God Bless The Artists: A Frustrated Plea To The Masses

God Bless The Artists: A Frustrated Plea To The Masses

It's time to celebrate artists the way we celebrate athletes
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Once when I was in high school, I went with my mother to my little brother’s football practice. Having never really been into sports, I was sitting with my notebook writing down movie ideas when my mom was suddenly approached by a friend of hers whom she had gone to school with. They caught up with each other, and my Mom introduced me to the guy who, being at a football practice, asked me what kind of sports I played. As always, I smiled awkwardly and stated that athletics “weren’t really my thing.” His brow furrowed and he asked me what was "my thing?" I told him that I did theatre, and acting, and singing. “Oh,” he replied not missing a beat, “you do the pretty boy stuff.”

This is an experience that my mother perhaps wouldn’t remember, but one that made a huge impact on me at the time. In the 2005 film “Guess Who,” Bernie Mac’s character states: “A man who doesn’t play sports isn’t really a man as far as I’m concerned.” This popular mindset – one that idolizes sports, and dismisses art – is one that I have seen prevail my entire life, and even recently when I discovered that one of my professors' strict attendance policy applied only to “non-athletes.” It has always been fascinating to me that the public is so quick to trivialize arts, and entertainment when our lives are submerged in music, movies, books, and – yes – even televised sports. Certain politicians seem to be committed to cutting funding for arts programs in schools, U.S. News and World Report states that 80 percent of U.S. school districts have cut funds since 2008, while it's customary for universities to put their entire budgets into football and basketball programs at the expense of their music and theatre programs. Our society has taught us that art is simply unimportant, as if we could live in a world without music or television.

80 percent of U.S. School Districts have cut arts funding since 2008

As a young African-American male, not enjoying sports makes me an alien of sorts. As a kid, I often tried to pretend or force myself to be interested, even though my interests were clearly unrelated. I grew up enjoying my artistic activities and the success that came with them, but there was always a chip on my shoulder regarding my lack of excitement for the country’s favorite pastime. Still, the issue has nothing to do with the fact that people enjoy athletic events as, ultimately, everyone should be allowed to like what they like. The issue is the declaration of importance for one passion over another.

In my four year education at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C., my classmates and I attended school from 8:30 to 5 everyday. In the theatre department, we took rigorous movement classes where we trained in dance, fighting, and all kinds of physical activities in addition to training in acting, voice, and technical production. Being an actor/singer/writer/director has required bodily discipline, emotional intelligence, vocal technique, and plenty of other unique skills, and yet I’m told constantly – either explicitly or implied – that what I do is easy or simple or “pretty.”

In December of last year, clothing retail store Old Navy released a line of graphic tees for toddlers featuring the phrases “Young Aspiring Artist Astronaut,” and “Young Aspiring Artist President”. After social media outrage, the shirts were taken out of circulation, but the creation of them reveals that the problem is more than indifference. In this 21st Century that we live in, the real problem here is that, like telling girls that they should seek out a man to handle things for them or telling gay youth that they’ll never be accepted by society, children are going to digest these ignorant statements as gospel. They will believe that they have to like sports even if they don’t, or that they’re not contributing anything to the world by singing or dancing Unless, of course, they “make it big”, which seems to be the only condition where this path is considered okay. Young people will believe that being an artist is not a “real job.” Young boys, specifically, will continue to think that choosing art is “girly,” which is still equated with “weak” in today’s society, and they won’t do it.

Because sports is one of the most successful and supported industries in the country and the world, this conversation is not one likely to be prioritized by the public. Make no mistake, however, it is an important conversation; one that if handled properly, could lead to more young artists moving confidently forward into the world instead of being held back by outdated mindsets that dismiss their passions. Sports are fun, popular, challenging, and they bring people together. For this reason, they deserve to be celebrated. However, it is possible (and necessary) to support one institution without bringing down another. Famed author and poet Langston Hughes stated, “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” The goal here is to allow people to be confident in their talents, especially when those talents lead them to entertaining the very people who attempt to marginalize them.

Cover Image Credit: Arts Rising

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If you see a girl in a shirt cut too low, you call her a slut. If you see a celebrity post a nude photo, you call them immodest and a terrible role model. What makes you think that pulling out a breast in the middle of public is different, regardless of what you're doing with it?

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Nobody asked you to put a blanket over your kid's head to feed them. Nobody asked you to go feed them in a dirty bathroom. But you don't need to basically be topless to feed your kid. Growing up, I watched my mom feed my younger siblings in public. She never shied away from it, but the way she did it was always tasteful and never drew attention. She would cover herself up while doing it. She would make sure that nothing inappropriate could be seen. She was lowkey about it.

Mindblowing, right? Wait, you can actually breastfeed in public and not have to show everyone what you're doing? What a revolutionary idea!

There is nothing wrong with feeding your baby. It's something you need to do, it's a part of life. But there is definitely something wrong with thinking it's fine to expose yourself to the entire world while doing it. Nobody wants to see it. Nobody cares if you're feeding your kid. Nobody cares if you're trying to make some sort of weird "feminist" statement by showing them your boobs.

Cover up. Be modest. Be mindful. Be respectful. Don't want to see my boobs? Good, I don't want to see yours either. Hard to believe, I know.

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You never think it will happen to you until it does.

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I was on my way out the door to work when I got a panicked call from my mother.

"Can you look at the news online?" she said quickly. "There is a mass shooting somewhere nearby."

My heart stopped. For me, Aurora, Illinois is home. I was born there, I grew up around the area and I attended high school there. My siblings go to school close by and my boyfriend works for a neighboring fire department.

How could my beloved hometown become the victim of the latest tragedy?

After calling my boyfriend, who was at the fire station getting ready to deploy ambulances to the scene, I discovered that it had taken place at a factory nearby. My anxiety hit an all-time high as I watched the updates on all of the local city Facebook pages and groups. Officers down. Gunman at large. Mass casualties.

Hours later, all of the facts came out. A former employee of Henry Pratt's Company, a local industrial warehouse, had recently been let go and decided to get revenge. He entered the warehouse with a gun and began to shoot at random, killing five people and wounding many others, including five police officers. He was killed by local SWAT forces.

I am the kind of person who is pro-gun and pro-gun rights because of the second amendment and all of the freedoms I believe we deserve. But that doesn't make what happened okay and it never will.

While this situation doesn't change my mind, it does change my view of the world.

Why would somebody decide that shooting former coworkers was the way to go? Why would anyone want to hurt others? These are the questions that flooded my mind in the hours after the mass shooting. I don't necessarily think we have a gun issue in America, but issues with mental health and valuing life.

We pass bills to kill unborn children. We repeal bills that take away healthcare from million. We devalue life in its most basic form and respect those around us to still have enough respect for each other's lives. We stigmatize those who need psychiatric care and expect things to still be alright.

This is not alright.

Our country, our system, our values, and morals, they are all broken and backward. We have let mass shootings become normal and violence becomes accepted. It needs to be stopped. There needs to be a change.

One of the people killed was an intern from a local college during his first day on the job. Being a college student applying to internships myself, this hit far too close to home. Nobody deserves to die, least of all in their place of work while trying to further their career.

Five people lost their lives due to someone's disrespect of them. Yes, a gun was the weapon, but a mind was the actor. I pray that someday, our country will return to valuing life and respecting others enough to help them instead of pushing them away. This is not the first mass shooting, but it can be the last. If, and only if, we make sure of it.

If you want to help the victim's families in any way, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help with funeral expenses

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