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Local teen poet wins gold medal at national arts competition

LOUISIANA WEEKLY — When Lusher Charter School senior Raven Little began writing poetry in a seventh-grade creative writing class, her work covered many of the usual subjects in a teenager’s life, like love poems and sports. But after a while, 17-year-old Raven’s focus shifted as she matured and became more aware of the troubles causing strife, disunity and injustice in the society around her. She soon felt the need to tackle those social, political and racial challenges.

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By Ryan Whirty

When Lusher Charter School senior Raven Little began writing poetry in a seventh-grade creative writing class, her work covered many of the usual subjects in a teenager’s life, like love poems and sports.

But after a while, 17-year-old Raven’s focus shifted as she matured and became more aware of the troubles causing strife, disunity and injustice in the society around her. She soon felt the need to tackle those social, political and racial challenges.

She simply felt she had to.

“I realized there we bigger things I started to care more about,” she said, “and I wanted to shine a light on them.”

 

Raven gradually built up a strong portfolio of her socially conscious poetry, with encouragement from creative writing teacher Brad Richard, who noticed her talent and her passion for writing.

“Early on she had a great imagination, but most of all she really cared about her writing,” Richard said.

With such support, Raven entered her portfolio in the 96th annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition, and it ended up receiving a Gold Medal and being picked as one of only 16 received entrees to earn top honors.

From the portfolio’s title, “In This One, the Black Boy Only Dies Once,” through to its conclusion, the eight-poem work reflects years of dedication to sharpening her craft and incorporating themes of racial justice, equality and awareness of the world around her.

She said that hopefully, while the work describes her own situation, other people of all backgrounds can be inspired by it.

“It’s all about religion, who I am and my place in America as an African American, but it can be applied to anyone,” she said.

Raven said with her portfolio, she ponders serious questions about race and identity. “I try to figure out whether I’m free or trapped in America, and if I feel discriminated against,” she said.

Richard said Raven’s writing taps into very personal emotions and experiences, but he added that she’s also keenly studied other contemporary writers and applied what she learned from them into her work.

“Her style is contemporary and conversational, but it’s also very nuanced,” he said. “There’s a lot of it that’s very understated, but she’s also able to address something directly.”

This year, students in seventh to 12th grade from across the country submitted more than 340,000 works of visual art and writing. The contest is supported by the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.

“For 96 years, the Awards have recognized the creative promise of individuals like Andy Warhol, Kay WalkingStick, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Richard Avedon and Zac Posen, and today we honor more than 2,700 teens as they receive national recognition in the 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards,” Alliance Executive Director Virginia McEnerney said in a statement. “These students join a legacy of teens facilitating important dialogue through their art and writing, and we celebrate their creativity and innovation as the next generation of great American artists and writers.”

Raven’s selection as one of the competition’s 16 best entrants includes a $10,000 college scholarship in addition to the recognition of her talent. Raven said she was surprised with how well her portfolio did in the competition.

“It’s exciting, and it was completely unexpected,” she said. “I didn’t think my portfolio would get that far. But I’m very proud of my work. I’ve been writing for a long time, and it’s uplifting to receive an award for it.”

As she approaches graduation, Raven said she’s looking at several universities to further her education and writing, such as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Xavier University and Southern Mississippi University. She hopes to major in journalism and creative writing, but she’s also keeping pre-law as a possibility, too.

At this point, Raven is keeping her goals modest but with a desire for further success.

“I want to keep writing,” she said. “I hope I can get published. But I realize I might have to do something else until that comes along.”

Richard said that the Scholastic Award and the recognition that comes with it should give Raven a big boost and help open up collegiate opportunities and beyond.

“As a writer she could go just about anywhere she wants to,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how she does.”

This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly

Art

MC Arts Gallery Opens During the Marin Open Studio

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: TheArthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

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From top: Oshalla Marcus (director/curator, MC Arts & Culture) with Osiezhe’s drawings to the right of the photo, Zwanda, Mitchell Howard , ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band: Carlton Carey (drums), Mwanza Furaha, (vocals), Jack Prendergast (bass), Ricardo Moncrief (keyboard), James Moseley (guitar, vocal). Photos by Godfrey Lee.

The MC Arts Gallery, located on 100 Donahue St. in the Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City, is open during the Marin Open Studios, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 & 2. 

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: The Arthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

Zwanda seeks to be creative as she expands her ideas as a sculptress and painter. She is inspired by the human figure and dancers and is fascinated with music and the instruments themselves. Her art is a way to express this love and to share it with others.

Mitchell Howard studied art at San Francisco State University and the Computer Arts Institute of San Francisco. He was an art director at Cummingham & Walsh in San Francisco and has displayed his paintings at the Hannah Gallery, worked on the Rocky Graham Park Mural and has taught art at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Elementary School.

“Art can bring people together and illustrate things that people can relate to,” Howard says. “Art can also be powerful in sending social messages to society. Art makes you think, it expands your horizons and makes you use your imagination. People may see different things in the same painting.”

Osiezhe, Shakira Gregory’s son, will be displaying his drawings at the Gallery.

The ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band played last Saturday afternoon with Mwanza Furaha as their guest vocalist.

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City Council Approves $480,000 in Arts Grants

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

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The Oakland City Council approved $480,000 in grants to 17 Oakland-based non-profit organizations and 20 individual artists through the city’s Cultural Funding Program, Neighborhood Voices.

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

The grant program seeks to bring Oaklanders together to create and support a sense of belonging within a community, to foster social connections that lift people’s spirits, to encourage community well-being and offer visions for a collective future, according to the announcement.

The following individual artists each won $7,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Frederick Alvarado; Karla Brundage; Cristina Carpio; Darren Lee Colston; Maria De La Rosa; Elizabeth D. Foggie; Rachel-Anne Palacios; Laurie Polster; Hasain Rasheed; Kweku Kumi Rauf; Carmen Roman; Michael Roosevelt; Fernando Santos; Teofanny Octavia Saragi; Kimberly Sims-Battiste; Cleavon Smith; Lena Sok; Babette Thomas; Ja Ronn Thompson; Joseph Warner.

Each of the following organizations received $20,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Asian Health Services for Banteay Srei;

Beats Rhymes and Life;

Chapter 510 INK;

Dancers Group for dNaga GIRL Project;

Dancers Group for Dohee Lee Puri Arts;

Dancers Group for Grown Women Dance Collective;

East Oakland Youth Development Center;

Higher Gliffs for Endangered Ideas;

Hip Hop for Change;

Junior Center of Art and Science;

Mycelium Youth Network;

Oakland Education Fund for Youth Beat;

Oakland Theater Project, Inc.;

Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social Justice;

The Intersection for Alphabet Rockers;

Women’s Audio Mission;

Youth Radio/YR Media.

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AHC’s ArtEsteem Program

ArtEsteem is part of AHC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in West Oakland. To find out more visit ahc-oakland.org.

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This self-portrait was created by 12-year-old Leslie Callejas from Life Academy School in Oakland. As a participant in the ArtEsteem program, Leslie was guided through the art-making process; using photo references, observational drawing, and painting with watercolors. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this class was made available via distance learning under the guidance of instructor Etty Alberto. 

 

ArtEsteem offers art classes to students in underserved communities, providing a foundation in art techniques while encouraging students to self-reflect and think critically, be inspired, and expand their view of their world. ArtEsteem is part of AHC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in West Oakland. To find out more visit ahc-oakland.org.

 

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