Quick Hit Anthony Burke Boylan Tuesday May 20th, 2014, 12:19pm

Chicago Non-Profit Uses The Arts To Help Local Youth Process Gun Violence

Eighteen years after its founding, Changing Worlds still helps children discover themselves by learning about cultures — their own and those around them — through nontraditional methods.

Originally serving immigrant and refugee students, Changing Worlds aides children in exploring their culture and expanding their worldview through the arts. But now, the organization is just as likely to help children use art to express their feelings about gun violence in their neighborhoods.

“After 9/11, we helped Muslim students tell their stories and fostered a better understanding among their peers,’’ said Kay Berkson, a social worker, social documentary photographer and founder of Changing Worlds. “Today, one of our programs is in Englewood, where children might express their concerns about murder and death and lack of confidence in the future through poetry.’’

For example, Teanna White, 13 and Rashad Patterson, 12, both from John Hay Community Academy in Chicago's Austin neighborhood, won student leadership awards for their work this year. Neither were close with anyone who has been killed in the area’s notorious gang violence, but both came up with work that reflected the conditions of their community.

Rashad studied public art around Chicago and was inspired to create a virtual safe space within his school in which students could relax, escape the stress of their neighborhood and do homework, artwork or whatever they like in a “quiet, peaceful place.’’

He wants grow up to develop video games that cause players to see the world as a positive place, and focus on ways they can make it better, rather than blow it up.

Meanwhile, Teanna’s project involved the blending art and prose, including fiction, essay and poetry, to detail her take on how violence is gripping her community.

Teena's mother mother found her daughter’s work remarkable.

“She talked a lot about love and death in her art,’’ said Constantina Marie Davis. “I didn’t know a 13-year-old would know that much about the world.’’

But bringing out that kind of self awareness is exactly what Changing Worlds' teaching artists strive for.

“Black and brown people have trouble identifying who they are,’’ said JeNae Taylor, one of the teaching artists. “Once students identify their worth they identify the worth of their education. These students realize people like them had a role in shaping history.’’

Last week, Changing Worlds celebrated another year in operation with its 12th annual fundraiser in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. (Although the organization was founded in 1996, it didn’t become a non-profit until several years later, and began fundraising in earnest a couple years after that.)

Changing Worlds has grown from its origins in one school to serving more than 3,500 students across the city. That broad diversity was on display Thursday as students gave a variety of performances from Latin dance to rap, and the cocktail reception was lined with various forms of visual arts.

In addition to the students, the event honored three supporters of the organization:

  • Jerome Harper, who is Second Vice President in the Corporate Social Responsibility practice at Northern Trust Bank and lends his expertise in nonprofit leadership and governance to several organizations in Chicago, including Changing Worlds.

  • Andre Hughes, founder of Powered by Action (PbyA) which is an organization that seeks to unite collaborative partnerships through innovation. He is also the chairman at C3 Ventures and BigMarker. Formerly, he was a founding Partner of Accenture and a Global Managing Director.

  • Sally Nuamah is a scholar, advocate and filmmaker. In 2007, she was awarded the Princeton Prize by Princeton University Alumni for her work in improving race relations. Ms. Nuamah is a PhD candidate at Northwestern University, where she seeks to combine film and research to bridge studies on disadvantaged populations. 

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