“As you grow up you realize that being honest and straightforward doesn’t mean you blurt out everything that comes into your mind,” explains blogger Tanvi Rastogi. “Either you learn to be diplomatic or, if that route is too political for you, then learn to keep quiet! If you choose neither then you will only create trouble for yourself.”
As a speaker and writer, I help youth and adults talk about tough topics. I facilitate tough conversations. I navigate the world through words. Art helps me listen and see more clearly.
When I was five, I traced a picture of an elephant driving a little car on glass with a black magic marker. I ignored the elephants-are-grey rule and coated the elephant’s skin and his car with a rainbow of paint. No one said “Color between the lines” until I entered kindergarten. I learned that certain things had to be specific colors.
I vividly remember black & white funeral images of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy on our black & white television and pages of Life magazine. I remember Walter Cronkite’s nightly reports about riots, death, and destruction in Birmingham. Kent State. Saigon. I grew up during the 1960s – political correctness did not exist and adults were unable to talk about the news without getting angry.
The Latin Mass was translated into the language of its congregants in 1969. We rehearsed our Mass of the Roman Rite responses in English during religion class at our Catholic school. Boys who wore crew cuts in first grade had long hair when they entered high school; like cast members in the musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar. Adults were unable to talk about the changes in the Church and boys with long hair without getting angry.
Musicians have always used instruments to shed light on social inequity and injustice. In 1963, Peter, Paul, and Mary vowed to sing out danger and “sing out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.” The music invited inclusivity and healing at a time of social upheaval.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination. Nonviolent demonstrations attempted to restore peace. Young men were drafted into military service. Students angrily protested that if they were old enough to fight in Viet Nam, they were old enough to vote. The 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The Gospel message I heard proclaimed at church and in my Catholic school boldly contradicted arguments throughout my divided neighborhood.
The lines between social conversations, confrontation, and social justice were blurry. I didn’t want to make adults angry, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that there were people around me in pain. I tried to learn how to color between the lines.
I found a place of comfort by standing patiently in the messiness. The same fire that melts butter hardens steel.
I became a teacher and invited youth into conversations about current events. We explored ways we could respond to social concerns that aligned with our core values. Children and teens are less interested in finding comfortable answers and more interested in being heard.
Sometimes adults are unable to talk about social issues without getting angry. I learned how to open discussions by asking questions. Like a good party host, I set the table, I invite the guests, and get out of the way as conversations unfold.
I once had a large piece of art work that hung behind my desk in my office. It was a wire sculpture of a woman in the fetal position who buried her head under her arms. It was called “Unforgiven.”
One day, a friend asked me, “Why do you want ‘unforgiven’ looking over your shoulder?”
I found a canvas and oil paints and created art that reflected what I felt: Passion. Ideas. Dialogue. Fire.
Art is messy. It has a voice. And so do I.
And so do you.
How does art speak to you?
Our stories connect us to one another. Holding Fire represents transformation and resurrection.
Kids are talking with or without adult approval. Join the conversation with these tips from Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.
It’s Not About Race reveals how conversations about race and culture open channels to explore perceptions and attitudes.
Children and teens are talking. Use these tips to encourage dialogue and How to Talk to Teens About Social Issues.
If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).