An Artist’s Response to the Westboro Protests at Juilliard

An Artist’s Response to the Westboro Protests at Juilliard

How art can serve as a catalyst against social injustice.

I attended schools of performing and visual arts since the fourth grade, studying musical theatre. I continue my theatre and music studies at University of Florida. As a heterosexual and cisgendered student in the arts, with many friends, teachers, and colleagues who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, I could not put into words how disgusted I am that a prestigious institute like the Juilliard School, a conservatory where uniquely brilliant minds collaborate as artists, could be targeted by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church—a cult responsible for preaching anti-semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

The “Church,” founded by the late Fred Phelps, was responsible for various pickets at the funerals of fallen gay soldiers, and at memorials of Matthew Shepard and victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting. Shirley Phelps Roper, Fred’s daughter, claimed that WBC chose Juilliard as an arena to spread their prejudiced propaganda on the grounds that it was “the heart and soul of the arts community…” responsible for “filling the nation with proud sodomites.”

On Thursday, Nov. 3, members of the organization marched onto the 65th Street entrance of Juilliard’s Lincoln Center campus, sporting signs with phrases like “Repent or Perish,” “The World is Doomed,” and their most infamous and despicable slogan to date, “God Hates F—s.” These protestors were greeted by sixty to one hundred Juilliard students and artists from throughout the city.

Musicians, actors and dancers stood on the front lines, preparing to fight hate with love and expression. Singing and playing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and carrying signs reading “Sing a new song unto the Lord” and “Hell must be FABULOUS,” these students were armed with the power of music and creative expression to tackle words of intolerance. Students even presented an original performance piece entitled “God Loves Jazz” and a parody of a number from the musical “Hamilton.”

Through the works they displayed, these performers lived up to the words of Tony Award winning composer Jonathan Larson: “The opposite of war isn’t peace: it’s Creation.”

As an artist, I believe these counter protests prove that a song, dance, or piece of theatre can promote change or empowerment. I am proud of my fellow musicians and thespians for standing up against a self righteous and narrow-minded Westboro Baptist Church. Like the “Angels” responsible for blockading church pickets during the Matthew Shepard murder trial and memorial services of the Pulse victims, these students actively took a stand against a sea of smite using a dune breaker of pride.

All photographs were taken by Joey Lavarias, a Bachelor of Music (BM) Candidate in Bassoon Performance, courtesy of Odyssey contributor Ashley Williams.

Cover Image Credit: Photo Credit by Joey Lavarias, Courtesy of Ashley Williams
Cover Image Credit: Photo Credit by Joey Lavarias, Courtesy of Ashley Williams
Cover Image Credit: Photo Credit by Joey Lavarias, Courtesy of Ashley Williams

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On My Love Of Reading

My love of reading.
"Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head." — Paul Auster

Ever since I was little, I have always loved reading. In elementary school I started with the Magic Tree House series and all of the Nancy Drew books. I was hooked on reading from then on out. I remember going to the library every weekend my mom and I would walk out with a stack of books so big I could hardly carry them myself. To my mom's surprise I would always finish every book by the time they were due back at the library.

My parents are both very smart: my mom went to law school and my dad is engineer. They always encouraged my brother and I to work hard in school and learn everything we could. They also encouraged us to read books, because that was such a fantastic way of learning new words and new things about the world.

Reading is a way to expand your mind. Books bring you into entirely new worlds and each book you read gives you that new world to learn from and keep in your mind. I have learned so much from reading. I discover new words and different ways of thinking about every day ideas.

Reading has honestly changed my life and helped me become a better and more educated person. Reading is also a great way to escape the world you are in now and enter a new one. I have been reading and lost track of time only to look at the clock and realize it's two in the morning, but I'm almost done with my book so I keep going! Books will always be available and at the tips of our fingertips simply for enjoyment. The feeling of getting lost in a book is one of the best.

And when you finish a book that you loved so much, it will only make you want to find another one that is equally as good, so your reading will never stop.

I would encourage everyone to at least read a few good, influential books in their lifetime, even you really are not a reader. It will teach you so much and open your mind to so many new experiences and ideas.

Happy reading!
Cover Image Credit: Leah Perrino

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9 Young Black Women Who Inspire And Uplift

These young women are using their individual platforms and unique gifts to help others.

Representation matters.

While women like Oprah, Laverne Cox, and Viola Davis are setting the stage for black women to shine in the entertainment industry, a number of young black girls have also contributed to the conversation surrounding race in Hollywood. These young women are using their individual platforms and unique gifts to inspire and uplift. Here are nine magical beings who continually give me life:

1. Zendaya

At this point, it's clear to everyone that Zendaya is a national treasure. If Beyoncé is our revered queen (#AllHailBey), then Zendaya is our beloved princess. Since her start on Disney Channel's Shake It Up, Zendaya has successfully branched out and developed a respectable acting career, starring in blockbusters like Spiderman: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman. Zendaya is proud of her biracial heritage and holds herself to an incredibly high standard as a role model.

2. Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi has garnered most of her fame from starring in the ABC sitcom, Black-ish (and, more recently, a spin-off called, Grown-ish). Shahidi is proud of her mixed African-Iranian heritage and is very forthcoming about her natural hair routine/products. As well, Shahidi is incredibly well-spoken. She gave a TED Talk about how media perpetuates damaging black stereotypes and blew everyone away.

3. China Anne McClain

China Anne McClain got her start quite young, acting in movies like Daddy's Little Girls, Grown-Ups, and series like House of Payne. More recently, she's starred in the Disney Channel Original films The Descendants and Descendants 2. Additionally, she sings with her two sisters in a musical group called, McClain.

4. Willow Smith

Perhaps you haven't heard much about Willow Smith since 'Whip My Hair' came out in 2010, but she's steadily been creating and putting out (beautiful) music. Willow is a fierce, trend-setting, uniquely wise young woman with a bright future ahead of her. Interesting, but certainly bright.

5. Normani Kordei

Normani is a member of the musical group Fifth Harmony (are they even still called that?). As well, she participated on Dancing With the Stars and nearly (should have) won. She's on this list because she slays. Consistently. Without fail. As an example, here's a bonus gif of her falling on stage and saving face BIG TIME:

6. Chloe x Halle

These sisters have two of the most melodious voices I've ever heard. They got their start filming covers of songs on YouTube and were recently signed to Beyoncé's record label, Parkwood. I've no doubt that with their talent (and the Queen Mother's official sign-off) these two will have splendid careers.

7. Simone Biles

Simone Biles became America's sweetheart when she took home four gold medals (and one bronze) at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Likewise, she showed millions of black little girls that they could shine in a sport dominated by non-black athletes.

8. Skai Jackson

Skai Jackson may have started out as the cute, conniving little sister of Disney's Jessie, but she's transformed into a popular meme and a social media icon. Her clap-back game is STRONG. She's not one to mess with. For example (like when she dragged Azealia Banks):

9. Quvenzhané Wallis

Obviously, as the youngest person to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhane has more than earned her place on this list. She was also nominated for her performance as the titular character in Annie (2014).

Cover Image Credit: Zendaya Instagram

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