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Artistic self-determination leads to life skills in Baltimore

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Amid the boarded houses and the street activity so prevalent in many large urban settings, there is a quiet gem that inhabits one Baltimore City public school. This writer heard about the special project during another interview and had the opportunity to learn more about it via telephone Thursday, March 13, 2014.

The Kujichaglia Project is a year-long resource class held at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts High School, 1500 Harlem Avenue. The concept for the class was created, and is taught, by Koli Tengella, a well-known performance artist in the Baltimore area.

Based upon one of the principles of Kwanzaa, the class focuses upon self-determination and telling one's own story. Students in the class have performed at Coppin State and participated in interviews over WEAA's Marc Steiner and Anthony McCarthy Shows. In addition, students have been engaged in a citywide anti-bullying conference.

The goals of the program are to promote literacy, life skills development as well as political and social consciousness for community using theater and film. The four resource classes service approximately one hundred African American youth in Grades 9-12, daily, with a concentration on males.

The program offers activities designed to teach skills in preparation for the Maryland School Assessment, while incorporating Brief Constructed Responses (BCR's), socially relevant activities, life skills, Common Core Principles, service learning activities, public radio programming, and writing of monologues,

There are benefits to the participants of the program which include:

  • self-expression,
  • service learning credit,
  • improving writing skills,
  • preparation for life situations,
  • hands-on experiences,
  • focus upon academics, and
  • preparation for testing.

The program was previously implemented at Coldstream Park and Collington Square Elementary/Middle Schools. Students produced a film which focused upon bullying. The film entitled, 'Here For You', resulted in two fathers playing the roles of fathers to their real children.

Current high school students have participated in a positive spoken word and hip-hop video being produced, 'Not Your Average', by high school students to be shown on Baltimore's School System Channel 77.

There are challenges for Tengella in delivering this program. He said the biggest challenge is in getting young people to believe that their truth and stories are valuable---getting them to believe they are worthy. He tells the young people, "Your life is just as important and could teach others, you deserve to honor yourself".

Financial resources and support from the school are definitely needed for The Kujichagulia Project. Tengella said he funded the program through fellowship money he was given from the Open Society Institute. He took the money that was given to him for his personal fellowship. He would pay the young people to speak and write well and try to encourage them to know that they can get paid by using these skills.

Tengella is looking for patrons for the funding aspect of the project.

The principal of the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts High School is Tracy Hicks.

Tengella and the Kujichagulia Project can be reached through the school or 443-794-4752.

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