Race & Racism Social-Justice

Black Violin — Challenging Stereotypes about Classical Music and Who Plays It

This year SFUSD has added staffing to support its Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) programming at sites. I’d like to congratulate John Calloway who is taking on a new leadership role in supporting programs throughout the district, and thank Sofia Fojas for all she does to support quality music programming at sites. THANK YOU!!!!

I’ll be continuing to write about ways we as families can support high quality arts and music programming in all our schools. (Check out related posts here.) In the meantime, here are some thoughts…

A while back I wrote a post about my interest in increasing visibility of Black culture in our schools. Since this post, I’ve been wondering how the District (as well as my daughters’ school) can increase opportunities to celebrate black culture and excellence in the arts.

On being the “only one”

This is especially important to me because being Black at my daughters’ school, can in many cases mean being the “only Black kid” in class. Unfortunately, my school is not a unique case. Nowadays, with racial segregation equaling the days of Brown vs. Board of Education, a large number of our district schools are racially isolated (aka: predominantly Black, Latino or Asian). And, with the city’s Black population declining (it’s down from about 13% when I started teaching about 20 years ago!) it means that unless a child is attending a school in the Bay View neighborhood (in a racially isolated school full of Black students), they are most likely a racial minority at their school.

It can be difficult feeling like you are a welcome and supported member of your school community when you don’t see your culture or people that look like you in the student body, parent community, or teaching staff. When this happens it becomes even more important for school communities to be intentional about ensuring Black culture is visible in the school.

Boosting visibility of Black contributions to the arts

One way we can do this is through boosting the visibility of Black contributions in the Visual and Performing Arts. By creating opportunities for Black kids to see themselves reflected in VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) curriculum, school performances, and school and district celebrations it affirms Black students are valued members of our schools and communities. It is also a powerful way to expose non-Black kids to positive images of Black people while teaching them about Black culture (which is American culture by the way!)

On this note (pun intended!) I wanted to share an inspiring piece I heard on a KQED radio program, Take Away! It features an interview of two musicians, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste (aka: Kev Marcus and Wil B) who are members of Black Violin, an unique hip-hop group that has found a way to integrate hip-hop/rap and classical violin… So cool!

Here is what the Takeaway website has to say about them:

Their newest album, “Stereotypes,” moves from classic, to hip-hop and R&B. On the album, the group is joined by Black Thought of The Roots; Daru Jones, a drummer currently touring with White Stripes frontman Jack White; guitarist Eric Krasno of the funk/jazz trio Soulive; and string arranger Rob Moose of Bon Iver, to name just a few guests.”

In this podcast the musicians talk about how important music was for them as Black youth and how it has motivated them to make classical music more accessible and relatable to audiences today. Check out interview in this short podcast:

Let’s make sure our Black youth are not “invisible”

Even though I have never met musicians Kev Marcus and Wil B personally, I have a feeling this group understands what I’m talking about. In checking out Black Violin’s new album Stereotype on Spotify I found this song, “Invisible”. Click here to listen or click the link below.

Whether you have many or a few Black kids at your child’s school, it’s important to share positive images of Black culture. How are you ensuring Black culture is not “invisible” in the arts?

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