I saw the movie “Undefeated” and should have listened when my boss, Anne O’Keefe, advised me to bring Kleenex. It’s the documentary Rockford native Daniel Lindsay worked on about a high school football team that made me care about football for the first time since Walter Payton left the field. There is a line the coach said to one of his players that, for me, epitomizes the movie. “When you do good, good things will come.” In case you haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m not going to tell you about the incredibly amazing thing that happened to this young man, but have tissue ready.
It made me think of kids I’ve met through the Rockford Area Arts Council programs, like Corey. Corey was in our ArtsPlace apprenticeship program and was dangerously close to dropping out of school. This young man was a diligent worker, friendly and respectful to fellow apprentices, staff and customers. I asked what was the problem at school. “My teachers hate me. I don’t understand stuff and they won’t help.” As he talked about this, Corey’s demeanor shifted from upbeat to angry. I told him what I observed about his body language. “Teachers are human. Nobody likes to work with someone who looks like they are ready to cuss them out.”
I suggested he try being kind and courteous like he was at ArtsPlace. “Give them a chance to see the person we see. You may be surprised at how willing they will be to help you.” He came back the next week and reported it worked like magic. Teachers helped him after school and during their own lunch breaks. He laughed and said, “Wish I knew about this a long time ago.” Corey became the first in his family to graduate from high school.
The Arts Council is the regional coordinator of the national Poetry Out Loud competition for high school students. They memorize and recite poetry in school competitions, and winners go on to regional, state, and the national competition. The national champion wins a $20,000 college scholarship, which means he or she is expected to go to college.
I was at the state competition with our regional winners, Amanda Clark and Xavier Kimbrough. I knew Amanda because she had been at ArtsPlace, and Xavier was the Poetry Out Loud alternate last year. Both were seniors so I asked what their post graduate plans were. They hoped to go to college, but neither had been accepted anywhere yet. Amanda tried several times to apply to Southern Illinois University, but the on-line application wouldn’t go through. Xavier applied to several colleges but hadn’t been accepted. He didn’t get serious about school until this year.
The state Poetry Out Loud competition was stellar. Everyone did an incredible job and any one of them could have won, but Xavier was a stand-out. After the first round, the girl who ended up winning, said to her parents, “Did you see the boy (Xavier) who recited ‘Invictus’? I might as well go home.”
During the reception, one of the judges told Xavier how impressed she was with his recitation, and not to be discouraged that he didn’t win, because his performance was exceptional. Xavier was gracious and complimented the competition and the girl who won. The judge asked what year he was, hoping he would have another chance to win it. When she learned he was a senior and trying to get into a four year college, she told him she was a professor at Southern IL. University. Xavier explained his grade situation and the judge said, “We can work with you on that.” She promised to speak with admissions on behalf of Xavier, and find out why Amanda’s application hadn’t been accepted. The following week I received a call from the Director of Admissions at SIU asking for assistance in contacting them.
Amanda’s on-line application problem was a relatively easy technical fix. Until last week, I didn’t know what had happened with Xavier. I saw him at the Park District’s Nicholas Conservatory where he was doing staff training for Magic Waters. He will work there until it is time to go head down to Carbondale, for his freshman year at Southern Illinois University.
Pictured: Malik Yusef, grammy winner & spoken word artist, with Poetry Out Loud regional winners Amanda Clark and Xavier Kimbrough. Yusef was a regional judge and coached the winners for the state competition.
“When you do good, good things come to you.”
That was true for the “Undefeated” film makers, who made a movie about real people far more compelling than any Hollywood movie treatment. (i.e. Blindside) They won the Oscar this year for Best Documentary, increasing their ability to do more films.
I think it is true for the Arts Council too. Despite economic challenges, the Rockford Area Arts Council is still here, still offering children and youth the opportunity to learn and grow through the arts. When the community sees good work, they support it.
We have long time partners: City of Rockford, Rockford Park District, District 205, the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, and many individual members. This month we received a sizable donation from Alpine Kiwanis, and became a United Way Partner.
Their “good works” allow us to do ours.
RAAC Arts Camp for children ages 5-13 will be held at Ellis Arts Academy, July 16-July 26. The sixty dollar fee is waived for those on free or reduced lunch. Registrations are taken on a first come first serve basis until seats are filled.
ArtsPlace Apprenticeship program will present “Rockford’s Got Talent” August 2 & 3, 6:30 PM at Rockford College’s Clark Arts Center. Art work created by ArtsPlace apprentices is sold every Friday at Rockford’s City Market.
For information about the Rockford Area Arts Council and our summer programs for children and youth visit: