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Notes from the field: why the arts matter in children’s lives

This past Saturday in Olney, I had the distinct honor of being the MC at the first ever Collins Family Shop Rite Fun and Fitness Day.  A portion of the parking lot was converted into a community space with a mobile stage with sound system and tables for a variety of youth service vendors and health providers from the area.  The 3-hour event showcased a line-up of youth performers from the area as well as ZUMBA sessions with a local instructor. 

ArtsRising helped Shop Rite to recruit some of the performers including the Grover Washington Jr. Middle School step team "The General Steppers" and FUSO, a community-based youth performing arts troupe lead by mother and daughter team of Carol and Teshana Archer.  Hailing originally from Trinidad, this duo has created an opportunity for the youth to celebrate their Caribbean heritage through music and dance.  FUSO concluded the festivities by demonstrating how powerful the performing arts can be in the life of a young person.

With a troupe of seven performers, both male and female, ages ranging from no younger than five to possibly 12 or 13, FUSO took the stage in brightly colored uniforms honoring their Jamaican neighbors just as the sun broke through what otherwise had been a cloudy, somewhat ominous weather day. 

Luckily, the rain held out; however, the sound system did not. Midway through the second dance routine, the CD player starting cutting in and out of signal.  The performers were initially thrown off. But after gathering themselves and with strong encouragement from Mrs. Archer, who was coaching from the sidelines, they got back on the beat and their feet.  Mrs. Archer told them to keep the rhythm of the song in the heads and to sing the song aloud.  The technical issue was made irrelevant as they committed to their choreography just as they had rehearsed over countless hours.  The audience was so impressed that they jumped in with clapping to help the group keep rhythm as well as sing along for those who knew the lyrics.

This occurred again with another song, but no matter.  By that point, FUSO had won the hearts and spirits of those watching, so much so that the Finletter Elementary School Home & School Association, who was in attendance as a vendor, contributed a $100 donation to the FUSO group right on the spot in support of their work.

The event could not have ended in a more meaningful way as the FUSO performers smiled at the accomplishment and piled back into their vehicles to head off to another engagement in the late afternoon somewhere in Germantown.

If someone asked me why the arts are important to our youth, I would share this example. It says it all about focus, practice, perseverance and dedication, beyond the implicit skills and qualities inherent in dance, movement and song.  The episode also said a lot about a community rallying around in support of our youth.  It was a beautiful thing to see.