Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New thoughts on (as Steven Colbert might say) "Youthiness!"

Ever since our series of meetings last week referred to in the last post, I've been thinking about this next phase in the development of the historic downtown and its relationship to the Park. It's clearly etched in my mind, but the execution of the concept is still illusive, but I'm onto something critical, I think:

While listening quietly to the presentation of the "Memories of Macdonald" concept to the Arts Commission on Thursday evening -- it came to me. At one point I blurted it out in short bursts, and though the group surely were caught by my words -- they left me unsatisfied, incomplete, but I knew where I wanted to be going ... .

It has to do with the fact that I see the primary issue as change -- and as the common denominator between youth of our time and those of today. I recalled that on December 7th, at the beginning of World War II, I was barely out of my teens. That my generation of homefront workers and fighting forces were also barely out of their teens. That the important thing this park can do is to connect today's youth with those of yesterday. We need to relate from that perspective -- not as children and elders but as the youth of widely separated generations.

The important thing to focus on, in this case, is how our youth reacted to the traumatic changes we were forced to live through -- given the perilous state of the world and that of our own nation at that time. Perhaps today's kids -- while learning about that remarkable period in our country's life -- can try to identify the traumatic changes that their world is undergoing and then to try to identify the ways in which it is or is not coping with those changes.

After all, they're having to face unprecedented changes in the decreasing quality of education; 108 different languages in their schools; greater density in city life; uncontrolled possession of handguns with increasing street crime; the proliferation of illegal drugs in their neighborhoods; breakdowns in family structure with either non-working or both parents employed; gang warfare; fewer schools and more prisons; diminishing access to higher education; impending global disasters due to climate change; a national debt that will threaten their ability to ever rise to our former economic greatness; all making for a world that is frightening to those youngsters who are living in a world we elders never knew.

But the seeds of their world were sown to a large extent by how we responded to our times, the laws we passed that assured more equality to more of us; the fears we expressed as we contracted and distorted other freedoms after the assassinations of our national and spiritual leaders; the limitations we've allowed as we drew back from the international community after 9/11; our disgraceful declining involvement in the electoral process; -- and most of all -- the leaders we've chosen over time; all leading to the wars of their generation.

Heavy thoughts ... .

At the same time they enjoy greater mobility and far more independence that might also be seen as abandonment by the parental generation. We have no idea how much the creation of gangs is merely a way of coping with the disconnection from the parental generation for any number of reasons. Perhaps those gangs represent surrogate family groupings created to compensate for the losses they've experienced in this new kind of societal isolation.

A part of our planning involves the creation of Walking Tours using audiotapes and I-PODs that will take people through the historic districts. Having kids describe their world in the troubled Iron Triangle to those interested enough to do the walks could be an exciting way to share their more current history as juxtaposed with the history of our times. We will develop groups of youth guides out of existing programs for young people -- in much the way that our community "docents" are beginning to come into being as a feature of our bus tours they, too, will emerge over time.

When viewed through the lens of the element of change, we might find ourselves able to detoxify the generational differences in much the same way that our bus tours are allowing the sharing factually of a period of painful segregation across those sensitive lines of separation. Perhaps we can reduce the distance between Richmond's youth of yesterday and today, and erase those lines of separation to the extent possible.

Under the auspices of the Park, Joanna Haigood (Zaccho Dance Theatre) will be serving as an artist in residence at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts later this year or in the early spring. Her project will evolve as a dance swap -- a series that will have the generations trading the dances of their period. They'll learn to Lindy and the Jitterbug, to do the Chicken, the Mashed Potatoes, and we'll get to learn the Electric Slide and Hip Hop and whatever else comes next! It will all be videotaped by EBCPA students and projected in huge images on the side of the old Storage Structure in Shipyard #3 or on the hull of the SS Red Oak Victory at the grand opening of the park sometime late next year.

As I said before, we've got ourselves a National Park to build, and it's going famously!

Should you have any ideas, please pass them along. Anybody can play in our park. After all, it's national.

Photo: Not particularly relevant except that it gives me a chance to show 8 year-old granddaughter, Tamaya Reid, in a performance of her West African dance class in a recent East Bay Center for the Performing Arts afternoon event. That's Tamaya -- third dancer from the left -- right in the middle. She's a bit "youth-ier" than the teens I'm referring to in the above piece.

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