal said.

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