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

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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He Changed Everything.

My soul is richer & my heart is fuller 

Sept 2013 I found myself writing to an evangelist Jennifer Beckham looking for more, looking for answers cause at the time I was in a dark place, and stuck no matter what I did. She wrote back! I cried as I read her respond. She sent me scriptures of who god is and what he wants for us. God says we are more than conquers and endurance develops strength and character. She encouraged me that I was on the right track. Not to give up and she would be praying for me. I saw Jennifer Beckham at a conference that year. I don't remember what she specifically talked about but I remember the feeling. The feeling of wanting to burst out crying, I could feel my eyes being filled with tears, and my heart racing but I wouldn't let out the tears. My pride was too big. I wanted to be strong so I did my best to hold it all in, and I did. At this conference they offered the audience who wanted to go up for prayer and dedicate their life to Jesus Christ. Surprisingly I went up, but I went up with other people that were seeking out salvation. I wasn’t sure if I was going up to support the other people or if it was truly for me. I was confused, even though I said the prayer. I became more confused as the days went on and I wasn't feeling a difference in my life. Nothing was changing. I started reading the bible and many books, listening to sermons, and surrounding myself with positive people. I gave my life to Jesus, but I didn't feel like I was set FREE! I continued feeling empty, lost, broken, guilty, and hurt from the past. There were so many days where I just wanted to give up. Almost felt pointless to fight for my life. At this point in my life I didn't know God very much, but I had just a little bit of faith. My faith was as big as a mustard seed and God took care of the rest. Day by day, year by year I started noticing my life changing. I noticed I was changing. I started feeling happy with who I was and where I was in life. I no longer questioned God about the things that happened to me. In my heart I was ok with the wounds, the hardships, and trials from the past because I now understood those wounds and trials. I realized I was SET FREE! not perfect but set free. I started understanding who I was as a child of our heavenly father. Now it’s Jan 2018 and I’m in awe of who I am and where I am in life, all because of Jesus. His so faithful! I think of the favor, the grace, his mercy, his love, his joy and blessing that he gives me even when I’m undeserving of it, it’s overwhelming. He has never left me nor forsake me. I can say Jesus you changed everything and my heart so forever thankful. 

Today, I encourage you like Jennifer Beckham encouraged me. Keep going and don't give up. No matter what your past looks like believe in your heart that you were created for greatness. Don't let your past determine your future, be the change you want in your life. You have it in you. There is so much more to life, don't miss out on it. It's time to take back your happiness, love, joy, freedom and so much more. It's time to take back EVERYTHING the enemy has taken from you. God has made you an overcomer. I speak it right now, that you will be victorious in 2018 and the years to come. Remember, God loves you! 

Psalm 136:26 (AMP) O give thanks to the God of heaven, for his mercy and loving-kindness endures forever!

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